From Freedom to Equality: Thinking Politics and Education with Jacques Ranciere
Magnusson, Rachel A. L.
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Is there such a thing as an emancipatory education? If so, what does an emancipatory education look like? This is the question that motivates this dissertation. It is also a question that has motivated many other political reflections on education. In part, it is the prevalence of this common concern with the emancipatory capacity of education that inspired the first major claim of this dissertation: a general problematic of freedom and authority seems to frame much of our political thinking about education and this problematic has troubling consequences for our thinking and practice of education, and how we imagine education’s relationship to politics. In fact, our way of imagining emancipatory education often seems neither freeing nor radical, and certainly not democratic. Given this, is it possible to reimagine emancipatory education beyond the problematic of freedom and authority? I will argue that it possible, to a certain degree. Turning to the writings of Jacques Rancière, I will argue that his own rethinking of emancipation and politics translates or shifts us from an emphasis on freedom to an emphasis on equality. Although such a shift may not seem novel, it introduces a new problematic of equality and inequality which is extremely helpful for thinking politically about education. In fact, it allows us to think emancipatory education as a practice of equality—a practice that is doable, democratic, radical, and, perhaps, already in existence. The first three chapters of the dissertation explore different manifestations of the problematic of freedom and authority and its consequences. The first chapter explores how a problematic of freedom and authority frames the reflections on education of three exemplary modern political thinkers: Max Weber, Hannah Arendt and Theodor Adorno. The second chapter turns to a few important critiques in the writings of Jacques Rancière which help to flesh out our understanding of this problematic, in particular the consequences of its Platonic lineage. The third chapter investigates common trends in political thinking and practice of education here in North America, and the particular ways the problematic of freedom and authority is mobilized in each case. With this account of the problematic freedom and authority complete, the final two chapters of the dissertation turn to an exploration of a problematic of equality and inequality. The fourth chapter details how a problematic of equality and inequality emerges in Rancière’s writings through his rethinking of emancipation and politics. The fifth chapter outlines the consequences of this problematic of equality and inequality and how it helps us to think emancipatory education differently.