Ernst Bloch (1885-1977)
Born in Germany of a Jewish Railway worker, Block studied philosophy and later became friends with notable Marxists, writers and playwrights Georg Lukacs, Bertolt Brecht, Kurt Weill and Theodor W. Adorno . Bloch's work focuses on the concept of hope in the role of human affairs. A Marxist philosopher, he taught at the University of Leipzig (1918–33), and adopting Marxist thought during the 1920s. He fled the Nazis after 1933, moving first to Switzerland and then to the United States. His magnum opus, The Principle of Hope, which was published in German (3 vol., 1952–59; tr. 1960), emphasized the role of hope as a human drive. He returned to Leipzig in 1948, where he remained until conflict with Communist Party officials compelled him to defect to West Germany (1961). There, he taught at the University of Tubingen.
His work is a both a documentation of, but also a contribution to the optimistic drive forward into new philosophical territories. From his early Nietzschean and expressionist work 'Geist der Utopie' (spirit of utopia), via his studies of the relationship between Religion and History ('Atheismus im Christentum') through to his analysis of human dignity and natural law ('Naturrecht und menschliche Würde' - written after his experience of living under Stalinist rule in Leipzig), he was constanty concerned with demonstrating that human beings not only exist but do so in a continual state of becoming. His influence on critical thought has been great though rarely acknowledged - perhaps because of the impenetrability of his prose but also because of the breadth, extent and complexity of his writing. .
He placed the issue of culture firmly at the centre of the revisionist Marxist critique. For Bloch the notion of becoming is central. He sees humanity as essentially unfinished, and its project is the reclamation and possession of itself by transcending the alienation and false consciousness engendered by capitalism. He, above all of the critical theorists, promotes utopianism - not as a realisable finished state, but as a process of self realisation. Most significant, is his profound commitment to the notion of hope in this process. His concept of hope begins with imagination - the ability to visualise that which is not-yet, that which is better than what we have experienced. But imagining is not the same as fantasising - which is disconnected from our lived reality. Instead it suggests and eventually reveals a path to action for the realisation of the imagined. Bloch understood that this process took place in the social and cultural world - at the interface between the individual and the social collective. He understood that the realisation of this utopia-process must necessarily be a collective enterprise.
In this, he firmly rejected the orthodox Marxist dogma of the primacy of the economic base over the cultural superstructure, asserting forcefully that collective cultural production remained, in Marxist orthodoxy, a degraded potential, but that it held out the possibility for true social and economic transformation. He assedrts that in the (small) choices made by individuals lies the capacity for significant social transformation. In this sense he echoes the later writings of Existentialists such as Sartre and Laing.It is in these choices and in the role and importance of the imagination that Bloch has a special respect for art. Art, for him, is a cultural practice that at one and the same time gives shape to the creative imagination throuugh a process of social dialogue. The artist, for Bloch, reveals in his or her work, both the reality and the potential of our humanity.
Bloch begins with Marx's notion that the architect is distinguished from the bee by building the structure first in the imagination. The imagination and the correct process of building are intertwined. The process which facilitates authenticity is that of sifting the facts and utilizing them in accord with their latent tendency of utopian content. The arts are for Bloch a kind of functionally prophetic envisioning. They involve us in a process of cognition in which the subject-object divide is transcended within the receptive subject. Music, for Bloch, is one of the art forms in which this capacity is most vividly present. He was particularly interested in the works of the Expressionists - like Schoenberg, whose project was specificaly to give expression to the dialectic of the not-yet-imagined. Unlike orthodox Marxists, he also saw that religion had an impotyant part to play int the imaginative creation and realisation of hope. In this he distinguished sharply between those organised and institutionalised religions which he saw as serving specific class interests, and the religious or spiritual impulse, which has existen as an essentially human characteristic from the beginning of time. Here, he foreshadows the later emergence of cultural studies, liberation theology and postmodern indigeneity not to say New Age spirituality. However, this is not to suggest that Blochʻs philosophy is unworldly. Rather it seeks to reconcile those elements that have been rejected or abandoned by Marxism and to reinstate them into a coherent vision of hope.
For a terrific analysis of Bloch's importance by Douglas Kellner click here
Peter Berger (1929- )
Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann are included here together not because they have no significant individual works of their own, but because their combined work - the publication of The Social Construction of Reality A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge (1966) has been one of the most influential Critical Therory texts in the latter part of the 20th Century.
Like many of his Critical Theory colleagues, Peter Berger was born in Vienna and moved to the United States at the end of the Second World War. He is a sociologist and a Lutheran Theologian - a strange combination for someone so influential ijn Critical Theory. After completing a Bachelor of Arts he moved to the New School for Social Research in New York where he completed an MA (1950) and a PhD (1952). Following a series of appointments at Rutgers and Boston College he finally settled at Boston University where he has been a professor of Sociology and Theology since 1985. His many books include studies in sociological theory, religion and Third World development. Titles include: Laughter: The Comic Dimension of Human Experience (1997); Modernity, Pluralism and the Crisis of Meaning (with Thomas Luckmann, 1995); The Capitalist Revolution: Fifty Propositions About Prosperity,Equality and Liberty (1988); and The War Over the Family: Capturing the Middle Ground (with Brigitte Berger, 1983). In the 1960s he met and collaborated with Ivan Illich developing programmes at the Centro Intercultural de Documentación (CIDOC) in Cuernavaca, Mexico.
Berger's co-author, Thomas Luckmann was born in Slovenia - a part of Yugoslavia. He too is involved in theorising in the areas of include the Sociology of knowledge, the sociology of religion, the sociology of communication and the philosophy of science. Sijnce 1984 he has been an Emeritus Professor at the University of Constance in Germany. He was educated at the University of Vienna and Innsbruck and (like Berger) The New School for Social Research in New York. THe is a major figure in the postwar development of the social sciences - not only in regard to religion. Hs name has also been associated with major theoretical and methodological developments in both philosophy and sociology. But it is for his work in the Socioloogy of Knowledge tghat he is best known. These particular works include his two books with Berger, The Social Construction of Reality (1966) and Modernity, Pluralism and the Crisis of Meaning (1995) as well as his Structures of the Life-World (1982, together with his colleague Alfred Schütz that he is best known. Schutz had a significant influence on Luckmann and his work is mentioned extensively in his Social Construction of Reality.(Schutz worked as a banker most of his life and taught intermittently at the New School for Social Research. He was primarily interested in the Phenomenology of Husserl and the works of Max Weber in the Sociology of Knowledge).
As Berger and Luckmann so eloquently articulate, we are not born with the model or view of the world through which we order and interpret our sensory and cognitive realities. It develops as we develop from the institutionalised normativities into which we are born and through which we ourselves grow and develop. Its development is part of the normal process of socialisation which marks the course of our life experiences, and it is given shape and form by those experiences as we either accept or reject the socially institutionalised conceptions and meanings which form the basis of our everyday lives. It is ordered, in fact, by the classification systems which we use to separate, distinguish and organise our structured understanding of reality.
This classification system pervades every corner of our social existence and influences extensively our "knowledge" of the world. This is the case in general, but it is also and perhaps particularly the case in the professions and the higher reaches of academia where high-order conceptual distinctions are made and legitimated between different areas of knowledge. These high-order classifications exert a wide and pervasive influence not only within the professions themselves, but also in the wider world outside. Indeed, to speak of an "outside" or an "inside to professions is to acknowledge that the conceptual classificatory systems by which they operate are constituted of linguistic boundaries by which they define themselves as an area of exclusivity.
The conceptual categories by which the professions organise their "internal" reality as well as their collective understanding of the wider epistemological world within which this reality is located are, like all such understandings, socially constructed. As institutionalised systems of common values and meanings, the professions engage in a continual process of reality formation, protection and modification. In general, this process of the social construction of reality is the province of the field of knowledge known as the Sociology of Knowledge - a term first coined by the philosopher Max Scheler, who was interested in the way in which socio-historical selection of ideational contents of knowledge categories might be studied, believing that the actual contents are independent of socio-historical analysis.
The field was later developed in much greater detail by Karl Mannheim, who first introduced the notion of a concrete relationship between knowledge and ideology, suggesting that all human thought is infused with the ideological influences of its social context. It is Mannheim's theories, later developed in yet greater detail by Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann which form the basis for this work. It is from this field, initially, that I will draw some explanatory models which I will use to investigate the ways in which the fields of architectural education and practice are socially constructed, and the roles played by ideological factors in their formation and development.
To speak of knowledge as "socially constructed" is to say that even though social institutions and collectivities seem to have "a life of their own", their formation and continued endurance results from the collective actions, understandings and values which their members bring to bear upon the process of concept-formation. As Berger and Luckmann note:
"Individuals perform discrete institutional actions within the context of their biography. This biography is a reflected-upon whole in which the discrete actions are thought of not as isolated events, but as related parts in a subjectively meaningful universe whose meanings are not specific to the individual, but socially articulated and shared. This has far reaching implications for any analysis of social phenomena. If the integration of an institutional order can be understood only in terms of the "knowledge" that its members have of it, it follows that the analysis of such "knowledge" will be essential for any analysis of the institutional order in question".
This "knowledge" will necessarily be understood as the various and collective meanings which its members and participants bring to its language. In spite of normative theories to the contrary, there is no essential or unifying foundational thematic language - no core of meaning to any of the disciplines or fields of knowledge, no central theory that can be attributed to the field. Rather, there is a field of discursive activity where different and often opposing theories, meanings and ideologies engage with each other in a continuing struggle for conceptual inclusion. These competing theories represent the interests of opposing social and cultural groups. In other words, knowledge creation and reproduction is not a politically or ideologically neutral activity, but on the contrary, is the site of an acute ideological struggle linked to structures of institutionalised power which derive from the capitalist means of production.
To explain the process of institutionalisation, Berger and Luckmann posit the empirically unlikely example of a male/female couple who create an institutional world de novo. As their mutual habituated interactions develop they are able to consign large parts of their lives to the background, in the process, releasing individual and mutual time and attention for an ever-widening engagement with the outside world. Their lives become increasingly efficient. With the birth of children, their habituated interactions assume an aura of historicity so that these interactions become, for the children, an objective reality, a given.
The parents also experience their habituated behaviours as objective realities through the reflective perception of their children. Thus for the social collective as a whole, the institutional world is experienced collectively and increasingly as an objective social reality which antedates the individual's life span. Of course, in actual society it would be impossible for parents to enter into an institutional relationship ex nihilo - that is, without any prior socialisation. In reality, the objectivation of social institutions is an on-going process which is already heavily sedimented for each generation, and hence increasingly experienced as an objective facticity - as having a life of its own, separate from human agency.
Language plays a fundamental role in both the formation and continuation of human institutions. It binds everyday reality and translates experiences into the terms of reference of realities as they are already understood. The very fact of language itself reinforces not only the taken-for-grantedness of everyday reality, but also the reality of non-everyday experiences within the frame of reference of everyday reality itself:
"The common language available to me for the objectification of my experiences is grounded in everyday life and keeps pointing back to it even as I employ it to interpret experiences in finite provinces of meaning. Typically, therefore, I "distort" the reality of the latter as soon as I begin to use the common language in interpreting them, that is, I "translate" the non-everyday experiences back into the paramount reality of everyday life."
It does this through the establishment of semantic fields which are conceptually bounded and which circumscribe all experience within the framework of the already-known. Language is the keystone of the process of social institutionalisation therefore. Different aspects of everyday life are constituted and ongoingly reproduced through the objectifying uses of different languages. Professional work, for instance, is often constituted by a different semantic field which orders and makes sense of the experiences one encounters there. A process of selection operates by which some experiences are integrated into the semantic field and others are ignored or discarded. Some semantic combinations are more significant than others from a survival point of view (identifying domains of criticality) and these have greater prominence within the field. By this ordering process, a common stock of knowledge is accumulated which is passed down through successive generations and which therefore helps to maintain social continuity and stability across time.
Social institutions, thus structure and organise themselves through the mediation of language, establishing distinct semantic fields which also reciprocally bestow social orientation and identity upon their members. In the professions, the selection of frames of reference which constrain these semantic fields define both the cultural inclusivity and the exclusivity of professionals as professionals - that is, the role and social identity of the professional is both defined and prescribed not only within the profession itself, but also within the larger social context of everyday life.
These role definitions then circumscribe the common stock of knowledge about the social status and experience which is contingent upon it. Hence these reciprocal influences between role definition and social status tend towards a self-fulfilling reciprocity. Put simply, we can say that certain linguistic codes act as a social filter, ensuring that only those with a particular social background are attracted to membership, being best able to interpret and understand the codification of the complex language systems involved. Pierre Bourdieu has separately and fully articulated the process by which this happens.
Everyday conversation plays a crucial role in the process of the social construction of reality. Yet everyday conversation is rarely used consciously to define the nature of reality. Rather, it serves as a backdrop against which the nature of reality is silently taken for granted. Thus conversation implicitly and unconsciously binds the reality of the world together. This is to say that the binding power of language remains largely invisible. Language, which forms the basis of our internal conversations about the world is therefore fundamental not just to the process of describing reality, but in constructing and maintaining it. And since language is a social phenomenon, it follows that our conception of reality is mediated by the social forms which structure everyday life. Social groups who use the same language (be it everyday language or specialised technical language) implicitly reproduce and convey through their conversations a model of the world imbued with particular meanings and associations of which they themselves may not be fully aware, but which bind together the concrete reality, the world in question. In addition, we should keep in mind that, as Wittgenstein reminds us, the meanings inherent in language itself do not come ready-made:
“...a word hasn’t got a meaning given to it, as it were, by a power independent of us, so that there could be a kind of scientific investigation into what the word really means. A word has the meaning someone has given to it.”
Within the overall social order, different groups attempt continuingly to have their own version of reality accepted by the larger social collective as the paramount reality - this process is called hegemony. An extremely important aspect of this hegemonic process resides within the meaning and structure of language itself.
In other words, one of the functions of attributing specific meanings to specific conversational words is social intentionality - that is, words are given meanings with the intention of creating an overarching common and shared reality structure which corresponds to the reality of particular cultural groups. In other words, the intentionality of language is deeply implicated in the social struggle of different social or cultural groups to establish their hegemony over society as a whole.
Two groups may view the very same events or phenomena from a radically different point of view, and frequently, within the framework of the social struggle for hegemony, these viewpoints are dialectically opposed. Two such oppositional cultures will therefore attach oppositional meanings to key conceptual categories. Such oppositional meanings will more than likely also be mutually exclusive. To give an example, we will readily appreciate how, after the Reformation, the meanings attached to specific Christian beliefs, rituals and icons were transformed to become counter-beliefs. The beliefs surrounding the Virgin Mary (the notion of a virgin-birth etc.), the reputed infallibility of the Pope, the granting of Indulgences etc. were cast under Protestantism as evidence of the corruption of Christianity rather than its exemplification. Similarly, after Marx, the notion of profit was cast not as the admirable result of good business sense, but as the exploitation of workers denied the surplus value of their labour. When such counter-meanings become widespread within the common stock of language, the significations of that language often becomes apparent to its proponents for the first time. Put another way, our conversational structures tend to remain invisible to us until we view them as an exteriority, ie. from within another conversational structure or convention, and these meanings are often, within the struggle for cultural dominance, oppositional.
In their theorising, Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann outline a structure and methodology for a deeper understanding and investigation of the field of the Sociology of Knowledge. Their approach draws much from the methodological style of the Institute for Social Research (known as the Frankfurt School), and particularly of the Critical Theory for which that School was and is justly famous. Although their work has been extremely influential since it was first published in 1966, it has in many ways been superseded by that later critical analysis which it stimulated, not least of which has been the body of writing and theorising which has come to be called Postmodernism.
To download a more detailed and extended description and analysis of Berger and Luckmann's theories click here.
Walter Benjamin (1892-1940)
Walter Benjamin was a German-Jewish Marxist literary critic, essayist, translator, and philosopher. He was at times associated with the Frankfurt School and was also greatly inspired by the Marxism of Bertolt Brecht and Jewish mysticism. As a sociological and cultural critic, Benjamin combined ideas of historical materialism, German idealism, and Jewish mysticism in a body of work which was an entirely novel contribution to western philosophy, Marxism, and aesthetic theory. (Wikipedia)
He was born in Berlin in 1892 to a wealthy Jewish banking family. As a child his health was poor which may have contributed to his early interest in books and literature. At the age of 20 he studied at the University in Freiburg but soon returned to Berlin to study philosophy, where he became president of the Student Association. During this time he also travelled to Paris and Italy before returning to Berlin. He returned again to Freiburg, then in 1915, during the First World War between France and Germany he significantly began to translate the works of Baudelaire into German. He moved to Munich to continue his studies where he met and befriended Rainer Maria Rilke (one of Germany's greatest 20th Century poets) and Gershom Scholem, the German Jewish philosopher and mystic. Scholem was to become Benjamin's lifelong friend. In 1917 he married and moved to Berne where he met Ernst Bloch . He received his PhD in 1919, but found it difficult to find remunerrative work that matched his interests and abilities. As a result, he and his wife moved back to Berlin to live with his parents. Wnen they separated in 1921 he moved to Heidelburg to teach at the University. By 1923, following Germany's defeat in war, the German economy was failing and Benjamin's father was unable to continue his financial support. During all of this time he had been supporting himself with literary criticism and the publication of essays on the works of modernist poets. At this time he mat Theodor Adorno and Georg Lukács whose 1920 Theory of the Novel made a big impression on Benjamin.
At the end of 1923, Scholem had moved to the fledgling state of Israel in Palestine and tried to persuade Benjamin to join him, but he declined and the following year he moved with Bloch to the Italian island of Capri where he settled down to write is Habilitation on The Origin of German Tragic Drama. While there met Asja Lacis, a Bolshevik actress living in Moscow who remained an important and lasting intellectual and erotic influence on him throughout the rest of his short life. In 1927 he began work on his massive Arcades Project - an analysis of the Paris of Boudelaire which integrated the developing modernist project in the context of the evolving cafe society of the French capital. This work would occupy him for the remainder of his life and would remain unfinished. He submitted the Habilitation in 1928, but it was rejected by his examiners at the University of Frankfurt, making it difficult for him to attain high academic positions. He therefore turned back to writing for journals and publishing literary and theatre reviews and essays and writing translations of important modernist works.
During this time he met and befriended a number of other prominent left-wing writers, including Bertolt Brecht. He divorced in 1930 and for the next three years moved around, seeking refuge from the increasingly threatening and ominous Nazis. He stayed in Ibiza, Nice and in Svenborg with Brecht and Sanremo where his ex-wife lived. He fled to Paris in 1933 when the Nazis gained power in Germany. His years in Paris were enormously productive and it was here that he wrote much of his most influential work - much of it written for the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt. While in Paris, he met other German intellectual and artist refugees and became friends with Hannah Arendt, Hermann Hesse and Kurt Weill. In 1936 his most influential work The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction was first published in French by Max Horkheimer, in the Institute for Social Research Journal.
By that time, the Frankfurt School had moved into exile in New York, and it was from there that Adorno, Horkheimer and others attempted to support Benjamin and to assist him to emigrate to the USA. He visited Brecht for the last time in Denmark in 1938, and then was incarcerated for three months after Hitler revoked the German citizenship of Jews. In 1940, with the Nazis advancing on Paris, he fled with his sister to Lourdes, and in August,of that year, attained a visa to the USA organised by Max Horkheimer. He attempted to reach Portugal (a neutral country) to embark to the US but was intercepted by the gestapo at Portbou on the Midi border between France and Spain and committed suicide by taking an overdose of morphine.
Despite his brief life, Benjamin's influence has been extensive. His colleagues at the Instuitute succeeded in promoting his works and they have, since the 1960s been increasingly influential. His collection of essays Illuinations (1968) edited by Hanna Arendt, has been particularly powerful, His The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, predated and preempted the works of other cultural and media theorists like Marshall McLuhan. A brief biography shows that the range of his influence is extensive. He has had a lasting impact in the fields of literature, philosophy, communications and technology, cultural studies, post-colonial theories, feminism, and historical studies, as well as theories in the contemporary arts:
"The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction is arguably the most influential of Benjamin's essays, in which he locates a shift in the status of traditional art as technical means of reproduction such as photography and film begin to dominate the imagination of a mass public. Benjamin defines the characteristic of manual production of the traditional artwork as a historical process unique to the original object, manifest in the object as its "aura." The subsequent proliferations of technical reproductions of a traditional artwork bear only an imagistic similitude to the original, lacking the "aura" and therefore any relation to the actual historical dimension thereof. The gradual preference of technical media by the mass public signifies for Benjamin both a radical shift in the arts to the political in the Marxist sense, although this shift in the status of art to the political also allows aesthetic contemplation to become dissociated from the properly lived experience of the autonomous individual. The viewer of art, from the detached position of the technical media itself, becomes a disinterested critic, evaluating the reproduced object merely in terms of its presentability; that it takes place. Hence, Benjamin notes the various attempts by political parties, namely the Fascists whom Benjamin feared and despised, to aestheticize politics, or as he put it: "All efforts to render politics aesthetic leads to one thing: war." There are many varied readings of this text, ranging from the democratic and revolutionary Marxist assertions, to the more complex analysis of the specular and spectacular, as well as the totalizing nature of media mass culture by figures such as Adorno and Horkheimer, Debord, McLuhan, and more recently, Agamben. Indicative of such conflicting debates is the recent translation of the actual title of the work, which has been read, "The Work of Art in the Age of Technical Reproduction."
His unfinished Arcades Project was only published as recently as 1999.
Seyla Benhabib (1950- )
Seyla Benhabib was born in Istanbul, Turkey in 1950. Her family were Sefardic Jews who migrated from Spain in the Inquisition in 1492. Her fathrer was a rabbi and businessman. Her mother was well educated and the family was multilingual, speaking Turkish, French, English and Italian at home. She received her BA in Humanities there at the American College for Girls. She then traveled to the United States, where she received her BA in Philosophy at Brandeis University and her MA and PhD in Philosophy at Yale University. Since 1993 Benhabib has been Professor of Government, Department of Government, and Senior Research Fellow, at the Center for European Studies, at Harvard University. In 1996 she was a Visiting Senior Fellow at the Institut fuer die Wissenschaft vom Menschen in Vienna, Austria.
She is the author of several books in other critical theorists, most notably (as mentioned) Hannah Arendt, Jurgen Habermas ("Epistemologies of Postmodernism: A Rejoinder to Jean-François Lyotard" in Feminism/Postmodernism (ed. L. J. Nicholson, 1990) and Max Horkheimer (On Horkheimer (1993 (co-edited). She has also worked with many important philosophers and scholars including Herbert Marcuse. She has also written extensively on Critical Theory itself (Critique, Norm and Utopia: A Study of the Foundations of Critical Theory - 1986). Benhabib is well known for combining critical theory with feminist theory - (already noted) Situating the Self, Gender Community and Postmodernism in Contemporary Ethics (1992).
She admits to the fragility of cultural forms and characterises herself as a Democratic Theorist – a person who advocates discussion within cultures in support of social change. She does not believe in the purity of cultures. Rather she thinks of them as formed through interactions and dialogues with other cultures. Human cultures are, according to Benhabib, involved in a constant change of imaginary boundaries. They influence each other and are transformed in the process. Her argument rests on the assumption in democratic theory that every person ought to be able to determine his or her own life. She believes that pluralism, the existence of fundamentally different cultures, is compatible with cosmopolitanism (a belief in a unitary moral understanding of all cultures), if three (very unlikely) conditions that must be fulfilled:
"I think it is possible to have an empire without borders; I don’t think it is possible to have a democracy without borders".
"How can liberal democracy best be realized in a world fraught with conflicting new forms of identity politics and intensifying conflicts over culture? "Realising that cultures are themselves conflicted about their own boundaries, she challenges the assumption that cultures are clearly defined entities. She argues that much debate is dominated by this faulty belief. She presents an alternative approach, developing an understanding of cultures as continually creating, re-creating, and renegotiating the imagined boundaries between "us" and "them."
Benhabib's theories are informed by her extensive research and prior analysis of the life and work of Hannah Arendt (The Reluctant Modernism of Hannah Arendt: 1996) and a later publication on the correspondence between Arendt her friend and counsellor Karl Jaspers regarding the jurisdictional realities surrounding the Israel trial of Adolf Eichmann in 1961 - Reclaiming Universalism: Negotiating Republican Self-Determination and Cosmopolitan Norms, (Tanner Lectures on Human Values, University of Califiornia, Berkeley, 2004), Reporting upon Eichmann's trial, and his display of neither remorse nor anti-Semitism (saying that he was "Just doing his job", and "Just obeying the law") Arendt had posed the important question of whether national laws (that is the laws developed and enacted by particular cultures) can be seen as subservient to laws of "humanity", and if so under what circumstances might this be possible. Following the logic of Arendt's analysis, Benhabib maintains that since the UN Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 we have entered a phase in the evolution of global civil society that is characterized by a transition from international to cosmopolitan norms of justice.
Yet she is aware of the tensions that exist between the increasing tendency to acknowledge and abide by international, cosmopolitan values and the need for nation states to control their own values, cultural identities and boundaries:
“How can the will of democratic majorities be reconciled with norms of cosmopolitan justice? How can legal norms and standards, which originate outside the will of democratic legislatures, become binding upon them?....
…we are facing the rise of an international human rights regime and the spread of cosmopolitan norms, while the relationship between state sovereignty and such norms is becoming more contentious and conflictual”Benhabib suggests that the limitations in self-determination are those that are required by the self-determination of others:
…every person, and every moral agent who has interests and whom my actions and the consequences of my actions can impact and affect in some manner or another, is potentially a moral conversation partner with me: I have a moral obligation to justify my actions with reasons to this individual or to the representatives of this being. I respect the moral worth of others by recognizing that I must provide them with a justification for my actions. We are all potential participants in such conversations of justification… Due to the open-endedness of discourses of moral justification there will be an inevitable and necessary tension between those moral obligations and duties resulting from our membership in bounded communities and the moral perspective that we must adopt as human beings simpliciter.
A discursive approach should place significant limitations on what can count as morally permissible practices of inclusion and exclusion, engaged in by sovereign polities. This confronts the discourse theorist with a dilemma: a shared feature of all norms of membership including, but not only, norms of citizenship is that those who are affected by the consequences of these norms and, in the first place, by criteria of exclusion per definitionem cannot be party to their articulation.The way out of this dilemma, for Benhabib is to make a necessary distinction between moral, ethical and political aspects of the cultural dynamic and to engage in a systematic and ongoing iterative dialogue about inclusions/exclusions. She cites two examples to support her case – the French government’s struggle to come to terms with the rights of young Muslim women to wear the burqa in highschool, and the German government’s attempts to resolve the rights of resident aliens to participate in local electoral processes.
This then gives rise to a dilemma: either a discourse theory is simply irrelevant to membership practices in bounded communities in that it cannot articulate any justifiable criteria of exclusion, or it simply accepts existing practices of exclusion as morally neutral historical contingencies that require no further validation.”
Unlike communitarians who reduce the demands of morality to the claims of specific ethical, cultural, and political communities, and unlike realists and postmodernists who are skeptical that political norms can ever be subordinated to moral ones, I insist upon the necessary disjunction as well as the necessary mediation between the moral and the ethical, the moral and the political. The task is one of mediations, not reductions.
She cites Kant’s concept of hospitality as a basic value for the relations between peoples and poses the need for Democratic Iterations as a means of mediating the tension between sovereignty and hospitality.
“Iteration” is a term that was introduced into the philosophy of language through Jacques Derrida’s work. In the process of repeating a term or a concept, we never simply produce a replica of the original usage and its intended meaning: rather, every repetition is a form of variation. Every iteration transforms meaning, adds to it, enriches it in ever-so-subtle ways. In fact, there really is no “originary” source of meaning, or an “original” to which all subsequent forms must conform”
“Democratic iterations” are linguistic, legal, cultural, and political repetitions-in-transformation, invocations that are also revocations. They not only change established understandings but also transform what passes as the valid or established view of an authoritative precedent.”
This space, according to Benhabib, exists between the rights claims that frame democratic policies and the democratic expectations of national citizens, who are seen as accepting and integrating these revised perspectives into acceptable policy transformations. Having grown up in a Jewish culture within an Islamic society, Benhabib is intimately aware of the intricacies of cultural mediation and negotiation, and applies this understanding to two European examples: In the first, she interrogates these issues against the French attempts to legislate against the wearing of the burqa. In the second, she researches the German dilemma raised by the desire of provincial governments to allow alien residents to participate in local elections. She concludes from these analyses that the world has already moved substantially to in the direction of cosmopolitan rights and that we really need to recognise and accept this universal change. She suggests further, that the process will continue to accelerate into the future as increasing numbers of refugees and transnational workers continue to populate our nations and transgress national and cultural boundaries. She further recommends an increase to iterative political processes.
Having studied Benhabib’s theories in some detail, I have personally come to believe that while her analysis is theoretically sophisticated, her conclusions are built upon a foundation of hope that is itself premised upon a misunderstanding of the dynamics of power that animate cultural processes. In the first instance, her examples and her models of the jurisgenerative processes are taken from the cultures of previously-colonising nations (France and Germany). What she fails to account for is the fact that for the previously-colonised or indigenous perspective the jurisgenerative process itself looks quite different. For these people, the law has continually been a source and instrument of their oppression and continues to be so. There is therefore no reason why they should continue to place their faith in a political process where the rule of the majority fails to account for their continuing oppression.
For the Maori of New Zealand, for instance, the legislation surrounding the Foreshore and Seabed Act was seen as a further act of governmentally-inspired confiscation and land-theft. This legislation was enacted by the Labour Government specifically to maintain its majority support in the wider (and racist) New Zealand community. The Act saw a further erosion of Maori rights under International Law and was soundly criticised by the United Nations representative who was appointed to review the legislative and consultative process. His report was not accepted and was in fact heavily (and sarcastically) condemned by the Government.
Stanley Aronowitz (1933-)
Stanley Aronowitz was born in 1933 and grew up in the Bronx, New York City. He attended Brooklyn College until he was suspended for leading a sit-in in the Dean’s office to protest the suppression of the radical student newspaper. After leaving school he became a steelworker and then a union organizer for the Amalgamated Clothing Workers (now UNITE) and the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers.
Aronowitz received his B.A. from the New School in 1968. Following this he became associate director of the anti-poverty organization Mobilization for Youth, where he was also a community organiser. In the early `70s he founded Park East High School in East Harlem, the first post-war experimental public high school in New York City, and taught community studies at the College of Staten Island. He has since taught at the University of California Irvine, the Center for Worker Education at City College of the City University of New York, where he teaches in the Graduate Center and is currently Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Urban Education.
Aronowitz was a New Left activist during the `60s, organising the New York New Left movement. He was the chief New York organiser for the Independent Committee to End the War in Vietnam, an editor of the influential journal Studies on the Left, and taught at the radical Free University of New York. He is presently an elected officer of the CUNY faculty and staff union, the Professional Staff Congress. Like Michael Apple, Aronowitz has been a Union organiser and activist all of his professional life.
He was deeply influenced by Herbert Marcuse's Eros and Civilisation and One-Dimensional Man and in 1972-3 he met Marcuse who had responded to the manuscript for his first book, the acclaimed False Promises: The Shaping of American Working-Class Consciousness. Marcuse invited him to present a series of lectures at San Diego in 1974 and they remained friends until Marcuse died in '79. He has written 23 books in all. Among the more recent are From the Ashes of the Old (1998) - an analysis of the state of the labour movement, The Last Good Job in America, (2001)- essays on culture and politics and The Knowledge Factory (2001) - a critique of the corporatisation of higher education; Implicating Empire: Globalization and Resistance in the 21st Century (2002);Paradigm Lost: State Theory Reconsidered (2002); and Debating Empire (New Left Review Debates) (2003); How Class Works (2003); Just around the Corner: The Paradox of the Jobless Recovery (2005) and Left Turn (2006). Each of his books has advanced his and our understandings of the state of the Left in contemporary life - the success of the Right, and the inability of progressive social movements to coalesce in the formation of a broad coalition for change.
He has also written about science and technology, philosophy and culture and has edited four volumes (a collection of 90 plus articles) on C. Wright Mills in their Great Sociologists series by Sage Publications.(2004). With Fredric Jameson and John Brenkman, he is a founding editor of Duke University's Social Text, a journal that is subtitled "Theory, Culture, Ideology." He has written that with this publication their "objective was to interrogate Marxists' habitual separation of political economy and culture and to make a contribution to their articulation, even reunification."
His analysis of the failure of the New Left to capture the public imagination, the co-optation of middle class black America by the Democratic Party and its failure to contest the ideologies of the New Right have been very influential in Left political theorising. In 2003 he ran for Governor of New York under the Green Party and was endorsed by Ralph Nader. He led the fight to maintain the official ballot status of the Green Party and ran a grass roots campaign based on a radical democratic program that combined opposition to corporate power and plutocratic government with commitment to a sustainable environment, racial equality, feminism, gay liberation and individual freedom. His campaign was a model for leftists running for public office: radical, honest, grounded in the issues, inclusive and accessible. Aronowitz's reflections on the campaign, written just weeks after the polls closed, gives readers a sense of the opportunities and challenges of independent political campaigns in a time when most progressives still cling to the Democratic Party, but when the total inability of the Democrats to offer a real alternative to the Republicans becomes clearer with every passing day.
He lives in Manhattan. He was married to the writer Ellen Willis, with whom he had a teenage daughter. He also has four older children. Helen died in 2006.
Stanley Aronowitz's thought extends over a considerable number of topics, initiating, engaging and continuing a public debate on class, culture and identity, consequently reflecting deeply on major issues in cultural studies, postmodernism, identity politics, education, literature, intellectuals and his own life.
He started his professional academic career from the foundation of solid worker experience coupled with a profound commitment to labour activism and organisation. His theoretical meanderings have, since that time, led him on a search for meaning to the social and political struggles of our time, grounded in a Marxist frame of reference. He has spent his professional working life critically engaging with four separate but related aspects of culture and public life:
“...the music of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and the Kinks cannot be understood simply as a further development of tendencies internal to Rock as it took shape during the late fifties and early sixties. Rather...these particular expressions of individual creativity by artists such as Jagger, Lennon or Davies are only comprehensible in relation to the expressions of social creativity unleashed in England at that time by “the deep, spontaneous revolt of working class youth against British bourgeois society which it articulated” and which, while economically rooted, took predominantly cultural, even sexual forms....English rock during this period directly assaulted the linguistic hegemony of standard “U” English with such striking success that one may even find impeccably educated, upper-class English youth affecting a Liverpool accent.”
We see here that he has already moved beyond both the inabilities of Adorno and Horkheimer to recognise the potency of popular culture on the one hand, and the strict adherence to the orthodox base-superstructure marxist model on the other. He clearly recognises that culture can and does indeed play a significant part in the process of social change. As he rightly points out, Culture is now firmly bracketed in the plural, in the form of a confrontation between dominant and subordsnate groups. Society is no longer seen as made up of the cultured and the uncultured. There are cultures, often opposed to each other - giving rise to what Roszak would call the youth counter-culture. It will be noted that this oppositional model of culture is very different to that to which Adorno and Horkheimer tenaciously clung. The myriad pop groups who came to prominence at that time controlled their own material - a material which invariable grew out of a rich and fertile regional musical tradition. At the same time, the famous expansion of the clothing industry in Soho's Carnaby Street in "Swinging London" developed not from established rag-trade manufacturers, but from a burgeoning hippie cottage industry transported from the Portobello Road and Kings Road in Chelsea.
These aspects of popular culture were missed by Adorno and Horkheimer simply because they had decided a priori that all popular culture was the expression of a regime of exploitation and domination. Not only did the Frankfurt theorists fail to recognise the radical potential of popular cultural forms, but their continued reliance upon a determining economic base also failed to adequately theorize the ultimate failure of the traditional marxist model. In spite of their best intentions, they remained tied to an essentially pessimistic view of the world. By abandoning class as an important social category, and simultaneously decrying the very cultural productions which point to an oppositional tendency of resistance arising from class stratifications, they created for themselves a theory infused with despair - and this was their unfortunate legacy to an upcoming generation of social theorists like Foucault, Lyotard and Derrida.
What these theorists missed had been unravelled by the British sociologist Paul Willis, working at the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies with Stuart Hall. Willis studied 12 working class boys in a Midlands school - these were known as 'the lads'. These 'lads' knew how to achieve in school, they knew what to do to get qualifications but they chose to reject school and form their own 'Counter School Culture' as an act of resistance to imposed values and classed perceptions. Unlike Bowles and Gintis (whose Correspondence Theory suggested that schools and curricula are designed to reproduce a ppopulation of graduates that corresponds to the needs of capitalist production), Willis argued that these 'lads' were not forced, but rather chose to resist this imposition and in so doing unwittingly contributed to the classed limitations of their life chances. Aronowitz cuncurred:
“For working class children who know that social mobility is an ideology, and that they are probably fated to end up in manual occupations, the effort is to endure school rather than participate. Their energy and their sense of self are preserved by tuning out the rigors of reading and mathematics, since they do not regard these activities as important to their lives. Instead, the curriculum is perceived as a means of pressure to force them to abandon their secret world - to learn to regard their relationships with their peers as less significant than those with teachers. Many children who “fail” in school are trying to cling to childhood because they know it is the moment in their lives, however fleeting, in which authority has the least power over them...The rebellious students’ awareness that school represents the end of innocence is quickly transformed into guilt and regret for not having listened to their teachers early in life. By high school the failing students have developed a self image that corresponds to their class position.”
Here we see Aronowits beginning to challenge the role of normative State education as a means of social liberation. This theme is developed further in an article:"Technocratic Rationality and the Politics of Schooling", in:Social Practice, (1980). From this, Education becomes for Aronowitz a part of a larger discourse around the issue of technical rationality itself and its ability to colonise the entire field of epistemology. He tilts first at its impact upon science in another article: "Science and Ideology",in:Current Perspectives in Social Theory, (1980). It is a theme he will pick up and develop more fully eight years later in his book: Science as Power: Discourse and Ideology in Modern Society(1988).
A year later, in 1981, Aronowitz returned to the theme of Marxism's failure to ignite the workers and of the Left'sinability to exert its influence over Marxist orthodoxy. In his book: The Crisis in Historical Materialism, (1981), he begins by paying tribute to the black Marxist historian W. E. B. Dubois before moving on to to a historical analysis of the works of more recent American New Left theorists (like Frederick Jameson, Susan Buck Morse, Martin Jay, Russell Jacoby etc.) who brought recent new material to light through the European-American journal Telos. He reviews the works of Lukács, Korsch, Benjamin and Gramsci before attemting a comprehensive analysis as a means of unpacking the contradictions of the base-superstructure debate that has bedevilled Marxist theorising and which in his opinion has stymied the growth and development of a radical alternative Marxism. He notes that the failure of Marxism was seeded in the original struggle for dominance within the movement from its very beginnings:
"Trotsky's argument, reflecting the majority of the Bolshevik central committee, was that full cultural emancipation must await the victory of the world socialist revolution, or at least the securing of Soviet power within Russia. In his view, cultural revolution was antipathetic to the project of the consolidation of state power because it would divert the energies of the masses from the revolutionary tasks of defeating the enemies of the regime, and from reviving the productive apparatus that had been destroyed during the war.
"... science itself no longer is only a hegemonic ideology of the new social order of capitalism and its industrial stage, but becomes integrated into the practices and discourses of production. The interchangeability of science and technology is, of course, either denied or ignored by most philosophers and scientists, but their growing convergence extends beyond the workplace. As scientific discourse permeates state and civil society, scientific culture spills over beyond the laboratory. Business dares make no decisions that are not grounded on mathematical calculation that provides projections; legislators enact laws based on 'data' generated by scientifically trained experts... (and) technological criterion of efficiency becomes the new cult of public and private schools. In schools, the idea of the liberal arts slowly gives way to occupational education."
“…the relative autonomy of labor, culture, and consciousness within the broad framework of marxist theory of capitalist development. That is, I take the aphorism 'all history is the history of class struggle' seriously. If this is the case, then the doctrine of subsumption must not be taken as an empirical description; rather it is a powerful tendency that becomes an aspect of the mode of production, but it is counteracted both by the historical cultures of the working class (which have their roots in precapitalist social formations as much as the culture that arises from the labor process itself), and by the formal and informal organization of the working class, which restrains the subsumption process and causes its retardation and deformation.”A year later, Aronowitz returned to his preoccupation with the bigger cultural picture, Roll over Beethoven: The Return of Cultural Strife (1993). He acknowledges that the question of culture has become central for a new generation of scholars raised in a world of television and mass production. At the same time debates about culture have become a point of reference for criticism of current trends in academia and society, variously defended or derided on the grounds of "multiculturalism," "canonicity," and political correctness. Aronowitz re-examines these debates and traces the history of the cultural issue - in both its British and American manifestations - and relates it to the contemporary rethinking of the nature of knowledge and culture. ‘
Aronowitz extends this theme of the role and identity of the working class and problematises it his next work, The Jobless Future: Sci-Tech and the Dogma of Work, (written with William Difazio in 1995). There, they note a disjunction between the public perception of work as a necessary component of increased economic expansion, wealth and personal liberation and the social political and cultural context of work (and increasing leisure) under Late Capitalism. They note that even in the depression and massive unemployment of the 1930s, social unrest and transformation was contained. The New Deal was, to that extent a mechanism for keeping the lid on revolutionary change.
Throughout the economic boom times of the 1950s-1980s, the labour movement was co-opted by the industrial military complex and kept its demands to minor adjustments to the conditions of work (pay increases, safe working environments and reduces working hours). Similarly, throughout the economic flight of capital with its corresponding unemployment and homelessness and emergence of the Rust Belt of the 1980s, major social organising was constrained. With the advent and enormous expansion of public media, they see the media (and education) as key instruments in the pacification of the displaced working class. All of these factors and mechanisms indicate, for Aronowitz and Difazio, an impending conflict between the need for work as a dignifying activity and the increased unemployment created by global capitalism and the penetration of technology into productive life.
Under the dogma of work, to not have a job (unless disabled or retired) is an undignified stigma, yet increasingly we look into a future where not-working will become the norm for the majority of the population. Faced with this, the authors argue for a reconceptualisation of work, the reduction of working hours and the introduction of a universal minimum income. Tese preconditions offer the opportunity fore a completely revitalised democratic public life:
“Under these circumstances, we envision civil society as the privileged site for the development of individuals who really are free to participate in a public sphere of their own making. In such a civil society, politics consists not so much in the ritual act of selection, through voting, of one elite over another, but in popular assemblies that could, given sufficient space and time, be both the legislative and the administrative organs. The scope of popular governance would extend from the workplace to the neighborhood. For as Ernest Mandel has argued, there is no possibility of worker self-management, much less the self-management of society, without ample time for decision making. Thus, in order to realize a program of democratization, me must create a new civil society in which freedom consists in the first place (but only in the first place) in the liberation of time from the external constraints imposed by nature and other persons on the individual.”These themes are taken up in more detail in Aronowitz’s subsequent works, Post-Work: The Wages of Cybernation (Co-Edited with Jonathan Cutler in 1997), From the Ashes of the Old (1998) and The Last Good Job in America (2001).
The first of these comprises a series of papers on a wide variety of the topics that have occupied Aronowitz in earlier works, but in more detail. (Labour history, poverty, welfare policy, guaranteed income, education, the tenure system, the impact of computers and the issue of leisure time). From the Ashes of the Old details the history of the labour movement from 1945 to the present, contextualising it within the world economy and the development of technology. Here, Aronowitz places the co-optation of the unions under the microscope and interrogates the mistakes made that surrendered the progressive agenda of labour to big business. He asks the profoundly important question of “What needs to be done? and proposes a somewhat hopeful revitalisation of the labour movement itself – by recruiting the millions of non-unionised workers in the South and by attracting the white-collar middle classes who are being squeezed out by the global economy - alongside coalitions of other disaffected and marginalised groups The book contains an impressive in-depth look at the workings and strategies of more than a dozen unions.
Finally, in The Last Good Job in America, Aronowitz synthesises all that has gone before to focus specifically on the multifarious ways in which the time available for public life, for a discourse on Democracy has been eroded by the economic order. He laments the ways in which the economic order has penetrated every corner of our everyday lives. He cites many instances – the poor, who must have two jobs to survive economically, the white collar worker who is tied to email 24/7. His friend and mentor Marcuse had theorised that capitalism now had the resources and means to eliminate poverty and to increase personal freedoms. Instead, from what he sees as the turning point in 1971, we have seen those freedoms systematically eroded and poverty increase. Schools and universities have been penetrated by big business, and the inner city bohemians who once served as the avant-garde moral and intellectual commentators on consumerism have been gentrified out of existence.
In contrast, he suggests that “the last good job in America” is his own. He has job security (tenure) a good income, possesses intellectual and political independence and has his reflective time rewarded. Everyone, he suggests, ought to be in the same position:
"Rather than proposing an equality of alienated labor, we should fight to universalize throughout society the autonomy and shorter working hours of the senior professoriate at research universities, not just for those in higher education".He suggests (yet again?) that the only way to bring this about is by a radicalisation of the political left – a move towards greater civil disobedience and passive resistance, coupled with a major push at reorganisation and coalition-building. As one reviewer noted, Aronowitz might have to wait a long time!”
In the same year that he wrote The Last Good Job, Aronowitz ironically though not uncharacteristically cast his reflective eye over his own job in another book: The Knowledge Factory : Dismantling the Corporate University and Creating True Higher Learning (2001). Here, he returns once again to issues confronting tertiary education, demonstrating in the process how the those intellectual, economic and political freedoms which he touted in Last Good Job are, in fact, under siege in his own backyard. He begins first by contrasting Higher Education with Higher Training – suggesting that education (in the sense of teaching people how to think, question and challenge) has been replaced by curricula and pedagogies designed increasingly to produce cohorts for the labour market. He analyses the American academic system in detail, showing how outsourcing has narrowed the space for intellectual debate, before moving on to academic labour and the struggle of academics to retain those rights and privileges that have traditionally been theirs, of courses increasingly taught by adjuncts through the imposition of market economy on University budgets. Aronowitz also puts the curriculum under the microscope, showing how critical theorising and analysis has been both absorbed and watered-down to serve credentialing goals or eliminated altogether in its more radical forms. For instance critical pedagogy is taught as a theory (rather then being student-centred or dialogical or having a direct connection with real social, political or economic issues in real and marginalised communities) in ways that are inconsistent with its own basic premises.
He concludes by calling for the dismantling of the corporate university, for a return to the freedoms and values that once animated American academic and made it the envy of the western world.
All of this (some might say narcissism) was, of course, before the tragedy of the World Trade Centre. The latter event pushed Aronowitz – a committed son of New York – to reflect more intensely upon the events of 9/11 and the American imperialistic response. Three further books locate their analyses in the shadow of these events. Implicating Empire: Globalization and Resistance in the 21st Century (edited with Heather Gautney) (2002), Paradigm Lost: State Theory Reconsidered (Edited with Peter Bratsis) (2002), and Debating Empire (New Left Review Debates), edited with Gopal Balakrishnan, (2003)
"None of what Aronowitz has to say is without plausibility; indeed much of it is compelling, but it is an analysis that gives this reader the distinct impression that its subject matter is receding. The world, so aptly described by Aronowitz, is disappearing, leaving Aronowitz as a reviver of fading concepts, pumping energy into these concepts that have become "dark bodies" of absorption."
“The intellectual opposition contests the main narrative on several planes: for one, it proposes a past different from that promulgated by the leading institutions of collective memory, chiefly, the book, the school, and popular media. For another, it elaborates a cultural and social imagination that contradicts prevailing common sense”Key to Aronowitz's theorising is his contention that it is not only income that defines the working class as suggested by normative “common sense” beliefs. Rather working class identity is shaped primarily by a relative lack of power and control over one’s labour. This is an important point, because it shifts our thinking away from the mirage of consumption back to the more important structural issue of power and hegemony. One of the major factors behind the success of the Right has been its ability to individualise identity – to fragment and render competitive different subject groups and different subject identities and then to capitalise on the fears and expectations thus brought into the light. To give but one example (used earlier by Aronowitz), the feminist movement has been co-opted to focus primarily upon the “glass ceiling” rather than to challenge broader issues such as the division of labour, the plight of poor, unemployed, of abused women or the needs of women of colour. In its success, the Right has been able to erase the history and contemporary awareness of class struggle and to link worker hopes and expectations to the development and growth of the “free market” global economy. Much of Aronowitz's effort goes into reawakening this collective memory of class struggle and tearing illusion of progress through consumption.
Having established an understanding of the history of class struggle, he suggests that real structural transformation is only brought about by broad social movements (remember that this is what the unions failed to establish). The loss or abandonment of a unifying conception of class has, for Aronowitz, been key to the Left’s inability to re-establish the social movement necessary to resist the Right and to bring about change. The Right’s ability to play upon the homophobia, racism and misogyny that are an inherent part of working class subjectivity has effectively stymied resistance to consumption ideologies. Identity movements of workers, gays, blacks etc.:
“….insist on their absolute separation from class politics… (and) lacking the concept of the unity of social and cultural divisions around the axis of power, they cannot grasp the notion of modality and must present difference in terms of irreconcilable binaries”
“It was only when these apparently separate movements of labor and women joined, took to the streets, and, through intense direct action as a public discussion, captured public opinion that sections of the liberal middle class and intelligentsia became convinced it was in their interest to support these demands and the ruling bourgeoisie yielded”This analysis leads him inexorably to a critique of fashionable versions of Postmodernism which, though appearing to offer a new voice to previously unrecognised or silenced groups in fact stripped them of their true emancipatory potential by severing their relationship with issues of class.
“…the effect of their postmodern theory was to provide a new version of political liberalism. For by affirming the primacy of human rights and by their renunciation of class formation and class struggle they had deprived themselves and the movements they extolled of the levers of power, except those of incremental reform. Moreover, by renouncing class analysis and substituting the indeterminate plurality of struggles based largely on bio-identities, they were unable to answer the question, What issues are worth fighting for?”
There are echoes here again of Michael Apple’s notions of multiple subjectivities and his insistence upon the need for the unions to shift towards a more radical posture with respect to the State as well as capital. Like Apple also, he is suspicious and critical of the notion of consensus politics, which he sees as masking inherent differences between different subject groups that need to be reconciled through a full exploration of their differences and similarities (akin, perhaps to Apple’s desire to see conflict resolution reinscribed into the curriculum). A broad social movement can only emerge, suggests Aronowitz, when these diverse groups re-accept the unifying issue of class as their common characteristic.
The potential for this already exists and the reality is to some extent already emerging. While the globalisation of the market economy has undoubtedly resulted in increasing political social and economic disparities, it has also spawned global resistance which is well evidenced at the huge and powerful demonstrations and a return to direct action at the Gatt Talks, at various international economic summits in Seattle, Rio, Paris, Genoa, Sydney and elsewhere. This resistance is increasingly co-ordinated to focus attention of sweatshop working conditions in the “developing” countries and the role of the multinational corporations in perpetuating economic slavery in the search for increased profitability in the production of consumer goods. He spends a considerable amount of time defining and describing this new “movement”, suggesting that (to put it rather simplistically) the Left is not Dead, but merely napping, and that the resistance to late capitalism is growing as the environmental crisis deepens and becomes more obvious. The question remains, however, whether the members of this new coalition of the Left will opt for real social change – with all of the painful struggle that will mean, or will once again settle for an amelioration of conditions.
Aronowitz’s historical analysis of social movements and of the labour moment in the United States is broad and detailed. His knowledge is breathtaking and his narrative is compelling as befits someone of his intellect, experience of union organising and political activism. From his extensive analysis he offers the possibility of hope for the formation of a new social movement such as that suggested above. But in order to succeed, such a movement must again embrace the notion of class – not to the exclusion of cultural difference, but as the glue that can bind together a meaningful accord between dissident groups. As he notes:
“Capital and other powerful forces are not fated to win…The ability of ruling groups to impose their domination depends to a large degree on whether an alliance of differentially situated social groups emerges to oppose them”
First, there has to be a shift away from conceptions of class as related to income, jobs etc. and towards a reconceptualisation of the fundamental relationship of class to power – in terms of the ability of individuals to take and have control over their space and time. (Aronowitz tips his hat to Lefebvre in acknowledging the important ways in which the Right has controlled the creation and use of space in its own class interests).
Secondly, he believes that history should be taught not only across disciplines, but that it must also be rewritten from the standpoint of the oppressed. (This re-connecting Aronowitz to his interest and theorising on Education in its role as a transformative praxis). He makes the strong point that the official version (aka Apple’s Official Knowledge) of history is perhaps the most significant marker (and must therefore be a prime target) of hegemony. History needs to be excavated in much the same way that Foucault has demonstrated, in order to reveal its official use as an instrument of oppression. He suggests, following Benjamin, that our present crisis is a norm rather than an exception when seen in the broad struggle of oppressed groups throughout history, and it is important to reconnect ourselves with those who have struggled before us to maintain an awareness of the strategies used to have us think otherwise.
Finally, he suggests that much theorising is disconnected from the ordinary lives and experiences of everyday life – producing g theories about theories in a never-ending world of reflections. (Again Apple makes this same point). He exhorts intellectuals to think and behave imaginatively in a radical manner, but in ways that speak to the common man and woman in the street. Although the book does not give detailed prescriptions for political action, it does reconfigure our understanding in important ways. The question is how to progress the means by which his suggestions can be actioned.
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Michael W. Apple (1942-)
Michael W. Apple was born in 1942 into a working class but quite politically active family in Paterson, New Jersey, the home of some of the most radical workers' movements in the US. Because there was no money for him to go full-time to a university he went to 2 small state teachers colleges at night for his BA, while working as a printer during the day. Then he went into the army – which turned him into a teacher, teaching compass reading and first aid. Leaving the army in 1962 at the age of 19 he taught as a relief teacher in inner city Paterson, New Jersey. This was a time - the early-mid 1960s - when teachers could be hired without a degree because of the severe teacher shortage. Having already been active in the desegregation movement, he was almost always assigned to poor schools with large “coloured” populations. In Paterson he was a founder-member of the Congress for racial Equality (CORE). Although not yet fully qualified as a teacher, much of his political activism was connected with education – protesting the closure of black schools and at bureaucratic attempts to avoid desegregation.
Teaching in Paterson – a very poor town with 80% of the population on some form of assistance, he became increasingly aware of the disparities between what he was being expected to teach and what his students needed to learn. This early exposure to the politics of knowledge was to inform much of his later work. It also impacted upon jhis teaching – having to accommodate to significantly different cultural expectations and learning styles – fostering an early interest in critical pedagogy. Aware of the social and economic difficulties and pressures facing teachers in “minority” schools he became very active in the teachers union – for a time becoming president of one of the local unions. However, he became disheartened by the broken promises and apparent disinterest of the party-political machine that operated the unions and their inability or unwillingness to improve the conditions of the poor inner city schools or to address teacher difficulties. Thus, like Stanley Aronowitz, he began his early professional career as a union organiser and political activist. He was politically involved in the early anti-racist and anti-segregation struggles in the south and the north and was president of a teachers’ union.
He began his early professional career as a union organiser and political activist.
Like Aronowitz, also for Michael, the personal is most truly political. One of his strongest characteristics is his capacity for reflection on his own experience, his ability to situate this in the social, political and economic circumstances of everyday life and to apply the insights thus derived to his theorising on education, culture and power. As he noted in Official Knowledge:
"Among the things that influenced me were the years I spent as a young teacher…in the inner-city schools of one of the poorest cities in the United States. It was made strikingly clear to me then that unless we acted politically – both inside the school and in the larger society – to get less racist, sexist and class-biased curricula, more critically oriented teaching practices, and closer relationships between schools and the local community, neither I nor my students and colleagues would have much of a chance of widespread success."
From those early experiences, his academic and political life has been committed unswervingly to the goals of greater emancipation and justice both within and through education. And despite the obvious conservatism, sexism and racism of some of the teaching community, he has never failed to empathise with their position, but to see it as a response to the social, political and economic situations in which they are immersed.
He has continued his political involvement nationally and internationally - including an arrest in South Korea for speaking out publicly against the military government there and for supporting the formation of an independent teachers union. He is also still deeply involved with teachers unions and other teachers, community activists, and progressive and radical educators in the United States and abroad in establishing and defending socially critical educational practices. He has continued his work on the development of more critically democratic educational policies and practices in a number of countries throughout the world. This predictably has gotten him in some trouble with dominant groups in the US and elsewhere.
He is the John Bascom Professor of Curriculum and Instruction and Educational Policy Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He is also World Scholar and Professor of Educational Policy Studies at the University of London Institute of Education. A former elementary and secondary school teacher and past-president of a teachers union, he has worked with educational systems, governments, universities, and activist and dissident groups throughout the world to democratise educational research, policy, and practice.
His books and articles have won numerous awards and have been translated into Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Greek, Turkish, Italian, Thai, German, Korean, Russian, and many other languages. His latest work deals with the effects of neo-liberal and neo-conservative policies in education and the larger society and with creating alternatives to these policies and practices. He is also the editor of an international series of books published by Routledge, Critical Social Thought. He has recently been awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the American Educational Research Association. He also was awarded the UCLA Medal for "Outstanding Academic Achievement", as well as a number of honorary doctorates by universities throughout the world.
He has been selected as one of the fifty most important educational scholars in the 20th Century. His books Ideology and Curriculum and Official Knowledge were also selected as two of the most significant books on education in the 20th Century.
Michael W. Apple has written extensively on the politics of educational reform and on the relationship between culture and power. Although his many books and articles are too numerous to mention, among them are
His three most recent books are:
"Teachers, for example, blamed themselves as individuals (or their pupils) for the failures of students, just as I did. It more and more, however, seemed to me not to be a question of the amount of effort teachers and curriculum workers, put in. Indeed, few groups of people work harder and in more uncertain, difficult, and complex circumstances than teachers and administrators. Rather, it became clearer that the institution itself and the connections it had to other powerful social agencies generated the dominant rules and practices of educators' lives. Blaming teachers, castigating individuals, was less than helpful."
Apple's critique really starts to come together in his reprinted Ideology and Curriculum (1989), where he delves more deeply into the issue of hegemony, calling on the works of Gramsci, Raymond Williams and Pierre Bourdieu to reveal the implicit agenda of social control that lies behind both curricular and pedagogical proscriptions. In particular he focuses on the hidden curriculum which he sees as designed to inculcate habits of work, time-keeping and submission to authority in children.
He suggests that the denial of the part played by conflict in academic life, fails to account, reflexively for the fact that the advancement of knowledge happens most frequently when conceptual absences are revealed through conflicting views of reality. In addition, the tendency to portray academic life (shaped by technical rationality) as a harmonious whole does violence to the operation of rational inquiry per se.
As Michael Apple puts it:
"The basic rule of activity that constitutes the unconscious negative value associated with conflict tends to lead to the designing of experiences that focus on the 'law or rule breaking' dimension of conflict, yet it should be made clear that conflict leads not 'merely' to law breaking, but is, in effect, law creating as well. It performs the considerable task of pointing to areas of needed redress. Furthermore, it brings into conscious awareness the more basic rules that govern the particular activity over which there is conflict but that were hidden from view. That is, it performs the unique function of enabling individuals to see the hidden imperatives built into situations that act to structure their actions, thereby partially freeing individuals to create relevant patterns of actions to an extent not usually possible."
In ways that point towards more recent conceptions in deficit thinking and theorising, Apple also addresses the ways in which teachers consciousness is “saturated” (his wonderful term!) with labels and conceptions that blame the child, rather than the system. The book finally makes suggestions about what might be done to counteract these tendencies. His suggestions for further research and for reconceptualizing the educator as an organic intellectual (again after Gramsci) while meaningful at a theoretical level are lacking in the specificity of what might actually be done in the classroom. Like Aronowitz, he calls for a collectivisation of intent and resistance, for Advocacy Research in the development of a critical curriculum that might more appropriately represent the needs and expectations of the oppressed and disenfranchised.
It looks, for instance at challenges and contestations to conservative attempts at curriculum formation. It reviews the roll of technology, and its influence on the commodification and legitimation of particular knowledge forms, and contrasts these with the possibilities opened up for creative learning. In particular, Apple looks at the ways in which commodified technologies and pedagogies are used to marginalise large groups of students who then become available for “remedial” teaching.
“By defining large groups of children as deviant (slow learners, remedial problems, discipline problems etc.) and giving funding and legislative support for special teachers and for “diagnosis” and “treatment” the State will fund extensive remedial projects. While these projects will seem neutral, helpful and may seem aimed at increasing mobility, they will actually defuse the debate over the role of schooling in the reproduction of knowledge and people “required” by the society. It will do this in part by defining the ultimate causes of such deviance as within the child or his or her culture and not due to, say, poverty, the conflicts and disparities generated by the historically evolving cultural and economic hierarchies of the society etc.”
There are references here to earlier interrogations of “deficit theorising” pinpointed in Ideology and Curriculum which still pervade most school systems, not least in “post-colonial” societies like New Zealand.
Apple then goes on to focus more minutely and once again on the hidden curriculum as a mechanism of social and cultural reproduction , showing how management models of schooling impact upon classroom relations and pedagogies. Taking examples from industry, he suggests that the hegemony of the classroom is not complete and that acts of resistance are not only possible but (if not common then) prevalent. In the end (and again somewhat akin to Aronowitz) Michael Apple exhorts the introduction of democracy into schools - into curriculum formation, into management systems and into pedagogical forms. The examples taken previously from industrial settings while in themselves inspiring once again fail to completely map the precise strategies necessary to bring about the aims that the book so passionately espouses. This is not to minimise the difficulty in prescribing educational activism in circumstances that vary widely from context to context. Like his fellow unionist, Aronowitz, Michael Apple’ solutions tend towards collective organisation of teachers and their work. But he is ever-mindful of the complexities involved in attempting to unify members of the teaching profession whose lives and personal values are as diverse (and often as blindly patriotic sexist and racist) as those to be found in the wider society.
His concern to understand to lived experiences of teachers and the social, political and economic pressures which circumscribe their beliefs, expectations and actions becomes more fully apparent in his book Official Knowledge (1993 – reprinted 2000). This book may be seen as the maturation of the understandings that have been evolving since the publication of Ideology and Curriculum and Teachers and Texts and it can rightfully be viewed as the third part of this trilogy. However, unlike its predecessors, it embraces the complexities of educational politics much more fully and concretely, refusing to accept easy or simplistic branding of the forces of conservatism or of the cultural complexities of the differing forms of resistance.
Here, he attempts to more fully understand the nature of what he has called the Conservative Restoration, seeing it as made up of four separate groups of individuals:
Although their aims may be varied, the New Right has been largely able to weld these groups into a shifting alliance around conservative issues and to render the logic of their shared ideologies commonsensical. The thrust of his argument is that the Right has been able to create an acceptable commonsense understanding in the wider community that what is public is bad and what is private is good. In the domain of education this has had a dramatic and traumatising effect. It has led to a reduction in public funding that mostly affects the poorer schools. This has created deficits and resource space into which the private areas of the economy have aggressively moved – Apple spends a whole chapter analysing the introduction and operation of Channel 1 (private TV news reporting and advertising) into schools. In addition, the reduction in the resource base has gone hand in hand with a greater insistence upon testing and national standards which has so intensified teacher’s work that they have now no time for reflective or creative teaching activities which might allow for the formation of understandings and resistances to their circumstances. Alongside this has been an increasing prescription of teaching activities, and so on and so on.
Apple takes all of these instances and carefully unpacks their processes, agendas and implications. He does this, like Aronowitz, with a keen eye on the historical context in which these patterns have emerged, yet all the time relating his text back to direct experiences and examples. The clarity of his analysis is remarkable even though the complexity of his subject is enormous. He looks, for instance at the possibilities for and examples of resistance that have and are emerging within the school system, as teachers make space for resistance in what would seem to be hopeless circumstances. He shows communities of resistance themselves are diverse and conflicted, noting how the Right’s strategies of compartmentalisation, fragmentation and individualism has resulted in the formation of complex layered identities that mitigate against collective resistance.
In this regard, he delves into the changes that have taken place over time in the theorising of cultural factors in education. He looks back at his own history – his early involvement with Marxism, with Althusser and Structuralism, and his gradual move towards the works and theories of Gramsci. He notes how cultural factors now play a much more significant part in critical understandings than they used to and that although they have not displaced issues of class he cites important point that it is impossible to think about the work of teachers without recognising the interweaving of class and sexism in the roles played by women teachers – roles that are simply an extension of the unpaid labour of the “housewife”. The race, gender, class disjunctions that are part of the social world of late capitalism make it difficult to organise unifying themes around which communities of resistance can be built.
In addition, he shows how the new right coalition has been able to command unprecedented power to shape what counts as legitimate knowledge in schools – largely by focussing their attention on the Southern and Western States – particularly Texas and California where the political economy of textbook approvals has a disproportionate effect upon the national system. He delves deeply, in fact, into the political economy of the textbook, drawing out in fine detail the circumstances that shape the actions of publishers, School Boards, parent groups and the Federal government. In each instance he demonstrates how the reframing and integration of legitimate community concerns into new and conservative ideological understandings that privilege business and industrial needs over and above concerns for the common good. Yet he points out (again) that although the Right has been able to dictate public discourse around issues of race, class and gender, its outcomes are still in many ways contradictory and leave space for creative challenges and transformations. He shows, for instance, how teachers at the chalk face create opportunities within the ever-growing dictates of the system to creatively transform the situation to their own ends. He details two examples from his own experience in curriculum development and in his Friday Seminar at Madison to illustrate the need for struggle and the opportunities for creative resistance. In all of this he inevitably moves back – again like Aronowitz – to an understanding that success is not to be had by isolated acts of isolated and creative teachers, but only through the organisation of collective and widespread resistance. Typically, he uses his own teaching experiences as a laboratory for searching out the subtleties and complexities involved in attempting to establish and maintain what he calls a “decentered unity” among individuals who share the common goal of promoting radical change in education and in life. Also typically, he reflects, yet again on his own internal consistency in his relations with others in the pursuit of this vision.
Out of this, and attuned as he is to the complexities of shifting perceptions and goals among the diverse communities of interest he proposes not a monolithic or standardised form of organisation or resistance but suggests, instead that different forms must be developed for different circumstances and situations. On the other hand, the insights gleaned from these experiences offer concrete guidelines to the processes and issues involved.
There is no doubt that Michael Apple hits the nail on the head when he suggests that the Right has been extremely successful. One of the prime reasons, I believe, is that they have done so by translating complex ideological issues not just into commonsensical understandings, but that they have done so in an understandable language. (This is something I have written about in detail, To download PDF click here).
The Left could take a leaf out of their book here. Like Noam Chomsky's own critique, Apple rightfully asserts that much Critical Theorising is aimed at other theorists and is couched in terms that are incomprehensible to the “average person” in the street. He calls for a reframing of the discourse to more comprehensible levels. He might also have noted that much theorising is about theorising about theorising in a conceptual hall of mirrors that leaves even most theorists disoriented. This seems to coincide with the remarkable explosion of critical theory as an element of university courses and programmes. A cursory search of “Critical Theory” sites on Google reveals much traffic in not a little drivel. Course outlines in Critical Theory and Critical Pedagogy proliferate and blogs on the same topic are common. (I have Google Alerts out for both topics for my website). Content of all of these media rarely, if ever engages with practice. Yet as Henry Giroux has pointedly noted, critical theory is (merely) an empty masturbatory activity unless it subjects itself to a reciprocal involvement with practice (praxis) in ways which both test and inform the theoretical base of a premise. (click here to download PDF on The Relationship Between Theory and Practice). It is one of Michael Apple’s strongest points that he continually grounds his theories in the real world of teachers’ work and of the classroom. It is for this reason that his theories have more substance and are more readily accessible to educators and political activists. Similarly, it is significant that his works also attempt to provide concrete examples that not only make the relationship between theory and practice clear, but that also offer hope in a time when the Left seems to be in such disarray.
This point is taken up yet again in even more detail in Democratic Schools (1995) in which Apple and his co-editor James Beane pull together a series of concrete examples from the field of democratic classrooms-in-action in a diverse range of cultural settings ( Wisconsin, Chicago, New York and California). The book was intended to demonstrate how to create schools and classrooms with democratic values in mind. When first published it was hailed for its assessment of the important role schools continue to play in promoting democracy, its traditions, and its thinking. It showed how educators can make a lasting difference by combining authentic, important lessons and a consistent, building or system-wide focus on a critical and democratic education. It was extremely successful selling hundreds of thousands of copies, and was reprinted and updated again in 2007 – indicating that it touched a nerve amongst educators and parents alike. As the authors noted in their second edition:
“…the widespread influence of a book like this speaks eloquently to matters of much greater significance. It speaks to the deep commitment of large groups of people to build and defend an education that is worthy of its name rather than one that is reducible simply to the efficient production of scores on problematic standardized achievement tests. It speaks to the growing dissatisfaction on the part of educators in so many places with curricula that have little relationship with the cultures and lives of the students in our schools. It speaks as well to an abiding belief that schools are not factories, that they must reflect what is best in all of us, and that they must embody not simply the rhetoric of democracy but its actual practice. When all of this is put together, much like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, the picture that emerges shows that an increasingly large number of people reject the idea of “TINA”—the notion that “there is no alternative” to the policies now being implemented in towns, cities, states, and regions throughout the nation.”
The message here is not just one of hope, but also one of achievement in the face of apparently overwhelming political and economic pressure. The stories in the book tell of teachers teaching dialogically, involving their students in the social, economic and political problems of the real world – of their real world, and of the multi-layered learnings that have been gained from this and from co-operative learning pedagogies.
Apple’s next book (partially co-authored with Anita Oliver and Christopher Zenk) - Cultural Politics and Education (1996) continues the theme of his previous works, linking the attempts by the New Right to shape and control the curriculum and environment of learning with old-fashioned classed, raced and gendered politics, and at the same time bringing to light the achievements of communities of resistance to these social, political and economic pressures. He and Zenk interrogate the relationships between the politics of cultural identity, poverty, under-achievement and unemployment and link these to political structures, processes and policies that marginalise and exclude – policies founded upon an ideology of market economics and increased corporatisation of public life. They argue that the issues behind these identities are ignored and instead, the State focuses upon the “failures”, “drop-outs” and youth-at-risk – developing remedial policies and systems that further centralise control over curriculum and pedagogy and impose even more draconian and alienating programmes upon the already-alienated. Gone is any awareness of “failure” might be a willful act of resistance against an already-oppressive and culturally insensitive system that is designed to further marginalise, label, treat, dominate and control.
Michael Apple himself points out the need to take seriously the intentions and strategies of the Right in education. He sees it not only as one of the most dangerous and anti-democratic movements in two centuries, but also as one of the most powerful and persuasive ideologies ever promulgated. Following this logic, he and Anita Oliver reveal the process of the formation of a conservative agenda in one particular school district, showing how the formation is not the result of a conspiracy (as popularly suggested), but as a response to real and often arbitrary issues that pit well-meaning school administrations against disaffected and disenfranchised groups who coalesce around conservative proposals in the name of “democracy”. It is to the authors’ credit that they clarify the real issue to be centred not around specific instances of disagreement over curriculum content, but rather about the meaning of democracy and its place in education as a seedbed of public life.
This line of reasoning leads back inexorably to one of Michael Apple’s oft-repeated argumentations – the role of conflict (and its acceptance rather than exclusion) in the educational process. He gees back to John Dewey’s notion of Democracy and Education and suggests how progressive change can be accomplished by small but significant steps taken in the classroom which link learning to the struggles and conflicts of everyday life In the process, he points out the danger of empty left-leaning rhetoric which fails to engage either with the concrete circumstances that exist in the classroom or with the circumstances ion the wider world outside.
This message is continued yet again in Apple’s Power, Meaning, and Identity (1999). Here, in a collection of essays – some of which have been published previously. In chapters with titles like:
• The Personal and the Political in Critical Educational Studies
• The Politics of Official Knowledge in the United States
• Social Evaluation of Curriculum
• How the Conservative Restoration Is Justified
• Education, Culture, and Class Power
• Power, Meaning, and Identity
• Freire, Neoliberalism, and Education
• Between Neo and Post in Critical Educational Studies
The collection brings together essays on curriculum, evaluation, and critical education and cultural theory. In characteristic plain language, they explore more thoroughly the ways in which the political economy of education is shaped by wider social structures and how political educational policies and practices actually are. Beginning once again with a historical perspective, the Apple explores the realities of class, race, and gender in education. As well as going over previous conceptual terrain. (to be continued)
Following this, in Educating the "Right" Way: Markets, Standards, God, and Inequality (2001), Michael Apple, continues the critical analyses of the New Right’s successful hegemony in education that has been the hallmark of previous books. The first two chapters deal with the Right’s ability to attach its own meanings to key commonsense concepts and the constitution of the Right’s loose alliance of four separate social groups - all described first in Official Knowledge. He then reasserts the need for a “decentered unity” – as loose alliance of counter-hegemonic groups to interrupt the agenda of the Right.
Moving on from previous analyses, this is followed in the first edition by a new analysis of the specific agenda of what he calls the “authoritarian populists – with particular reference to the struggle over creationism in a national curriculum. He extends this analysis to show how political figures as well as conservative evangelical Christians have been major political and ideological forces in influencing educational policies at the local, state, and national levels around issues such as the insistence on Christian prayers in public schools. Noting how the Right maintains its alliance by co-opting the fears of parents and by locating these fears within an overarching ideological framework, he argues that what the Right sees as the secularisation of schools has led many parents to withdraw their children and instead to embrace home-schooling.
He devotes considerable time to an analysis of the home-schooling movement. Noting that while not all home-schooling parents have conservative religious views many have traditional conceptions of the family, gender and what is “legitimate knowledge." Noting that home-schooling now accounts for at least 2% of the child-education population (and growing rapidly) he suggests that home-schooling is leading to the "suburbanization of everyday life" and the "segmentation of American society" that is evidenced in the proliferating race, class, and gender divisions in society. He also questions educational policies that allow the use of public to teach religious viewpoints otherwise violating the separation of church and state as laid out in the Constitution.
Conservative white, evangelical Christian home-schoolers justify the removal of their children from school by claiming they are the new oppressed – marginalised by educational policies and curricula that denigrate or deny their belief systems. Apple suggests that these claims to subaltern status do not stand up to critical scrutiny. Their real motivations, he suggests, stem from a fear of contamination by the “Other”, and a parallel fear of the influence that secularization is schools may have upon the spiritual beliefs of their children. Since the “free” time required to home-school is most readily available to the already-affluent, it may be that such policy loopholes offer an added privilege over the poor and already disadvantaged. In December 2006, he followed up this critique of home-schooling with a more conciliatory attitude to the growing population of black home-schoolers in The Complexities of Black Home Schooling published in the Teachers College Record. (More of this later.) He notes there that the movement by groups who reqally ARE disadvantaged (African Americans, Hispanics, native Americans etc) to embrace home-scvhooling is a dangerous trend that frragments and works against the coalition-building necessary to form social movements that might thwart the conservative Right and its hegemony.
Faced with this hegemony of the Right on so many fronts, what is to be done? Apple has suggested many times that the only chance of achieving hegemony is through the building of a social movement involving the need to develop “progressive alliances” from existing counterhegemonic groups such as anti-globalisation activists, peace organizers, environmentalists, feminists, the working class, and gays and lesbians. He also suggests the possibility of tactical alliances with some elements of the Right who share some areas of agreement around issues such as national testing, the introduction of Channel One in schools etc.
The second edition of the book, published in 2000, also contains new chapters on No Child Left Behind, and gender realities. In this edition, his chapter “Who ‘No Child Left Behind’ Leaves Behind” offers an important and insightful critique of the federal legislation which he notes has led to a loss of local control in education. He questions what counts as legitimate knowledge, literacy, success and failure, and good teaching under the Act, noting the incursion of business interests into education (Channel 1) and suggesting that profit rather than public service has become the predominant ethic. He refers to the introduced compulsory testing as “audit cultures” and suggests that it is the implicit racism of education policies that lies at the root of educational disparities and achievements which needs to be addressed, rather than the imposition of auditing systems which are grounded in deficit thinking. He also notes that the No Child left Behind opens the way for mote intense privatization of the educational environment. Not surprisingly, notes Apple, the very structure of the Act maps very precisely the demands of the four key conservative groups which make up the conservative alliance as well as the ideology of the Republican administration. As the Introduction to the Department of Education’s description of the Act notes, it:
“changes the federal government's role in kindergarten-through-grade-12 education by asking America's schools to describe their success in terms of what each student accomplishes. The act contains the President's four basic education reform principles: stronger accountability for results, increased flexibility and local control, expanded options for parents, and an emphasis on teaching methods that have been proven to work”
Translated into action, Apple argues that these policies directly respond to and benefit the conservative groups who make up the Right, and he cites examples from Britain, New Zealand and elsewhere where similar policies have already been implemented to make his case.
Against these examples, he contrasts the work going on at Porto Alegre in Brazil, the examples given in his own Democratic Schools and of the new and increasingly influential Journal Rethinking Schools as examples of successful counter-hegemonic practice.
Besides covering and extending theoretical work mapped out in previous works, Apple here once again builds his and our understanding of the current situation in education, but also in the area of theorising itself. Drawing upon key concepts in the works of Lucáks and Rawls he makes it clear yet again that success for the left is not to be had by merely modifying classroom pedagogies to make them more critical and relevant, but by linking these small changes to broad social movements that make common sense to parents, teachers and school administrators.
Having delved intensively into the political economics and cultural politics of American schooling, Apple next turns his attention to examples from elsewhere. In The State and the Politics of Knowledge (2003) he edits a collection of essays by and with a number of his overseas PhD students and in so doing casts his critical eye over educational politics in the Pacific Rim countries of United States, South Korea, Singapore, Polynesia, Sweden, Norway and Brazil, looking at conservative state “reforms” and how these have affected curricula and pedagogy in ways which have sparked resistance in the respective communities. He begins by charting (with Anita Oliver) the case study of a diverse semi-rural American community of parents who objected to the readings in a language arts series. Despite their philosophical diversity, they were forced into a more conservative and militant approach by the unwitting persistence of the school board in characterising the issue as one of censorship and the parents as uniformly religious fundamentalists.
This is followed by Hannah Tavares with an analysis of the persistence of colonial representations of Polynesia in sexist and racist tones in both historical and contemporary Western cultures. The suggestion here is that these persistent characterisations and stereotypes (“primitive”, exotic”, “promiscuous” and “childlike”) are deeply inscribed in the production of knowledge that continues to influence modern perceptions of Polynesian peoples to their academic and economic detriment. (This is something that here, in New Zealand, has been particularly pertinent in the teaching of Maori and Pacific Island children. For reference click here) Apple then teams up with Ting-Hong Wong to examine state formation of schooling in Singapore between 1945 and 1965, detailing the curricular reforms to unify the diverse cultural groups of the Peninsula in the transition from British colonial rule. The study follows the impact of these reforms after the establishment of national independence.
Examples from Scandinavia are contributed by Petter Aasen from the Norwegian Institute for Studies in Research and Education who analyses educational restructuring in Scandinavian education in the latter decades of the twentieth century. He describes the imposition of conservative policies (identical to those in Britain and the US) of standardised testing, the establishment of core curricula and the establishment of regimes of teacher accountability and efficiency management.
There are two studies from South Korea. Misook Kim Cho and Youl-Kwan Sung (both on the staff of Korean Educational Development) write separately with Apple. Misook Kim Cho examines the rise of career education as a Ministry of Education initiated programme in the early 1990s. In anticipation of a labour shortage in manual trades, the government required a programme of occupational choice and career decision-making in secondary schools to dissuade students from choosing high-end career paths that would prolong their education. Both principals and students resisted the imposed changes. Youl-Kwan Sung and Apple then write about how Korean social studies teachers fought the reactionary Ministry of Education attempts to impose a national curriculum by developing a web-based, on-line discussion group. Yet their attempts to introduce critical (dialogical) pedagogies into their classrooms were thwarted by repressive Ministry requirements and directives.
Apple then returns (with Luís Gandin), to the example given earlier in Educating the Right Way - of the Citizen School Project in Porto Alegre, Brazil and the attempt there to develop a democratic educational system in co-operation with the local community. They engage in the very thorough and well-documented description of Porto Alegre, explaining how the leftist city administration attempts to improve the lives of people in the neighborhoods, especially in favelas (shantytowns). They also describe citizen initiatives to shape classroom age-grouping away from traditional model, and analyse the community’s attempts at curriculum development based upon community needs.
Overall, the attempt to provide a wider cultural perspective on educational reform and resistance is laudable if somewhat patchy. It does make the important point that what Apple calls the “conservative restoration” in education is a global phenomenon. Similarly, it is encouraging to see that teachers, students and parent communities are actively engaged in creative and progressive resistance wherever the ideology of the Right is manifest. There is hope here, which is, I believe, the point that Apple tries to make.
In his latest book, in 2006, Apple again produced a collaborative work – this time edited with Kristen Buras. Subaltern Speak: Curriculum, Power, and Educational Struggles.
In 1988 the Indian critical theorist and feminist Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak contributed a chapter to an edited series of essays - Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture in which she asked the question “Can the Subaltern Speak?” Spivak is a renowned critical theorist whose writings are said to be foundational texts in postcolonial studies. She takes us back to Gramsci’s term for the economically dispossessed. The question asked by Spivak, “Can the Subaltern Speak?” asks if it is possible for the economically dispossessed to have a voice. Putting it simply, in her analysis, she concludes that the subaltern are unable to speak to the dominant culture until such a time as they have acquired the linguistic codes and cultural capital of the oppressor (in Spivak’s case of the coloniser) By which time, they are so removed from their cultures of origin that they are themselves no longer to clearly articulate their demands. Her essay was addressed to academics who attempt to engage in dialogue with subaltern groups, and asks the more pointed question of whether the field of postcolonial studies in fact contributes to and extend the ethic of colonialism.
This book by Michael Apple and Kristen Buras is an attempt to respond to that question in an educational context. The authors suggest that indeed, the subaltern can and do speak, and their argumentation is organised in three sections:
This section looks at the relationship between subaltern groups and educational reform.
Here, the authors highlight the responses and resistances to educational reforms by various subaltern groups within the United States
Finally, they highlight the voices and resistances by a number of different subaltern groups overseas.
Their analysis begins with an introduction that recalls the roots of American colonialism with the story of Sagoyewatha, a Seneca chief who challenged the dominance of Christian missionaries. They use this story as a means of introducing and reminding us of the historical exclusion, dispossession and silencing of the subaltern. They also note that in the modern context, subaltern identity is more than a simple economic matter, but is rather a complex interplay of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, spirituality, age, health – and so on, and that it is not restricted to traditional conceptions of “the colonised” but is rather a local, regional, national and international phenomenon.
In the opening chapter, Kristen Buras looks at what makes E.D. Hirsch’s Core Knowledge Movement so appealing to so many subaltern groups. Hirsch’s movement seeks toi return school curricula to traditional “core knowledge” – oblivious to the fact that this knowledge is socially, culturally and politically compromised and compromising for people outside the dominant culture.
In the second chapter, Apple returns once again to a problematic that he began to analyse in the second edition of Educating the Right Way - the Home-Schooling movement. He begins his analytic by recognising that the home-schooling movement is not homogeneous, and that it covers groups from both the Left as well as the Right. What unites them is:
“…a sense that the standardized education offered by mainstream schooling interferes with their children’s potential; that there is a serious danger when the state intrudes into the life of the family; that experts and bureaucracies are apt to impose their beliefs and are unable to meet the needs of families and children.”
Having said this, he notes that the vast majority of home-schooling parents are evangelical Christians and that, ironically, they are embracing home-schooling as an alternative to state education under a claim of subalternate identity. He delves further into the issue, looking at who is actually doing the schooling in the home, at the political economy of the families – at who can afford the “free” labour to home-school their children and at the roles of the (largely) women/mother teachers within the families. He makes the perceptive point that their claim to subaltern status is based upon their traditional identities as women in a gendered society while in fact, they largely come from upper middle class white families of the dominant culture. He perceptively identifies the emerging subjectivities of home-schooling mothers when he points out that:
“To conservative religious women, what from the outside may look like a restrictive life guided by patriarchal norms, feels very different on the inside. It provides an identity that is embraced precisely because it improves their ability to direct the course of their lives and empowers them in their relationships with others. Thus, intense religiosity is a source of considerable power for many women…. Bringing conservative evangelical religion back to the core of schooling positions secular schooling as hegemonic. It enables rightist women to interpret their own actions as independent and free thinking—but always in the service of God”
He goes into some very convincing detail that their ability to use both state legislation (of the Charter School movement for instance) as well as global internet technologies, to build a powerful and persuasive movement based upon the principles of Christian fundamentalism. In this regard, they are massively supported by powerful forces of evangelical Christianity and the publishing industries both in available teaching/learning texts as well as in organizational and child-management advice and strategies and teaching aids (based upon the Bible and Christian precepts). They also have extremely powerful allies in the White House.
Schools too have not been slow to see the economic advantages of working with these Christian home-schoolers through the Charter Schools – often being able to boost their flagging enrolments and economies by as much as 300%. For Michael Apple, all of this boils down to a serious erosion of the legitimacy of the public secular school system with its precepts of American democracy have been foundational for two hundred years.
He recognises that the claims made by home-schooling parents about the education system are founded upon real experience and sound analysis - issues of unsupervised peer interaction and so on. For these groups, home-schooling provides,
“…subject positions and new identities for people who feel unmoored in a world where, for them, “all that is sacred is profaned” and where the tensions and structures of feeling of advanced capitalism do not provide either a satisfying emotional or spiritual life.”
Yet while they desire a “return” to more steadfast values and pedagogies while at the same time offering a significant increase in control over their childrens’ welfare, this movement which is based upon the perception of the need for subaltern groups to have choice and to have a voice diminishes the possibility of public discourse and in its place establishes a social norm which is largely unchallengeable and unaccountable.
His primary concern is that while purporting to be protecting their children from an alien and secular public school environment and value system (and using public funds to do so) their actions and the social consequences thereof for their children remain largely at odds. The contradictions of the situation become apparent, for Apple:
“On the one hand, one of the dynamics we are seeing is social disintegration, that is the loss of legitimacy of a dominant institution that supposedly bound us together—the common school. Yet, and very importantly, what we are also witnessing is the use of the Internet not to “de-traditionalize” society, but in the cases I have examined here, to re-traditionalize parts of it.
Although he is sensitive and compassionate to the needs of home-schooling parents, Michael Apple ends up lamenting the potential loss of legitimacy that it causes for state education, and the potential for cultures to consolidate into largely separatist cultural enclaves with little meaningful communication across the spectrum of society through which differences might be “worked out” or reconciled.
In December 2006, Apple followed up this critique of home-schooling with a more conciliatory attitude to the growing population of black home-schoolers in The Complexities of Black Home Schooling published in the Teachers College Record. There, he extends his sympathies to the plight of African American parents whose children are abused and marginalised within the state school system and who, as a form of resistance are withdrawing their children and resorting to home-schooling. In the end, however, his sympathies fall short of complete endorsement as he wonders about the long-term impact upon the black community. In this separate article he concludes by noting that:
“We should not criticize black parents who home school their children. But a more powerful response in the long term requires that we redouble our efforts to create more responsive, democratic, and critical educational institutions for those children who are all too easily seen as the “Other” in this society and its schools. There are multiple examples of such critically democratic schools whose processes of administration, curricula, teaching, and evaluation are closely connected to oppressed communities and their needs, cultures, hopes, and dreams. Can these be extended and become more widespread in the face of the reductive tendencies embodied in such policies as No Child Left Behind with its “push out” effects? This question is no easier to answer than the issues surrounding black home schooling. But we will only know the answer if we continue the struggles to do so. If we do not continue and expand our engagement in such organized and long term struggles for a system of public schooling that is worthy of its name, more and more black parents will seek alternatives, be they vouchers or home schooling. The way to demonstrate our respect for such parents is to make it more likely that they will not have to leave public schools.”
These sentiments are echoed to some extent in the next chapter on Education Vouchers, by Thomas Pedroni – “Can the Subaltern Act? African American Involvement in Educational Voucher Plans”. The study looks specifically at the African American community in Milwaukee, and at why the voucher plans appeal unexpectedly to such groups. Building on Apple’s previous work with Oliver in Cultural Politics and Education where they looked at the formation of conservative identities in a parental resistance to a School Board’s imposition of a textbook, Pedroni extends our understanding of the development of identity politics in the African American perceptions of school choice through educational vouchers. Based on conceptual and empirical findings, he puts forward compelling theories about the appeal of pro-voucher sentiments to Black politicians, community leaders, and poor and working class families. He sees them as representative of a subaltern ‘third force’ in conservative formation. He argues that their fleeting conservative alliances and subject positions, are likely to play an increasingly significant role in educational and social reform both in the United States and elsewhere. He suggests that liberal-Left theorists are failing to recognise this movement and consequently remain critically unaware of the direction that conservative modernization is likely to take among poor and disenfranchised communities.
In the next section of the book which deals with the resistance of subaltern groups within the United States, Glenabah Martinez begins with an analysis centered on Native American youths in the education system. “In My History Classes They Always Turn Things Around, the Opposite Way”: Indigenous Youth Opposition to Cultural Domination in an Urban High School,” takes up the stories about how indigenous youth in the United States have resisted educational practices that devalue or erase their culture. (Readers will note that Martinez’s findings parallel those in other indigenous communities throughout the world. See, for instance High School Confidential on this website.) Her account includes many first-hand student comments which offer powerful testimony to their experiences. Not unlike Russell Bishop’s Culture Speaks in a New Zealand context, it points to a system of institutionalised racism within the system that extends beyond the conceptual limits that Martinez suggests in her references to “cultural difference”. There are interesting parallels here with my own analysis of the relationship between espoused school policies of cultural pluralism and the policies-in-action of exclusion (to borrow terms from Donald Schön). See, for instance my own paper Cultural Pluralism, Education and Misplaced Patriotism .
Next, Dolores Delgado Bernal undertakes a gender analysis of the 1968 East Los Angeles School Blowouts. In her Rethinking Grassroots Activism: Chicana Resistance in the 1968 East Lost Angeles School Blowouts she tells the stories of eight Latina women involved. and in so doing offers a deeper understanding of the important role that women played in the resistance movement.
Kevin Kumashiro follows this with an essay Detraction, Fear, and Assimilation: Race, Sexuality, and Education Reform Post-9/11 which suggests the “wilfull partiality” of anti-oppressive education. He argues that through detraction, fear, and assimilation, our way of thinking about anti-oppressive education can become contradictory.
Stanley Aronowitz then contributes a chapter Subaltern in Paradise: Knowledge Production in the Corporate Academy – an extension of his 2001 book The Knowledge Factory in which he explores the erosion of academic freedom in universities as knowledge becomes more commodified, corporate interests influence the awarding of research grants and contracts, and tenure becomes more elusive. He challenges us to review our preconceptions about the political immunity, the role, status and identity of the academic, and to consider the contexts in which we live and work. He challenges us further to reflexively interrogate our taken for-granted assumptions about democracy and the extent to which we are willing to fight for freedom. Aronowitz’s chapter concludes the examples taken from an American context.
The final section, includes chapters from a variety of international contexts. It begins with Jyh-Jia Chen’s Struggling for Recognition: The State, Oppositional Movements, and Curricular Change. The essay explores opposition of Taiwanese people to the imposition of Chinese language and culture and to the standardization of the curriculum to fit Chinese perceptions and hegemony. Again, in the broader context is reflects the wider plight and struggle of indigenous peoples throughout the world in their attempts to sustain their language and culture and to resist the forces of colonisation.
This is followed by yet a further exposition of the example of Porto Alegre Citizen School in Brazil. We will remember that the example also featured in Educating the Right Way. This time, Luis Armando Gandin’s, Creating Real Alternatives to Neoliberal Policies in Education: The Citizen School Project chronicles the emergence of the Citizen School Project in response to a market driven one-size-fits-all model in education.
In what for me is one of the more pertinent and provocative essays in the collection, Kristen Buras and Paulino Motter, next challenge our preconceptions about superficial policies of multiculturalism in education. Their essay, Toward a Subaltern Cosmopolitan Multiculturalism, argues that “multiculturalism cannot deliver what it promises unless it embraces the emancipation struggles of subaltern groups and cultures". This essay questions the (majority-based) democratic processes, and the legitimacy of democracies themselves. The chapter concludes with a challenge that we search for ways to develop programmes and curricula that support and nurture subalternity.
Finally, the book ends with a concluding chapter by Michael Apple and Kristen Buras - Speaking Back to Official Knowledge. Here, they issue a challenge for us to continually reflect upon the issue of subalternity and to work for ways to support moments of resistance by subaltern groups in their struggles for emancipation and voice and for a meaningful education for their children.
Reviewing the entirety of these chapters it appears to me that Spivak’s initial question "Can the subaltern speak?" might be accompanied now by another: “Can the dominant culture hear?” But of course, as Michael Apple has already indicated, the dominant culture is not a simple one-celled organism, but a complex and shifting arrangement of interests, identities and intentions. We must ask is it realistic, therefore, to continue to use the term “dominant culture” as a shorthand for the forces behind oppression? Or in refusing to do so do we abandon any leverage for understanding the logics and processes of oppression itself. And do we also then throw out the baby of oppression with the dominant culture bathwater. Is oppression, then, simply a deafness - an inability to hear the lived experiences of those whom our own lives condemn to poverty and hardship – those on whom we rely for our own positions of privilege, like Michael Apple’s miners who work the coalface so that he might sit at his computer and write learned books? And them the more pressing and enduring question: Is this inability to hear willful, and if so, what does it say of our desire to effect a transformation?
When we look over the writing career of Michael W. Apple it becomes clear that his theorising has developed systematically over a thirty year period. Starting with his earliest writings he has consistently worked to clarify the cultural politics and the political economy of education in all of its manifest forms. It is also clear that Michael believes in public education – holding dear the dream of democratic schools promoted by Dewey almost a century ago. Like his colleague Stanley Aronowitz, Apple also believes that the coalition of conservative groups has been successful in achieving significant changes in the education system – changes that he believes run counter to the American ideology of a peoples’ democracy that has animated American life since the Revolution. His work represents an enormous attempt to resist and turn back this tide of conservatism. Like Aronowitz, he does not believe that this can be accomplished by individual acts of resistance, but only by the creation of a broad social movement of the disparate groups of the Left. Not only does Michael Apple believe in education; he also believes in teachers whom he sees as fighting a heroic rearguard action against the twin forces of the state and global capitalism. His roots in the labour movement as a Union representative and a labour activist have never been far below the surface of his theorising. This, I believe, is one of the reasons why he reacts so strongly to the rapidly developing home-schooling movement despite the fact that it has evidently become attractive to groups who have generally been the most regular and significant victims of a racist, classed and gendered school system.
To his great credit, he has succeeded in demystifying the cultural politics of education – both in its conservative and counter-hegemonic forms – by a close reading of the politics of identity that are involved in the complex layering of cultures overlaid with experiences of class, gender, race. Like Aronowitz, too, he is clear that in our fractured world class can no longer simply be defined by income or material wealth.
Apple ranks alongside Dewey and Freire in the importance of his theorising. His output is phenomenal, his struggle to understand and communicate tireless. He is, perhaps, the last of the great critical education theorists. This is not to sound a note of doom – rather, it is a plea to all those for whom Apple’s words resonate – a plea to perhaps review again the place of the state in education, and to think of how the technologies that the Right have harvested so well might work against them in the long term. Apple believes that the educational system can be repaired, that with sufficient struggle it can be made to work in the interests of all – not as an end in itself, but as a democratic process.
I applaud his tenacity and dedication and I admire his compassion and selfless dedication to the task. But I am not as certain of the path that ought to be taken. Those readers that have read my own downloadable High School Confidential on this site will be aware that I am not as ready as Michael Apple to forgive those racist and gendered teachers who populate our schools (in probably the same proportions that they are represented in the wider community). Nor do I believe that it is ultimately possible to change them – to make them more sensitive to the cultural, spiritual and identity needs of their students. And even were this possible, one has to ask how many young minds and hearts would be ruined before the task was accomplished?
And what an enormous task! Think for a moment of all that has been written about the hidden curriculum. Think of the control and imposition of experiences of time, space, voice, choice, culture, identity – that are all, as Philip Corrigan has reminded us, impressed upon the bodies of the young at the deepest and least accessible levels of consciousness. Think of the extent to which state education has as a function of its role in society been responsible for the creation of a culture of quiescence, passivity and acceptance of the power status quo. Look at its history in the repression and dispossession of indigenous peoples and ask yourself if this is not a system designed to dispossess the Other?
And those who have been fortunate enough to struggle through this repressive educational world with some of their drive, resistance and identity still intact – like Apple, Mclaren, Aronowitz and myself. Ask what our cultural origins are – and how small in number we are. We are the mostly male, mostly white, mostly privileged (despite our class origins in a racist, sexist world) that have been allowed to feed at the trough of capitalisms left-overs.
Think about these things and then ask once again, is the state education system worth saving in its present form? Or should we start from the ground up by disassembling the whole repressive edifice and taking direct control of it ourselves, rebuilding a new and very different decentered communicative structure using the technologies that are available. Because those same technologies that have been harvested by the Right are just as available to those who seek progressive change?
Perhaps the battle now is not in the classroom, but for and around the media. Consider this item titled "School's Out Forever.":
“Knowsley Council in Merseyside, which - for years - has languished near or at the bottom of exam league tables, has abolished the use of the word to describe secondary education in the borough. It is taking the dramatic step of closing all of its eleven existing secondary schools by 2009. As part of a £150m government-backed rebuilding programme, they will reopen as seven state-of-the-art, round-the-clock, learning centres with the aid of Microsoft - which has already developed links with one school in the borough, Bowring.
The schools are moving from a deficit model of learning (”students can’t do…”) to a “can do” approach that the article claims will create creative students that will be valued by future employers. Operating 24 hours a day, the centers will allow students to explore problems that interest them at their own pace, rather than steering them through inflexible curricula.
This is an important change, as Knowsley Council seems to have figured out that students can get their information from anywhere (electronically, from social interactions, etc.). What’s important is the construction of information into knowledge and the creative use of new knowledge.”
Just as the music and entertainment industries are struggling to contain their copyright and royalty regimes, so also are the institutions of education (and their associated systems like libraries, museums etc) struggling to maintain their own monopoly.
You will notice that one portion of this review is incomplete – the review of Apple’s 1996 book Power, Meaning and Identity. Since I do not possess a copy, and it is not available in my local library, I have had recourse to looking through Google to find references, reviews and related papers. In writing this review, I have discovered one available copy of Apple’s previously published paper “Power, Meaning and Identity” (upon which I believe the book was grounded). That article, (in the British Journal of Sociology of Education, Vol. 17, No. 2, International Perspectives on the Sociology of Education (1996), pp. 125-144) is only available through JSTOR – a Scholarly Journal Archive.
As one old friend once commented in 1984, “Socialism isn’t dead, Tony, it’s merely napping!”
Louis Althusser was born in Algeria and studied at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris. He was a contemporary of the Existentialist Jean Paul Sartre with whom he publicly disagreed, and had many students who later became famous including Nikos Poulantzas , Regis Debray and Michel Foucault . Althusser continually suffered from mental breakdowns and had reeceived ECT on several occasions. In 1980 he stangled his wife but wass never brought to trial, being assessed as suffering from "diminished responsibility".
He was a committed Marxist who favoured orthodoxy and who argued at length against the introduction of Marxist Humanism. He is credited with a re-reading of Marx which draws a sharp distinction between the latter's early works and the more mature works such as Capital. His analysis of Marx led him to review the means by which social reproduction takes place and paralleled the work of Gramsci in hegemony. His work also presaged the notion of habitus as theorised by Pierre Bourdieu. Arguably his most influential theoretical work is the essay Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses: Notes Toward an Investigation. There, he interrogates the State's use of force and compares it with its more subtle ideological methods of ensuring social and cultural control. He draws a sharp distinction between what he calls the Repressive State Aparatuses (army, police, the courts etc) and Ideological State Apparatuses (the media, the education system) through which the State controls the meaning of public life.
Althusser's earliest important work was the publication of Reading Capital (1965). It is widely considered an important contribution to Marxist philosophy and also marks a moment in the history of post-structuralism. Among its tasks the book seeks to clarify differences between Marx's and Hegel's dialectics, and to more thoroughly demarcate the "break" which Althusser saw between Marx's later writings (Marxism proper) and his early, Hegelian work. And, furthermore, the book sought to re-establish Marxism as a viable position within philosophy, albeit in a manner influenced by structuralism, against its years of dilution from not only critiques (humanist and Sartrean ones, particularly) but also from the supposedly socialist philosophy of popular liberal-socialist democratic writing and politics.
Althusser's essay On the Young Marx suggests a great "epistemological break" between Marx's early, "Hegelian and Feuerbachian" writings and his later, properly Marxist texts. His essay Marxism and Humanism is a strong statement of anti-humanism in Marxist theory, condemning ideas like "human potential" and "species-being," which are often put forth by Marxists, as outgrowths of a bourgeois ideology of "humanity." His essay Contradiction and Overdetermination borrows the concept of overdetermination from psychoanalysis, in order to replace the idea of "contradiction" with a more complex model of multiple causality in political situations (an idea closely related to Gramsci' s concept of hegemony).
Like Gramsci, he saw the State as playing a crucial role in the reproduction of social relations. The State's role in the control of meaning was conceived by Louis Althusser as one of the key elements in the process of social reproduction. Althusser constructed his theories in direct opposition to the Existentialism of Sartre, whose notion of freedom, according to Althusser, left no theoretical base for social transformation. He believed that the continued reproduction of the existing system rested upon the creation of twin systems of ideological persuasion and physical repression. Moving beyond simplistic conceptions of the economic base - cultural superstructure polarity he argued that the relationship between the forces of economic and material production cannot be seen as a simple cause and effect determination of cultural forms. Instead, he recognised that social reproduction required the separate but related creation of a set of commonly accepted social values which support the productive process. The use of both force and ideology was required as a means of social control and compliance for the production of knowledge and skills required to maintain the productive capacity. He maintained that these functions are carried out not directly by the dominant class, but indirectly on their behalf by the State, under the operation of his twin Repressive State Apparatuses (RSAs) and Ideological State Apparatuses (ISAs).
When persuasion and organisational restructuring fail to forestall the demands for real social change, or to delegitimate competing social and political realities, the State invariably resorts to more overtly violent means of repression. In addition to the territorialisation and politicisation of space as noted by Engels, the State also exercises its power through what Althusser referred to as its Repressive Apparatus - through physical intimidation and repression. Historically speaking, the operation of Althusser's RSA has been documented throughout the capitalist as well as the communist world
The record is replete with documented accounts of State complicity and involvement in murder, torture, intimidation and imprisonment of political rivals who would challenge the structural distribution of resources. In addition to noting the State's own involvement in internal repression, it is worth noting that private interests are often implicated along with the State in such acts, although these are usually carried out "behind the scenes". Such connections reinforce the notion that the State is really the arm of capital. More often, private interests are revealed to have been implicated in the suppression of dissent overseas. What is at stake in each case are investments by corporate nationals (under capitalism) or State agencies (under communism) within these countries. Hence, the intervention of Britain and France into Egypt was specifically to preserve their economic interests in the Suez Canal, recently nationalised by President Nasser to finance the high Aswan Dam, while the furor in Panama more recently was staged to protect American interests in the Panama Canal. There are also Western oil interests in the Persian Gulf which are key to the ongoing source of conflict in Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Libya, and so on. Nor are these "interventions" carried out by the State’s executed in isolation from industrial pressures and influences. In his epic investigation of the American conglomerate company ITT, Anthony Sampson has detailed its direct involvement in the assassination of Salvador Allende in Chile as well as its extensive involvement in the political regimes elsewhere overseas.
These examples of psychological intimidation and physical repression not only convey the dark side of capitalism, but also graphically illustrate the dual and ambiguous nature of the State as an instrument of social reproduction. They illustrate the efficacy of the distinction drawn by Althusser between ideological State influence and Repressive State influence, and to mark the ways in which they are related. In addition to both the overt and covert mechanisms of repression involving physical violence, the State in co-operation with its multi-national corporate partners also has at its disposal enormously powerful economic forces which it can employ in the defense of its socially-constructed reality. The rapidly accelerated global mobility of capital in the last twenty years has significantly augmented this power, allowing States to threaten economic isolation to those foreign countries (even powerful communist countries like China) who refuse to accept the capitalist doctrine. These functions fall somewhere between the RSAs and the ISAs, in that their intimidatory potential is very great, yet they do not necessarily require and indeed are designed to prevent more overt armed intervention
In addition to physical repression, economic sanctions and territorial manipulation, the State also engages extensive mechanisms of ideological propaganda (Althusser's ISAs). These ISAs operate at many different levels - from the control of the news media to the control of State education. What is important to remember from all of this, is that the ideological function is not a completely separate function of State power from its repressive function. Structuralist and social theorist Nicos Poulantzas has suggested, for instance, that the capitalist State develops a monopoly on legitimate physical violence, accumulating the means of corporal control hand in hand with its function of law and order." Martin Carnoy notes:
"... disciplinary institutions and the emergence of ideological institutions like the parliament and the school assume the monopoly of violence by the State, and this violence, in turn, is obscured by the displacement of legitimacy towards "legality" and the law. Not only that, but the major instrument of legal violence - the army - serves as the model for the organisation of schools and bureaucratic hierarchies both within the State and in the private corporations."
Althusser believed that the Repressive State Apparatuses include the army, the police and penal system, and the Ideological State Apparatuses are made up of agencies such as the nuclear family, the mass media, the church, and the function of public education. He noted that while the former were invariably under the control of the State, the latter are often under private control, or are in a continual state of movement between public and private control or some combination of both. Of all of the agencies of ideological reproduction, Althusser considered the educational function of the State as undoubtedly its most important and effective instrument, arguing that schools teach both the skills and knowledge for future production, but that they also inculcate into their pupils a set of values, beliefs and attitudes upon which this reproduction will eventually depend for its legitimacy.
He died of a heart attack in 1990 at the age of 72.
Adorno was a German Jewish philosopher, sociologist, and essayist, member of the "Frankfurt School," a group of intellectuals working at the Institute for Social Research, loosely associated to the University of Frankfurt. He studied music (piano) and composition from his early years and both his mother and aunt were professional singers.
He received his doctorate in Philosophy in 1924. For three years he studied music, and worked informally at the University's Institute for Social Research (The so-called Frankfurt School) from 1928, before accepting a position at the University in 1931. He published a thesis on Kierkegard's Aesthetic in 1933. His main colleague and collaborator was there was Max Horkheimer , (the eventual Director of the Institute) whom he had met previously in 1922 and with whom his friendship lasted for decades.
During the Third Reich, the Frankfurt School moved to New York City, where it continued to develop a critical theory of society. Adorno initially moved to Oxford where he studied the writings of phenomenologist Edmund Husserl, before moving to New York in 1938 to join the other exiled members of the Institute at the New School for Social Research at Columbia University. The school's cultural criticism and eclectic theories of mass society deeply influenced the New Left in the 1950s and 1960s. The Frankfurt School never produced a unitary social theory, but its members shared a critical view of modern capitalism, and rejected Soviet Communism and orthodox Marxism.
He returned to Frankfurt in 1949 and became the Director of the Institute in 1959, after Horkheimer relinquished the position. He remained there until 1969, during which time he met and taught Jurgen Habermas.He died in August of that year in a heart attack.
Adorno based his own theories on the writings of Hegel, Marx, and Freud, and was particularly influenced by Hegel's concept of the dialectic. However, Adorno did not believe that all contradictions can be solved and in Negative Dialektik (1966) he not only rejected the idea of a realisable utopia (as the possibility outcome of total reconciliation) but all notions of permamence.
His major work is The Dialectic of Enlightenment (1947) which he co-authored with Horkheimer. There, they analysed the development of the Enlightenment project and saw it descending once again into barbarism - evidenced by the antisemitism of Nazi Germany. They saw that reason had become the instrument of Totalitarianism.
"Enlightenment behaves toward things as a dictator toward man. He knows them is so far as he can manipulate them."Much of the work is devoted to study of anti-Semitism, the actual reversion of enlightened civilization to barbarism, and the culture industry, in which enlightenment has found its ideological expression."
In 1950, Adorno worked for a while at the University of California, Berkeley where, along with Nevitt Sanford he researched the social/psychological development of anti-Semitism and developed the concept of the Authoritarian Personality which was then published as a book. The Authoritarian Personality (1950) is an influential book by Adorno and and several other researchers during WWII and the period shortly thereafter. The book, which became a classic text in psychology, traced the links between children’s upbringing and their prejudice in adulthood. While it focused on anti-Semitism, the book also showed that people who were prejudiced against one ethnic, racial, or religious group tended to be prejudiced against others. The lead author was really R. Nevitt Sanford but when a dispute arose about the sequence of secondary authors' names Sanford suggested they simply list the names alphabetically. The authors postulated the existence of an "Authoritarian Personality" that was receptive to Authoritarianism. The researchers created a psychometric instrument for measuring 'fascism' (the F-scale) and developed a Freudian theory of the development of this personality type. The Authoritarian Personality inspired a huge amount of sociology and political science research during the later 1950s and early 1960s on the role of personality traits and in the adoption of political points of view. However, the concept of authoritarianism still stimulates much research even today. More influential, however, was the work that Adorno and his colleagues did not in the field of psychology, but in the field of cultural studies.
The Frankfurt critiques of centralized Soviet socialism, coupled with their analyses of the production of culture under capitalism established the basis for new conceptions of culture as a major factor in the social process. While they apparently refused to conduct their analysis of culture within the frame of reference of the old marxist base-superstructure model, Horkheimer and Adorno were themselves paradoxically unable to abandon their own beliefs in either the ultimate influence of the economic base nor in the primacy of their own cultural baggage in their theories of culture.
They established the importance of culture as an instrument of social and political reproduction, but not as a vehicle for social and political production. They saw it as a mechanism of oppression, not of liberation. Real culture, for them, was high culture. Popular culture, on the other hand was seen as a social manipulation carried out by the productive forces for the purpose of consumerism and social reproduction - making sure the peasants stayed in their place, lulled into soporific passivity by alienating forms of popular cultural production. In this belief, they missed the essential importance of the "youth culture" of the 1960's, and its capacity as an instrument of social change.
Aware that social and cultural conditions had changed dramatically since the time of Marx (through the greater concentration of capital, more advanced technology and sophisticated modes of administration, and so on) the members of the Frankfurt School realised that the scope of domination had extended well beyond the work-place into the domain of cultural and social life itself. “Culture” for the members of the Institute was not viewed dialectically - that is to say that they did not recognise their own view of the social category of “culture” as itself being culturally determined. In other words they stood outside the sphere of their own analysis. This is nowhere more clear that in the work of Theodor Adorno and in his joint work with Max Horkheimer into what they called the “culture industry”. They distinguished, for instance, between "authentic art" (meaning "high culture art forms") and popular culture which they saw as diametrically opposed, the former seen as potentially liberating, the latter as stultifying. As Douglas Kellner has astutely remarked:
"...for Adorno, "authentic art" provided insight into existing reality, expressing human suffering and the need for social transformation, as well as providing an authentic experience which helped to produce critical consciousness and awareness of the need for individual and social transformation. Art for Adorno was thus a privileged vehicle for emancipation. Aesthetic experience alone, he came to believe, provided the refuge for truth and a sphere of individual freedom and resistance. The problem was that only authentic art could provide aesthetic experience, and it was precisely authentic art which was disappearing in the administered society."
"Part of the problem is that for Adorno and many of his colleagues, the artefacts of the culture industry are simply beneath contempt....Such an arrogant, grandiose gesture of absolute disdain, however, precludes understanding what gratifications popular culture actually provides, and what needs it serves, in however distorted a fashion. This attitude also leads critical theorists to neglect, albeit with some exceptions, analysis of specific films, television programs or artefacts of popular culture, since they assume in advance that such artefacts are merely a debased form of culture and a vehicle of ideology which are not worthy of detailed study or critique."
This is clearly a serious oversight, for even a cursory glance over the historical record indicates that oppressed peoples and liberation movements have almost invariably coalesced around popular forms of culture - from Blues, through folk music to protest songs. Furthermore, recent events in Bosnia and elsewhere have indicated the amazing ability of popular cultural forms to survive intact after decades of the most apparently determining institutionalised cultural superimpositions. It is particularly sad that those members of the Institute who held this view of culture and aesthetics also missed the radical potential that their other theories and writings precipitated in the youth of the 1960's. They did not seem able to draw a distinction, for instance, between those aspects of popular culture which grew organically from the fertile ground of oppression itself, and those which were created and administered from above. It was, paradoxically, in the 1960s that the Frankfurt theorists would have their greatest impact - upon the youth culture which they had disparaged as culturally alienated and conditioned.
One of the main functions of education, for instance operates through what Raymond Williams calls a process of "selective tradition", - that is through the selection and organisation of particular forms of knowledge, which are then imbued them with a Truth value and passed off as the only way of perceiving reality. Within this structuring, hierarchies of knowledge are established and legitimated, such that the hierarchies themselves become normative structuring devices for further cultural production. Certain texts become canonised as having a particularly close relationship to Truth, and therefore as being possessed of superior qualities over other texts etc. and in this way the whole corpus of formalised knowledge becomes a structured medium for the continued reproduction, celebration and legitimation of particular works and are reciprocally legitimated by them. In addition, focusing on culture as a medium of social stratification allows us to understand how power and culture intersect. We are able to recognise whose values have the greatest value within society, and to interrogate what precisely is the relationship between cultural production and material production. We recognise, for instance how some subject groups are pushed to the margins of normative cultural values while others are validated and supported. We are able to interrogate how the cultural productions themselves correspond to the collective values of these groups and to understand in more insightful ways the relationship between particular forms of production and domination. What emerges is a sense of culture as a site of struggle between competing interest groups which are differentiated by intersecting vectors of race, gender, class, etc. and which correspond to the broad and generalised designations of high-culture and common-culture. These dynamic and shifting polarities operate at every level of cultural production. This characteristic of culture as a field of struggle emerged in the social dynamics of the 1960s, in what became known as the "youth" culture, after Horkheimer and Adorno had completed their own analysis.
The 1960s in many ways forms an important cultural turning-point, exemplified by the emergence of a youth culture celebrating its own cultural forms and origins, and developing counter-hegemonic themes and instrumentalities which would find their way into the political theorising and activism of the New Left. In particular, this process began in England, most specifically in the development of an authentic Northern England cultural dominance in what had previously been the most suppressed and marginalised element of a classed British society. It was the developing identity of the "Liverpool sound" which gave substance to a whole coalescing culture of disaffected working class children in the slums of the North of England, and which did indeed provide a disaffected and socially and economically oppressed group with a symbolic culture of resistance.
Although the British 1944 Education Act allowed the streaming of “intellectually gifted” children to Grammar School (effectively ensuring that only small numbers of working class children could slip through the net and that the proportions in the numbers of intellectual and manual laborers remained unchanged), nevertheless some educated working class children (including this author) still gained access to tertiary education. Their numbers were augmented by numerous returned servicemen demanding access to professional education. The result was an unprecedented cultural shift in British society, in which working-class culture began to be seen by the working class themselves as a valuable culture in its own right, challenging the received (and classed) meaning of Culture as an exclusive mark of social distinction and upper class status. This shift was evidenced in numerous literary, stage and film productions of that time, all of which celebrated, rather than apologized for, working class culture. The anti-heroes of these works provided powerful role models for the emergent youth, many of whom carried the cultural shift into new areas, particularly the music industry. As the American sociologist Stanley Aronowitz rightly notes:
“...the music of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and the Kinks cannot be understood simply as a further development of tendencies internal to Rock as it took shape during the late fifties and early sixties. Rather...these particular expressions of individual creativity by artists such as Jagger, Lennon or Davies are only comprehensible in relation to the expressions of social creativity unleashed in England at that time by “the deep, spontaneous revolt of working class youth against British bourgeois society which it articulated” and which, while economically rooted, took predominantly cultural, even sexual forms....English rock during this period directly assaulted the linguistic hegemony of standard “U” English with such striking success that one may even find impeccably educated, upper-class English youth affecting a Liverpool accent.”
Culture was now firmly bracketed in the plural. Society was no longer made up of the cultured and the uncultured. There were cultures, often opposed to each other - giving rise to what Theodor Roszak would call the youth counter-culture. It will be noted that this oppositional model of culture is very different to that to which Adorno and Horkheimer tenaciously clung. The myriad pop groups who came to prominence at that time controlled their own material - a material which invariable grew out of a rich and fertile regional musical tradition. At the same time, the famous expansion of the clothing industry in Soho's Carnaby Street in "Swinging London" developed not from established rag-trade manufacturers, but from a burgeoning hippie cottage industry transported from the Portobello Road and Kings Road in Chelsea. These aspects of popular culture were missed by Adorno and Horkheimer simply because they had decided a priori that all popular culture was the expression of a regime of exploitation and domination. Not only did the Frankfurt theorists fail to recognise the radical potential of popular cultural forms, but their continued reliance upon a determining economic base also failed to adequately theorize the ultimate failure of the traditional marxist model. In spite of their best intentions, they remained tied to an essentially pessimistic view of the world.
Having said all of this, it is important to note that the range of Adorno's achievement, and the depth of his insights is remarkable. His work on literary, artistic, and musical forms, his devastating indictment of modern industrial society, and his profound grasp of Western culture have made him one of the most significant philosophers of the twentieth-century. As one of the main philosophers of the Frankfurt School, his influence on literary theory, cultural studies, political theory, art criticism, and musicology and philosophical aesthetics has been profound.
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