Foucault News

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

Dirk Postma, Critical agency in education: a Foucauldian perspective, Journal of Education, No. 61, 2015, 31-52

Full text

While the neoliberal order is associated with the economy, government and globalisation, as a form of governmentality it effects a particular subjectivity. The subject is the terrain where the contest of control plays out. The subject is drawn into the seductive power of performativity which dictates its agency, desires and satisfactions and from which escape is difficult to imagine. Neoliberalism is particularly interested in an education which provides it with the much needed powers of production and consumption. This dependency of the neoliberal order on a particular kind of agential subjectivity is also its weakness because of the indeterminacy of the self. Within this openness of the human subject lies the possibility to be different and to escape any form of subjectification.

Foucault’s account of the critical agent portrays a form of difference that opposes and transcends neoliberal ordering. Foucault finds the principle of practices of freedom in the Greco-Roman ethics of the care for the self. It is an ethics where the subject gains control of itself through the ascetic and reflective attention in relation to available ethical codes and with the guidance of a ‘master’. Such as strong sense of the self is the basis for personal and social transformation against neoliberal colonisation. The development of critical agency in education is subsequently investigated in the light of Foucault’s notions of agency and freedom. The contest of the subject is of particular importance to education interested in the development of critical agency. The critical agent is not only one who could identify and analyse regimes of power, but also one who could imagine different modes of being, and who could practice freedom in the enactment of an alternative mode of being. The educational implications are explored in relation to the role of the teacher and pedagogical processes.

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