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The social ontology of education

What is education? This perspective from Susan Robertson and Roger Dale, drawing on Connell’s work, resonated with me:

Here, ‘learning’ is placed at the centre of anything that we might know as education, but it is seen as a collective property of the social world, and our understanding of the education ensemble represents education as also a complex collective construction of the social world, that is not reducible to schools, or universities, learners and teachers, though these may prominent forms of activity. Rather, education involves an array of actors and other institutions beyond the obvious or our commonsense understandings whose logics, interests and forms of authority generate tensions and contradictions within the ensemble. In line with our critical realist ontology outlined earlier, analysing what goes on in an education ensemble, means breaking it open.

There are two moves involved that operate at different levels of abstraction. The first move is recognise that what we refer to as ‘Education’ is the outcome of sets of ideas and activities accreted over generations, which, whilst individually irreducible to each other, can be seen to be in an internal relationship with each other in the production of the ensemble. This means that ‘education’ as an ensemble, has to be seen as the unity of multiple determinations; there can be no effective understanding of the individual elements of the ensemble, without an overall understanding of it collectively, and it is this that led us to refer to it as an ensemble.

There are four elements that we might distinguish within an education ensemble: the (different) civilisationally-based cultural scripts through which it is constructed and mediated; education’s relationship with national (or global, regional or local) societies; the forms of organization that have come to characterise education as a system; and the relationships between education and the economy, in this case capitalism as the dominant mode of economic organization.

Categories: philosophy of education


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