23 SES 09 B, What is the ‘Public’ in Public Education? Mapping Past, Present and Future European Educational Imaginaries
This symposium explores past, present and potential future imaginaries of ‘public’ education in Europe. The symposium is located in a contemporary context of political turmoil, in which one in four European voters allegedly supports populist political parties, with the largest support for far-right forms of populism; it is also set against a historical background of several decades of significant change in the social, political and economic contexts of education, whereby schools and universities have been reimagined and reorganized so as to conform to the marketized and managerialist contours of the neoliberal imaginary.
However, developing an adequate notion of the ‘public’ must reach beyond simple distinctions between ‘public’ and ‘private’ education, based on funding source and limited to rationalist, instrumental logics, that have come to dominate contemporary debates. In particular, we need to consider the nature of the public today against a febrile and dynamic political context in Europe, crystalized in the decision of the UK to depart from the European Union; but such tensions and anxieties are by no means limited to the United Kingdom. Like other nationalist and populist developments in Europe (and elsewhere), the frustrations and desires expressed in the UK in relation to Brexit - the desire to ‘take back control’ and ‘regain sovereignty’ - are symptomatic of a loss of identification with globalization and Europe and a resurgence of demands for local and national identification on the part of the ‘public’ or ‘demos’. This volatile and dynamic background raises questions regarding how understandings of, and visions for, public education today have changed from the past and how they could potentially develop in the future.
When considering the issue of publicness in the context of education, it is important to recognize the multi-dimensional nature of the field. Specifically, it is possible to identify at least six overlapping domains in relation to which school provision varies within and across contexts. These include: 1.) the purposes of education and whether it is conceived as a societal or an individual good; 2.) questions of accountability and the relative weight given to consumerist (e.g. to parents), regulatory (e.g. to inspection bodies) and professional (e.g. to peers) considerations; 3.) issues of funding, including the source of funding and whether this involves practices of competition and profit; 4.) matters of governance including questions of ownership, control, regulation and legal status; 5.) issues of professionalism, including questions around unionization, outsourcing and contracts; and 6.) issues of access, including whether provision is universal or selective (e.g. via fees, achievement, or curricular specialization).
These are questions that the individual papers comprising this symposium seek to address. In order to do so, the contributors to this symposium mobilise a range of ideas from recent and contemporary social and political theory. These include, amongst others: Rancière’s (1999, 2010) ideas of disagreement and dissensus as necessary correctives to the enforced consensualism of the ‘police’ order; Laclau & Mouffe’s (2001) notions of hegemony and antagonism as key to any meaningful notion of the political and to political action; Hardt & Negri’s (2000) and Virno’s (2004) view of the ‘multitude’ and the ‘commons’ as vocabularies for communal organization and resource management that resist the unspoken assumptions and dominant assertions of the neoliberal settlement; and Levitas’s argument that there is a pressing need for the ‘Imaginary Reconstitution of Society’ given current global economic, ecological and humanitarian crises. As represented in the diagram below, these ideas are put to work in a range of European contexts including the relatively social democratic societies of Sweden, post-communist Poland, post-fascist Spain and the neoliberal-neoconservative policy-laboratory of England.
Hardt, M., and A. Negri. 2000. Empire. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Laclau, E, and C Mouffe. 2001. Hegemony and socialist strategy: Towards a radical democratic politics. 2nd ed. London: Verso. Negri, A, and M Hardt. 2004. Multitude: War and democracy in the age of empire. London: Penguin. Rancière, J. 1999. Disagreement: Politics and philosophy. Translated by J Rose. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Rancière, J. 2010. Dissensus: On politics and aesthetics. London: Continuum. Virno, P. 2003. A Grammar of the Multitude: Semiotext (e) London.
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