24 SES 07, The Political Life of Content Knowledge: The Case of School Mathematics
Aesthetic practices are political practices precisely because they partake in “the distribution of the sensible”(Rancière, 2004). In this paper, I show how specific ‘artistic’ values that are usually attributed to particular mathematical practices - such as elegance and simplicity - reflect a particular alignment between sense and sensibility. I then discuss how this particular sensibility became established within curriculum policy in the twentieth century through mobilizing the autonomy of the aesthetic. An activity is considered aesthetic insofar as it partakes of autonomy, that is, it disconnects itself from its own making—“art is art to the extent that it is something else than art” (Rancière, 2002, p. 137). According to Rancière, this paradox of aesthetic sense is the source of its political power – in other words, the autonomy and separateness of the aesthetic sense is opposed to the aspiration to live it as a sensibility. The aesthetic operates through this paradox - the dream of an unavailable ideal form that must be made flesh and possessed as reality. The aesthetic regime of mathematics operates by first claiming that mathematics partakes of the autonomy of the aesthetic and then insisting that one must live this aesthetic as a form of life.
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