Academic journal article Capital & Class

Gramsci and the Politics of Education

Academic journal article Capital & Class

Gramsci and the Politics of Education

Article excerpt


It would not be amiss to argue that Gramsci stands out among Marxist writers who have written on or whose ideas are relevant to education and culture. He has written directly and systematically on aspects of education, and in the case of schooling, he has furnished us with notes that have the length of almost fully developed essays (see Qs IV and XII). (1) But he has furnished us with many more insights on the educational basis of power than are contained in these notes. Gramsci's entire project surrounding the all-pervasive concept of hegemony, which runs through the Quaderni (Gramsci, 1975), is an educational project. In order to do discuss Gramsci's contribution to the development of the fields of education and culture, one must therefore scour the entire corpus of his works (Borg, Buttigieg and Mayo 2002: 3). In Gramsci's own words, 'Every relationship of "hegemony" is necessarily an educational relationship and occurs not only within a nation, between the various forces of which the nation is composed, but in the international and world-wide field, between complexes of national and continental civilisations' (Gramsci 1971: 666). In short, to miss the educational element (education is here conceived of in its widest context, and not limited to formal institutions) embedded in relations of hegemony is to overlook the central core of hegemony and therefore a crucial aspect of Gramsci's conception of power and the quest for social and political transformation. Education, viewed in its all-encompassing manner, is central to the workings of hegemony (Borg, Buttigieg and Mayo 2002). Those attempting to understand Gramsci's political theory avoid this dimension at their peril.

Intellectuals and the organisation of culture

It would be reductionist therefore to confine any analysis of education to the long notes on the 'Unitarian School' (Baldacchino 2002). I will show that the particular view presented by Gramsci here is most relevant today, and is being reinforced in the contemporary curriculum literature. It would be equally reductionist to confine oneself to these and other pre-prison and prison writings and letters on various aspects of learning in childhood and with adults, including letters concerning the education of his children and niece Edmea (Borg, Buttigieg and Mayo 2002: 3, 4), important though these writings are in terms of the insights they provide into his educational thinking. It would be equally limiting to focus only on these and the factory council theory, notwithstanding its most valuable insights for adult education for industrial democracy, insights which are still relevant today (Livingstone 2002). These are all key works and worthy of being read and reread, since they provide signposts for a critically engaged education. However, they need to be analysed within the broader all-encompassing context for education that is the bulk of Gramsci's oeuvre.

Broadening the educators' profile

In this regard, Gramsci also broadens the notion of the educator or educators. He refers to professional schoolteachers, including those who taught him in his schools, as exemplified in his letters from prison (see Borg, Buttigieg and Mayo: 4). He holds some of those who taught him at the liceo responsible, through their mediocre teaching, for inducing him to move away from the 'exact sciences' and mathematics, for which he had a predilection as a boy; he ended up choosing Greek over maths when given the choice (ibid.) He also refers to his ventures into the broader domains of education, and not only in an organised sense, but also non-formally or informally. He himself was educator and student at a prison school on the prison island of Ustica while awaiting his trial with others, an experience which is said to have left a mark on the history of education on the island itself--the school was open to everyone, including Ustica's inhabitants.

Gramsci's conception of the educator is however broad enough to comprise a variety of practitioners, some of whom might not immediately identify themselves as such. …

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