North West Branch Seminar
Abstract: Education can easily be regarded as a public matter, whereas it is far less evident to define it as a thing. Nonetheless, I would like to defend exactly this idea. I start my argument by developing a historical account which goes back to Aristotle’s foundational political gesture to oppose the figure of the slave to that of the citizen in terms of passive and active reason. This is, I claim, an archetypical frame of reference of Western political thought. Today, this difference is still present in the way we conceive of the private and the public sphere. The issue of determining who is a citizen and who is a slave reads today as the question: who is educable (who can explain and be taught, who can persuade and be persuaded?), and who can only be instructed (who can be managed, who is at disposal?). As a consequence, education is a constant and unavoidable political issue, as every particular public debate is - at least to some degree - concerned with our potency or impotency to learn, to transform, to change, as well as to persuade, to explain, to indicate, to teach, etc.
On the basis of this analysis, I argue that there exists a structural/ontological “relation” between education and the public sphere. And, this comes down to conceiving education in terms of the “immanent thing of the public”. Following here Martin Heidegger and Bruno Latour, a “thing” is an entity that gathers people around itself because it divides them. As such, my analysis goes beyond Habermas’ idea that the content of the public deliberation is constituted throughout the deliberation itself: a thing is an independent entity that draws our attention, but that also withdraws from us when we try to investigate its essence. Education is essentially a public thing because it is immanent to the public debate. This is, when people deliberate on any particular matter of concern they are always involved in educational processes. However, from time to time, education itself becomes the explicit focus of public debate. In order to deal with this, I argue, we need to turn to a logic of responsibility.