Jason Hickel discusses his new book Less is More. The book is a must read for anyone who wants to know how we can stop ecological break down and enable human flourishing.
Today I talk with Rebecca Tarlau about her new book, Occupying Schools, Occupying Land, which was published last year. The book details the way in which the Landless Workers Movement transformed Brazilian Education.
Rebecca Tarlau is an Assistant Professor of Education and Labor and Employment Relations at the Pennsylvania State University. She is affiliated with the Lifelong Learning and Adult Education Program, the Comparative and International Education program, and the Center for Global Workers’ Rights. Occupying Schools, Occupying Land won the 2020 book award from the Globalization and Education Special Interest Group of the Comparative and International Education Society.
What role does higher education play in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals?
My guest today is Tristan McCowan, author of the new book entitled Higher Education for and beyond the Sustainable Development Goals, which was published earlier this year. Tristan interrogates the idea of a so-called developmental university working towards the SGDs, identifying both positive and negative outcomes.
Tristan McCowan is a Professor of International Education at the Institute of Education, University College London. I spoke with Tristan in his office in London, which just so happens to be around the corner from mine. This is actually the first podcast that I’ve recorded at my new intuitional home at the Institute of Education. There’s a lot more to say about the future of FreshEd now that I live in London, but I’m going to wait until next year to tell you all about it. For now, enjoy our latest episode and stay tuned for our end of year show with Susan Robertson and Roger Dale, which will air next week.
Citation: McCowan, Tristan, interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 184, podcast audio, December 9, 2019. https://freshedpodcast.com/mccowan/
Will Brehm 1:39
Tristan McCowan, welcome to FreshEd.
Tristan McCowan 1:41
Thanks, Will. It is a great pleasure to be here.
Will Brehm 1:43
So, I want to start by talking a little bit about the SDGs, but specifically about higher education because this is something that might not get talked about as much as primary or secondary schooling. So where in the SDGs – in the Sustainable Development Goals – is higher education even mentioned?
Tristan McCowan 2:02
So, I think it is worth thinking about what comes before the SDGs to talk about how it does appear. And in the Millennium Development Goals that came before, there was a conspicuous absence of higher education there. So, the education goal was around primary education. I suppose higher education might be included in the requirement for gender equality that was also there, but it was absent in the education goal. And this was also indicative of a general neglect of higher education in the development community for some decades before. So, the inclusion of higher education in the SDGs marks something of a return – a rekindling of interest – in higher education generally in development. And there was a lot of discussion in the consultation around the creation of what was going to replace the MDGs about how higher education might be included in that. In the SDGs themselves, the most obvious inclusion of higher education is in how it appears as a target in itself. It appears along with vocational education, tertiary education, and a specific mention of university. So that is the access goal. It is not very demanding, in my view. It doesn’t require universal access or anything resembling that. What it requires is equal access, which, as we know from international law, is really around nondiscrimination. It is an important requirement, but it is not very demanding on this. But nevertheless, it is there. And I think it is very important that universities mentioned in terms of access, getting people into university or some form of higher education. But that is not the only way that it appears in the SDG. In the book, I distinguish between three different ways that it appears. So, there is that first one we have talked about, which is access, and then two others. The second is as part of the education system as a whole. And this relates to one of your previous podcasts that was talking about SDG 4.7 and the overarching aims of education in terms of promoting global citizenship, sustainable development itself. So higher education fits into that. It is part of the education system. And it might promote a lot of the goals that we would like to see in society. The third role for higher education is the one that the book focuses on mainly, and that is higher education as a driver for all of the goals. So, every one of the 17 goals in all different areas: environmental, health, poverty, and so forth require to some degree on universities in the broadest possible way, through its teaching, but also its research and community engagement and all of its functions.
Will Brehm 4:45
So I mean, in a way, what you’re saying is that universities have this massive role to play in the SDGs not simply as access not simply as being part of the education system to meet some of these very lofty goals of 4.7, which, as the previous podcasts have shown are very sort of diverse and complex ideas. But more importantly, and perhaps most importantly, this idea of higher education as being a driver of development. So, this is a pretty large role for education, for higher education. Can universities actually even fulfill this role, do you think?
Tristan McCowan 5:24
I think my answer to that is yes, but perhaps not in the way that might immediately be imagined. So, I think the potential of universities is extraordinary. And one of the arguments that I try to make in all different kinds of fora is that universities are essential for all countries and not just for the wealthy countries that we might imagine might afford it. Universities aren’t luxury; they are critical part of all countries, however impoverished they might be, however many challenges they might face. In fact, we might think of as being especially important in those. The teaching role of universities is crucial for forming professionals in a whole range of different areas, including the kinds of primary services that were focused on in the MDGs, but also in the SDGs, around education, health, and so forth. There is a much broader teaching role of universities as well for civic and personal benefits. There is the research role of universities, breakthroughs in health, the environment, all sorts of areas in which there are huge challenges facing humanity. And then the community engagement role where universities can apply that knowledge and also engage with the knowledge that communities have. So, the potential of universities is extraordinary. Whether they can fulfill that is a different matter, and that does depend on the level of quality that universities have, the resourcing that they have, how they are organized, the kinds of autonomy they have. So, it is not guaranteed. And I think, you know, the empirical research that we have… and we have fairly good research on some countries, less good on others. The research we have shows that they are sometimes able to do that. Sometimes they are able to do that in ways that we hadn’t actually imagined. In others, they struggle to. It is worth pointing out that in low-income countries, universities have roles that are not present in higher-income countries as providers of basic services often. So, communities will often use universities because they don’t have other spaces for meeting, for, you know, cultural pursuits. Even for things as basic as Internet access, and so forth. So, universities can play a really crucial role in all countries. The final point I’d make is that the role of universities as a driver perhaps is not as automatic or guaranteed as we might imagine, even when we might consider that to be a quality university. And that is because there is a level of unpredictability to all processes of learning and scholarship.
Will Brehm 8:01
So, what do you mean? Is there a downside, sometimes, to higher education?
Tristan McCowan 8:06
There certainly can be a downside. I mean, universities have not always had positive impacts on their societies through history. One of the downsides is in exacerbating inequalities in societies. So, while universities can certainly act as mechanisms for social mobility, they can also do the opposite. And in many points in history where access has been restricted to an elite, or for particular religious or language groups, or just for men, for example, it has actually made things worse rather than make things better. So, there is that element. Also, universities have been implicated in fostering of prejudice and xenophobia as all parts of the education system.
Will Brehm 8:51
Right. Okay. So you’re sort of taking this complex view, whether it’s good and bad, the development is not always this positive linear idea but can have a complex multitude of outcomes as a result of work in higher education, or any sector, I would imagine in education more broadly defined. So, I guess when we think about the university, what you are sort of saying is that not all universities are the same. There is a lot of potential in higher education, but what actually happens looks different in different contexts; the cultural context, the national context, whatever it is. So, when you think historically, then, how can we make sense of, you know, different types of universities? You know, maybe ideal types, not necessarily what actually exists. How can we start categorizing different types of universities?
Tristan McCowan 9:48
Thanks. It is a really important question, and one that’s not posed often enough, I think. And it is worth saying at the start that what we are seeing now across the world in higher education is much less diversity than there might have been. Historically there have been models of higher learning in many parts of the world – in India and China, in the Islamic world, in Mesoamerica. Other places as well that have been quite distinct. And many of those have been lost. In fact, most of them have been lost through history. We’ve seen a dominance of the European model of university from medieval Europe, which in its spreading around the world has gained new forms of diversity, but perhaps not as much as we might have wanted and still rooted in some very similar assumptions. So, there is a degree of homogeneity around the world, but what I argue is that universities have a kind of a mixing of different historical models within them. And as you say, they are partly ideal types and partly real historically. So, you have got the medieval institution, which was a community of scholars, a community of students, engaging and debate over authoritative texts. You have the Humboldtian model that emerges in the 19th century of the research university on the pursuit of truth and academic freedom and so forth. You have then got drives towards greater relevance of the university to society, and the land grant universities in the United States were very influential in this regard. Also moves in Latin America in the early 20th century towards democratization of the university space. And leading to what in Africa in the post Second World War period was called the “developmental university,” one that is tied very much to service to society. And then most recently, the emergence of the entrepreneurial or the enterprise university, one which is focused on income generation through selling of its services. So, we have got these different models, and I think we can see them all in our institutions. In some, you know, the entrepreneurial model is dominant. In others, we might see, you know, more of the Humboldtian model, but jostling for space, and of course, in the different actors that are engaged as well.
Will Brehm 12:07
You are thinking through this developmental university because it sort of links in with the SDGs. So, in what way do you see the developmental university? How do we think about that university, that type of university, if it truly does do service to society in the ideal that is written in the SDGs?
Tristan McCowan 12:31
Yeah, I mean I think if you look at the role that’s proposed for universities, it is something close to the developmental model: a university that has as its primary purpose serving society in an egalitarian mode, or perhaps beyond the egalitarian, actually focusing primarily on the most disadvantaged populations. By privileging those populations, reducing poverty and so forth, and dealing to a large extent with applied knowledge and an impact on nonacademic communities. And there is something of a contradiction there between the kinds of higher education that are promoted by many of the international agencies, which in many ways actually undermine that kind of developmental role of universities.
Will Brehm 13:13
Tristan McCowan 13:15
Particularly through a promotion of expansion at all costs. Now, there is a real need for expanding higher education. Access has grown rapidly over the last 20 years. But much of the expansion has taken place in very commercialized, for-profit sectors of higher education, or sometimes distance education with low quality, which has, while it has allowed more people to gain higher education diplomas, it has not necessarily allowed them the learning that will be meaningful in their lives, and certainly hasn’t promoted research and community engagement in the public interest. So, there have been dynamics in the growth of higher education sectors, which have brought some benefit for individuals, but without much of a contribution to the public good.
Will Brehm 14:04
So, given this sort of “massification” of higher education and how that might begin to challenge some of the value and the functions of the university, what sort of trends have you noticed worldwide? You know, let’s take a broad view here. Broadly speaking, what sort of major trends do you see in higher education today?
Tristan McCowan 14:24
Well, one of them I have touched on already, which is the move towards commercialization. Which is present in the astounding growth of the for-profit sector. And that is very evident in one of the countries that I work very closely with, which is Brazil, but you can also see it in many other parts of the world. But also, of course, there is a commercialization of public institutions through so-called cost-sharing policies, the charging of fees, and other forms of creeping privatization. Now commercialization is a term that encompasses a whole range of different activities which have different kinds of influence. And it is certainly, in an immediate sense, has assisted in allowing higher education systems to grow. So, it is complex. But if we are thinking about the SDGs, or about the public good more generally, there are some very worrying outcomes of that. Firstly, around the attaching of quality to price. So, as the system starts to marketize more, variable costs of courses will start to become attached either to quality or to prestige, which has worrying implications for equity. But also it makes it much harder for universities to engage in research in the public benefit, or community engagement in the public benefit, without some kind of a name to generate income from those communities; makes it much harder to fulfill the SDGs. So that is one of the big trends. A second trend is associated with the very often discussed international rankings in higher education. And one of the implications of those rankings is a privileging of a certain kind of university or a certain kind of university action. And I am not saying for a moment that the elite universities that do well in rankings are not benefiting the SDGs. Actually, I think they are with a lot of their work. But it is certainly not the only kind of institution that does that. And much of the work that is most beneficial for communities around the world is not valued by those rankings. Community engagement has almost no presence in the rankings. And an inclusive intake of students also is not valued through most of the rank.
Will Brehm 16:33
In your book, you point to this like unbelievable indicator or proxy for, I think its quality of teaching in these rankings, that is used. Can you explain what it is?
Tristan McCowan 16:44
Well, in the Shanghai ranking, the number of alumni with Nobel Prizes is taken as a proxy for quality, which is…
Will Brehm 16:52
That is crazy! I mean, so, these rankings then, the way they sort of measure this idea of quality across universities, can be pretty absurd, almost to the extreme sometimes.
Tristan McCowan 17:06
It is a small minority of all higher education institutions that are listed on international rankings at all. So, you could say, “Well, perhaps it’s irrelevant”. But actually, it does have an influence. Because even if most institutions don’t have a realistic chance of getting into the upper echelons, discursively, it does influence the way institutions see themselves. They start not to value the good work that they are doing. And they start to aspire towards work that perhaps isn’t in their best interest.
Will Brehm 17:33
I mean, we are sitting here at the Institute of Education, and out the front door, there is a big sign with the ranking on it. I mean, it is sort of, you know, it is the first thing you see when you walk into this building.
Tristan McCowan 17:46
Will Brehm 17:48
So, one of the last trends that you write about in your book, you use the word “unbundling”. Can you explain what this is? I never really came across this term before.
Tristan McCowan 17:57
So, it is a term that comes from business originally. And it is the process of separating out products that had previously been sold together for commercial advantage, either for the producer or sometimes for the consumer. I suppose the most obvious example in contemporary times is low-cost airlines, where you are not tied into paying for your baggage or your seat or so forth; you can purchase things individually. In higher education, it is a very controversial process. It is quite incipient; we’re just seeing the earliest signs of it yet. But for example, the separation out of different parts of what we might have considered to be the bundle of higher education. Of instruction, assessment, research, extracurricular activities, and so forth. So, one way that this has manifested itself is in the provision of no-frills, what I call no-frills courses. Very basic provision, where you pay a lower cost, and you just have access to the basic instruction, and you have to pay extra if you want some other things
Will Brehm 19:01
Such as? Like access to the library?
Tristan McCowan 19:03
Well, I have never seen a case of no access at all to the library. But certainly, there is an example in the UK where you have very minimal access to university facilities beyond what you would basically need to do one’s course. You know, this does open the door to a kind of a segregation of lower and higher-income students.
Will Brehm 19:25
Of course. And where does the process end? Right, you almost can get to the point where you have to pay to use the bathroom.
Tristan McCowan 19:30
Absolutely, absolutely. I think it is very worrying. It is a seductive idea because it appears to be addressing the huge escalation of costs, particularly in the United States. And allowing more people into the higher education system. So, it is seductive in that sense, but it is very worrying because then you start to have a very hierarchical system, a stratified system, where disadvantaged students have access to less.
Will Brehm 19:54
Second class students. You know, these are pretty worrying trends. This idea of status, this idea of commodification and commercialization, and this idea of unbundling. So, do you think this idea of, you know, the developmental university, service to society, these sort of liberal democratic ideals. You know, what has to change so we can actually create universities that embrace those ideas rather than … or, you know. It seems as if some of these other ideas and trends you have been talking about sort of go against some of these developmental ideas.
Tristan McCowan 20:32
Well, I think we need two things. I think there does need to be state investment; there needs to be public investment and state support. But I wouldn’t want to say that all of initiative needs to come from the central state. I think we also need to create more opportunities for local innovation. So, in my work, I am very interested in and supportive of various grassroots initiatives in higher education. I think this is a really important part of the answer as well. And there are some great examples around the world of developmental institutions. They are fragile in many cases, but they are very inspiring. So, we have got University for Development Studies in Northern Ghana, which is a very interesting institution serving the arid regions of Northern Ghana, working in very innovative ways with integrated teaching and research and community engagement. There are the so-called “thematic” federal universities in Brazil, which were established over the last 15 years to promote different forms of international engagement and local development. They are fragile because, to a large extent, they just depend on the governments of their day. And in Brazil, you have had a very radical shift to the right and the consequent withdrawal of support from these institutions. You have also got challenges with innovative institutions starting to, you know, being pulled back to the conventional type over the years. So, there are challenges, but there are some inspiring examples that we can look to.
Will Brehm 22:01
I also think about some of these protests in Chile. I know it started recently with bus fare increase, but it sort of dovetailed with that longer student protests from 2013 that was very much against what we might call the “neoliberal university,” or whatever it might be. And even here in London, they only just had, in the UK, 60 universities went on strike for about eight days trying to really counter a lot of these same trends that you are talking about. So, there are these signs, it seems, of pushback. Now, will it actually result in any action, that’s another sort of question, I guess.
Tristan McCowan 22:41
Absolutely. I think there are mobilizations in different parts of the world. South Africa recently has had a huge student mobilization around decolonization, the curriculum, and also around fees. I think we look at Chile as a great example of a student mobilization, not only because of its massiveness, but also because, perhaps unusually, but very successfully, what started as a student mobilization started to bring other spheres of society on board. And also gained real endorsement from society and, you know, made things … you know, the government couldn’t ignore it anymore. So, I think it is a really successful example.
Will Brehm 23:20
You know, that actually makes me think of the Chicago teacher strikes in America, where it wasn’t higher education, but it was public school teachers going on strike, I think 2012/2013. And one of the reasons that they were successful, that many scholars point to, is precisely the same reason is that they had this broad coalition; it wasn’t just this narrow focus on teaching and learning, but it brought in all sectors of society, and it became such a massive movement that the government had to respond. And more importantly, a lot of the leaders from that strike ended up getting elected in many parts in Chicago. So, I mean, it seems like it is a bigger conversation on social mobilization and successful social mobilization.
Tristan McCowan 24:03
That is a really interesting example. And it also makes me think of, you know, these ideas of “post-truth” and “anti-experts” that were coming out in 2016, through Brexit and the election in the United States. And I think some politicians have tried to drive a wedge between universities and society by creating resentment. And I think it is a really important task that those involved in universities have is to try and communicate with society this shared enterprise to a large degree.
Will Brehm 24:32
Exactly. And to see it as a service to society. It is not just our own little siloed workspaces here. So, as great as that makes me feel: this idea of social mobilization and trying to change universities away from status competition, away from commodification, away from unbundling, I do wonder – and you point out in your book – that, you know, there’s a critique, as well, of that movement. Of, you know, promoting a university for liberal democracy, for furthering capitalism in many respects. So how can we even begin to think about post-development: a critique of development itself?
Tristan McCowan 25:14
So, this is why I ended up making the title “For and Beyond”, because it is very important to look beyond as well. And I see the SDGs as being important. I am not trivializing them, but they are an intermediate step. And I think ultimately, they are not going to solve all of the problems that the global community faces at the moment. As you say, the SDGs are rooted in liberal capitalist model, to a large extent, a modernization model. And there are some deep flaws in those, and indeed, you know, we can be very skeptical about whether a capitalist system can ever really achieve, you know, equality and sustainability in a global community. You know, some of the incentives for accumulation and profit that corporations have are precisely the problem that we have with the fossil fuel lobby and so forth. So, there are some real problems there. There’s another issue with the SDGs in the lack of attention to questions of identity, culture, language that leading into another issue that I think is important to a certain relation to higher education, which is around what Boaventura de Sousa Santos calls a dialogue of knowledges. So how can we think about epistemic pluralism? How can we think about not just mainstream Western academic knowledge, which is important. But how do we put that in dialogue with other forms of knowledge from different knowledge communities, from indigenous peoples, from diverse traditions around the world, which will inevitably enrich that knowledge. And this is a very important aspect of where we go with development and also where we go with higher education. And I think we need to think about two forms of creativity and imagination in the higher education space: one is around questioning the institutional forms that we are very familiar with. You know, we look at a university, and we assume that it’s going to have very particular kinds of structures and practices. And I think we need to open up our imagination, perhaps drawing on Ivan Illich’s ideas of deschooling to think about how our university might be otherwise. And then the second point around epistemic pluralism, around having different kinds of knowledge in the university, and drawing on the experiences. I’m familiar with experiences in Latin America, indigenous institutions around the continent, but there are some in other parts of the world as well, Swaraj University in India is an interesting example of how we can create universities in different ways. And if we need to go beyond the SDGs, we need to think about sustainable development. It is a different kind of university that’s going to help us achieve it.
Will Brehm 27:56
Tristan McCowan, thank you so much for joining FreshEd. It really was a pleasure talking today, and I look forward to your next book.
Tristan McCowan 28:02
Thank you very much.
What’s the connection between education and climate change? My guest today, Arjen Wals, takes a critical take on sustainability yet offers a hopeful outlook.
In our conversation, Arjen details a few examples of school-level practices that could be seen as working towards a sustainable future while also critiques educational competition and the hidden curriculum of commodification.
He ultimately calls for more dissonance in education systems as a way to learn new forms of sustainability to combat climate change.
Arjen Wals is the UNESCO Chair of Social Learning and Sustainable Development and Professor of Transformative Learning for Socio-Ecological Sustainability at Wageningen University in The Netherlands.
I spoke with Prof. Wals at the 2018 Global Education Meeting, which was a high-level forum held in Brussels in early December that reviewed the progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals.
Citation: Wals, Arjen, interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 144, podcast audio, January 14, 2019. https://www.freshedpodcast.com/arjenwals/
Transcript, translation, and resources:
Is there a worldwide learning crisis today? My guest, Keith Lewin, argues that the real issue in much of international education development has to do with financing.
In our conversation, we discuss aid to education and the ways in which the Sustainable Development Goals don’t take the idea of sustainability seriously.
Keith Lewin is an Emeritus Professor of International Education and Development at the University of Sussex
Citation: Lewin, Keith, interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 138, podcast audio, December 3, 2018. https://www.freshedpodcast.com/keithlewin/
Transcript, Translation, & Resources:
Many listeners probably use LinkedIn. That’s the social media website aimed at connecting employers with employees. My guest today, Janja Komljenovic, researches the ways in which LinkedIn is shaped by and shaping higher education.
Janja argues that LinkedIn furthers the employability mandate in universities.
Janja Komljenovic is a lecturer of higher education at Lancaster University. In today’s show, we discuss her new article “Linkedin, Platforming labour, and the new employability mandate for universities,” which was published in Globalisation, Societies and Education.
Citation:Komljenovic, Janja, interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 129, podcast audio, October 8, 2018.https://www.freshedpodcast.com/janjakomljenovic/
Transcript, translation, and resources: Read more
Today we interrogate the idea of creativity.
My guest, Oli Mould, says 21st Century capitalism has redefined creativity from being a power to create something from nothing to the ability to create new products for markets. Creativity, in other words, feeds capitalism’s own growth.
Students and workers alike are told they must be entrepreneurial and flexible to survive the global economy. We are told businesses and governments seek out these character traits. In effect, the power to create has become an individual characteristic that can be traded and exploited.
Oli Mould is a human geographer based at Royal Holloway, University of London. He argues for a creativity that forges entirely new ways of societal organization. His new book, Against Creativity, published by Verso, goes on sale tomorrow.
Oli Mould works at Royal Holloway, University of London. His new book is Against Creativity.
Citation: Mould, Oli, interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 127, podcast audio, September 24, 2018. https://freshedpodcast.com/olimould/
Will Brehm 1:18
Oli Mould, welcome to FreshEd.
Oli Mould 1:22
Thank you for having me.
Will Brehm 1:24
So, you start your new book by detailing a Pepsi commercial from 2017. Can you describe to listeners what that commercial showed?
Oli Mould 1:33
Yes. So, this Pepsi ad came out in 2018. And it shows Kendall Jenner, who is, I guess, the new kind of model of the day, and she is having a photoshoot done. And she spies this protest movement that is walking outside her door. And it’s really riffs off what’s been going on in the UK and the US of late days – protests, marches that have been going against police brutality, and Brexit, and you know all the kind of ills of this contemporary world. And it is a very generic protest. There’s sort of signs saying things like, “Join the conversation”, and “Love”, and all these really words that you never ever see at protests. And she spies this other sort of model looking guy, she, you know, throws off her wig and smudges her lipstick and just joins this march. And it is really quite incredible. She goes over, she grabs a Pepsi can, gives it to a policeman who’s clearly there to supposedly keep the peace, and he nods approvingly, and everyone sort of laughs and everyone is really really happy that this guy is drinking this Pepsi. And all the while, there is a what is clearly supposed to be a Muslim girl who is a photographer who comes in and out of the commercial at various times. And at the beginning, she is frustrated because the photos she has are not very good, and she’s clearly frustrated. You can see her doing that. And then she spies the protest as well, and she sees Kendall Jenner giving this Pepsi can to the policeman, and she takes a photo, she is really happy. And everyone is really really happy about what’s going on. But you watch it, and you know, the timing of it was important, given all that stuff going on in the states in the US, and in the UK. And it was clearly riffing off this. It was clearly sort of taking this aesthetic of protest to, you know, sell Pepsi cans. And it was very very blatant, very very crass. And it was just, you know, very very obviously done in that way. And clearly, when it came out, there was a lot of stuff online that was very critical of it, and it was taken down. Actually, they apologized for it. So that is what the advert does. And, you know, it was very very blatant. And actually, there was a very famous photo from Baton Rouge, where there was a woman who was being kind of approached by police and being handcuffed, and it was clearly, you know, riffed off that, and it was just very very low. And so that is what the commercial does – it really appropriated the protest aesthetic in order to essentially hawk a sugary drink.
Will Brehm 4:16
And what does that tell you about the contemporary form of creativity?
Oli Mould 4:22
Well, it says that, essentially, creative practices – in this case, advertising – but it bleeds into a lot of the corporate practices more generally, that essentially, you know they’re called creative, but what they’re doing is, they’re scouring the world. They are scouring all sorts of different images and experiences and feelings and emotions in order to plant them in ways that make profit for their products. So, you know what people say are creative in terms of advertising, what they’re doing is, they’re not being creative, they’re being appropriative, they’re been co-optive, in that they’re taking things that already exist, things that are sort of actually kind of anti-capitalist or resistive, and using it for corporate processes. So they’re emptying it of any kind of ethic, any kind of anti-capitalist meaning, and just kind of using it to just plaster over ways of flogging their products you know in new and kind of I guess, “innovative, creative ways”, as they say. So, for me, that is not creative at all, because they are actually destroying what that image means. And as they get more and more into the corporate aesthetic, they begin to lose their meaning, and they actually lose their resistive and anti-capitalist ethic. You have seen it with punk and skateboarding, and I guess even things like hip-hop to a certain extent. You know these are things that were once quite subcultural and quite resistive. But now they are very much part of the mainstream, and you watch it now, and you do not get a sense of that countercultural movement. You do to a certain extent, and they still exist in the cracks and everything else. But in the whole, you just don’t get that when you see it. So that is why that Pepsi ad, in particular, I think, was a particularly damaging form of creativity.
Will Brehm 6:21
And is this a new phenomenon? Or has, in a sense, capitalism been appropriating various creative ideas and industries, and riffing off of maybe anti-capitalistic imagery and protest to further capitalism itself? Is this new, or has this been happening for quite some time?
Oli Mould 6:44
I think it is relatively new. There is a lot of work, scholarly work, which has been done around the May 68 Parisian riots. These were almost considered a bit of a watershed moment because post that time, and I guess you can couch that in the wider countercultural revolution of the 60s more broadly, that you know it signaled a kind of shift in how corporations work, from being quite structured and hierarchical and quite kind of pragmatic to being little much more flexible in how they go about using images to further their profit margins and their spread, I guess. And people like Boltanski and Chiapello in their book, ‘The Spirit of New Capitalism’, they argue quite strongly in what is essentially 550 pages of this argument, that post-1968, capitalism has got much better at doing this. So, it is not necessarily new, but the ways in which capitalism has changed its processes have, since around the kind of late 60s, early 70s, and from then you see a lot of this appropriation happening. And it actually happens much quicker now, and I think with the advent of social media, it’s sped up even more. So, I would not say it is necessarily new, but I think that it is quicker, it is a lot quicker now. I always use the example of subcultures. I mean, I did some work around parkour and graffiti and skateboarding, all those I guess urban subcultures. And you look at skateboarding, it took maybe a decade, 15 years, for it to become appropriated if that is how you can measure these things. And then graffiti took a similar kind of time. Parkour took about two or three years. So, you can kind of trace these things. You spot something that is new and innovative and very very creative, because it is subcultural, anti-capitalist, and then within a few years, it is become part of the mainstream; has been Red Bull or Nike splashed all over it. So, I would not say it is new, I would say it is different and quicker.
Will Brehm 8:49
So, in a sense, is the idea of creativity, therefore, changing in itself?
Oli Mould 8:54
Yes, it depends on, I guess, which version of creativity you mean. Yes, I think what it means to be creative, I guess from top-down, to use a blunt phrase, I guess what corporations and businesses and politicians and teachers and everything else tell us to be, yes, it’s about being flexible and innovative in how you work. It is kind of exploring the world, always bringing that back into say, “Look, how can that how can that help us to grow.” It is about growth. Now that is often couched in economic growth, economic development, and sometimes that can be personal growth as well. But it is always about, “What can you find out there that helps you to grow – as a person, as a nation, in terms of monetary wealth, or whatever it might be?” So that is why I argue in the book – that the notion of creativity has now been privatized. It is about, “How can you be creative in order to help yourself?” How to expand yourself in monetary terms, in enlightenment terms, and everything else. So, that is what creativity means in terms of top-down, I guess, and that is how it is changed, yes.
Will Brehm 10:15
And so, what does that actually look like? This privatized notion of creativity, what does that look like today you know for someone in entering the labor force, for instance?
Oli Mould 10:27
Well, it looks very precarious. It looks very problematic for me anyway. You look at all the different job ads out there at the moment, from fast-food workers to corporate CEOs, “creative” is in there. You have to be creative. And it is become so ubiquitous that it is almost meaningless. But what it always means, for me anyways, is that you have to be flexible. You have to sort of embody that mode of competition, I guess. And this is a broader argument that I made in the book; that this version of creativity is very much couched in with what people call the “neoliberal turn”, and this idea that the markets must be as efficient as possible, and they must extend into every realm of life. And so within work, if you go into the job market, that’s what creativity, I think, when you see it, that’s what you should always be very very careful because it is asking you to be flexible. So, it is asking you to maybe work on a zero-hour contract, or it is asking you to work as a sort of outsourced worker where you get very few workers’ rights. You look at all the various gig economy companies that are around. There has been a huge backlash against their working practices. They are great if you have got the flexibility. The students that I teach actually really like these kinds of things because it allows them to earn a little bit of money whenever they want during their studies. But if you are relying on that kind of work to live, it becomes a whole different ballgame. And you know being creative in that way should really not just mean, “Oh, you can be flexible and just work whenever we want you to work, and you bow to the whims of us as employers, and to how the market dictates you should work.” So that is what that version of creativity means in the labor force.
Will Brehm 12:16
What does it look like in education? I mean, I know you have students who may work as Uber drivers as well, for instance, but what about in education itself, either in higher education or even in secondary and primary education? Do we see this sort of definition of creativity, this neoliberal definition of creativity creeping into these spaces as well?
Oli Mould 12:41
It is an interesting question, and funnily enough, I toyed very much with the idea of having a chapter about education in the book. I did not, primarily because I did not think I could make an argument with the examples, but I think that it is, to a certain extent, this neoliberal version. It is interesting, because obviously, I have got two young children now at school. And it is really really fascinating to see how the educational structure is encouraging or not encouraging creativity. There’s a big thing in the UK, at any rate, at the moment about how it’s really important for children to know and university students as well to have STEM subjects like science, technology, engineering, and maths, because those are the things that drive the economy, drive productivity. But actually, a lot of people are saying that “Well, actually, you do need that, but you also need the STEAM, such as an art in there as well. And you actually need to meld the two, you know, having music classes, art classes with engineering to make sure that they have a very well-rounded education. And that is being driven by a lot of people who work in, for example, the computer games industry, or you know, the tech sector. They are saying, “Actually, we need people who understand creative methods and artistic practices as well as the nuts and bolts of maths and engineering.” So, I think that that is important to a certain extent. So that division is happening quite early on in education. For example, my kids don’t do a huge amount of music, and that’s partly because of budget cuts and everything else. When budgets get cuts, the first things to go are the arts. They’re like, “Oh, they’re not important. Let’s just concentrate on English and maths and stuff.” And I think, “Well, maybe not.” The other thing as well is, and in the UK, we have a guy, Sir Ken Robinson, who you may know. He’s been very vocal about this, and one of the things he’s concerned about is that we group students into year groups very very early on. You know, like five-year-olds, six-year-olds, seven-year-olds, and they flourish at very very different times. And you have a particular kind of year group, but you’ll have very very different educational levels within that. And Ken says that maybe we should change the way that we group students together, for example. So, yes – I think that this version of creativity is creeping in, and it’s around the numbers, the targets and the exams, and everything else that has to be done is so huge now that students are just told how to pass exams, they’re not told how to think. And so yes, there is a number of different problems within education in terms of how creativity in that neoliberal form is being applied.
Will Brehm 15:25
And what about higher education? When you were saying about the idea of being flexible and having work that is very precarious. Higher education becomes a great example of the rise of contract teachers. So, in what ways have you seen this idea of creativity, or neoliberal creativity, entering higher education?
Oli Mould 15:50
Do you mean the teachers themselves?
Will Brehm 15:54
The teachers, or even more broadly, where do we see some of these neoliberal forms of creativity in universities?
Oli Mould 16:03
So, I think that within higher education it is really interesting. The workforce themselves, the academics and the teachers within higher education, you’re almost getting a sort of dichotomy or dualism created, where you’ve got a sort of higher, let’s say, “research class” or “professorial class” that are very secure. They have huge amounts of free time to do their research, and it is kind of self-serving in that respect. And you couple that with the massive increase in students that we have seen, which you know has become part of the problem, because that is where that’s where universities get their money from now, our students. So, we need large numbers of students; they need to be taught. And so, we have this sort of underclass of very, very precarious teachers, and universities in the UK, and I think the US as well have nine-month contracts, part-time contracts – very short term things. And being in the sector myself, I hear so many stories about early career staff, and peoples fresh out of PhDs who have had to travel to different countries, live in different parts of the world, move away from their families, their wives, and children, in order to secure a nine-month teaching post or a 12-month part-time lectureship, and it’s just not healthy, and it doesn’t foster that longevity and that kind of connection that students require – higher education. I am in the higher education system because I believe it is a fundamentally crucial part of people’s lives, and having that critical thinking is really really important. Because without it, we are just producing more of these, to use the phrase, these “worker drones” that have no kind of ability to act creatively in the way that I want people to in the book. And that comes from the amount of critical thinking and the input that people get in higher education, in further education, the sort of “latter years”, if you like, of their educational career. And having that binary class, again, kind of just erodes that, because you’re just creating this sort of cadre of precarious workers who just are like, “I’d like to be able to do that, but I can’t because I need to make sure that the students do this, and they pass the exams, and they do this, and I make sure I have my numbers up so I can get employed elsewhere.” So, there is a sort of soft hegemony I guess just moving people towards a sort of far more auditing, and just by-the-numbers kind of educational system, which is very very neoliberal at its heart.
Will Brehm 18:45
And so how has creativity been defined sort of outside of this idea of being appropriated by capitalism? Historically, how else has creativity been thought of?
Oli Mould 18:59
Well I guess it depends how far back you go, I mean. There’s very interesting lineage; I mean, you could go all the way back to kind of ancient societies where creativity was considered something which the gods had. They were the ones that had ability to create something out of nothing. And you know you trace that through history and the way that it’s kind of been developed over time, creativity has been increasingly privatized, and increasingly something which, you know, value has been extracted from it. But I think there is something to be said about having a creative mindset or having a kind of idea of creativity, which is about societal progress. Now, the arguments are that creativity now is just sort of something that we need to grow, we need to make more money. And that is one version of progress, but it is one which doesn’t necessarily inculcate anything new. It just creates more of the same sort of stuff. In a world that is rapidly deteriorating ecologically, growth is just a concept that we are going to need to rapidly get away from very very quickly. And so the idea of being creative that doesn’t just produce more of the same stuff, in this case, well in capitalism’s case, like money and profit, then that’s the kind of creativity which we need to work towards. And there is lots of examples throughout history of societies that work that way. So, you know, I often talk about the Diggers and the Levelers in the UK, sort of in the 15, 16th century. They were very much ones who kind of came up the idea of “the common”, the “common wealth”, this idea that there is no such thing as private property, and people kind of work together on the land and they work together to create an economy, a social economy, which provided all the need, provided everything that people needed to get by and to live, including culture and artistic enjoyment, but it was done collectively. It was done with a sense that you know, we can negate any potential damages or potential shortfall in provision by acting collaboratively and collectively, and as a common. Capitalism erodes that. Capitalism source says, “Well, look, I’m working this way, it’s really great for me. I want to do it more.” So, it then begins to encroach on other people’s enjoyment, which is why we get huge inequality and everything else. So, a creativity which source says, “No, let’s not to work towards, you know, making more of the same for a very small amount of people, let’s make sure that we create a world which actually, we can all enjoy. Because, you know, if the climate change people are correct, this world is not going to be the same very very soon. So, it is something which we need to reconceptualize creativity very very quickly. Because at the moment, the way it’s currently defined in the mainstream is just not creative at all. It just produces more of the same problems, and that is going to become very very difficult to sustain very very quickly.
Will Brehm 22:07
So how would that happen? How can we reconceptualize creativity away from the idea of “more growth is always good”?
Oli Mould 22:16
That is a very good question. One which if I had the answer, then I would probably be a very rich man – rather ironically, I guess. But to push against that idea of creativity as something which just sort of makes more of the same capitalist growth, there are examples of it out there. And in the book, I try to sort of pinpoint some of the more progressive ones: worker cooperatives, different political systems, disability. There is a huge array of ways that we can conceptualize creativity there at the margins of society. Now, it is not a case of bringing them into the mainstream and just saying, “Okay, let’s make disability the way we define creativity, and let’s just use them as means of growth.” It does not work that way. You have to kind of shift your societal structures to look towards the margins and say, “Well look, what is it that these people are doing? What is it that these communities are actually achieving?” And that is, in the most case, kind of a quite radical sense of equality, and making sure that there is enough of the resources, or at least the resources of which they have goes to the people that need them. And in doing so, you create a far more just, far more progressive, and actually far more sustainable community. So, you know, there is plenty of examples out there. After the book, I came across an example in Mexico: Cherán, which is a city which has completely refused to engage in local elections. Have you seen that example? It is fascinating. It is annoying that I saw it after I finished it, but there was some stuff written about it recently. And I think, yes, around kind of 2011 I think it was – they got rid of all their local politicians because they were not doing enough to stop the crime in the city, which was about logging. There was illegal logging, and it was creating a horrible kind of crime syndicate. And you know they were losing all their trees and everything else. So basically, the people got together, and they kind of complete defenestrated their local politicians and the police. And they said, “We’re going to sort out ourselves”. And reading the stuff, it is actually a lot of the women that organized this. And since 2011, 2012, they’ve not engaged in local elections, they’ve not engaged in any national elections (i.e. the recent presidential elections in Mexico), and crime has dropped significantly, people are healthier, they’re regrowing their trees, it’s a far more environmentally friendly place. And this is all because they had sort of said, “No, we are not going to engage in your version of society”, which is a kind of parliamentary, democratic, kind of this voting system which we have. So, that, to me … I mean, it’s got its problems, obviously … it’s not perfect by any means, but it’s a city-wide example of people that have refused to engage with what people have said. “You should engage in this kind of version of state capitalism”, but they refused to do that, and it is produced very very beneficial results.
Will Brehm 25:39
So how would that community in your mind define the notion of creativity?
Oli Mould 25:46
Because they are refusing to go along with the way in which the powers that be suggest that you need to do in order to progress. They are saying, “No, we are going to create a different version of life, one where we are not ruled by local politicians or indeed national politicians. One where we are not subject to police brutality. One in which we can actually stop crime before it happens in terms of, we don’t have to go to the police process, we can actually cut it down to this source.” So, they are being creative because they are refusing to engage with the version of progress which the world imposes upon them. And that is the kind of version of creativity which I try to explain in the book. I mean, there is nothing wrong with creating a brand-new technology, or a brand-new product to market, or a new computer game, or a new app, or whatever it might be. There is nothing wrong with that; they are creative in and of themselves. It is how they are then plugged into the wider systems, which then just sort of eradicate any kind of chance they have of revolutionary change. That’s the problem for me: that creativity has to be broadened out, you have to think about it globally on a societal kind of level because if we don’t create a new mode of living, then there’s all sorts of problems are going to happen. So, in Mexico, in Cherán, it is a really good example of a city trying to do that. Now, you could try and scale that up. Brilliant. The scale problem is a crucial one – can you scale up these things? Sometimes they do not work. Sometimes power comes crashing down, and you end up having to replicate the same problems. So, scaling them up is a very very important process. And that’s a very different question because you have to sort of start changing political systems, and heaven knows in the US and in the UK, we’re seeing a massive polarization of the political spectrum with socialism coming to the fore and everything else, but also the far right. So that is a different kind of question, but there are examples of this kind of creativity, and they are everywhere. Because they are not feeding capitalism, they are often marginalized. And people see them and go, “Well, that is clearly wrong because you are not making more money, you’re not doing this. Let’s try and stop it. Let’s try and appropriate it somehow. Let’s just try and violently enclose it.” So, for me, those are the kinds of things which make it creative.
Will Brehm 28:29
And it goes back to that Pepsi commercial that we talked about at the beginning, where these protest movements were certainly … in many respects, they had power to sort of create something new, something more just, something for the social good, or the commons. But businesses like Pepsi were appropriating these sort of creative spaces to perpetuate the status quo of capitalism.
Oli Mould 28:56
Absolutely. And you know, these protests and all these marches that we see in the world at the moment, it’s not just because it’s the new thing to do. It is that people are angry. People are really really scared and angry about the things that are happening in the world at the moment. And you know, corporations that use that to sell drinks, I mean look at what Nike recently with the NFL player. They have come under similar kinds of critiques. It’s fine on the one hand to have this and to bring these things into the public consciousness, but at the same time, their bottom line will be about, “How can we do that to make more money?” And if that’s the underlying process that’s going on, there will always be at the end game kind of “the growth of Nike”, or “the growth of Pepsi” and the problems that entails in terms of like working structures and continuing to sort of have child labor in Indonesia, or whatever it is that Nike do, how they make their shoes, and everything else. And that won’t change just because they’ve put Colin Kaepernick all over their adverts; it’s not going to change. So yes, these protests and everything else that Pepsi have appropriated, they mean something, and they are of a time, and they’re actually trying to change the system. They are trying to change how we operate in this world. And if the ethics of that are emptied, as they are being with things like Pepsi, then that is for me incredibly problematic.
Will Brehm 30:31
Well, Oli Mould, thank you so much for joining FreshEd.
Oli Mould 30:34
Thank you very much.
Today we take a critical look at human rights. My guest is Radha D’Souza. Radha has a new book entitled: What’s wrong with rights? Social movements, Law, and Liberal Imaginations
In our conversation, we discuss why there has been a proliferation of human rights since the end of World War II and how these rights have actually furthered the interests of the transnational capitalist class.
Radha also discusses education as a human right and the challenge it has for social movements and unions such as Education International.
Radha D’Souza teaches law at the University of Westminster, London.
Citation: D’Souza, Radha, interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 120, Podcast audio, June 25, 2018. https://www.freshedpodcast.com/radhadsouza/
Will Brehm 1:59
Radha D’Souza, welcome to FreshEd.
Radha D’Souza 2:02
Thank you, Will, for having me on this program. I’m delighted to be here today.
Will Brehm 2:07
How are human rights commonly understood today?
Radha D’Souza 2:12
Commonly, people when they speak about human rights, they have in mind a set of claims that they can make about certain basic needs for human life. For example, it could be civil and political rights: right to fair trial; right not to be tortured; and these kind of rights are called civil and political rights. Or they may be social economic rights: rights to education, rights to health, rights to housing, those kind of rights. Or they could be Cultural Rights: rights of indigenous people, and so on. But the key thing about rights in popular imaginations is that rights are universal, that every individual has them by virtue of being human. That is why they understand it as human right.
Will Brehm 3:12
How many rights are there?
Radha D’Souza 3:15
When the United Nations was established at the end of World War Two, in 1945, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights enumerated about 28 rights; there was a list of 28 rights. Today, it is estimated that international law recognizes more than 300 rights, so human rights have proliferated phenomenally in the last 70 years.
Will Brehm 3:46
Why? Why has there been a proliferation of human rights?
Radha D’Souza 3:50
Well, we can see if we look at the history of rights that the prefix ‘human’ was added only after the so called New World Order was established after World War Two. Now, why does that order need this expansion of rights? Earlier, before the World Wars happened in the 19th century, 18th century and so on, rights were largely confined to nation states, they were only available to citizens against states. But after World Wars, we find that capitalism changed in its fundamental character; it became transnational, it became monopolistic, it became finance driven. And these kinds of expansion of capitalism and intensification of capitalism required a proliferation of new types of rights. And that is why we see all sorts of new rights. Most of them are international in character, and most of them are rights that actually meet the needs of transnational monopoly, finance, capitalism.
Will Brehm 5:18
Could you give an example of a right that meets the needs of transnational financial capitalism?
Radha D’Souza 5:28
Okay, let’s look at the proliferation of rights, the ways in which rights have proliferated. We have all sorts of rights now, you know, rights to surrogacy, rights to land, indigenous people, including a right to happiness. Now, if you look at the UN General Assembly, it adopted a resolution in July 2011 called ‘Happiness: A holistic approach to development.’ Now, you might wonder what happiness has got to do with transnational monopoly finance capitalism, right? And can happiness be legislated at all? I mean, can people demand from the state a right to be happy in the same way as they can demand from the state right not to be tortured, for example? But when we actually — and it may on the face of it sound a little strange that we have a right to happiness, which is now part of the Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 — but when we start looking behind these rights, we can see that there are a lot of important organizations like EU commissioners, European Union commissioners, who are advocating for this right; the OECD, the Organization for Economic [Cooperation and] Development, has published guidelines on measuring subjective well-being for national statistical offices for the use of bureaucrats, etc.
Who’s driving this new right to happiness? On the one hand, we see large corporations are trying to de-unionized workers, deny them collective bargaining rights, which they always had. On the other hand, these very same corporations are also introducing what they call work life balance programs. Now, these work life balance programs have led to a large coaching industry which has about 47,000 employees and estimated to be around $2 billion US dollars a year. So one of the things that the right to happiness provides for people, or underprivileged people in developed countries, is the right to tourism. So now you can straightaway see the link between tourism industry and the right to happiness. And similarly, you have in the social, the economy… the SDGs or the Sustainable Development Goals 2030. Now these goals were established as successor to the Millennium Development Goals and the Millennium Development Goals set out about eight goals to achieve basic needs of people. So the goals like, for example, primary education, eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, universal gender equality, the goal to reduce child mortality and so on. Now, these goals where we know that it’s questionable whether they have been achieved at all. But regardless there was an eighth goal, which was to achieve Global Partnership. And this is the only goal in the Millennium Development Goal 2015 that was actually achieved because it was about establishing private public partnerships and induct global corporations, trust funds, private foundations, and so on into the very heart of the UN’s work.
Now, following on from that, we need to ask, if the Millennium Development Goals were not achieved, why do we need Sustainable Development Goals? And why do Sustainable Development Goals 2030 include the right to happiness? Right, and then you can see a whole lot of big players, for example, the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation, the Clinton Foundation and so on taking up many of these development projects. And how do they plan to deliver on it? They deliver on — now because poverty has not been eradicated women are not equal. There’s no universal primary education yet. So instead of addressing those, now we have a new goal: let’s try to make people happy. Because people can obviously be happy even without anything, right? Because even slum children now are very happy when they kick footballs on streets, for example. There is momentary happiness, and it takes attention away from the fact that even if slum kids are happy, playing football on the streets — probably with a torn ball — and still feel happy, maybe questions of education, housing, health, you know, don’t really need to take center stage, or we don’t need to give it as much importance as we’ve been doing so far. So it kind of deflects attention from all of those things. And I think that is really one of the problems.
How does it deflect attention? Because the Sustainable Development Goals 2030 has led to this whole indicator industry, if we can call it that. How do we measure happiness? mathematical methods, you know, with a complete array of methodologies, multiple disciplines, including psychology, religious studies, sociologists, Development Studies, all getting together to list a number of factors, which, if they exist, we can say the person is happy. And that completely changes the meaning of happiness. And instead those indicators become ways of measuring, you know, development and saying, ‘Okay, these kids in the slums are happy playing football.’ So maybe, you know, they are somewhat developed. And that completely skews the whole thing. And I think it takes us away from the reality that as human beings we live in this community, whether we are rich or poor, and happiness is an attribute of being human. And regardless of our social status or conditions, we will always seek solidarity with other human beings and that will always bring us some level of happiness.
Will Brehm 12:55
So, are you saying that the the human right to happiness that’s embodied in the Sustainable Development Goals actually furthers the interests of a transnational capitalist class?
Radha D’Souza 13:10
It does. It does it at several levels, because at the level of poverty and all those basic needs, as I’ve just said, there is no need to deliver on them. So, there is no need to feel guilty because rich people are also unhappy, poor people are unhappy, rich people are happy sometimes. So, there is no need to give it the kind of primacy that we have given it all these years. It operates at the level of corporate management and so on, because of this work life balance, so that employees are driven to work more and more and the technologies have increased the intensity of work and yet, you know, there is no sense of solidarity because the trade unions are gone, communitarian life of employees are gone, entire towns have been dis-established. So, all those other social factors which give people some kind of social identity, solidarity, and so on is taken away. So the corporations need to step in and and do something about it. So instead of returning their communities in lives, they take over even their most personal lives by making, you know, work life balance a corporate goal and creating an industry coaching industry around it.
Will Brehm 14:45
Has capital been interested in rights before they were human rights? So you said human rights sort of came around post World War Two and sort of proliferated as transnational capitalism sort of grew globally. Before World War Two, the idea of rights, were they also connected to capitalism in any way?
Radha D’Souza 15:11
Absolutely. I said that the prefix ‘human’ was added to rights after World War Two. And before World War Two, say in the 17th and 18th centuries, rights did not have the prefix ‘human.’ When people talk about rights, it included property rights, as well as human rights. And rights are absolutely instrumental in establishing capitalist societies. Now, if we look at pre-capitalist societies, pre-capitalist societies were land based societies. Land was the central organizing principle for the social order and as land based societies, people and nature were united. This does not mean that there was no exploitation or whatever. I mean, serfs were exploited, etc. But their connection to nature was…their lives were embedded in nature. They were not disconnected from nature.
What capitalism, in contrast, is a commodity based system, so it’s commodity producing system. And that means that everything in capitalism needs to be commodified, bought and sold, exchanged and so on. And one of the first commodifications we see is commodification of land. So capitalism is establish by commodifying land, and when land becomes private property, and land becomes alienable, that means people can buy and sell it, which could not, was not, possible in the feudal system. Then people are displaced from land, because to get clear title, you have to buy it, sell land without the people. And when people are displaced from land, you have labor, a free labor market.
So you have two kinds of markets. One is the land market and the labor market. And these two are absolutely foundational for capitalism and commodity production, and a system based on commodity production. Now, rights are the means that actually reorganized society. They reorganize our relationships to nature, our relationships to each other, the capitalist and the worker, our relationship to land and forests and water and so on, and our relationships to each other in society, on the basis of rights. So capitalism kind of transforms, you know, property, a land, which is a social relationship between ourselves and nature into a thing, a commodity, and it transforms labor, which is an inherent property of being human, we have always worked and we can only live by working and that labor is transformed into another kind of commodity. And I think rights are the ones that established the system and rights establish in right bearing individuals. And each right bearing individual is right bearing because they have something to give and something that they need and can receive. And this is basically the basis of capitalist systems. And capitalism works on contracts. Because to produce commodities, to exchange commodities, individuals need to be able to arrive at contractual relations. And all contracts presuppose the existence of at least two right bearing parties. And that is the relationship between commodity production contracts as social relationships and rights as the concepts or the other basic idea that establishes right bearing individuals that can enter into contractual relations. So there is an absolutely inalienable, intrinsic relationship between rights and capitalism.
Will Brehm 19:48
On this show, I’ve spoken with a lot of people who do research on education privatization, the ways in which education has become commodified in so many different parts around the world. Do you think rights and human rights, since since education is a human right, as you said earlier — have rights played or furthered the commodification of education in your opinion?
Radha D’Souza 20:14
It has because, look, education has always historically, has always been central to social reproduction. Because what education does is reproduces the social order, it trains the next generation to take over the reins. This is not being or what capitalism does. This turns that into an education and education becomes an investment. And as an investment, it becomes meaningful only if it can produce returns. So education then loses its meaning as a way of, understanding the social order and how we can continue our social life. It becomes an individual personal investment. And with the right to education, we also see education itself becoming an industry in so many different ways. If you look at the internal management of educational systems, they are very much run like corporations. If you look at the disparities, they mirror the larger capitalist societies, you know: those with education and those without education, those who use it to make capitalism more profitable are the ones that go very high up, and those who use their education for social justice or to improve things in the world, you will find that they are not making much money out of their investment. But also the methods used. For example, we have these huge organizations, educational companies, you know, who produce databases who produce various kinds of technologies, they’re making money out of it. Let me give you a very simple example. Now, I work for a University. The University pays me a salary, but when I write something, I can’t give it to people free of charge to read. And because there are journals, academic journals, there are publishers and they all claim that they have a right to make money out of it, even though they have not spent anything on my work. So it’s a strange situation. We are in a position because I don’t need the money because the university’s paying me a salary. And education companies, I’m not doing anything, they’re only charging readers exorbitant sums of money $35, $40, to read an article for what, for doing nothing, because the technology is now so freely available that I can let anybody who wants to read my articles, but I’m not allowed to do that.
Will Brehm 23:25
And this comes back to the issue of having rights to commodify, in a sense, articles and books — very essential features of higher education.
Radha D’Souza 23:37
Yes, it is absolutely central to that, because education is about passing on our knowledge to others, and learning from others. So why do we need to pass on knowledge to others? And why do we need to learn from others as educators? Presumably there is something called a social good, presumably there is something called future generation, and we want the societies and the world to continue. And that is why this exchange of knowledge, both accumulated knowledge from the past and new knowledge is necessary to solve problems, just iron out difficulties, and to see how we can continue human life in the future. But this purpose is taken away. When education becomes a commodity, human life gets a backseat, social well-being gets a backseat and education becomes a product which has to be sold in the market. And increasingly, research is linked to corporations linked to government, social policy, to international organizations, and all of that, where it is designed to improve their productivity. But as social beings, we need a critique of society, constantly reviewing our practices, evaluating our practices, and, and trying to make improvements in our social life for society to continue. What education as a commodity does is exactly the opposite.
Will Brehm 25:23
Seeing education as a social good is something that organizations like Education International would most likely advocate for. Education International being the global federation of teacher unions around the world. But Education International also supports the human right to education. They sort of see that as one of the justifications for what they do. And so the question I guess I have is: to create education as a social good, can human rights help in that cause? Or is it actually just sort of undermining it because human rights have become sort of helping the political agenda of the global capitalist class?
Radha D’Souza 26:08
That’s a good question, Will, because I think one of the things I do in this book is to examine what the disjuncture between property rights and human rights does. Because that’s where we started this conversation. In the 17th and 18th centuries, rights included property rights, as well as human rights and in fact, rights, property rights and labor rights were very closely tied. And the justification for property rights was really about labor theories. You know, John Locke, for example, he says, he asks how can we call a piece of land mine and he says, because I labor on it, and therefore add value to it. So anything that we add value to through our work becomes property, my proper, private property, and so labor and property rights or social rights and property rights were entwined in the traditional thinking, or what we call enlightenment thinking, the European enlightenment. But after World War Two, we find that the property rights are disassociated with human rights. And I think this is the problem that we have today.
And your question is really an example of this disassociation. Because when people think about human rights, they think about, oh, children need to go to school, or, you know, people need — must have the right to go to a university or whatever. But they forget why the education industry wants human rights to education. See, and when…we see the property relations and education as a property, intellectual property, as is a post World War, you know, it has really expanded as a transnational, right, we see the industry itself, we see copyrights and all these kind of rights to my thoughts, which has become a form of property, because ultimately, that’s what it is, my thinking has become somebody’s property. And we don’t make the connection between these two things when organizations like this union, that you refer to, Education International, when they demand human rights, they’re only thinking about what we want from rights. But what I say is, you should also question why they want rights, why does the education industry want rights? Why do research foundations want rights? And why do corporations want intellectual property rights and so on. And when we start to ask why they want rights, then we start to see the connection between property rights and human rights. And this is what has been severed in the last 70 years. And that is why people continue to imagine that if they demand human rights, that somehow they can achieve it. But it only becomes an aspirational statement when it is not linked to the realities and how rights actually operate in the world. And that’s that’s the crucial point.
Will Brehm 30:07
I’d like to ask a personal question about how you navigate the space of academic publishing, because you just said that your thoughts become property. And we’ve been talking a little bit today about the academic publishing industry and how it’s, it’s very, it’s commodifying an essential part of higher education: books, articles. And you just put out a book and I think it’s published by Pluto Press.
Radha D’Souza 30:38
Will Brehm 30:38
How do you navigate signing contracts with publishers and knowing that your thoughts and your hard work is literally going to be the property of some other entity?
Radha D’Souza 30:52
It’s a difficult to navigate, especially at an individual level, because — and this is where the reality that we are social beings, we live in a social setting, and we can only change the world collectively becomes so important — because at an individual level, what is my option, either I publish, or I don’t publish. And even there, there is a lot of gatekeeping that happens. I mean Pluto is amazing; is one of the few, you know, radical book publishers around Left really remaining. But generally, if you look at the other big publishing names, they decide what they will publish and will not publish. And that will depend on the market that will depend on their judgment of your ideas. Say, I have an amazing idea, which is a radical idea. Or I write a piece of literary work, which is completely, you know, new genre, for example. If the publishing industry does not come on board, and some publisher does not agree to publish my work, I cannot communicate with the world. And in order to communicate with the world, then I’m under pressure to tailor my thoughts, to tailor my thinking, and my style and, you know, genre, to whatever is marketable. And that makes the gatekeeping a hugely problematic thing for our rights to intellectual freedom, you know, rights to knowledge, to conscience, all of those things. And I think the journals, it’s even worse because with journals, there are gatekeeping, gatekeepers who will decide, you know, you have not cited x or y or z and therefore, your article is unpublishable, or you’re right your ideas are too radical, therefore, they will not be publishable and it is through this kind of gatekeeping, that we are unable to produce knowledge that addresses the real problems of the real world and the people who are really in need of solutions.
Will Brehm 33:16
So, in your book, you argue that the 21st century needs a new counter social philosophy. What does that look like in your opinion?
Radha D’Souza 33:27
You see, all problems of the modern world are, in one way or another, related to three types of questions that we have: questions about human relations to nature, questions about human relations to each other, and questions about our inner lives, you can call it emotional life, psychological life, spiritual life, whatever you want to call it. Now, in ancient times, philosophy helped us to understand these relationships, helped us to understand our place in the world, our purpose in life, the meaning of life and our actions. What are the long term effects of what we do or don’t do.
Capitalism dismissed these questions as irrelevant, it undermined philosophy. The European Enlightenment thinkers for example, separated philosophy from science and philosophy was a useless part of knowledge and science became the useful part of knowledge. And then a series of separations followed: the separation of Natural Sciences from Social Sciences, separation of law from ethics, separation of society or sociology from law, and so on and so forth. And I could expand. Some European Enlightenment thinkers, like Liebnitz for example, fantasized about transforming all knowledge into an ideal kind of mathematical formula. Now, today, with computing, we see this fantasy being realized, because all computing is ultimately about mathematics. It’s about combinations of zeros and ones. I may be oversimplifying it here, but that’s what it is. Everything can be reduced to numbers, happiness can be measured, intergenerational equity is reduced to the technical definition of 30 years, and so on. But as a result of this, we no longer have any way of knowing our place in the world: Why are we here? What do we want to do? And we have no way of understanding the world around us. Therefore, I say we need to return to these big questions about human life. These are not useless kinds of knowledge, because they don’t produce marketable value, or they don’t produce returns on investments. We still need to understand how to make sense of our actions. And therefore I say, we need to find ways of restoring the three relationships that I talked about: relationships between nature and society, between people, and between ethics and aesthetics. And only a counter philosophy that puts these questions at the center of our knowledge production can help us get out of this terrible mess that we’re in.
Will Brehm 36:43
Well, Radha D’Souza, thank you so much for joining FreshEd it really was a pleasure to talk and a lot of thoughts and more questions are coming in my mind right now. And and I hope audience members will just have so much to think about going forward.
Radha D’Souza 36:58
Thank you so much, Will, it was a pleasure talking to you.
Today we dive into the nightmare that is the growing tide of fascism worldwide and the prospects and perils this nightmare holds for public education.
My guest today is the renowned scholar, Henry Giroux. He has a new book entitled American Nightmare: Facing the challenge of Fascism, which will be published in May.
Henry Giroux is the McMaster University Professor for Scholarship in the Public Interest and the Paulo Freire Distinguished Scholar in Critical Pedagogy. He has written over 60 books and is considered one of the top educational thinkers today.
Citation: Giroux, Henry, interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 106, podcast audio, March 5, 2018. https://www.freshedpodcast.com/giroux/
Will Brehm 1:38
Henry Giroux, welcome to FreshEd.
Henry Giroux 1:41
Nice, Will. Wonderful to be on.
Will Brehm 1:43
You’ve written a new book called American Nightmare: Facing the Challenge of Fascism. Before getting into that book and America and what’s going on currently in America vis-a-vis public education, I just want to ask you, what went through your mind in November 2016 when you realized that Donald Trump won the presidency?
Henry Giroux 2:08
Well, I think what went through my mind was that there’s been a long series of assaults on American democracy and the United States, back especially to the 1970s, when the social contract was under siege and was appearing to collapse. And a discourse of demonization, racism, Islamophobia and objectification and commodification and privatization seemed to take over the country. I thought that Trump was the endpoint of this; he’s sort of the Frankenstein monster that was let out of the room. And I thought it was an incredible tragedy for democracy. And I thought that, unlike some other leftists, I thought that the consequences would be drastic once he assumed office. And I think in many ways, that’s proven to be right.
Will Brehm 2:57
In what ways has it proven to be right over the last year?
Henry Giroux 3:00
Well, I think all you have to do is look at the policies that he’s attempted to implement and the language that he’s used to define his mode of governance. I mean, this is a guy who basically has embraced neo-Nazis, ultra-nationalism. He’s a serial liar. He’s obviously done everything he can to promote an anti-immigration logic. He’s threatened to expel the whole range of young people – 800,000 young people – called dreamers from the United States. He’s lowered taxes for the ultra-rich to the point where that will take an enormous toll on public services and public goods. He’s putting into place a series of people who are basically either inept, or utterly anti-democratic, to run institutions such as the EPA – the Environmental Protection Agency – or a whole range of other institutions, in which they are diametrically opposed to the interest that those institutions represent. Because they’re institutions that suggest that government has a responsibility to basically work for the people. They don’t believe that; they believe that government should only basically serve the financial elite and the financial and economic interest, and that freedom is basically about deregulating business and allowing the corporate elite to run wild. So that’s just a series, among other things, of things that he’s done. But I think that he’s put into place a notion of governance that suggests that the United States is no longer a democracy; that we’re on the road to a kind of neofascism dressed up in the American flag, and it’s very frightening.
Will Brehm 4:43
And so, this is this fascism that you talk about in your new book?
Henry Giroux 4:47
This is the fascism that I talk about, whether we’re talking about the ultra-nationalism that he promotes. Whether we’re talking about the racism, the xenophobia. Whether we’re talking about the logic of disposability, the racial cleansing that is behind many of his policies. The embrace of a corporate elite that replaces the political state with a corporate state. All of these things have echoes of this glorification of national greatness. The claim that he’s the only one who can save America. And we’ve heard this language before. And we heard it in the 1930s. And we heard it in the 1940s. And we heard it later in the 1970s in Latin America. This is a language that suggests that the enemy of politics is democracy. And I think that Trump embodies that language and is basically at work again, in promoting it.
Will Brehm 5:39
And do you see some of what Trump embodies being found in other parts of the world? Just recently, Xi Jinping has … it looks like he’s going to be in power indefinitely in China. And Duterte in the Philippines. And I just read an article about a new ultraright party in Italy that is glorifying Mussolini. So, is this fascist tendency, this ultraright, pronational tendency being found worldwide? And if so, what’s causing it? Why do we see this resurgence of right wing, ultranationalist parties emerging worldwide?
Henry Giroux 6:21
I think there are a couple of things at work. I think that, first of all, what we’re seeing is the emergence of what is called illiberal democracy, the term coined, of course, in Hungary. And I think in many ways, Trump is enabling this, because he’s aligned himself, and actually has celebrated many of these fascists, in ways to suggest that this kind of politics in the 21st century is totally acceptable. So I think in some ways, the most powerful country in the world, in sort of, in many ways, reached out and began to legitimate an anti-immigration and Islamophobic, a racist kind of discourse that is linked to questions of racial purity, and racial cleansing, that has opened up the possibility for many of these countries to basically embrace this logic. And I think there are other issues. Each country has its own issue, but I think the inability of these countries to deal with questions of compassion and justice, these are countries that in many ways have been governed by a neoliberal logic that really has no respect whatsoever for notions of community. No respect whatsoever for notions of compassion. No respect whatsoever for what it means to embrace in a kind of loving way, the possibility of the other. This is a logic that elevates self-interest, nationalism, violence, and the spectacle of consumption to the highest level of acceptance. And I think that what flows out of this in the face of particular kinds of crises that serve as a thread running through all of these countries, is a basic fear of what we might call “the other”, “the stranger”. Couple that with the fact that you have a global capitalism at work that in many ways has taken power away from these countries, so that the only thing that they have left is an appeal to cultural sovereignty. Is that appeal to cultural nationalism. Because basically, you have a ruling elite now that is global. It’s not rooted in nation states. It flows. Politics is based in nation states, and power is global. So, you have an enormous paradigm change in the redefinition of politics itself. And I think that one of the things that happens when you see this is that the states, as the social state collapses, as social goods and social provisions dry up, you have the rise of the punishing state. Because the only thing left for the states to really be able to do this is basically to criminalize social problems and do what they can basically become repressive states. Generally, they can exercise power. That way they can survive. So, I think all of these threads are really common for many of these states, many of these countries.
Will Brehm 9:09
So, you call Trump the endpoint, in a way, in this nightmare that is American fascism. And of course, it has these roots in racism and neoliberalism. It would make sense that the roots here also go through the Democratic Party, that this is not simply a Republican issue in the American context. Would you agree with that?
Henry Giroux 9:33
Yes, I do. I think there are two issues to really understand here. I think that both parties are basically wedded to the financial elite, as we well know. I mean, both parties are funded by the financial elite. On one level, you’ve got a Democratic Party that takes on a sort of liberal discourse, but never challenges in any fundamental way, the massive inequality, or the financialization of the economy, or the rule by bankers and hedge fund managers. They don’t challenge that; they’re in bed with that stuff. On the other hand, you have a Republican Party that now is filled with people who also are wedded to the financial elite. But this is a party that’s been taken over by extremists. They’re not just wedded to the financial elite; they’re wedded to something more than that. They’re wedded to an ultra-nationalism, a sort of notion that white Christianity is the official religion of the United States. They’re wedded to the notion of racial cleansing. They basically have accelerated all of the great tragedies and crimes of the past in ways in which they’re no longer coated. They’ve given them a new visibility. So, they’re not apologetic about their racism. They’re not apologetic about Islamophobia. They’re not apologetic about attacking young people. They’re not apologetic about making short term investments rather than long term investments. And they’re not apologetic about it anyway, about destroying the welfare state and the social contract. But what both parties share is they really believe that capitalism and democracy are the same thing, and that capitalism and democracy is basically something run by the financial elite, by the ruling elite, the 1%. Neither party has any trouble with that argument. There are factions within the Democratic Party that will challenge that – Bernie Sanders and so forth and so on – but they’re marginal and they don’t belong in the Democratic Party. The biggest mistake Sanders ever made was not starting a third party.
Will Brehm 11:29
So, in your opinion, how are capitalism and democracy separate?
Henry Giroux 11:33
They’re separate in the sense that you can’t have democracy when you have a system that promotes massive inequalities in wealth and power; it just doesn’t work. It seems to me to have that degree of inequality, and to support it in every way, to allow all the commanding institutions of a country to be controlled by a handful of elites and corporations, is the antithesis of democracy. Democracy means people have power. They have power to shape the conditions under which they live their lives. They have some power over the economy. They have access, they have social provisions, they have political rights, personal rights, social rights. That doesn’t happen under capitalism. Capitalism is a ruinous system that basically is organized around the production of profit at the expense of human need. That’s not a formula for democracy.
Will Brehm 12:25
And so, what would a social contract look like in your opinion, within this?
Henry Giroux 12:29
At the very least, a social contract would guarantee political rights. But it would guarantee political rights and individual rights along with social rights, meaning that you would have economic rights, you would have a social wage. You would massively limit massive degrees of inequality. It would mean that people would have access to higher education, to health care. All the things that become central to how we live out our sense of agency and make it possible would be part of the social contract and the public good. When you don’t have that, you don’t have a democracy. And it seems to be the degree to which you want to call it socialism as a form of social democracy, or you want to call it socialism in ways that simply allow the most important structures, infrastructures, resources, of a society to be a government-controlled phenomena, that’s a mix that we have to figure out. But I think the bottom line is, you have to realize that in a democracy, the first question you have to raise is, “What does it mean to provide the conditions for people to have a sense of agency, and not merely to be able to survive?” So that their capacities can be developed in a way in which they have access to do other things simply than struggle to eat, simply to struggle in the midst of poverty, simply to struggle for meaningful work, simply to struggle to find a way to pay massive loans in order to get a decent education, simply not to struggle to have decent health care. These are central questions that are not just simply about power, they’re about the capacity to live. To live with dignity.
Will Brehm 14:10
And so, let’s shift to education here. In your last book, called ‘The Public in Peril’, you use the term … you said, you wanted to see “the political more pedagogical”. What did you mean by this?
Henry Giroux 14:23
What I mean by that is that one of the things that has disturbed me, and one of the things I’ve written about for many years, and I’m not the first, although I think probably I’ve developed it more repeatedly than most people, is that education is central to politics. I mean, you can’t talk about politics if you can’t talk about consciousness. If you can’t talk about changing the way people think, if you can’t talk about engaging them in a dialogue with a vocabulary in which they can invest themselves, identify with, and be able to recognize the conditions under which they find themselves so that they can either learn how to change those conditions, or to understand what those conditions mean in terms of their own sense of oppression. And I think that all too often, we equate domination with simply institutions, and we say that the only way you can talk about power is to talk about economic structures. But I’m sorry, as important as economics is and economic structures are, you also have to talk about what it means to create the conditions for people to be able to think, to be self-reflective, to be able to identify with certain kinds of narratives, to have information available in which they can become self-reflective individually and collectively. And I think the tool is what I would call pedagogy. The ability to intervene in people’s lives with vocabularies, and social relationships, and values, the moral and political scripts in which people can all of a sudden be moved by the power of persuasion and logic and reason and truth has to be central to any politics.
Will Brehm 15:59
And so, what’s the role of schools, like the institutions run by the government, the public schools, in this pedagogical effort to make politics more pedagogical?
Henry Giroux 16:10
I think that schools are probably one of the few places left we’re not controlled by corporations entirely. Where actually, this kind of teaching can take place, where people can have debates, where people can be exposed to positions that are historical, scientific, that offer up the possibility for engaging in modes, and creating modes of civic literacy and social responsibility. Schools, basically, at their best, should be democratic, public spheres. They should be actively involved in not only teaching young people about the great traditions, whatever they might be, that offer the best in human learning, and what it means to be civilized, from a whole range of traditions, but also what it means to take on a sense of social and political and ethical responsibility. So that one recognizes that one lives in a society with others. And that one has to struggle over democracy, struggle over justice, to learn that no society is ever just enough, and that that’s as central to learning as learning whatever it is that’s of value in terms of the kinds of human resources that are out there and available to be appropriated, engaged and discussed.
Will Brehm 17:26
Is it possible to accomplish some of those things inside, say, charter schools, in America?
Henry Giroux 17:33
Charter schools basically have a long tradition, particularly in the United States, of simply segregating students. And at the same time, sort of displacing with the possibility of unions, ruining unions, undermining unions, and operating off the assumption that schools are basically a private venture rather than a public good. So, I don’t have a lot of faith in charter schools. Is it possible that some charter schools, when they’re pumped up with enormous amounts of money on the part of hedge fund managers simply so they can become a model for destroying public schools can work? Yes, maybe. But all the research seems to suggest that, at best, they’re no better, if not worse, than public schools. I don’t believe that public schools should be privatized. I think that they’re a public good, they’re not a private right. And I think as soon as we start talking about schooling as a private right and we started talking about schools as for-profit institutions, we destroy their possibilities as democratic public spheres.
Will Brehm 18:38
I’m not so hopeful then Betsy DeVos would agree with you there.
Henry Giroux 18:41
Betsy DeVos is probably one of the most hated people in America, because people realize what she’s about. She’s a billionaire who hates public schools and has claimed that her mission in life is to bring God’s kingdom to students. She’s a religious fanatic. She’s an ideological fundamentalist and a religious fanatic. And now she’s the Secretary of Education of the United States. What does that say about education? What does that say about this administration? I mean, Donald Trump has made it clear: he loves the uneducated. He’s said that many times. He’s a guy who doesn’t read books. He basically eats McDonald’s hamburgers and watches Fox News. This is not exactly a guy that’s going to embrace any institution that offers the possibility of educating students or adults to think critically. He finds those institutions enormously dreadful and challenging. And actually, more than that, he’s used them as a pathology. That’s why he invented the notion of fake news. And that’s why he’s a serial liar and continues to believe that he can say anything because he believes that he doesn’t have to be held accountable. In a democracy, people are held accountable. But he’s not a guy who believes you should be held accountable. That’s the mark of any fascist dictator.
Will Brehm 19:55
So, what is to be done here? So, for people who agree with you, like myself, what can we do to protect public education as a democratic social contract or a democratic social good?
Henry Giroux 20:13
I think some questions have to be raised that all of a sudden bring to the forefront what education really is about and why it’s so vitally important. And I think that one of the questions has to be is “What role does education play in a democracy?” And the second question has to be, “How does democracy function, and continue to function, in ways that make certain demands upon education?” I think that what we have to recognize is that education is probably one of the most powerful educational forces in the world, certainly in terms of formal schooling, that offers the possibility for creating a formative culture that allows people to think critically and be informed. I mean, Dewey, Arendt, a whole range of philosophers, Castoriadis, have been telling us for years – and they’re right – you can’t have a democracy without informed citizens. And I think that when we realize how crucial higher education, public education is to the creating the formative culture that makes a democracy possible, then we’ll stop talking about it in terms of simply training workers. Education is not training; they’re different things. And we’ve lost sight of that in the United States. The script has been flipped. And all of a sudden education now is simply an adjunct of corporate life, of corporate demands, of corporate needs. And I think that in many ways, what we see in Parkland, and what we see among young people all over the country, whether we’re talking about, you know, a whole range of movement, of BlackLivesMatter movement, a whole range of movements, people are saying, “Hey, look. There’s a certain violence that’s going on in this country that in part is linked to education, both within and outside of the schools, that makes people vulnerable to systemic terror, to systemic violence, and it’s got to stop.” And it’s got to stop because we have to restructure and rethink the relationship between democracy and capitalism, and probably begin to say capitalism and democracy are not the same thing. The second thing is we’ve got to invert and fight some of the most pernicious and poisonous elements of neoliberalism. And the most poisonous in my mind, is the one that suggests that the only responsibility that matters is individual responsibility. That’s it. That you’re responsible for everything that goes on in the world, and you have no right to believe that there are social problems out there over which you individually have no control. And that you do not have to assume that burden. And by assuming that burden, you completely dismantle the link or the ability to translate private issues into larger social considerations. That’s depoliticizing. That means you become depoliticized. That means you become cynical. That means you blame yourself for all the problems in which you find yourself. And it means that basically, you’re out of the loop politically. That there’s nothing that can be done except to basically become part of the opioid crisis, collapse into cynicism, or just retreat into the worst kinds of despair.
Will Brehm 23:17
So, would it be correct to say that you think the sort of civic courage that is needed is to repoliticize a lot of the spaces that have been depoliticized?
Henry Giroux 23:29
Absolutely. Absolutely. I think that what we need to do is we need to talk about public spheres that engage and raise the possibility of civic literacy and civic courage and social responsibility to the point where we can reclaim the language of democracy. We can once again talk about compassion. We can once again talk about social relationships that are not simply based on exchange relations, commodified relations. We can talk about the notion of community and what it means. We can assume that dependency is not a pathology, that community is not something that you hate, and that shared responsibilities are a lot more important than shared fears.
Will Brehm 24:11
Are there any examples of such systems or even just schools where this happens, where this politicization happens?
Henry Giroux 24:22
There are schools all over the country in the United States that basically err on the side of these kinds of progressive ideas. And there are countries that are on the side of these progress. The social democratic countries, whether you’re talking about Finland, or Sweden, or Germany. I mean, some places where higher education is free. Public education is free. Even in Canada, not the most pronounced social democracy in the world. But look, I get sick, I don’t pay anything. I just walk into a hospital, I make appointments with doctors, I get free medical care. In the United States, half the debts that people have, bankruptcies, are due to health care expenses. So, I mean, there are there examples all over the world of countries that have basically put into place social provisions and social safety nets that allow people to live with a certain degree of dignity. And I think we need to learn from them. And I think we need to look very carefully at what that means, in terms of what it means to invest in the future of young people rather than disinvest in young people and operate off the assumption that making money is far more important than, for instance, the lives of young people. For instance, the gun manufacturers, many of the gun rights people, they truly believe that we live in a country where killing children is less important, actually, than basically making money off the selling of guns.
Will Brehm 25:54
Are you hopeful that America will get out of this nightmare, will return to a social democratic society where the public good of education exists?
Henry Giroux 26:06
Intellectually, I’m pessimistic. In terms of the future, I’m hopeful. I think that these are very dark times. All over the world, I think the rise of fascism is emerging once again. I think there are signs that people are mobilizing. I think that the contradictions are becoming so great that people all of a sudden who wouldn’t be political are becoming more political and getting actively involved. I think that young people represent a paradigm shift for the most part, from what we’ve seen in the past, in that they’re more tolerant, they’re more savvy technologically, they’re more politically astute. And I want to hope that young people all of a sudden will recognize that being written out of the future, and being written out of the script of democracy is enough of a challenge to be faced that they will not only create moments and demonstrations, but actually create movements that will be broad-based enough to be able to really challenge the power structures that are in place in many of these countries today, including the United States.
Will Brehm 27:09
Well, Henry Giroux, thank you so much for joining FreshEd, and thank you so much for all the writing you’ve done over the years. I’m a huge fan.
Henry Giroux 27:17
Well, I’m delighted to be on, and thank you so much for having me.
Will Brehm 1:38
Henry Giroux, bienvenue à FreshEd.
Henry Giroux 1:41
C’est bien, Will. Merveilleux d’être sur.
Will Brehm 1:43
Vous avez écrit un nouveau livre nommé American Nightmare : Faire face au défi du fascisme. Avant d’aborder ce livre et l’Amérique et ce qui se passe actuellement en Amérique en matière d’éducation publique, je voudrais vous demander ce qui vous est passé par la tête en novembre 2016 quand vous avez réalisé que Donald Trump avait gagné la présidence ?
Henry Giroux 2:08
Eh bien, je crois que ce qui m’a traversé l’esprit, c’est qu’il y a eu une longue série d’attaques contre la démocratie américaine et les États-Unis, surtout dans les années 1970, quand le contrat social était assiégé et qu’il semblait s’effondrer. Et un discours de diabolisation, de racisme, d’islamophobie et d’objectivation, de marchandisation et de privatisation semblait prendre le dessus sur le pays. Je croyais que Trump était le point final de tout cela ; il est en quelque sorte le monstre Frankenstein qu’on a laissé sortir de la pièce. Et j’ai cru que c’était une incroyable tragédie pour la démocratie. Et j’ai pensé que, contrairement à certains autres gauchistes, je pensais que les conséquences seraient dramatiques une fois qu’il aurait pris ses fonctions. Et je crois qu’à bien des égards, cela s’est avéré être vrai.
Will Brehm 2:57
De quelle façon a-t-il prouvé qu’il avait raison au cours de l’année dernière ?
Henry Giroux 3:00
Eh bien, je crois qu’il suffit de regarder les politiques qu’il a tenté de mettre en œuvre et le langage qu’il a employé pour définir son mode de gouvernance. Je veux dire, c’est un type qui a essentiellement embrassé les néo-nazis, l’ultra-nationalisme. C’est un menteur en série. Il a manifestement fait tout ce qu’il pouvait pour promouvoir une logique anti-immigration. Il a menacé d’expulser des États-Unis toute une série de jeunes – 800 000 jeunes – appelés “rêveurs”. Il a baissé les impôts pour les ultra-riches au point que cela aura un effet énorme sur les services publics et les biens publics. Il met en place une série de personnes qui sont soit inaptes, soit totalement antidémocratiques, pour diriger des institutions telles que l’EPA – l’Agence de protection de l’environnement – ou toute une série d’autres institutions, dans lesquelles elles sont diamétralement opposées à l’intérêt que ces institutions représentent. Parce que ce sont des institutions qui suggèrent que le gouvernement a la responsabilité de travailler essentiellement pour le peuple. Elles ne croient pas cela ; elles croient que le gouvernement ne doit servir que l’élite financière et les intérêts financiers et économiques, et que la liberté consiste essentiellement à déréglementer les affaires et à permettre à l’élite des entreprises de faire des folies. Ce n’est donc qu’une série, entre autres, de choses qu’il a faites. Mais je pense qu’il a mis en place une notion de gouvernance qui suggère que les États-Unis ne sont plus une démocratie ; que nous sommes sur la voie d’une sorte de néofascisme déguisé en drapeau américain, et c’est très effrayant.
Will Brehm 4:43
Et donc, c’est de ce fascisme dont vous parlez dans votre nouveau livre ?
Henry Giroux 4:47
C’est de ce fascisme que je parle, qu’il s’agisse de l’ultra-nationalisme qu’il prône. Qu’on parle du racisme, de la xénophobie. Qu’il s’agisse de la logique de la disposition, du nettoyage racial qui est derrière beaucoup de ses politiques. L’adhésion d’une élite d’entreprises qui substitue à l’État politique un État d’entreprises. Toutes ces choses ont des échos de cette glorification de la grandeur nationale. L’affirmation qu’il est le seul à pouvoir délivrer l’Amérique. Et nous avons déjà entendu ce langage. Et nous l’avons entendu dans les années 1930. Et nous l’avons entendue dans les années 40. Et nous l’avons entendue plus tard dans les années 1970 en Amérique latine. C’est une langue qui suggère que l’ennemi de la politique est la démocratie. Et je crois que Trump représente cette langue et qu’il est à nouveau à l’œuvre pour la promouvoir.
Will Brehm 5:39
Et voyez-vous ce que Trump incarne dans d’autres parties du monde ? Tout récemment, Xi Jinping a … il paraît qu’il va être au pouvoir indéfiniment en Chine. Et Duterte aux Philippines. Et je viens de lire un article sur un nouveau parti d’extrême-droite en Italie qui glorifie Mussolini. Alors, cette tendance fasciste, cette tendance ultralégislative et pronationnelle se retrouve-t-elle dans le monde entier ? Et si oui, quelle en est la cause ? Pourquoi voyons-nous cette résurgence des partis de droite, ultranationalistes, émerger dans le monde entier ?
Henry Giroux 6:21
Je crois qu’il y a plusieurs choses à l’œuvre. Je pense que, tout d’abord, ce que nous voyons est la naissance de ce que l’on appelle la démocratie illibérale, le terme inventé, bien sûr, en Hongrie. Et je pense qu’à bien des égards, Trump permet cela, parce qu’il s’est aligné, et qu’il a en fait célébré nombre de ces fascistes, de manière à suggérer que ce genre de politique au 21e siècle est tout à fait acceptable. Je pense donc qu’à certains égards, le pays le plus puissant du monde a, en quelque sorte, à bien des égards, tendu la main et commencé à légitimer un discours anti-immigration et islamophobe, un discours de type raciste lié aux questions de pureté raciale et de nettoyage racial, qui a ouvert la possibilité pour beaucoup de ces pays d’embrasser fondamentalement cette logique. Et je crois qu’il y a d’autres problèmes. Chaque pays a son propre problème, mais je crois que l’incapacité de ces pays à traiter des questions de compassion et de justice, ce sont des pays qui, à bien des égards, ont été régis par une logique néolibérale qui n’a vraiment aucun respect pour les notions de communauté. Aucun respect pour les notions de compassion. Aucun respect pour ce que cela signifie d’embrasser avec amour la possibilité de l’autre. C’est une logique qui élève l’intérêt personnel, le nationalisme, la violence et le spectacle de la consommation au plus haut niveau d’acceptation. Et je crois que ce qui en résulte, face à des types particuliers de crises qui servent de fil conducteur à tous ces pays, c’est une peur élémentaire de ce que nous pourrions appeler “l’autre”, “l’étranger”. Ajoutez à cela le fait que vous avez un capitalisme mondial à l’œuvre qui, à bien des égards, a enlevé le pouvoir à ces pays, de sorte que la seule chose qui leur reste est un appel à la souveraineté culturelle. C’est un appel au nationalisme culturel. Parce qu’au fond, vous avez maintenant une élite dirigeante qui est mondiale. Elle n’est pas enracinée dans les États-nations. Elle coule. La politique est fondée sur les États-nations, et le pouvoir est mondial. Il y a donc un énorme changement de paradigme dans la redéfinition de la politique elle-même. Et je crois que l’une des choses qui se passe quand vous voyez cela, c’est que les États, à mesure que l’État social s’effondre, que les biens sociaux et les dispositions sociales se tarissent, vous avez la montée de l’État qui punit. Parce que la seule chose qui reste aux États pour pouvoir vraiment faire cela, c’est essentiellement de pénaliser les problèmes sociaux et de faire ce qu’ils peuvent faire pour devenir des États répressifs. En général, ils peuvent exercer le pouvoir. De cette façon, ils peuvent survivre. Donc, je pense que tous ces fils sont vraiment communs à beaucoup de ces États, beaucoup de ces pays.
Will Brehm 9:09
Donc, vous appelez Trump le point final, d’une certaine façon, dans ce cauchemar qu’est le fascisme américain. Et bien sûr, il a ces racines dans le racisme et le néolibéralisme. Il serait sensé que les racines ici passent aussi par le parti démocrate, que ce n’est pas simplement une question républicaine dans le contexte américain. Êtes-vous d’accord avec cela ?
Henry Giroux 9:33
Oui, je suis d’accord. Je crois qu’il y a deux questions à comprendre ici. Je pense que les deux partis sont fondamentalement mariés à l’élite financière, comme nous le savons bien. Je veux dire que les deux parties sont financées par l’élite financière. D’un côté, vous avez un parti démocrate qui tient une sorte de discours libéral, mais qui ne remet jamais en cause de manière fondamentale l’inégalité massive, ou la financiarisation de l’économie, ou la domination des banquiers et des gestionnaires de fonds spéculatifs. Ils ne remettent pas cela en question ; ils sont au lit avec ces choses. D’un autre côté, vous avez un parti républicain qui est maintenant composé de personnes qui sont également mariées à l’élite financière. Mais c’est un parti qui a été repris par les extrémistes. Ils ne sont pas seulement mariés à l’élite financière, ils sont mariés à quelque chose de plus que cela. Ils sont mariés à un ultra-nationalisme, une sorte de notion selon laquelle le christianisme blanc est la religion officielle des États-Unis. Ils sont mariés à la notion de nettoyage racial. Ils ont en fait accéléré toutes les grandes tragédies et tous les crimes du passé de telle sorte qu’ils n’en sont plus recouverts. Ils leur ont donné une nouvelle visibilité. Donc, ils ne s’excusent pas de leur racisme. Ils ne s’excusent pas de leur islamophobie. Ils ne s’excusent pas d’avoir attaqué des jeunes. Ils ne s’excusent pas d’avoir fait des investissements à court terme plutôt qu’à long terme. Et ils ne s’excusent pas non plus d’avoir détruit l’État-providence et le contrat social. Mais ce que les deux parties partagent, c’est qu’elles croient vraiment que le capitalisme et la démocratie sont la même chose, et que le capitalisme et la démocratie sont fondamentalement quelque chose de dirigé par l’élite financière, par l’élite au pouvoir, le 1%. Aucun des deux partis n’a de problème avec cet argument. Il y a des factions au sein du Parti démocrate qui contesteront cela – Bernie Sanders et ainsi de suite – mais elles sont marginales et n’ont pas leur place au sein du Parti démocrate. La plus grosse erreur que Sanders n’ait jamais faite a été de ne pas créer un troisième parti.
Will Brehm 11:29
Alors, à votre avis, comment le capitalisme et la démocratie sont-ils séparés?
Henry Giroux 11:33
Ils sont distincts dans le sens où vous ne pouvez pas avoir de démocratie quand vous avez un système qui promeut des inégalités massives de richesse et de pouvoir ; cela ne marche tout simplement pas. Il me paraît qu’avoir ce degré d’inégalité, et le soutenir de toutes les manières, permettre que toutes les institutions dirigeantes d’un pays soient contrôlées par une poignée d’élites et de sociétés, est l’antithèse de la démocratie. La démocratie implique que les gens ont le pouvoir. Ils ont le pouvoir de façonner les conditions dans lesquelles ils vivent leur vie. Ils ont un certain pouvoir sur l’économie. Ils y ont accès, ils ont des dispositions sociales, ils ont des droits politiques, des droits personnels, des droits sociaux. Cela n’arrive pas sous le capitalisme. Le capitalisme est un système ruineux qui s’organise essentiellement autour de la production de profits au détriment des besoins humains. Ce n’est pas une formule pour la démocratie.
Will Brehm 12:25
Et donc, à quoi ressemblerait un contrat social à votre avis, dans ce cadre ?
Henry Giroux 12:29
Au minimum, un contrat social garantirait les droits politiques. Mais il garantirait les droits politiques et les droits personnels en même temps que les droits sociaux, c’est-à-dire que vous auriez des droits économiques, vous auriez un salaire social. Vous restreindriez massivement les degrés d’inégalité. Cela impliquerait que les gens auraient accès à l’enseignement supérieur, aux soins de santé. Toutes les choses qui deviennent centrales dans la façon dont nous vivons notre sens de l’action et la rendent possible feraient partie du contrat social et du bien public. Sans cela, il n’y a pas de démocratie. Et il me semble que c’est la mesure dans laquelle vous voulez l’appeler socialisme en tant que forme de social-démocratie, ou vous voulez l’appeler socialisme d’une manière qui permet simplement aux structures, infrastructures, ressources les plus importantes d’une société d’être un phénomène contrôlé par le gouvernement, c’est un mélange qu’il nous faut trouver. Mais je pense qu’en fin de compte, vous devez réaliser que dans une démocratie, la première question que vous devez vous poser est la suivante : “Qu’est-ce que cela signifie de fournir les conditions permettant aux gens d’avoir un sens de l’action, et pas seulement de pouvoir survivre ? Pour que leurs capacités puissent être développées de manière à ce qu’ils aient accès à d’autres choses que de lutter pour manger, de lutter au milieu de la pauvreté, de lutter pour un travail digne de ce nom, de lutter pour trouver un moyen de payer des emprunts massifs afin d’obtenir une éducation décente, de ne pas lutter pour avoir des soins de santé décents. Ce sont des questions centrales qui ne concernent pas seulement le pouvoir, mais aussi la capacité à vivre. De vivre dans la dignité.
Will Brehm 14:10
Et donc, passons à l’éducation ici. Dans votre dernier livre, intitulé “Le public en péril”, vous employez le terme … vous avez dit que vous vouliez voir “le politique plus pédagogique”. Que vouliez-vous dire par là?
Henry Giroux 14:23
Ce que je veux dire par là, c’est que l’une des choses qui me perturbe, et l’une des choses sur lesquelles j’ai écrit pendant de nombreuses années, et je ne suis pas le premier, bien que je pense l’avoir probablement élaborée plus souvent que la plupart des gens, c’est que l’éducation est au cœur de la politique. On ne peut pas parler de politique si on ne peut pas parler de conscience. Si vous ne pouvez pas parler de changer la façon dont les gens croient, si vous ne pouvez pas parler de les engager dans un dialogue avec un vocabulaire dans lequel ils peuvent s’investir, s’identifier et être capables de reconnaître les conditions dans lesquelles ils se trouvent, de sorte qu’ils puissent soit apprendre à modifier ces conditions, soit comprendre ce que ces conditions signifient en termes de leur propre sentiment d’oppression. Et je crois que trop souvent, nous assimilons la domination à de simples institutions, et nous disons que la seule façon de parler de pouvoir est de parler de structures économiques. Mais je suis navré, aussi importantes que soient l’économie et les structures économiques, vous devez aussi parler de ce que signifie créer les conditions pour que les gens puissent penser, réfléchir sur eux-mêmes, s’identifier à certains types de récits, disposer d’informations leur permettant de réfléchir sur eux-mêmes individuellement et collectivement. Et je pense que l’outil est ce que j’appellerais de la pédagogie. La capacité d’intervenir dans la vie des gens avec des vocabulaires, des relations sociales, des valeurs, des scénarios moraux et politiques dans lesquels les gens peuvent tout à coup être mus par le pouvoir de la persuasion et de la logique, de la raison et de la vérité, doit être au centre de toute politique.
Will Brehm 15:59
Et donc, quel est le rôle des écoles, comme les institutions gérées par le gouvernement, les écoles publiques, dans cet effort pédagogique pour rendre la politique plus pédagogique ?
Henry Giroux 16:10
Je crois que les écoles sont probablement l’un des rares endroits où nous ne sommes pas entièrement contrôlés par les entreprises. Où, en fait, ce genre d’enseignement peut avoir lieu, où les gens peuvent avoir des débats, où les gens peuvent être confrontés à des positions qui sont historiques, scientifiques, qui offrent la possibilité de s’engager dans des modes, et de créer des modes d’alphabétisation civique et de responsabilité sociale. Les écoles, au fond, dans le meilleur des cas, devraient être des sphères démocratiques et publiques. Elles devraient participer activement non seulement à l’enseignement aux jeunes des grandes traditions, quelles qu’elles soient, qui proposent le meilleur de l’apprentissage humain, et de ce que signifie être civilisé, à partir de toute une série de traditions, mais aussi de ce que signifie assumer un sens de la responsabilité sociale, politique et éthique. Pour que l’on reconnaisse que l’on vit dans une société avec d’autres. Et que l’on doit se battre pour la démocratie, se battre pour la justice, pour apprendre qu’aucune société n’est jamais juste assez, et que c’est aussi essentiel pour apprendre que d’apprendre tout ce qui a de la valeur en termes de types de ressources humaines qui sont disponibles et qui peuvent être appropriées, engagées et discutées.
Will Brehm 17:26
Est-il envisageable d’accomplir certaines de ces choses dans des écoles à charte, par exemple, en Amérique ?
Henry Giroux 17:33
Les Charter Schools ont une longue tradition, surtout aux États-Unis, de ségrégation des élèves. Et en même temps, elles se déplacent avec la possibilité de constituer des syndicats, de les ruiner, de les saper et de fonctionner en partant du principe que les écoles sont essentiellement une entreprise privée plutôt qu’un bien public. Je n’ai donc pas beaucoup de foi dans les écoles à charte. Est-il possible que certaines écoles à charte, quand elles sont gonflées par d’énormes sommes d’argent de la part des gestionnaires de fonds spéculatifs simplement pour qu’elles deviennent un modèle de destruction des écoles publiques, puissent marcher ? Oui, c’est possible. Mais toutes les recherches semblent indiquer que, au mieux, elles ne sont pas meilleures, sinon pires, que les écoles publiques. Je ne crois pas que les écoles publiques devraient être privatisées. Je pense qu’elles sont un bien public, elles ne sont pas un droit privé. Et je pense que dès que nous commençons à parler de l’école comme d’un droit privé et que nous commençons à parler des écoles comme d’institutions à but lucratif, nous détruisons leurs possibilités en tant que sphères publiques démocratiques.
Will Brehm 18:38
J’ai moins d’espoir que Betsy DeVos soit d’accord avec vous sur ce point.
Henry Giroux 18:41
Betsy DeVos est probablement l’une des personnes les plus haïes en Amérique, parce que les gens se rendent compte de ce qu’elle est. C’est une milliardaire qui déteste les écoles publiques et qui prétend que sa mission dans la vie est d’apporter le royaume de Dieu aux étudiants. C’est une fanatique religieuse. C’est une fondamentaliste idéologique et une fanatique religieuse. Et à présent, elle est la secrétaire à l’éducation des États-Unis. Qu’est-ce que cela signifie pour l’éducation ? Qu’est-ce que cela dit de cette administration ? Je veux dire que Donald Trump a été clair : il aime les personnes sans éducation. Il l’a dit à plusieurs reprises. C’est un type qui ne lit pas de livres. Il mange essentiellement des hamburgers McDonald’s et regarde Fox News. Ce n’est pas exactement un type qui va embrasser n’importe quelle institution qui offre la possibilité d’éduquer les étudiants ou les adultes à la réflexion critique. Il trouve ces institutions énormément horribles et difficiles. Et en fait, plus que cela, il les utilise comme une pathologie. C’est pourquoi il a inventé la notion de fausses nouvelles. Et c’est pourquoi il est un menteur en série et continue à croire qu’il peut dire n’importe quoi parce qu’il croit qu’il n’a pas à être tenu responsable. Dans une démocratie, les gens sont tenus responsables. Mais ce n’est pas un type qui croit qu’on doit être tenu responsable. C’est la marque de tout dictateur fasciste.
Will Brehm 19:55
Alors, qu’est-ce qu’il faut faire ici ? Alors, pour les gens qui sont d’accord avec vous, comme moi, que pouvons-nous faire pour préserver l’éducation publique comme un contrat social démocratique ou un bien social démocratique?
Henry Giroux 20:13
Je crois qu’il faut se poser certaines questions qui placent soudain au premier plan ce qu’est vraiment l’éducation et pourquoi elle est si essentielle. Et je crois que l’une de ces questions doit être : “Quel rôle l’éducation joue-t-elle dans une démocratie ? Et la deuxième question doit être : “Comment la démocratie fonctionne-t-elle, et continue-t-elle de fonctionner, d’une manière qui impose certaines exigences à l’éducation ? Je pense que nous devons reconnaître que l’éducation est probablement l’une des forces éducatives les plus influentes au monde, certainement en termes de scolarisation formelle, qui offre la possibilité de générer une culture formatrice qui permet aux gens de penser de manière critique et d’être informés. Je veux dire, Dewey, Arendt, toute une série de philosophes, Castoriadis, nous disent depuis des années – et ils ont raison – qu’on ne peut pas avoir de démocratie sans citoyens informés. Et je crois que quand nous réaliserons à quel point l’enseignement supérieur, l’éducation publique est cruciale pour la création de la culture formatrice qui rend une démocratie possible, alors nous cesserons d’en parler en termes de simple formation des travailleurs. L’éducation n’est pas une formation, ce sont des choses différentes. Et nous avons perdu cela de vue aux États-Unis. Le scénario a été inversé. Et tout d’un coup, l’éducation n’est plus qu’un complément de la vie des entreprises, de leurs exigences, de leurs besoins. Et je pense qu’à bien des égards, ce que nous voyons dans Parkland, et ce que nous voyons chez les jeunes de tout le pays, que nous parlions, vous savez, de toute une série de mouvements, du mouvement BlackLivesMatter, de toute une série de mouvements, les gens disent : “Hé, regardez. Il y a une certaine violence dans ce pays qui est en partie liée à l’éducation, tant à l’intérieur qu’à l’extérieur des écoles, qui rend les gens vulnérables à la terreur systémique, à la violence systémique, et il faut que cela cesse”. Et cela doit arrêter parce que nous devons restructurer et repenser la relation entre la démocratie et le capitalisme, et probablement commencer à dire que le capitalisme et la démocratie ne sont pas la même chose. La deuxième chose est que nous devons renverser et combattre certains des éléments les plus pernicieux et les plus toxiques du néolibéralisme. Et le plus toxique à mon avis, est celui qui suggère que la seule responsabilité qui compte est la responsabilité individuelle. C’est cela. Que vous êtes responsable de tout ce qui se passe dans le monde, et que vous n’avez pas le droit de croire qu’il existe des problèmes sociaux sur lesquels vous n’avez aucun contrôle individuel. Et que vous n’avez pas à supporter ce fardeau. Et qu’en assumant ce fardeau, vous démantelez complètement le lien ou la capacité de traduire des problèmes privés en considérations sociales plus larges. C’est dépolitiser. Cela signifie que vous devenez dépolitisé. Cela signifie que vous devenez cynique. Cela signifie que vous vous blâmez pour tous les problèmes dans lesquels vous vous trouvez. Et cela implique qu’au fond, vous êtes politiquement hors du coup. Qu’il n’y a rien à faire, si ce n’est participer à la crise des opiacés, sombrer dans le cynisme, ou simplement se replier sur les pires formes de désespoir.
Will Brehm 23:17
Donc, serait-il correct de dire que vous croyez que le type de courage civique requis est de repolitiser beaucoup d’espaces qui ont été dépolitisés ?
Henry Giroux 23:29
Absolument. Absolument. Je pense que ce que nous devons faire, c’est parler de sphères publiques qui engagent et soulèvent la possibilité d’une alphabétisation civique, d’un courage civique et d’une responsabilité sociale au point de pouvoir reconquérir le langage de la démocratie. Nous pouvons à nouveau parler de compassion. Nous pouvons à nouveau parler de relations sociales qui ne sont pas simplement basées sur des relations d’échange, des relations marchandes. Nous pouvons discuter de la notion de communauté et de ce qu’elle signifie. Nous pouvons supposer que la dépendance n’est pas une pathologie, que la communauté n’est pas quelque chose que l’on déteste et que les responsabilités partagées sont beaucoup plus essentielles que les craintes partagées.
Will Brehm 24:11
Y a-t-il des exemples de tels systèmes ou même seulement des écoles où cela se produit, où cette politisation se produit ?
Henry Giroux 24:22
Il y a des écoles dans tout le pays aux États-Unis qui se trompent fondamentalement du côté de ce genre d’idées progressistes. Et il y a des pays qui sont du côté de ces progrès. Les pays sociaux-démocrates, qu’il s’agisse de la Finlande, de la Suède ou de l’Allemagne. Je veux dire, certains endroits où l’enseignement supérieur est gratuit. L’enseignement public est gratuit. Même au Canada, ce n’est pas la social-démocratie la plus prononcée au monde. Mais écoutez, je tombe malade, je ne paie rien. J’entre à l’hôpital, je prends des rendez-vous avec des médecins, je reçois des soins médicaux gratuits. Aux États-Unis, la moitié des dettes des gens, les faillites, sont dues aux dépenses de santé. Il existe donc dans le monde entier des exemples de pays qui ont essentiellement mis en place des dispositions sociales et des filets de sûreté sociale qui permettent aux gens de vivre avec un certain degré de dignité. Et je pense que nous devons en tirer les leçons. Et je crois que nous devons examiner très attentivement ce que cela signifie, en termes de ce que cela signifie d’investir dans l’avenir des jeunes plutôt que de désinvestir dans les jeunes et de partir du principe que gagner de l’argent est bien plus essentiel que, par exemple, la vie des jeunes. Par exemple, les fabricants d’armes, de nombreux défenseurs des droits des armes, pensent vraiment que nous vivons dans un pays où tuer des enfants est moins essentiel, en fait, que de gagner de l’argent en vendant des armes.
Will Brehm 25:54
Avez-vous l’espoir que l’Amérique sortira de ce cauchemar, qu’elle reviendra à une société sociale-démocrate où le bien public de l’éducation existe?
Henry Giroux 26:06
Intellectuellement, je suis sceptique. En ce qui concerne l’avenir, je suis plein d’espoir. Je crois que nous vivons des temps très sombres. Partout dans le monde, je pense que la montée du fascisme émerge à nouveau. Je pense qu’il y a des signes que les gens se mobilisent. Je pense que les contradictions deviennent si grandes que des gens qui ne seraient pas politiques deviennent soudainement plus politiques et s’impliquent activement. Je pense que les jeunes représentent un changement de paradigme pour la plupart, par rapport à ce que nous avons vu dans le passé, en ce sens qu’ils sont plus tangibles, ils sont plus avertis sur le plan technologique, ils sont plus astucieux sur le plan politique. Et je veux souhaiter que les jeunes reconnaissent tout d’un coup que le fait d’être écrit du futur, et d’être écrit du scénario de la démocratie est un défi suffisant à relever pour qu’ils ne se contentent pas de créer des moments et des manifestations, mais qu’ils créent en fait des mouvements qui seront suffisamment larges pour pouvoir réellement contester les structures de pouvoir qui sont en place dans beaucoup de ces pays aujourd’hui, y inclus les États-Unis.
Will Brehm 27:09
Eh bien, Henry Giroux, merci beaucoup d’avoir rejoint FreshEd, et merci beaucoup pour tous les écrits que vous avez faits au fil des ans. Je suis un grand fan.
Henry Giroux 27:17
Je suis ravi d’être à l’antenne, et merci beaucoup de m’avoir.
Translation sponsored by NORRAG.
How can we think about inequality and education? My guest today, Mario Novelli, dives into the subject by looking at the role of schools in the production of inequality.
Since 2010, Mario has researched issues related to the role of education in peace building processes, working with UNICEF on a series of projects.
In our conversation, Mario not only details how modernity, capitalism, and colonialism combine to create systems of inequality inside school systems but also publicly struggles with his role in the production of inequality through his work in international educational development.
Mario Novelli is Professor of the Political Economy of Education and Director of the Centre for International Education (CIE) at the University of Sussex. His latest article discussed in this podcast can be found in the most recent issue of the British Journal of the Sociology of Education.
Citation: Novelli, Mario, Interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 41, September 12, 2016. https://www.freshedpodcast.com/marionovelli/
Will Brehm: 1:58
Mario Novelli, welcome to Fresh Ed.
Mario Novelli: 2:01
Thanks very much for having me.
Will Brehm: 2:03
The British Journal of Sociology of Education has put out a special issue on the work of the French economist Thomas Piketty, who wrote a pretty famous book in 2013 called Capitalism in the Twenty-First Century. And you have a piece in this special issue. What is Piketty’s main argument in Capitalism in the Twenty-First Century? And why does it warrant a whole issue of an education journal?
Mario Novelli: 2:33
Okay, well, Piketty’s book is a big one. And it really focuses around the rise of inequality over the last 200, 220 years.
And his central argument is that, unlike orthodox economic belief that as capitalism has developed, and as nations develop, inequality reduces. In fact, what he highlights is that, apart from a brief interlude between the first and second world war, inequality has tended to increase and what that leads into develop is a kind of the assertion of an economic law, which is that private wealth, inherited wealth increases faster than productive investment or economic growth.
And that has a tendency to increase inequality in the long run. And I think that for education, there are lots of implications, there are lots of implications around the role of education in the reproduction of inequality, the role of education in potentially redressing inequality and being in a sense an equalizing factor in society. So there are many dimensions that we thought in the special issue we might be able to explore. And as you know, my particular work focuses on the relationship between education and conflict. So I went a bit more deeply into that area.
Will Brehm: 4:11
And we will touch on that in a second. But first, just generally speaking, in your opinion, does Piketty have any weaknesses in his argument that you were able to uncover during your research?
Mario Novelli: 4:28
I mean, I think there are a lot of weaknesses, I would like to say that I think it’s a great book, I think it’s a really important book. And I think that in an accessible way, despite the length of the book, and he puts on the table, some really important ideas around issues of inequality, which for many years, has not been a problem for orthodox economists, inequality seems to be something that should be embraced as a natural part of economic development.
In terms of challenges, I think the first one is that Piketty is an economist. And although he’s much more open than neoclassical economists, his focus is firmly on the economic domain and economic inequality, which, for me, is important, but insufficient. I think, if we look at the history of popular movements, who have struggled against the inequality over the last 70 years, economic inequality is only one domain of confrontation, it’s a key domain. But nevertheless, it’s just one site of contestation, I think, what we need to explore are other modes of inequality alongside economic inequality, cultural, political, national, and their effects on genders, identities, political rights, human rights, etc. So I think, you know, the big area is the kind of narrow economism within which we approach inequality. So I think there are lots of more depth different dimensions to focus on.
The second thing, and I think this is linked to his empiricism, the focus on numbers on evidence that is attainable is that I don’t think that everything that is important can necessarily be measured, and not everything that’s measured is necessarily important. And I think that’s why theory matters, because theory sometimes helps us to get under the surface of things that we can’t see unequal structures, social classes, racism, things like that, that exists, but are not necessarily visible in, you know, the classic, countable ways of empiricism.
And I think, then, the third difficulty in Piketty’s work, or the third omission, at least for me, particularly, is his failure to explore the issue of imperialism, the role of the north and the south, slavery, the history of colonialism in the history of capitalist development. It’s as if capitalist development unfolded through economic laws. But actually, what we know is that capitalism has also unfolded through conquest, colonialism, etc.
Will Brehm: 7:03
It sounds like he misses some of the, my guess, more complex issues of inequality as a social and cultural phenomenon. But how does Piketty or does Piketty bring up the issue of education in his work?
Mario Novelli: 8:07
Well, I guess as an economist, it’s not surprising that Piketty sees education as a kind of an engine of growth. And potentially, I think, an engine of equity and the reduction of inequality. And, you know, that’s linked to his understanding of human capital. And the idea that we invest in education in order to improve both our own personal economic wealth, but also the wealth of the nation. Though, of course, this is challenged, the relevance of human capital theory is challenged by himself in the book, because essentially, what he’s arguing is that inherited capital, debt capital is more productive than economic growth and productive capital. So investing in education may not bring you the returns that it might want have brought. So even for the human capital theory, there is a problem at the moment in terms of the nature of capitalist development. So that’s really where his focuses on the returns of education in terms of economic development and economic growth.
Will Brehm: 9:33
In your opinion, what is the relationship between education and capitalism if it’s not human capital?
Mario Novelli: 9:42
Okay, well, I think human capital is part of the story. Let’s be clear about that. I’m not saying that human capital is not important. But I think that if we look at the relationship between education and capitalism, it’s much more complex. I guess, I would start with Roger Dale’s work of the 1970s Education and the Capitalist State, where you need to think about education’s relationship to accumulation ie human capital, social cohesion – the role of education systems in making different population groups get on or not, and also in legitimation, the role of education in making students accept the situation that they’re in, the state of affairs that exists in society. So in a sense, it has a legitimating effect. It has a social cohesion affect, it also has an accumulation effect. And as Roger always pointed out, these three dimensions are not necessarily compatible. So if you focus on accumulation, you may undermine social cohesion, through selectivity etc.
And you may undermine accumulation and social cohesion by focusing too much on the legitimation. So there are range of contradictions in that. So that’s the first area that I think is important to return to. And I think the second area which is a more modern phenomenon is that education is not just human capital, in the terms of self-investment, and the production or the role of education in economic growth.
Education has emerged as an important commodity in the late 20th century, early 21st century whereby it’s one of the fastest growing industries and we can see that the expansion of universities and international chains of schools, so education itself is a factor in economic exchange now and I think that needs to be explored in much more detail and is completely avoided in Piketty’s work, as Susan Robertson’s article in the same special issue focuses on.
The third area, and I think this is, again, really important is the area of inequalities, the role of education in reproducing inequalities. And I’m not just thinking about class and gender, which is a lot of the focus but also about the way education systems reproduce north south inequality, you know.
How is it that Sub Saharan Africa, for example, remains marginalized in terms of the international economy. And I would say that the role of education, education actors, the International architecture of education, delivery, and policy also plays its role in the reproduction of those inequalities. So there are different dimensions. So in a sense, Piketty importantly looks at one area, but I think that if you’re going to take education seriously, you have to look at it much more broadly.
Will Brehm: 13:21
I think it would be very interesting for listeners to hear more about how education can contribute to inequality because I think on the surface that doesn’t sit well with a lot of people, because they would see it as education is the way to achieve equality and to achieve progress.
Mario Novelli: 13:47
Yeah, that’s right. Well, I guess you know, the simplest terms, particularly if you have a Western if we’re thinking about a Western audience, is the way that education privileges some actors and undermines others, the inequality in the provision of education in my own country, in the UK, depending on your postcode, the qualities of schools are often highly differential.
The differentiation in your parents’ salary may determine what type of school you go to whether you go to a private school. So education, in that sense, acts as a filter for social class, whether you can afford a house in a nice area, a wealthy area where there are good schools, or you live in a poor area. So those dimensions, I think, reproduced himself around the world in a sense that education is often highly stratified. But there are also other dimensions of the way education reproduces inequality in terms of, for example, language.
The language issue is a big one whose language gets taught in countries and whose languages get marginalized and what is the effect of that on those that speak that marginalized language? How do they perform in schools? Do they perform less well? If so, what’s the effect of that in the long term? And then in terms of even the content, the curriculum content of schooling, let’s think about you are from a minority community in a particular country, and you’re learning about the heroes of that nation, and none of your communities are ever represented. They’re always representations from other communities, how does that make you feel? What does it lead to? So there’s a lot of ways that education can reproduce alienation. And of course, vice versa, a highly equitable, inclusive open education system may be able to smooth over some of those inequalities that are inherited through generation.
Will Brehm: 16:17
And is part of the inheriting through generations related to imperialism, as you said earlier?
Mario Novelli: 16:24
Yes, certainly, if you’re looking at, let’s take the exploration of the African curriculum, what we see is a legacy of colonial interventions into the national education system. So take a country like Kenya that inherited its education system, from years of colonial rule where there was a highly elitist education system where for the vast majority were excluded and the minority were selected to play roles in the civil service, a small elite, that model of education still carries on to reproduce a highly unequal class structure, often justified by education attainment, but actually pre-ordained through social class.
Will Brehm: 17:27
I’d like to shift gears here to look at some of your work in educational development, particularly in countries like South Sudan or Myanmar and some more of these conflict areas as you said earlier. What have you found how inequalities kind of manifest and function inside education in some of these conflict areas or countries that have experienced conflict?
Mario Novelli: 18:00
Right. Well, maybe I should take a step back. I think that development itself as a field is a highly contradictory field. On the one hand, international development has this idea within it of the rest catching up with the West. This idea that through the study of development, national ex-colonial states, postcolonial states will eventually catch up with the West. But at the same time, international development for other thinkers is a mechanism through which the chains of colonialism were the armies were replaced by new mechanisms, new chains, which with far less visible, not necessarily less powerful than the troops. And so I think that the field itself reproduces some of these dilemma wherever it goes in a sense, the question of, is international development, doing good?
And redressing some of these inequalities or actually, is it there to reproduce them in different modes in different ways. And I think that you see that all around, you know, you see, for example, in Sierra Leone, the role of the international peacekeeping community that came during the war, and after the war in the 1990s, massively increasing the cost of housing and accommodation in the central rise, forcing prices of food up as the international community intervenes in the conflict. And it’s those kinds of things, you know, some would say, the unintentional effects of intervention, which often reproduce or exacerbate inequalities and the same you can go for looking at international intervention in education systems, are they improving the system? Are they reducing inequalities? Or are they actually exacerbating those? And, you know, depending where you’re looking, you have different answers. I mean, Kenya, come back to Kenya, just because I’ve done work in there recently. And the British government defeat has been promoting low cost basic education for poor communities and private schooling for poor communities, which is it seems to be having a demonstrable negative effect on poor communities. And that’s being pushed by an international development agency in the name of doing good, but actually seems to be having devastating effects. So I think that when I teach students of international development, which I do every year, and I always kind of ask them at the beginning of the class, how they feel about entering the field of international development. And they always say, you know, we’re really pleased, we want to, you know, help in Africa, we want to help in Asia. And I say, well, I hope by the end of the course, that you feel a little bit ashamed as well. And that by the end of the course, you actually think that some of the things that have been done in the name of development are actually just as bad as some of the things that have been done in the name of war.
Will Brehm: 22:02
Is that how you feel?
Mario Novelli: 22:06
Ah yes, largely I mean, as I said, it’s a contradictory field. If I thought that it was only doing bad I wouldn’t remain inside the field. But there is a strong sense that like many other terrains, there is a battle going on, it’s the terrain of contestation, and you fight your battles inside that field, to push it in certain directions, and dependent on different social forces at different times, development moves in different directions, so take the 1980s and the global policy of structural adjustment that had an absolutely devastating effect on African and Latin American communities, massively increasing inequalities, and I don’t think anybody can say that that was a positive period.
But the reaction to that was a period of, let’s say, more social democratic approach, a range of different reforms, a range of different challenges to that model. Although I have to say that, you know, a lot of the remnants of that model still remain, particularly within some of the big institutions like the World Bank.
Will Brehm: 23:30
In your article, you say that you have to manage your existential angst when it comes to the contradictions of educational development. Do you have any tips for someone like myself, who does a little bit of work in international development as well and feel similar, conflicting kind of emotions working in that space?
Mario Novelli: 23:58
I think so. I mean, I am uncomfortable. And, you know, I’m happy to say that and I say it to everyone. But on the other hand, what I say to myself as well, in the field I work, which is on the relationship between education and conflict and violent conflict, if I didn’t engage with organizations and in the field, then I wouldn’t be able to make any commentary on it. So I kind of say that you have to, in a sense, get your hands dirty, in order to have some legitimacy in the debates that you’re entering into.
And so in a sense, I wouldn’t advocate for people not to engage, but they would engage cautiously. The second area, I think that’s important is to understand that institutions I’ve been working for UNICEF, I think, for the last seven years, more or less, most of my research time, which is about half of my time, my work time, for the last seven years, has been involved with UNICEF. And I think that what I’ve learned from that experience is that these institutions themselves are not homogenous, there are different actors, different processes going on. And in a sense, often what happens is, you get picked up by certain actors, they kind of know what they’re looking for, and pick people that think that they can deliver that. So in a sense, you get caught up in political battles that are going on in institutions, and you often get picked up and then dropped by these institutions. But I think that you can learn a lot. And I think the good thing about yourself, myself, if we’re academics, and not consultants, we’re not only as good as our last job, we have our own job to go back to, we can select, we can be a bit more selective about what we get involved in. And I think that, you know, the problem with full time consultants is that actually, they’re always looking for their next job. And so they’re always trying to please the people who are paying them. And I think that leads sometime to some complicity in the production of information and evidence. So I would say for people to engage when they engage, within a sense, real world research that they enter into that domain cautiously, and also recognize, you know, some of the constraints.
Will Brehm: 26:48
So part of this work that you’ve done kind of straddling both the researcher and the consultant practitioner in educational development is that you’ve ended up with your team, putting together a framework of trying to understand inequality and education in ways that are probably more robust and complex than those being put forward by others. Can you talk a little bit about your framework and the value that you think it has?
Mario Novelli: 27:22
Yeah, well, as you were saying, I’ve been leading or co-leading a Research Consortium between the University of Amsterdam and the University of Ulster, where we’ve been working in a range of different countries on the relationship between education and peace building. So when we came in, we had a lot of initial meetings around how would we conceptualize peace building in education, and then how would we apply that in the field to start analyzing different countries.
Now, that project began on the back of an earlier one that I did with Professor Alan Smith, between 2010 and 2012. And in that we looked at Lebanon, Nepal, and Sierra Leone, and explored the relationship between education and conflict. And through that analysis, we develop to critique of the international community’s approach to peace building. And the location of education there in which was essentially that the broad approach of the international community to peacebuilding was a kind of security first liberal peace approach. And I’ll just explain those very quickly. And essentially, the argument was that you need to have security before anything else can move forward. So you need to retrain the military, retrain the police, sort the prison system out and then the social development, education, health can come later. And this is also tied with an argument that there was a kind of process of the reconstruction of a conflict affected state that you need to have security, then democracy, then open the country to open the markets up, allow the economy to develop, and then eventually, the rest of this stuff will follow. And basically, our critique of that was that it produced a kind of negative piece, the violence stopped. But the reasons that underpin the violence often remained, and the things that underpinned that violence was often inequalities. So I remember that we went to rural villages in Sierra Leone and ask questions around, you know, 10 years after the peace process, what has peace brought? And often the response was very little. So communities largely saw little benefit from peace in terms of their material lives, their access to education, their access to water, etc. And what we argued was that that approach, while short termly successful in the long term was laying the seeds for another conflict, that they hadn’t addressed the reasons why the conflict broke out in the first place. And we see that reproduced in many parts of the world. So that’s our starting point to say that we need a more social peace building model and more health and education are important.
So from that, with the new research project that we’ve done over the last couple of years, we developed a kind of social justice plus reconciliation approach, which we called the four Rs.
We took the first three Rs from Nancy Fraser’s work on social justice: redistribution, recognition, and representation. So economic inequality, cultural inequality, and political inequality. And we also added the fourth R of reconciliation, which was basically that you needed to address the drivers of conflict, which were often economic inequality, political and cultural inequality. But after a period of war, you also need to bring communities together, you need to have process of reconciliation.
And in a sense, those are often in contradiction. On the one hand, if you want to address those inequalities, you have to upset people, you have to redress, redistribute, reorganize. If you try to reconcile people, you need to deal with the legacies of conflict, which means often bringing them together. So those four different Rs, those four different dimensions working together, provided us in a sense, with the kind of roadmap to explore different countries approaches to education, so allowed us to look at different dimensions of the education system, how much money is spent on the education system? Where does it go? How is it distributed? Who gets what, where? Why don’t others get more? It also allows us to look at recognition which cultures are rarified, which languages which histories which communities are marginalized. It allows us to ask about representation, political issues, who gets to make decisions about issues in the education system that affect them? Who are marginalized and excluded from those decisions? And then finally, what is the education system doing in terms of reconciliation in terms of bringing communities back together after war? Is the school an obstacle to that process of reconciliation or a facilitator for that? So we looked at those different dimensions, and then produced a range of Country Reports around that looking at different aspects of them. And, you know, all kind of heuristic approaches have their limitations. But I think that it’s had some important policy effects. It has been taken up by a range of different national governments, I’m thinking South Sudan and South Africa, in particular. So you know, I’m pretty pleased with that.
Will Brehm: 33:55
One of your critiques about Thomas Piketty earlier was that he focused on empiricism. And in a sense, he wasn’t taking a critical realist approach about trying to realize that there are, there’s a social ontology more than empiricism. So some things we can’t see that that are important, or structures that exist that determine behavior and action that can’t necessarily be seen. How does your framework include a critical realist perspective?
Mario Novelli: 34:34
Well, I mean, I think that that framework, the four R’s is only a beginning, in a sense that all it is this kind of coat hangers to hang different dimensions of injustices and inequalities on what matters then is how you theorize and understand the underpinnings of those inequalities. Yeah, how did they emerge? What are their drivers, and I think that’s why in the sociology paper that you talk about on Piketty, I’ve tried to talk about the interaction between capitalism, imperialism and modernity and the complex and into weaved ways that these three phenomena intersect to reproduce those inequalities.
Will Brehm: 35:29
Well, Mario Novelli, thank you so much for joining Fresh Ed. It was really wonderful to talk on so many different topics.
Mario Novelli: 35:35
Thank you very much for inviting me.
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