Postmodernism and the repoliticization of education

Research paper by Gert Biesta

Indexed on: 01 Jun '95Published on: 01 Jun '95Published in: Interchange


Postmodernism seriously questions the possibility of the modern project of education, because postmodern relativism seems to undermine the very possibility of justification, bothin and of education. Some educators have therefore concluded that postmodernism is the proclaimed end of education; others hold a more ambivalent stance. Educators in the critical tradition have especially criticized the depoliticizing tendencies of postmodernism.In this paper it is argued that postmodernism should not be understood as radical relativism, but as the articulation of a tension between contingency and commitment. The concern for radical plurality is identified as the typically postmodern commitment. It is argued that this commitment can also be characterized as a typically pedagogical commitment. Educators, therefore, have at least one strong reason to stay within postmodernism.In order to explore in what way postmodernism might contribute to the emancipatory interests of education, an overview is given of the feminist debate on postmodernism. This shows that the emancipatory potential of postmodernism can only be put into use by political means. The question the is, what a postmodern politics might look like. An answer to this question is found in the work of Richard Rorty, albeit that the theoretical hard core of his position — the separation between the public sphere and the private sphere — is criticized for its ideological charcter and its rather unpedagogical repercussions. After a reconstruction of the private-public-dichotomy has been given, three consequences for education are spelled out, all of which center around the conclusion that postmodernism inevitably leads to a repoliticization of education.