Reading Giroux, again

It must have been in the early 1990’s when I first read Henry Giroux. But during 1996-1997 in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, as visiting scholar I really got into his ideas. As far as I remember the first book I bought from him was Fugitive Culture. (I have used to buy my books, for they are my tools, and tools must be at hand when needed.) And so it went. I was rather deep into Giroux’s work, and eventually wrote an introduction to his thinking. In 1999 that text was published in the book entitled Theorists in the Sociology of Education (in Finnish) edited by prominent educational sociologist Tapio Aittola. As it turned out, part of that text went to my book Radical Education published in 2005 (in Finnish).

After Giroux I hooked up with Peter McLaren’s writings first, and ultimately with the man himself. That encounter was, and still is, a very special moment in my life.

And here I am, reading Giroux again; now his updated edition of Schooling and the Struggle for Public Life (2005). In this case ‘an update’ means that Giroux has added to the book a new thirty pages introduction (Democracy’s Promise and Education’s Challenge) in which he mainly discusses the present dangers to US democracy, and politico-educational ways to overcome “the fear industry” of the Bush administration. Giroux refers to democracy as a social construction, as a not given concept of which meaning must be negotiated in the constant hegemonic struggle. One must dare to ask, if the US is a democracy, or if it has ever been one? I would not call it democracy but plutocracy; the one in which the economic elite has reigned over people for centuries.

In the book Giroux raises three antidemocratic tendencies that threaten “American democracy.” (Why, by the way, is he using the word ‘America’ when referring merely to ‘US’? ‘America’ is not the US alone, but Canada in the North, and the whole wide world of Latin America in the South). One of the threats Giroux addresses is market fundamentalism. As we know, it is another name for individualism, competition, and so-called freedom of choice in all spheres of human life. Second threat is religious fervor, and the third one militarism. These are “usual suspects,” addressed by numerous social and political critics, and in this respect there is nothing really new here. Yet as a theorist in the often sanitized and apparently “objective” field of education, Giroux writes with power and with language and formulations which are worth reading, and repeating.

His starting point, like quite many others’ in the field of critical pedagogy, and in radical sociology of education, is the following definition of education: “Education is the terrain where consciousness is shaped, needs are constructed, and the capacity for self-reflection and social change is nurtured and produced (Giroux 2005, xxvii).” Thus rather than simply a technique, education is seen as a critical area “for the production and struggle over those pedagogical and political conditions that offer up the possibilities for people to believe it is possible to develop forms of agency that enable them individually and collectively to intervene in the processes through which the material relations of power shape the meaning and practices of their everyday lives” (ibid. xxviii). Although Giroux believes in people, in democracy from below (or participatory democracy if you like), and in the power of critical education to gradually transform the material, social and conditions, he makes a needed addition from the side of historical materialism:

“The struggle over education is about more than the struggle over meaning and identity; it is also about how meaning, knowledge, and values are produced, legitimated, and operate within economic and structural relations of power. Education is not at odds with politics; it is an important and crucial element in any meaning of the political and offers not only the theoretical tools for a systemic critique of authoritarianism but also a language of possibility for creating actual movements for democratic social change.” (Ibid. xxviii.)

Without a doubt Giroux is among the best social critics in the US, and a desperately needed witness in the social desert of growing cynicism. Still I have to ask, whether his analysis of the current state of socio-political affairs reaches to the heart of darkness. For example, is it sufficient to predict that if the Bush and his extremist gang will carry on their so-called reforms in educational and social policy (not to mention their dangerous foreign policy), the nation, and the world will end up in the situation where highly trained white Western elite commands, and low-skilled poor workers fill the sweatshops. To me this is not a prediction, but a more or less accurate description of the present situation.

What, thus, are the alternatives? Giroux suggests yet another educational reform. His recipe is the following: we must say firm ‘no’ to the corporatization of education, and uphold the promise of social contract guaranteeing for the youth the necessary protection and opportunities for the future. This is a lot of good intentions. Unfortunately they alone might not be enough. In this respect, radical education is not only about the politics of schooling but also about the politics of human condition; it is one crucial intervention in the struggle to restructure and reorganize the ideological and material conditions of political, economic and social life (cf. Giroux 2005, 202). Along with educational interventions, economic and social changes are needed. Although Giroux seems to avoid the latter changes, and therefore cannot take his thinking to the roots of the problems of capitalistic relations of power and education (he hardly mentions the concept of capitalism in his analysis), Schooling and the Struggle for Public Life belongs to his most valuable books in its critical stance towards “only for elites” society, and “only for the privileged” education.

Henry Giroux:

Peter McLaren:


Dear Sistas and Bros at the Global Warehouse

Am I advertising again, when I confess that I am typing this text in IKEA’s store in Minneapolis? Perhaps, but my point is to tell you that I am in one of the Twin city’s global sites, and here’s what they offer: grab a big yellow submarine-bag, a pencil and a small block, and ENJOY the shopping experience. And so we do, but before anything we need to grab some food. In the restaurant the workers look reeaaally bored. And it’s no wonder; at the same time as they are paid lousy wages, we are asked to clear our tables after the meal. Why? Because according to IKEA, self-service is one way to keep prices down; that’s why we – but not they – pay less.

Believe it or not, but real reasons for cheap prices are elsewhere. They are for example in the fact that the more we self-serve, the less they need to hire more low-paid workers to gather our trays and left over meatballs. And what it comes to IKEA’s cheap prices, it is not about collecting our trays, but exploiting child and women workers in the third world countries. We import our so-called welfare from the numerous sweatshops, buy our fun in the expense of children and women whose lives are wasted in the hell factories producing our unnecessary needs manufactured by media and marketing industry. And what did we buy? Pots and a frying pan, and a clock made in China plus six drinking glasses made in Turkey.

We are workers also in this warehouse, or factory, known as IKEA. Certainly we are much better off workers than our sisters and brothers in Laos, Thailand, China, and other shanty places (also inside Europe and the US), but workers after all. We are factory workers who work by consuming in the consumption factories like this. Although ‘they’ exercise exploited work and ‘we’ exercise consumption work, there is, however, a substantial and defined qualitative difference between theirs’ and ours’ being as workers. Using Pierre Bourdieu’s beautiful distinction, ‘we’ live under la petit misére as ‘they’ are forced to live under la grand misére.


C. Wright Mills in the Shopping Mall

Yesterday we took a light-trail (www.metrotransit.org/rail/index.asp), and drove all the way down to Mall of America, possibly the largest shopping heaven (or hell) in the US. I would not like to comment on that experience, but in there I had to ask myself, is another world possible? Will there ever be a ‘consumption fatigue’, and a revolt inside the consumption machine? I guess not. And we were rocking like anyone else by buying Mac mini, and C. Wright Mills’ Power Elite that I did not had before (!). The book is truly marvelous in its visionary look to our age.

Even the very first lines of the first chapter "The Higher Circles" strike by their straightness and clarity:

“The powers of ordinary men are circumscribed by the everyday worlds in which they live, yet even in these rounds of job, family, and neighborhood they often seem driven by forces they can neither understand nor govern. 'Great changes' are beyond their control, but affect their conduct and outlook nonetheless. The very framework of modern society confines them to projects not their own, but from every side, such changes now press upon the men and women of the mass society, who accordingly feel that they are without purpose in an epoch in which they are without power.”

In his Afterword for the new edition Alan Wolfe states that there is two books or, as I would say, two authors in Power Elite. Whereas first eleven chapters represent well-documented social science, the remaining chapters are social criticism. Wolfe seems to prefer Mills’ as objective social scientist; I would praise his talent as provocative social critic. To say the least, to me this makes the author, and the book interesting, and might even explain its enduring popularity. A good social critic puts her interpretations and visions first, and calmly waits the empirical guarantee for the insights whereas a good social scientist collects her data, and perhaps later gets an interpretative vision.

There are plenty of sites in the net for C. Wright Mills so if you wish, please read few more excerpts of the book from www.thirdworldtraveler.com/Book_Excerpts/PowerElite.html

Today we managed to score two official things: first to ISSS, International Student and Scholar Services, to sign us in the system, and then to Office of Human Resources to decide my taxing. In OHR we suddenly found out that Anna Sofia had left her bag to Gopher Student Union restaurant – Sims 2 in it! Luckily we still found it, and saved the day.


Exhausted but finally here /Väsyneinä mutta onnellisina

The trip from Finland to US was tough, the airport in Reykjavik a disaster, an architectonic mistake. But the last six hours flight to Minneapolis was quite pleasant (still I need to wonder some of my friends who live in the air, hello Colin and Michelle). But Chris Uggen came and saved us from Minneapolis/St.Paul airport, big hug! We ruined one night in traveling, and now are trying to recover in Second Moon Café (3822 E Lake St, Minneapolis) in the neighborhood. This seems to be a place to my taste. God coffee, odd folks, revolution in the air, and hey, it’s wireless.

Reissu Suomesta Yhdysvaltoihin oli rankka, Islannin päälenttokenttä täydellinen katastrofi, arkkitehtoninen virhe. Viimeinen lento sujui melko kivuttomasti; silti pitää ihmetellä muutamia ystäviä, jotka asuvat ilmassa. Chris Uggen pelasti meidät lentokentältä, iso kiitos! Yksi päivä hukattiin matkustamiseen, ja nyt yritämme toipua Sinisen kuun kahvilassa melkein naapurissamme. Paikka vaikuttaa mukiin menevältä: hyvää kahvia, outoja tyyppejä, vallankumousta ilmassa ja hei, tämä toimii langattomasti.


Matkalla Minneapolisiin / On our way to Minneapolis

Kööpenhaminassa 17.8.2005

Onnellisesti Kööpenhaminassa. Matka jatkuu tunnin päästä Reykjavikiin. Sitten nähdään pääseekö sieltä langattomasti verkkoon. Täällä wireless maksoi 60 Tanskan kruunua tunnissa. -- Matka ei alkanut ilman kommelluksia: osa eväistä jäi jääkaappiin, ja Olli-pappa hakemaan tuhatta ja sataa niin kuin Rosberg...

Moi moi!

Happily in Kopenhagen. Our travel will continue in an hour to Reykjavik, Island. Talking about the wireless world, let's see if their airport is wireless as this one (60 Danish crowns an hour, should be free of charge of course). -- The trip did not start without hassle: we left part of the snacks to the fridge, and off he went, grandfather Olli, driving back to our house like Keke Rosberg, the famous Finnish F1-rally driver back in the 80's.

Cheers from now!