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Why Foucault now?

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Over the last 40 years, American educational scholars have deployed a variety of theoretical perspectives to understand schooling in its relation to society beyond the schools. Through most of the 1950s and 1960s, the structural-functional perspective deriving from the late sociologist Talcott Parsons was dominant. During the 1970s, perspectives whose roots can be traced backtoEuropean theorists such as Karl Marx and AntonioGramsci held centre-stage. During this period, the structural-functional framework was the object of severe criticism. Most recently, the influence of the late French scholar Michel Foucault has been growing. In the US, Foucault's work appears, indeed, to represent the 'cutting edge' of theorizing about schooling's role in society. 1 What is curious is that in Discipline and Punish (1977), Foucault's only work to deal specifically with schooling, the logic of Foucault's analysis bears astrong resemblance tothat found in the earlier structural-functional accounts. This remains true, I believe, despite Foucault's vastly different rhetorical style, and despite his own disavowal of the label 'structuralist'. Why, then, would a mode of analysis that was the object of so much criticism a generation ago be reincarnated a generation later? Before speculating on this in the second part of the essay, let me support my assertion that the two modes of analysis are homologous by comparing Foucault's analysis of the examination in Discipline and Punish with that offered by Robert Dreeben, a student and disciple of Parsons.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: July 1, 1999

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