Manual Critique and Resistance in a Neoliberal Age: Towards a Narrative of Emancipation

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Global class formation has involved the accelerated division of the world into a global bourgeoisie and a global proletariat. The transnationalized fractions of dominant groups have become the hegemonic fraction globally [11]. Neoliberalism and Education.

Jana Bacevic - Who acts & what matters in the neoliberal university? Power, potential, & resistance

It is undeniably one of the most dangerous politics that we face today. In short, neoliberal educational policy operates from the premise that education is primarily a sub-sector of the economy. And standardized tests are touted as the means to ensure the educational system is aligned well with the global economy. There is also a movement to develop international standardized tests, creating pressures towards educational convergence and standardization among nations. Such an effort, note Davies and Guppy, provides a form of surveillance that allows nation-states to justify their extended influence and also serves to homogenize education across regions and nations [14].

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School choice initiatives such as voucher programs have dramatically expanded their scope, sapping the strength of the public school system and helping to spearhead further educational privatization. Since capital has itself invaded almost every sphere of life in the United States, the focus of the educational left has been distracted for the most part from the great class struggles that have punctuated this century.

The leftist agenda now rests almost entirely on an understanding of asymmetrical gender and ethnic relations. While this focus surely is important, class struggle is now perilously viewed as an outdated issue. When social class is discussed, it is usually viewed as relational, not as oppositional. Privatization initiatives have secured a privileged position that is functionally advantageous to the socially reproductive logic of entrepreneurial capitalism, private ownership, and the personal appropriation of social production by the transnational ruling elite. This neoliberal dictatorship of the comprador elite has re-secured a monopoly on resources held by the transnational ruling class and their allies in the culture industry.

The very meaning of freedom has come to refer to the freedom to structure the distribution of wealth and to exploit workers more easily across national boundaries by driving down wages to their lowest common denominator and by eviscerating social programs designed to assist labouring humanity.

Critical Pedagogy and the Primacy of Political Struggle. It is impossible to disclose all the operative principles of critical pedagogy.

2. Intellectual Background

To penetrate the glimmering veil of rhetoric surrounding it would require an essay of its own. Suffice it here to underscore several of its salient features. Critical pedagogy locates its central importance in the formidable task of understanding the mechanisms of oppression imposed by the established order. But such an understanding is approached from below, that is, from the perspective of the dispossessed and oppressed themselves.

It is an encounter with the process of knowledge production from within the dynamics of a concrete historical movement that transcends individuality, dogmatism, and certainty. Only within the framework of a challenge to the prevailing social order en toto is it possible to transform the conditions that make and remake human history. Specifically in the context of school life, capital produces new human productive and intellectual capacities in alienated form. In is incoherent to conceptualize critical pedagogy, as do many of its current exponents, without an enmeshment with political and anti-capitalist struggle.

In its North American variants, the genesis of critical pedagogy can be traced to the work of Paulo Freire in Brazil, and to John Dewey and the social reconstructionists writing in the post-depression years in the United States. Once expressing a kind of end-station of theoretical maturity, critical pedagogy has become, over the years, much more eclectic and less focussed on a critique of political economy.

Its leading exponents have cross-fertilised critical pedagogy with just about every transdisciplinary tradition imaginable, including theoretical forays into the Frankfurt School of critical theory, and the work of Richard Rorty, Jacques Lacan, Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault. Here the focus mainly has been on a critique of instrumental reason and the nature of governmentality in educational sites. An emphasis has been placed on the non-conceptual in which thinking is constructed as a performance of ethics, or as a post-truth pragmatics, or as an open-ended, non-determinate process that resists totalizing tropological systems hence the frequent condemnation of Marxism as an oppressive totalizing master narrative.

Clearly, critical pedagogy is checkered with tensions and conflicts and mired in contradictions and should in no way be seen as a unified discipline. In the mid-seventies to mid-eighties the role of critical pedagogy was much more politically aggressive than in recent years with respect to dominant social and economic arrangements. Critical pedagogy has always had an underground rapport with the working-class, a rapport which virtually disappeared post In contrast to its current incarnation, the veins of critical pedagogy were not in need of so much defrosting in the early s but were pumped up with quasi-Marxist-inspired work that had been bench-pressed into publications by radical scholars at the Birmingham School of Contemporary Cultural Studies, as well as American social scientists, Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis.

During that time, critique flowed generally unimpeded and was directed not simply at isolated relations of domination but at the capitalist system as a whole. Terry Eagleton opined that. Critical pedagogy, it seems, has evacuated its ecclectic brand of artificial steroids, and has given itself over to the thrall of a heady theoretical post-modernism. Postmodern Theory and the Domestication of Critical Pedagogy. I am scarcely the first to observe that critical pedagogy has been badly undercut by practitioners who would mischaracterize its fundamental project.

In the United States, critical pedagogy has collapsed into left liberal attempts by progressive educators to remediate the educational enterprise. Critical pedagogy has been taken out of the business of class analysis and has focussed instead on a postmodernist concern with a politics of difference and inclusion —a position that effectively substitutes truth for singular, subjective judgement and silences historical materialism as the unfolding of class struggle [16].

Too often this work collapses politics into poetics. Hence, both liberal postmodern critique and neoliberalism serve as a justification for the value form of labour within capitalist society. Greg Philo and David Miller baldly identify the political deceit that often accompanies postmodern academic work:. It is perhaps easier to focus on consumption, pleasure and cultural fashion, discussed in impenetrable private debates. The point is not that the gallery-hoping titans and fierce deconstructors from the postmodern salons have not made some important contributions to a fin-de-siecle politics, or that they have not exerted some influence albeit proleptically in the arena of radical politics, but that, in the main, their efforts have helped to protect the bulwark of ruling class power by limiting the options of educational policy in order to perpetuate the hegemony of ruling class academics.

Their herniated ideas have made for good theatre, but their words have often turned to ashes before leaving their mouths. They have not left educators much with which to advance a political line of march, that is, within a theoretical framework capable of developing an international strategy to oppose imperialism. The above is unavoidably a sweeping synthesis of the limitations of a postmodernized critical pedagogy in the North American context. The main bone of contention that I have with the direction of increasingly postmodernised critical pedagogy over the last several decades is its studied attempt to leave the issue of sexism and racism —i.

Of course, this conveniently draws attention away from the crucially important ways in which women and people of colour provide capitalism with its superexploited labour pools—a phenomenon that is on the upswing all over the world. As within any discipline there is serious and not-so-serious scholarship.

There are many important debates occurring under the umbrella of postmodern theory. The Marxist analysis that we believe is most indispensable for the project of critical pedagogy is one that eschews both the scientism of iron laws and utopia in order to capture the ontological co-ordinates of the capitalist system.

Here, Marxist approaches to critical pedagogy can be partnered with developments in democratic pedagogy based on a project for a genuine inclusive democracy that aims at the elimination of all forms of subordination, whether they are based on economic power, or any other form of social power. As Kanth notes. Marxism captures the real ontology of capitalism in all its various potentially transformative moments like no other system. In this regard, any realist appreciation of capitalism must bend toward Marxian insights, almost involuntarily. Marxism at its best, therefore, is Realism, and the good Marxist is one who keeps reality in focus as the determining factor of theory, rather than the texts of Marx, which can easily be turned into the pseudo-ontology of the Word.

The Return of the Repressed

Marxism is not used here as a codicil of revolutionary amendments to the radical literature on education, as a collection of unchallengeable postulates enjoined upon the faithful, or as an ideology used to target constituencies of the masses. As John Holloway [23] opines, Marxists are not bent on understanding social oppression as much as they determined to unmask the fragility and vulnerability —i.

He is emphatic that the contradictions of capitalism do not exist independently of class struggle. This is because capitalism relies on human labour while human labour does not rely on capitalism. Using negative categories to understand capitalism from the standpoint of non-capitalism, Marxists such as Holloway view the objective conditions of class struggle as alienatated expressions of the power of labour.

As long as capital is dependent upon the power of labour, the powerless can potentially realize their power through class struggle. This is because, when we view the world as continuous struggle, we must evacuate the notion of certainty and historical determination. Plumping for a fairer distribution of social resources within the social universe of capital is not enough.

As Zizek argues. Perhaps the lure today is the belief that can undermine capitalism without effectively problematizing the liberal democratic legacy which as some leftists claim , although engendered by capitalism, acquired autonomy and can serve to criticize capitalism. This is not the time to evaluate the jousts between Marxists and postmodernists for the spoils of the critical tradition, a task that I have undertaken elsewhere. A Renewal of the Marxist Problematic. My own Marxism is informed by the philosophy of Marxist-Humanism which posits, after Hegel, that forward movement emerges from the negation of obstacles.

Absolute negativity occurs when negativity becomes self-directed and self-related to become the seedbed of the positive. According to News and Letters , a Marxist-Humanist publication,. The key is the difference between the first and second negation—the two moments of the dialectic. The first negation is the negation of the given; it takes what appears positive, the immediate, and imbues it with negativity. But today the clarion cry of class struggle is spurned by the bourgeois left as politically fanciful and reads to many as an advertisement for a B-movie.

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This only leads to the renaturalization of scarcity. What this approach exquisitely obfuscates is the way in which new capitalist efforts to divide and conquer the working-class and to recompose class relations have employed xenophobic nationalism, racism, sexism, ableism, and homophobia. This is certainly more the case in North American educational settings than it is in the United Kingdom, the latter context having had a much more serious and salutary engagement with the Marxist tradition in the social sciences and in adult education, one of its professional offshoots.

These days it is far from fashionable to be a radical educator.


  • Indefinites and the Type of Sets;
  • Aunt Pig of Puglia.
  • Jean François Lyotard;
  • The Return of the Repressed!
  • Wolfgang Streeck, The Return of the Repressed, NLR , March–April !
  • Critique and Resistance in a Neoliberal Age Towards a Narrative of Emancipation.

The political gambit of progressive educators these days appears to silence in the face of chaos, with the hope that the worst will soon pass. There are not many direct heirs to the Marxist tradition among left educational scholars.

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Charges range from being a naive leftist, to being stuck in a time warp, to being hooked on an antediluvian patriarch, to giving in to cheap sentimentality or romantic utopianism. Marxists are accused with assuming an untenable political position that enables them to wear the mantle of the revolutionary without having to get their hands dirty in the day-to-day struggles of rank-and-file teachers who occupy the front lines in the schools of our major urban centers. Marxist analysis is also frequently derided as elitist in its supposed impenetrable esotericism, and if you happen to teach at a university your work can easily be dismissed as dysphoric ivory tower activism — even by other education scholars who also work in universities.

Critics often make assumptions that you are guilty of being terminally removed from the lives of teachers and students until proven otherwise. The beneficiaries of the current disunity among the educational left are the business-education partnerships and the privatization of schooling initiatives that are currently following in the wake of larger neo-liberal strategies. Have the postmodernist emendations of Marxist categories and the rejection —for the most part — of the Marxist project by the European and North American intelligentsia signaled the abandonment of hope in revolutionary social change?

Can the schools of today build a new social order? And if we attempt to uncoil this question and take seriously its full implications, what can we learn from the legacy and struggle of revolutionary social movements? The fact that Marxist analysis has been discredited within the educational precincts of capitalism America does not defray the substance of these questions. On the surface, there are certain reasons to be optimistic.