Marxian Perspectives on Educational Philosophy: From Classical Marxism to Critical Pedagogy

“It is surely not difficult to see that our time is a time of birth and transition to a new period. The spirit has broken with what was hitherto the world of its existence and imagination and is about to submerge all this in the past; it is at work giving itself a new form. To be sure, the spirit is never at rest but always engaged in ever progressing motion…. the spirit that educates itself matures slowly and quietly toward the new form, dissolving one particle of the edifice of its previous world after the other,…. This gradual crumbling… is interrupted by the break of day that, like lightning, all at once reveals the edifice of the new world.”
Hegel 1965 [1807]: 380.

The theory associated with Marxism was developed in mid-19thcentury Europe by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Although Marx and Engels did not write widely about education, they developed theoretical perspectives on modern societies that have been used to highlight the social functions of education and their concepts and methods have served to both theorize and criticize education in the reproduction of capitalist societies, and to support projects of alternative education. In this study, I will first briefly sketch the classical perspectives of Marx and Engels, highlighting the place of education in their work. Then, I lay out the way that Marxian perspectives on education were developed in the Frankfurt School critical theory, British cultural studies, and other neo-Marxian and post-Marxian approaches grouped under the label of critical pedagogy, that emerged from the work of Paulo Freire and is now global in scope. I argue that Marxism provides influential and robust perspectives on education, still of use, but that classical Marxism has certain omissions and limitations that contemporary theories of society and education need to overcome.

Marx and Engels: The Classical Paradigm

“The materialist doctrine that men are products of circumstances and upbringing, and that, therefore, changed men are products of other circumstances and changed upbringing, forgets that it is men who change cirumstances and that it is essential to educate the educator himself.” Karl Marx

Both Marx and Engels left comfortable bourgeois families to pursue a life of revolutionary scholarship and struggle (see McLellan, 1973, Carver, 1989, and Wheen, 2000). Meeting in Paris with Engels in 1843, Marx began studying economics and associated himself with communist groups, writing: “When communist artisansform associations, education and propaganda are their first aims. But the very act of associating creates a new need — the need for society — and what appeared to be a means has become an end. The most striking results of this practical development are to be seen when French socialist workers meet together. Smoking, eating, and drinking are no longer simply means of bringing people together. Company, association, entertainment which also has society as its aim, are sufficient for them; the brotherhood of man is no empty phrase but a reality, and the nobility of man shines forth upon us from their toil-worn bodies” (Marx and Engels, CW4 [1844]: 313).Marx’s collaborator Engels grew up in the German capitalist town of Barmen, his family owned factories, and he experienced the industrial revolution and rise of the working class at first hand. In his early writings, Engels describes the lot of the new industrial working class as a miserable one: “Work in low rooms where people breathe in more coal fumes and dust than oxygen — and in the majority of cases beginning already at the age of six — is bound to deprive them of all strength and joy in life. The weavers, who have individual looms in their homes, sit bent over them from morning till night, and desiccate their spinal marrow in front of a hot stove. Those who do not fall prey to mysticism are ruined by drunkenness” (Engels in CW2 [1839], 9).Likewise, the “local-born leather workers are ruined physically and mentally after three years of work: “three out of five die of consumption.”

In sum, “terrible poverty prevails among the lower classes, particularly the factory workers in Wuppertal; syphilis and lung diseases are so widespread as to be barely credible; in Elberfeld alone, out of 2,500 children of school age 1,200 are deprived of education and grow up in the factories — merely so that the manufacturer need not pay the adults, whose place they take, twice the wage he pays a child” (Engels CW2, 10).The young Marx and Engels thus perceived that without education the working class was condemned to lives of drudgery and death, but that with education they had a chance to create a better life. In their famous 1848 “Communist Manifesto,” Marx and Engels argued that growing economic crises would throw ever more segments of the middle classes, and the older peasant and artisan classes, into the impoverished situation of the proletariat and would thus produce a unified working class, at least one with interests in common. They declared that the bourgeois class is constantly battling against the older feudal powers, among its own segments, and against the foreign bourgeoisie, and thus enlists the proletariat as its ally.Consequently, the proletariat gains education and experience which it can use to fight the ruling class.As bourgeois society dissolves, a section of the bourgeoisie goes over to the proletariat, including a radical intelligentsia “who have raised themselves to the level of comprehending theoretically the historical movement as a whole” (CW6 [1848]: 494).

In the Manifesto, expanded public education for the working class was one of the major demands, and henceforth both Marx and Engels saw themselves as providing education and theoretical guidance to the working class and socialist movement. Marx and Engels did not write much on educational institutions in bourgeois society, or develop models of education in socialist societies. Yet their historical materialist theory of history has been used to theorize and critique educational institutions within bourgeois society and to develop alternative conceptions of education, that are in accord with Marxian socialist principles.As the “Thesis from Feuerbach” which opens this section suggests, changing social conditions create new forms of education, so that the rise of capitalist-bourgeois societies would produce educational institutions that reproduce dominant social relations, values, and practices.Likewise, transforming capitalist societies and creating socialist ones requires new modes of education and socialization.The classical Marxian paradigm thus sees education as functioning within the hegemonic social system which is organized by and serves the interest of capital, while calling for alternative modes of education that would prepare students and citizens for more progressive socialist mode of social organizations.Marx and Engels envisaged education and free time as essential to developing free individuals and creating many-sided human beings. The sketch of socialism in The German Ideology — where one would “hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic” (CW5: 47) — reflects the ideals of a non-alienated life in which education is a key part of the life process. Increasing free time under socialism, Marx argued in his 1857-8 notebooks collected under the name of the Grundrisse,would allow for more education and development of a social individual who can then enter “in the direct production process as this different subject.This process is then both discipline, as regards the human being in the process of becoming; and, at the same time, practice [Ausubung], experimental science, materially creative and objectifying science, as regards the human being who has become, in whose head exists the accumulated knowledge of society” (Marx and Engels, 1978, p. 290).For Marx, transforming social relations would produce the basis for a new society of non-alienated labor in which individuals could utilize their free-time to fully develop their human capacities and labor itself would be a process of experimentation, creativity, and progress. In the vision of a free society sketched out in the Grundrisse, the system of automation would produce most of society’s goods, and individuals could thus enjoy leisure and the fruits of creative work, whereby education would become an essential part of the life-process. Such a society would be a completely different social order from that of capitalist society which is organized around work and the production of commodities. Marx acknowledges that the new society would have a totally “changedfoundation of production, a new foundation first created by the process of history” (Marx and Engels, 1978, p. 293).In the third volume of Capital, Marx described this radically new social order in terms of a “realm of freedom,” writing: “Freedom in this field can only consists in socialized man, the associated producers, rationally regulating their interchange with Nature, bringing it under their common control, instead of being ruled by it as by the blind forces of Nature; and achieving this with the least expenditure of energy and under conditions most favourable to, and worthy of, their human nature” (Marx and Engels, 1978, p. 441).Marx’s most distinctive vision of socialism thus envisages socialism as constituting a break in history as dramatic as the rupture between pre-capitalist and capitalist societies that produced modernity. While capitalism is a commodity-producing society organized around work and production, socialism would be a social order aiming at the full development of individual human beings.

Marx formulated this radical vision of a new society in his late text Critique of the Gotha Program(1875) as the product of a transition to a higher phase of communism. In the first stage , the “prolonged birth pangs from capitalist society” would limit the level of social and individual development, but: In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labour, has vanished; after labour has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-round development of the individual, and all the spring of cooperative wealth flow more abundantly — only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banner: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs! (Marx and Engels, 1978, p. 531).Thus in Marx’s utopian vision of communism, education would help fully develop socialized individuals, create a cooperative and harmonious society, and unleash creativity in all of its forms. In historical retrospect, however, the lack of a more fully articulated theory of education and subjectivity, and of the subjective conditions of revolutionary transformation, in the classical Marxian theory vitiated its theory and practice. Marx seemed to think that class and revolutionary consciousness would develop naturally, as a result of the workers” position in the process of production. Subsequent Marxian theorists, however, engaged in a heated debate concerning whether class consciousness developed spontaneously (as Rosa Luxembourg claimed), or would have to be brought to the workers from outside (as Kautsky and Lenin argued).

And later generations of neo-Marxian theorists would develop more sophisticated theories of consciousness, communication, and education, whereby political subjectivities could be formed which would strive for socialist and/or democratic social change.Succeeding generations of Marxists perceived that the classical paradigm overemphasized the dimension of class, playing down the importance of gender, race, sexuality, and other key constituents of human experience, lacunae filled in by many neo-Marxian theories, as I note in the following sections.Moreover, many of Marx’s texts also seem to place too heavy an emphasis on labor as the distinctly human activity, as the key to the development of the human being. Overemphasis on production is accompanied by an inadequate concept of intersubjectivity, lacking a fully developed theory of individual consciousness and its development in communication, symbolic action, and culture. Unlike later social theorists such as Durkheim, Mead, Dewey, and Habermas, Marx failed to perceive the importance of wider communication in the development of new forms of association and solidarity. He thus put too much emphasis on class struggle, on direct action, and not enough on communication and democracy. Indeed, Marx never grasped the significance of the institutions of liberal democracy as an important heritage of modern societies that should be absorbed into socialism.

Although he espoused a model of radical democratic self-government in his writings on the Paris Commune, and while Marx long championed democracy as an ideal, he never properly appreciated the separation of powers and system of rights, checks and balances, and democratic participation developed within bourgeois society.Thus, Marx had an inadequate theory of education and democracy, and failed to develop an institutional theory of democracy, its constraints under capitalism, and how socialism would make possible fuller and richer democracy. These lacunae in the classical Marxian theory would be filled by later generations of Marxist theorists. Within the Marxian tradition, a tremendous variety and diversity of different schools, movements, and positions have evolved. In the following narrative, I will trace developments within key neo-Marxian traditions, including those of the Frankfurt school, British cultural studies, and a diverse grouping of neo- and post-Marxian positions covered by the label of “critical pedagogy.” In these traditions, certain positions overlap and there are also divergences based, in part, on responses to different socio-historical conditions in the trajectory from state and organized capitalism in the 1930s to the resurgence of neo-liberalism and return to market capitalism in the 1980s. The dynamics of globalization and a variety of anti-globalization movements in the 1990s to the present have also generated a global proliferation of the various formations of neo-Marxian theory which has produced a dizzying diversity of Marxian discourse.Other narratives of the trajectory of Marxism and education have traced the development of different positions within education through the prisms of Gramsci, Althusser and structural Marxism, and reproduction theory, as well as the schools that I chart (see Morrow and Torres 1995). There have also been studies of the role of Marxian ideas in curriculum and schooling in capitalist societies (see Pinar et al 1996, pp. 243ff), as well as presentations of contemporary debates within Marxian theory on a vast range of topics in the field of education (see Rikowski, 1996 and 1997, Hill, 2001, and the articles collected in Capital Logic 2001). I, however, will focus on the development of perspectives on education within the tradition of critical social theory and pedagogy developed by Western Marxism. This perspective and presentation is shaped by the work that I have done within the traditions I discuss and in the context of teaching at state universities in Texas and California in the U.S.

The Frankfurt School, Culture, and Regimes of Capital
Not only within social philosophy in the narrower sense, but likewise in sociological circles as well as those of general philosophy, discussions about society have gradually and ever more clearly crystallized around a question which is not only presently important, but is at the same time the topical version of the oldest and most important philosophical problems: namely, the question of the connection between the economic life of society, the psychic development of individuals, and changes in the cultural domains in the narrower sense. To these belong not only the so-called spiritual contexts of science, art, and religion, but also law, custom fashion, public opinion, sports, leisure pastimes, life style, etc. Max Horkheimer Frankfurt School theorists have rarely explicitly addressed problems of education and pedagogy, although I will suggest that its critique of the culture industries provides an important model of Marxian cultural studies and pedagogy that anticipates the Birmingham School and that provides important contributions to educational philosophy today.The Frankfurt School stress on consciousness, ideology, culture, and socialization highlights the importance of transforming individuals and societies through change of consciousness, culture, and the institutions of everyday life such as education.

In Weimar Germany in the early 1930s, the Frankfurt School were carrying out research into the family and authority, and were concluding that the family was declining as an agent of authority, giving way to the media, peer groups, schooling, and other institutions. In exile in the United States after 1934, the Frankfurt School focused on the role of the media in educating and socializing individuals. To a large extent, the Frankfurt school inaugurated critical studies of mass communication and culture, and thus produced an early model of cultural studies (see Kellner 1989 and 1995). In a wide-ranging set of studies and texts, the group developed a critical and transdisciplinary approach to cultural and communications studies, combining critique of political economy of the media, analysis of texts, and audience reception studies of the social and ideological effects of mass culture and communications (see the texts collected in Arato and Gebhardt, 1982 and Bronner and Kellner, 1989, and the discussions of the Frankfurt school in Jay, 1973, Kellner, 1989 and Wiggershaus, 1994).The Frankfurt School theorists coined the term “culture industries” to signify the process of the industrialization of mass-produced culture and the commercial imperatives which drove the system. The group analyzed all mass-mediated cultural artifacts within the context of industrial production, in which the products of the culture industries exhibited the same features as other goods of mass production: commodification, standardization, and massification. The culture industries had the specific function, however, of providing ideological legitimation of the existing capitalist societies and of integrating individuals into the framework of its social formation. Adorno’s analyses of popular music (1978 [1932], 1941, 1982, and 1989), Lowenthal’s studies of popular literature and magazines (1961), Herzog’s studies of radio soap operas (1941), and the critiques of mass culture developed in Horkheimer and Adorno’s famous study of the culture industries (1972 and Adorno 1991) provide many examples of the value of the critical theory approach.Moreover, in their theories of the culture industries and critiques of mass culture, they were the first to systematically analyze and criticize mass-mediated culture and communications within critical social theory. The critical theorists scrutinized the pedagogical and social functions the culture industries in the reproduction of contemporary societies. In their optic, mass culture and communications stand at the center of leisure activity, are important agents of socialization and education, mediators of political reality, and should thus be seen as major institutions of contemporary societies with a variety of economic, political, cultural and social effects.Furthermore, the critical theorists investigated the cultural industries in a political context as a form of the integration of the working class into capitalist societies. The group were among the first neo-Marxian theorists to examine the effects of mass culture and the rise of the consumer society on the working classes which were to be the instrument of revolution in the classical Marxian scenario. They also analyzed the ways that the culture industries and consumer society were performing new kinds of pedagogy and stabilizing contemporary capitalism.

Accordingly, they sought novel strategies for political change, agencies of political transformation, and models for political emancipation that could serve as norms of social critique and goals for political struggle. This project required rethinking the Marxian project and produced many important contributions — as well as some problematical positions.After World War II, the critical theorists examined how the state and public education produced a form of “Halb-Bildung,” half-education, and themselves called for education that fully developed individual subjectivities.Their form of “critical theory” emphasized the importance of critique, reflexivity, and gaining emancipatory consciousness, free from indoctrination and socialization.Although the Frankfurt School did not systematically explore the institutions of higher education, Adorno, Horkheimer, Marcuse, and Habermas wrote occasional critiques of the University and intervened frequently in educational debates. In retrospect, one can see the Frankfurt group’s critical theory as articulation of a stage of state and monopoly capitalism which became dominant during the 1930s (see Kellner 1989). In this era of “organized capitalism,” the state and giant corporations managed the economy and individuals submitted to state and corporate control. This period is often described as “Fordism” to designate the system of mass production and the homogenizing regime of capital which wanted to produce mass desires, tastes, and behavior. It was thus an era of mass production and consumption characterized by uniformity and homogeneity of needs, thought, and behavior producing a “mass society” and what the Frankfurt school described as “the end of the individual.” No longer was individual thought and action the motor of social and cultural progress; instead giant organizations and institutions overpowered individuals.The era corresponds to the staid, ascetic, conformist, and conservative world of corporate capitalism that was dominant in the 1950s with its organization men and women, its mass consumption, and its mass culture.

During this period, mass culture and communication were instrumental in generating the modes of thought and behavior appropriate to a highly organized and homogenized social order. Likewise, public education was creating standardized education and curricula which was serving as instruments of massification and social control. For instance, Herbert Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man(1964) criticized the ways that educational institutions, the media, and other forms of socialization were creating conformist modes of thought and behavior, producing what he called “one-dimensional man.”Thus, the Frankfurt school theory of mass culture articulates a major historical shift to an era in which mass consumption and culture was indispensable to producing a consumer society based on homogeneous needs and desires for mass-produced products. In this context, the media and public education helped generate a mass society based on social organization and homogeneity. It is culturally the period of highly controlled network radio and television, insipid top forty pop music, glossy Hollywood films, national magazines, and standardized public schooling. Of course, media culture and schooling were never as massified and homogeneous as in the Frankfurt school model. Indeed, one could argue that the model was flawed even during its time of origin and influence and that other models were preferable, such as those of Walter Benjamin (1969), Siegfried Kracauer (1995), Ernst Bloch (1986) and others of the Weimar generation. Yet the original critical theory model of the culture industry and mass society did articulate the vital social roles of media culture and schooling during a specific regime of capital. It provided a model, still of use, of a highly commercial and technologically advanced culture that serves the needs of dominant corporate interests, plays a major role in ideological reproduction, and in enculturating individuals into the dominant system of needs, thought, and behavior. The Frankfurt school also influenced and helped produce other neo-Marxian approaches to culture, society, and education as we see in the following sections.

The Trajectories of Cultural Studies

“Traditionally, mass-communications research has conceptualized the process of communication in terms of a circulation circuit or loop… But it is also possible (and useful) to think of this process in terms of a structure produced and sustained through the articulation of linked but distinctive moments -– production, circulation, distribution/consumption, reproduction.” Stuart Hall

British cultural studies, then, from historical perspective emerges in a later era of capital, on the cusp of what became known as “post-Fordism” and a more variegated and conflicted cultural formation. The forms of culture described by the earliest phase of British cultural studies in the 1950s and early 1960s articulated conditions in an era in which there were still significant tensions in England and much of Europe between an older working class-based culture and the newer mass-produced culture whose models and exemplars were the products of American culture industries. The initial project of cultural studies developed by Richard Hoggart, Raymond Williams, and E.P. Thompson attempted to preserve working class culture against onslaughts of mass culture produced by the culture industries. Thompson’s historical inquiries into the history of British working class institutions and struggles (1963), the defenses of working class culture and education by Hoggart (1957) and Williams (1961 and 1962), and their attacks on mass culture were part of a socialist and working class-oriented project that assumed that the industrial working class was a force of progressive social change and that it could be mobilized and organized to struggle against the inequalities of the existing capitalist societies and for a more egalitarian socialist one.

Williams and Hoggart were deeply involved in projects of working class education and oriented toward socialist working class politics, seeing their form of cultural studies as an instrument of progressive social change. The early critiques in the first wave of British cultural studies of Americanism and mass culture, in Hoggart, Williams, and others, thus paralleled to some extent the earlier critique of the Frankfurt school, yet valorized a working class that the critical theorists saw as defeated in Germany and much of Europe during the era of fascism and which they never saw as a strong resource for emancipatory social change. The early work of the Birmingham school, as I will now argue, was continuous with the radicalism of the first wave of British cultural studies (the Hoggart-Thompson-Williams “culture and society” tradition) as well, in important ways, with the Frankfurt school. Yet the Birmingham project also paved the way, as I suggest below, for a postmodern populist turn in cultural studies, which responds to a later stage of capitalism. It has not yet been widely recognized that the second stage of the development of British cultural studies — starting with the founding of the University of Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies in 1963/64 by Hoggart and Stuart Hall — shared many key perspectives with the Frankfurt school (Kellner 1997). During this period, the Centre developed a variety of critical approaches for the analysis, interpretation, and criticism of cultural artifacts (see the articles collected in Grossberg, Nelson, Triechler, 1992; During, 1993, and Durham and Kellner 2001; see also the commentary in Hall 1980b; Johnson 1986/7; McGuigan 1992; and Kellner 1995).

Through a set of internal debates, and responding to social struggles and movements of the 1960s and the 1970s, the Birmingham group came to focus on the interplay of representations and ideologies of class, gender, race, ethnicity, and nationality in cultural texts, including media culture. Like the Frankfurt school, they analyzed critically they pedagogical effects of newspapers, radio, television, film, music, and other popular cultural forms on audiences, as well as to develop critiques of schooling in Britain. They also focused on how various audiences interpreted and used media culture in varied and different ways and contexts, analyzing the factors that made audiences respond in contrasting ways to media texts. The now classical period of British cultural studies from the early 1960s to the early 1980s continued to adopt Marxian approaches to the study of culture, especially those influenced by Althusser and Gramsci (see Hall, 1980a and Johnson 1986/7). Yet although Hall and his colleagues usually omit the Frankfurt school from their narratives of their history and influences, some of the work done by the Birmingham group replicated certain classical positions of the Frankfurt school, in their social theory and methodological models for doing cultural studies, as well as in their political perspectives and strategies. Like the Frankfurt school, British cultural studies observed the integration of the working class and its decline of revolutionary consciousness, and studied the conditions of this catastrophe for the Marxian project of revolution.

Like the Frankfurt school, British cultural studies concluded that mass culture was playing an important role in integrating the working class into existing capitalist societies and that a new consumer and media culture was forming a new mode of capitalist hegemony. Both traditions focused on the intersections of culture and ideology and saw ideology critique as central to a critical cultural studies (CCCS 1980a and 1980b). Both viewed culture as a mode of ideological reproduction and hegemony, in which educational institutions and cultural forms help to shape the modes of thought and behavior that induce individuals to adapt to the social conditions of capitalist societies. Both also interpreted culture as a potential form of resistance to capitalist society and both the earlier forerunners of British cultural studies, especially Raymond Williams, and the theorists of the Frankfurt school perceived high culture as forces of resistance to capitalist modernity. Later, British cultural studies would valorize resistant moments in media culture and audience interpretations and use of media artifacts, while the Frankfurt school tended, with some exceptions, to view mass culture as a homogeneous and potent form of ideological domination — a difference that would seriously divide the two traditions. From the beginning, British cultural studies was highly political in nature and focused on the potentials for resistance in oppositional subcultures, first, valorizing the potential of working class cultures, then, youth subcultures to resist the hegemonic forms of capitalist domination. Unlike the classical Frankfurt school (but similar to Herbert Marcuse), British cultural studies turned to youth cultures as providing potentially new forms of opposition and social change. Through studies of youth subcultures, British cultural studies demonstrated how subcultural formations came to constitute distinct forms of identity and group membership and appraised the oppositional potential of various youth subcultures (see Jefferson 1976 and Hebdige 1979). British cultural studies also investigated how schooling integrates youth into capitalist societies and the ways that working class youth rebel and resist. Paul Willis’ now classic Learning to Labor (1981) carried out ethnographic and critical studies of how working class youth confront disciplinary schooling that tries to get them to conform to authority and middle class values and mores. Willis documents both modes of disciplinary schooling and resistance, showing how working class youth rebel and construct identities outside of schooling and middle class norms.

Within the University, British cultural studies developed interdisciplinary programs to study the intersection of culture, society, and politics, and developed critiques of academic fragmentation and disciplinarity. British cultural studies — like the Frankfurt school — insists that culture must be studied within the social relations and system through which culture is produced and consumed, and that thus study of culture is intimately bound up with the study of society, politics, and economics. British cultural studies and the Frankfurt school were thus both founded as fundamentally transdisciplinary enterprises which resisted established academic divisions of labor and implicitly revolutionize University education. Indeed, their boundary-crossing and critiques of the detrimental effects of abstracting culture from its socio-political context elicited hostility among those who are more disciplinary-oriented and who, for example, believe in the autonomy of culture and renounce sociological or political readings. Against such academic formalism and separatism, cultural studies insists that culture must be investigated within the social relations and system through which culture is produced and consumed. From this perspective, analysis of culture is intimately bound up with the study of society, politics, and economics.

Employing Gramsci’s model of hegemony and counterhegemony, it sought to analyze “hegemonic,” or ruling, social and cultural forces of domination and to seek “counterhegemonic” forces of resistance and struggle. The project was aimed at social transformation and attempted to specify forces of domination and resistance in order to aid the process of political struggle and emancipation from oppression and domination. Some earlier authoritative presentations of British cultural studies stressed the importance of a transdisciplinary approach to the study of culture that analyzed its political economy, process of production and distribution, textual products, and reception by the audience — positions remarkably similar to the Frankfurt school. For instance, in his classical programmatic article, “Encoding/Decoding,” Stuart Hall began his analysis by using Marx’s Grundrisse as a model to trace the articulations of “a continuous circuit,” encompassing “production – distribution – consumption – production” (1980b: 128ff.). Hall concretizes this model with focus on how media institutions produce meanings, how they circulate, and how audiences use or decode the texts to produce meaning. Moreover, in a 1983 lecture published in 1985/1986, Richard Johnson provided a model of cultural studies, similar to Hall’s earlier model, based on a diagram of the circuits of production, textuality, and reception, parallel to the circuits of capital stressed by Marx, illustrated by a diagram that stressed the importance of production and distribution. Although Johnson emphasized the importance of analysis of production in cultural studies and criticized Screen for abandoning this perspective in favor of more idealist and textualist approaches(63ff.), much work in British and North American cultural studies has replicated the neglect of production and political economy. In more recent cultural studies, however, there has been a turn — throughout the English-speaking world — to what might be called a “postmodern” problematic which emphasizes pleasure, consumption, and the individual construction of identities in terms of what McGuigan (1992) has called a “cultural populism.” Media culture from this perspective produces material for identities, pleasures, and empowerment, and thus audiences constitute the “popular” through their consumption of cultural products. During this phase — roughly from the mid-1980s to the present — cultural studies in Britain and North America turned from the socialist and revolutionary politics of the previous stages to postmodern forms of identity politics and less critical perspectives on media and consumer culture. Emphasis was placed more and more on the audience, consumption, and reception, and displaced focus on production and distribution of texts and how texts were produced in media industries.

In context, the forms of cultural studies developed from the late 1970s to the present, theorize a shift from the stage of state monopoly capitalism, or Fordism, rooted in mass production and consumption to a new regime of capital and social order, sometimes described as “post-Fordism” (Harvey 1989), or “postmodernism” (Jameson 1991), and characterizing a transnational and global capital that valorizes difference, multiplicity, eclecticism, populism, and intensified consumerism in a new information/ entertainment society. From this perspective, the proliferating media culture, postmodern architecture, shopping malls, and the culture of the postmodern spectacle became the promoters and palaces of a new stage of technocapitalism, the latest stage of capital, encompassing a postmodern image and consumer culture (see Best and Kellner, 1997 and 2001). Consequently, I would argue that the turn toward a postmodern cultural studies is a response to a new era of global capitalism. What is described as the “new revisionism” (McGuigan 1992: 61ff) severs cultural studies from political economy and critical social theory. During the current stage of cultural studies there is a widespread tendency to decenter, or even ignore completely, economics, history, and politics in favor of emphasis on local pleasures, consumption, and the construction of hybrid identities from the material of the popular. This cultural populism replicates the turn in postmodern theory away from Marxism and its alleged reductionism, master narratives of liberation and domination, and historical teleology. The emphasis in postmodernist cultural studies arguably articulates experiences and phenomena within a new mode of social organization. The emphasis on active audiences, resistant readings, oppositional texts, utopian moments, and the like describes an era in which individuals are trained to be more active media consumers, and in which they are given a much wider choice of cultural materials, corresponding to a new global and transnational capitalism with a much broader array of consumer choices, products, and services. In this regime, difference sells, and the diversities, multiplicities, and heterogeneity valorized in postmodern theory describes the proliferation of consumer choices in a new social order predicated on proliferation of products, desires, and needs.

Critical Pedagogy from Freire to North America and Beyond

“The pedagogy of the oppressed… is a task for radicals; it cannot be carried out by sectarians.”
Paulo Freire

Alongside of the proliferation of neo-Marxian theories of culture and society and globalization of cultural studies, forms of an oppositional critical pedagogy emerged that explicitly criticized schooling in capitalist societies while calling for more emancipatory modes of education. In his now classic The Pedagogy of the Oppressed(1972), Brazilian educator and activist Paulo Freire criticized the “banking concept of education” while calling for more interactive, dialogical, and participatory forms of pedagogy that are parallel in interesting ways to those of John Dewey. While Dewey wanted education to produce citizens for democracy, however, Freire sought, in the spirit of Marxist revolutionary praxis, to develop a pedagogy of the oppressed that would produce revolutionary subjects, empowered to overthrow oppression and to create a more democratic and just social order. Freire’s pedagogy of the oppressed seeks to transform individuals from being objects of educational processes to subjects of their own autonomy and emancipation.

Freire suggests that classical Marxism had not adequately developed the subjective and pedagogical dimension and that the oppressed must be educated so that they can perform their own self-emancipation. Setting up schools that practiced his critical pedagogy in his native Brazil, Freire was expelled when a military dictatorship took over his country, but continued his work in Chile and throughout the world until his death.Freire’s work found resonance on a global scale and by the 1980s there were many schools of critical pedagogy. In North America, a series of books on Freire appeared and groups and individuals took up his ideas in a variety of contexts (see McLaren and Leonard 1993).Theorists such as Henry Giroux, Donaldo Macedo, Carlos Torres, and Peter McLaren linked Freiren perspectives with those of Frankfurt school critical theory and other neo-Marxian approaches in works from the 1990s to the present. Cultural theorists and educators developed critical pedagogies of media and representation, and articulated neo-Marxian class perspectives with those of gender, race, and multiculturalism (see Luke and Gore 1992; hooks 1994; McLaren, Hammer, Sholle and Reilly 1995, Steinberg 2001, and the journal Taboo).

Feminists, poststructuralists and others criticized what they saw as biases and limitations of critical pedagogy (see, for example, Lather 2001), and there were sharp debates over the value or limitations of the continuing role of Marxism within critical pedagogy. Henry Giroux’s early work was frequently linked to Michael Apple’s attempts to link neo-Gramsci theories of hegemony to analyses of capitalist schooling as instruments of corporate power and domination, such as were produced by Bowles and Gintis (1976; on Giroux and Apple, see Morrow and Torres 1995). Apple was more influenced by Althusserian structural Marxism and Bowles and Gintis” critique of schooling in capitalist society. Both Giroux and Apple, however, saw the need for theories of resistance, transforming education in the interests of radical democracy, and bringing in multiculturalist problematics that would address issues of gender and race, as well as class.These moves led Marxist critics to suggest that they were abandoning Marxism for democratic populism, although one could argue that they are reconstructing Marxism for the present age, in the spirit of a revisionist dialectic. Giroux urged movement from a language of critique to a language of hope and possibility, combining critique of the dominant mode of schooling with valorization of resistance and alternative conceptions of education.After publishing a series of books that many recognize as major works on contemporary education and critical pedagogy, Giroux turned to cultural studies in the late 1980s to enrich education with expanded conceptions of pedagogy and literacy (see Giroux 1992; 180ff). This cultural turn is animated by the hope to reconstruct schooling with critical perspectives that can help us to better understand and transform contemporary culture and society in the contemporary era. Giroux provides cultural studies with a critical pedagogy missing in many versions and a sustained attempt to link critical pedagogy and cultural studies with developing a more democratic culture and citizenry.

The result is an intersection of critical pedagogy and cultural studies that enhances both enterprises, providing a cultural and transformative political dimension to critical pedagogy and a pedagogical dimension to cultural studies (see Giroux 2000a and 2000b and 2001). In an ever-mushrooming profusion of books, Peter McLaren has been advocating a return to classical Marxism as a strategy to transform educational practices within a project of social and cultural transformation.McLaren’s most recent book Che Guevara, Paulo Freire, and the Pedagogy of Revolution (1999) sets out to introduce educators tothe life and politics of Che Guevara; to recover the legacy of Paulo Freire from the interpretive efforts of educational humanists who have for the most part depotentiated the revolutionary import of Freire’s teachings and have largely domesticated the Marxist trajectory of his politics; and to analyze the philosophical and political writings of these two figures in the context of their pedagogical theories and practices. In McLaren’s view, the work of Marxist revolutionaries are too often overlooked in discussions of educational theory and pedagogical practice. Whereas such thinkers often occupy a prominent place in other disciplines such as philosophy and the social sciences, McLaren argues that educational theory is remiss in failing to discuss their important contributions. In setting forth his arguments, McLaren himself adopted Marxist-Humanist perspectives in his recent work. The many works of Carlos Torres also navigate through the Marxian tradition and advance the positions of Paulo Freire and critical pedagogy.

In addition to producing much on Freire, Torres has published important books in the political sociology of education and comparative education from neo-Marxian perspectives on topics such as education, the state, and power; the role of schooling in social and cultural reproduction; the role of social theory in comprehending the nature and conflicts in contemporary education; the problematics of globalization; the interconnections between citizens, multiculturalism, and democracy; the ways that a democratic restructuring of schooling involve engaging the problematics of gender, race, and class in constructing pedagogies that promote agency, solidarity, respect for difference, and ultimately create a more just and democratic society; and the contributions of critical pedagogy to transforming education and democratizing society (see Torres 1998).Torres and his colleague Nicholas Burbules have co-edited a book on Globalization and Education. Critical Perspectives (1999) that articulates an overview ofthe challenges to education from globalization. Various contributors address the different components of globalization and offer conflicting perspectives. They argue that the economic restructuring of the global economy suggests both the need to reconstruct education to make it relevant to the needs of a new economy, but also provides challenges to resisting the imposition of a market-based model of education that would impose similar business models and imperatives on educational institutions throughout the world, with problematic results. Indeed, one of the major thrusts of the collection is to present some of the dangers involved in the imposition of neo-liberalism and market models on the institutions of education, while benefiting from potential advances of globalization, such as the Internet and new technologies, new forms of global and cosmopolitan culture, and a globalization of democracy and human rights.

Concluding Comments Discussions of globalization and education point to the continuing relevance of Marxian perspectives for educational philosophy and practice today. Critical neo-Marxist pedagogues throughout the world have articulated problematics of gender, race, sexuality, and multiculturalism with Marxist concepts of class and domination, thus providing potential expansion and enrichment of Marxist perspectives. The type of structuralist Marxist theories of capital and schooling that began to circulate in the 1970s have been largely replaced by more poststructuralist versions of Marxism that articulate together gender, race, class, and other subject positions (see Morrow and Torres 1995). Some Marxist critics have argued, however, that the orthodox Marxist focuses on class and capital are often too decentered in more postmodern theories and have called for a return to class as the basis for a Marxist philosophy of education (see McLaren 1998). Indeed, the continuing viability of Marxian perspectives today are bound up with the continuing expansion of capitalism in a global economy and growing importance of the economy in every domain of life. Marxism has historically presented critical perspectives on capitalism and the ways that economic imperatives shape institutions like schooling to correspond to the interests of the ruling class. Neo-Marxist theories have sought to overcome a too-narrow focus on class and economics by stressing the importance of developing theories of agency and resistance and incorporating dimensions of gender, race, sexuality, and other subject positions into an expanded notion of multicultural education, democratization, and social justice. They have also developed a wide range of proposals for the reconstructions of education and development of alternative pedagogies and educational practices. These neo-Marxian positions are fiercely contested by conservative positions, however, and the field of education remains today a contested terrain where neo-Marxian positions are part of the force of opposition.By Douglas Kellner, Columbia University.


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