Educational Studies in Mathematics

, Volume 80, Issue 1–2, pp 101–118 | Cite as

Education and the illusions of emancipation

  • Luis RadfordEmail author


In this article, I deal with the question of emancipation in education. In the first part of the article, I argue that contemporary concepts of emancipation are explicitly or implicitly related to the idea of the sovereign subject articulated by Kant and other philosophers of the Enlightenment. I contend that our modern enlightened concepts of emancipation rest on a dichotomy between an autonomous and self-sufficient subject and its sociocultural world. Referring to current research in mathematics education, I show how this dichotomy leads to intrinsic contradictions that haunt ongoing educational practices. These contradictions, I contend, are manifested in the hopeless efforts to bridge the gap between the deeds and thoughts of an autonomous individual and the regimes of reason and truth in which the individual finds itself subsumed. In particular, I argue that emancipation as understood in the enlightened modern sense remains a chimeric and unfulfillable dream. In the second part of the article, I suggest that emancipation can still be an orienting vector of educational practice and research, but it needs to be conceptualized differently: emancipation needs not be predicated in terms of individuals’ freedom and individualist autonomy, but in critical–ethical terms.


Emancipation Foucault Marx Arendt Communal ethics Presence in the world 



This article is a result of a research program funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC/CRSH). I am most grateful to the three reviewers and the editors for their comments on a previous version of this paper. I would like to thank Steve Lerman for his thoughtful reaction to my paper during the Mathematics Education and Contemporary Theory Manchester Conference. My special thanks to Paola Valero for her suggestions in the final preparation of the article.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Université LaurentienneOntarioCanada

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