13 SES 12 B, Public Pedagogy, the University, and the Thing of Education
This paper will discuss the tendency by national as well as supra-national agencies dealing with sustainability to reduce education into an instrument for solving political problems when it comes to sustainability issues. Within the field of sustainability research, there is growing discontent with such a state of affairs, particularly for those involved in education. One response to the discontent has been to bring together two fields of research, i.e., public pedagogy and sustainability. The paper will discuss the need to highlight the educational within public pedagogy for the latter to be able to contribute to the field of sustainability.
A vast part of the literature on public pedagogy (e.g., see overview provided by Sandlin et al. 2011) views pedagogy as cultural theory, that is, it recognizes public pedagogy as a vehicle through which individual cultural content can be transmitted (e.g., citizenship). In arguing for pedagogy as an application of cultural theory, such views place an un-educational idea at the very center of their understanding of public pedagogy. Such displacement of education as the proper context for the formulation of pedagogy, as the paper will show, risks turning pedagogy into an empty vessel for whatever other disciplines will fill it with, and which therefore tends to neutralize the radical force of ‘the educational’ in pedagogy itself. By so doing pedagogy is limited in what it can contribute when it comes to re-politicising the field of sustainability, as was hoped for when bringing those fields together (Håkansson et al. 2017).
The first section of the paper will contrast public pedagogy as a ‘commodity’ versus action and traces the latter as inherent to an educational tradition of thought. In this section, I agree with Biesta (2012) that pedagogy is inherently public and always concerned with the creation of a public. Further to this, I understand public pedagogy as also dealing with issues of creating not only “a public” but also “the people," of which the public is but one expression. Public pedagogy thereby signals a common potential. However, public pedagogy, if it is to address everyone within society, needs to account for the ‘population,' which includes those who are not usually understood concerning either the public or the people (e.g., refugees, poor people, aboriginal populations, etc.). The precise sustainability problem that will be addressed in this paper is located in the tensions arising out of how the line is drawn between “the people," who largely benefit from society, and “the population," increasingly living precarious lives on the margins of society. The discussion on public pedagogy then brings into focus sustainability as a political question of who and what is at stake in forming sustainable forms of life in our societies.
This point (above) will be qualified further with the help of Butler (2015) and Mouffe (2005, 2017). In particular, Mouffe states that who and what constitutes "the people" is the major issue at stake at this historical point in time in which right-wing populist politics claim to be speaking on behalf of "the people," based on narrowing criteria for belonging to a nation. Pedagogy, I will claim, if not taken as a particular form of action itself, risks being reduced to a vessel for any 'commodity.' That is, concerning Mouffe's claims, as performing the task of selection for access to 'the public' rather than maximizing participation in education and society. Instead, I argue that pedagogy is not a vessel for the commodification of any ideas, meanings and 'content,' but is in itself a particular form of action which needs to be taken into account as the force interrupting or intervening into the reproduction of the status quo. I then focus on two main elements of pedagogy, drawing on the work of Jacques Rancière: 1. Pedagogy always signals the direction rather than the content of "teaching"; 2. Pedagogy is an action that interrupts and intervenes in any form of common sense that excludes the possibility of change. I argue that 'public pedagogy' (as both direction and interruption/intervention) also calls us to be committed to pedagogy as an act of subjectivisation, that is to an action in which the individual takes form as a political subject (Rancière 2007).
I conclude by discussing sustainability as a question of political subjectivisation of the entire population and therefore political in a far more radical way than what national as well as supra-national agencies calls for.
Biesta, Gert (2012). Becoming public: public pedagogy, citizenship and the public sphere. Social & Cultural Geography, 13:7, 683-697. Butler, Judith (2015). Notes Towards a Performative Theory of Assembly. Paradigm Publishers Mouffe, Chantal (2017). We urgently need to promote a left-populism. Available at: Versobooks.com/blogs/334-cha (accessed 15 August 2017). Mouffe Chantal (2005). On the Political. Thinking in Action. London, New York: Routledge Ranciere, Jacques (2007). On the Shore of Politics. London: Verso Sandlin et al. (2011). Mapping the Complexity of Public Pedagogy Scholarship: 1894-2010. Review of Educational Research, 81: 3, 338-375. Håkansson, M., Kronlid, D. & Östman, L. (2017). Searching for the political dimension in education for sustainable development: socially critical, social learning and radical democratic approaches. Environmental Educational Research. DOI: 10.1080/13504622.2017.1408056
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