Educational Studies in Mathematics

, Volume 80, Issue 1–2, pp 57–72 | Cite as

Use and exchange value in mathematics education: contemporary CHAT meets Bourdieu’s sociology

  • Julian WilliamsEmail author


Empirical work has shown how mathematics education exhibits certain tensions between its value as being practically useful to production and consumption on the one hand and in offering access to scarce resources on the other hand. These tensions can be ultimately traced to the contradictions in the way mathematical knowledge enhances the use value and exchange value of labour power, respectively. To understand this as a social psychological phenomenon, I look to two well-known theoretical perspectives on education, first that of the Marxist psychology of Vygotsky and activity theory (and contemporary cultural–historical activity theory) which I find tends to marginalise ‘exchange value’. Second, I look to Bourdieu’s sociology of education that tends to marginalise the use value. I then bring together these two perspectives in a joint theory of education as both development and re-production of labour power, in which use and exchange value both have their place (in commodity production). This helps explain where mathematics education might be critical.


Value Use value Exchange value Cultural–historical activity theory Bourdieu Critical mathematics education 



I would like to acknowledge here the support of the Transmaths research teams and of ESRC funding for the recent projects in which this work has been completed: RES-139-25-0241, RES-000-22-2890 and RES-062-23-1213.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The University of ManchesterManchesterUK

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