Critical agency in education: a Foucauldian perspective

  • Dirk Postma UNISA


While the neoliberal order is associated with the economy, government and globalisation, as
a form of governmentality it effects a particular subjectivity. The subject is the terrain
where the contest of control plays out. The subject is drawn into the seductive power of
performativity which dictates its agency, desires and satisfactions and from which escape is
difficult to imagine. Neoliberalism is particularly interested in an education which provides
it with the much needed powers of production and consumption. This dependency of the
neoliberal order on a particular kind of agential subjectivity is also its weakness because of
the indeterminacy of the self. Within this openness of the human subject lies the possibility
to be different and to escape any form of subjectification. Foucault’s account of the critical
agent portrays a form of difference that opposes and transcends neoliberal ordering.
Foucault finds the principle of practices of freedom in the Greco-Roman ethics of the care
for the self. It is an ethics where the subject gains control of itself through the ascetic and
reflective attention in relation to available ethical codes and with the guidance of a ‘master’.
Such as strong sense of the self is the basis for personal and social transformation against
neoliberal colonisation. The development of critical agency in education is subsequently
investigated in the light of Foucault’s notions of agency and freedom. The contest of the
subject is of particular importance to education interested in the development of critical
agency. The critical agent is not only one who could identify and analyse regimes of power,
but also one who could imagine different modes of being, and who could practice freedom
in the enactment of an alternative mode of being. The educational implications are explored
in relation to the role of the teacher and pedagogical processes.