I was so engrossed in reading Martin Robinson’s blog and the response from Jon Finney I missed my stop and ended up at Penge West Station – a worrying wrong turn.

I think Martin is strong when outlining how capitalism and the market have created conditions in which knowledge and thinking are subverted so that we struggle to find an anchoring in meaning and truth. I think Martin’s short outline of the issues of capitalism and pervasive influence in structuring our ways of living and its impact on education is useful. However when he moves from this discussion to the way people make sense of this I feel he is much weaker. In moving from the details of the dilemma and issues to how teachers understand and develop pedagogy he fails to give teachers agency.

Martin is making a series of crude and reductionist statements about consciousness and the relationship to ideology and assumes that from outlining a stupid system we can call people stupid.

Just because we live in a crazy market where meaning seems to have been reduced to nothing does not mean that we have become one with the system. Martin seems to be suggesting that teachers are passive recipients of social structures and ideology – “consume with little thought”. In fact our consciousness is in continual mediation between self and the external world and we cannot assume the content of people’s consciousness.

We need a more complex and nuanced understanding of subjectivity and its relationship to power, ideology and social structures; we cannot read peoples’ consciousness from our understanding of the social structures. Martin’s blog here seems to betray a lack of respect for the dynamic way consciousness creates and is created by ideology in its relationship with the material world.

In my view Giroux has a more useful way of framing the pedagogy debate:


“In both conservative and progressive discourses pedagogy is often treated simply as a set of strategies and skills to use to teach prescribed subject mater. In this context, pedagogy becomes synonymous with teaching as a technique of the practice of a craft – like a skill. Any viable notion of critical pedagogy must reject this definition and its endless slavish imitations even when they are claimed as part of a radical discourse or project. Pedagogy in the more critical sense illuminates the relationship among knowledge, authority and power. It draws attention to questions concerning who has control over the conditions for the production of knowledge. Moreover, it delineates the ways in which the circuit of power and authority are constructed within particular sets of social relations…. Pedagogy is simultaneously about the knowledge and practices that teachers, cultural workers and students might engage in together and the cultural politics and visions such practices legitimate.”  


For me Martin in his desire to stress the importance of what is of value – “Just as in an art world in which all can be art the most important thing to say is ‘well, that isn’t art,” he is missing the importance of a pedagogy that: “illuminates the relationship among knowledge, authority and power. It draws attention to questions concerning who has control over the conditions for the production of knowledge.”


For example the cultural intellectual heritage that Robinson draws on is mainly white. He could have drawn on other writers – Fanon, hooks, Patricia Hill Collins, and Spivak to make similar arguments – though its possible these authors may have taken Robinson in a different direction and enriched his argument. Whilst being able to say what is or isn’t art is important – although this is something I feel people do quite freely – other important questions need addressing. Such as – why this art now? And whose Art and knowledge are we studying? Who legitimises this as art?


It is not a matter of a choice between Beethoven or Beyonce; do we believe in tradition and meaning or the ephemeral and the relevant. These debates touch issues of power, control and agency and need framing with a belief in the ability of all to possess critical thought and all to be duped and manipulated. I feel we need to broaden our sense of pedagogy as Robinson argues with a sense of values and truth but one that does this with recognition to the way tradition limits and narrows by pretending knowledge is not socially situated.

One thought on “Ideology and consiousness

  1. Teachers do have agency but this is a struggle where consumer capitalism holds sway. If educational consumerism dominates then it becomes more difficult to work at grounding practice. Many teachers do and are articluate in doing so. So the question is how to raise consciousness of what is a struggle and its sources.
    Calling teachers stupid is not helpful.


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