Foucault News

News and resources on French thinker Michel Foucault (1926-1984)

McGarry, Michael (2013) “To read, write, and cast accounts”: Foucault, Governmentality and Education in Upper Canada/Canada West, Doctoral dissertation, University of Toronto

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Contributing to the work of philosophers of education who have been examining issues of economy and emancipation, this dissertation employs a set of critical lenses drawn from Foucault’s investigation of governmentality to trace correspondences between economic liberalism and public schooling in Upper Canada/Canada West, the historical antecedent of present day Ontario. The analysis adheres to Foucault’s advice that philosophical critique involves a question asked of the present but answered in history. Thus through a Foucauldian genealogy it is argued that a series of transformations in the deployment of governmental power occurred in Upper Canada/Canada West that entailed the entry of an economic rationality into deliberations over the creation of a school system.

To support this argument evidence is presented that demonstrates how race, biopolitics, and the burgeoning science of political economy combined in the first half of the nineteenth century to form the conditions of possibility for governmental control of schooling. In particular, it is illustrated how these conditions favoured a pedagogy based in Locke’s epistemology, and were legitimized by the providential status accorded political economy. This pedagogy, which was promoted as mild and so conducive to student engagement, and the authority of political economy are revealed as integral to the methods of instruction and curriculum of the province’s common schools, and indicative of the legacy of economic liberalism that persists, albeit transformed, in Ontario education to this day.

The result of this critical analysis is a redescription or, in Foucault’s terminology, a “countermemory” of Ontario educational history that challenges the presumed naturalism of the ideals characteristic of economic liberalism, such as autonomy, accountability, entrepreneurialism, and consumer choice. The dissertation contends that these ideals are active in local educational regimes long legitimized by economy, and dangerously aimed at fostering political consent by manipulating subjects into locations of restricted agency.

Providing insight into the historical role played by liberal governmentality and economy in the local context contributes to the study of Foucault and the philosophy of education, and also suggests a change in approach to questions regarding the corporatization or marketization of education. Instead of viewing economy as either a necessary component of schooling or a contemporary affront to educational ideals, it is proposed that it be re-evaluated according to its persistent, but contingent, historical correspondence with liberal government and its institutions.

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