Studies in Philosophy and Education

, Volume 37, Issue 5, pp 513–527 | Cite as

The Fascist Seduction of Narrative: Walter Benjamin’s Historical Materialism Beyond Counter-Narrative

  • Tadashi Dozono


This essay introduces Walter Benjamin’s historical materialism to illuminate how history teachers may invoke a critique of the past and present through democratizing the production of knowledge in the classroom. Historical materialism gives students access to the means of knowledge production and entrusts them with the task of generating a critique of politics though encounters with historical objects. The rise of the alt-right, alternative facts, and fake news sites necessitates social studies methods that intervene into the fascist seductions of narrative in history. A Benjaminian pedagogy emphasizes reading practices that acknowledge the political layers of history inscribed within the objects. This generates space for forms of pessimism and dialectic critiques of barbarism that students may experience with history beyond the teacher’s capacity for understanding. In the name of democracy over fascism, the article adds a political critique to students’ historical and critical thinking skills.


Critical theory Critical pedagogy History education Frankfurt School 


  1. Adorno, T.W. 2000. Essay as form. In The Adorno reader, ed. B. O’Connor, 91–111. Boston: Blackwell Publishers. (Original work published 1958).Google Scholar
  2. Ahmed, S. 2010. The promise of happiness. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bain, R. 2006. Rounding up unusual suspects: Facing the authority hidden in the history classroom. Teachers College Record 108(10): 2080–2114.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Beck, R., L. Black, L.S. Krieger, and P.C. Naylor. 2006. Modern world history: Patterns of interaction. Evanston, IL: McDougal Littell.Google Scholar
  5. Benjamin, W. 1999. The Arcades project. Trans. H. Eiland and K. McLaughlin. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. (Original work published 1982).Google Scholar
  6. Benjamin, W. 2002a. Author as producer. In Selected writings, vol. 2, 768–782. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. (Original work published 1934).Google Scholar
  7. Benjamin, W. 2002b. Edward Fuchs: Collector and historian. In Selected writings, vol. 3, 260–302. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. (Original work published 1937).Google Scholar
  8. Benjamin, W. 2002c. On the concept of history. In Selected writings, vol. 4, 389–409. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. (Original work published 1940).Google Scholar
  9. Benjamin, W. 2002d. On the work of art in the age of its technological reproducibility (third version). In Selected writings, vol. 3. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. (Original work published 1936).Google Scholar
  10. Berlant, L. 2011. Cruel optimism. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Bogle, C., and F. Mazelis. 2013. American Federation of Teachers’ journal slanders historian Howard Zinn. Retrieved 26 March 2018 from
  12. Brown, W. 2001. Politics out of history. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Caygill, H. 1998. The colour of experience. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  14. Christian, D. 1991. The case for “Big History”. Journal of World History 2(2): 223–238.Google Scholar
  15. Du Bois, W.E.B. 1907. Economic cooperation among Negro Americans. Atlanta, GA: Atlanta University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Freedman, E. 2007. Is teaching for social justice undemocratic? Harvard Educational Review 77(4): 442–473.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Freedman, E. 2015. “What happened needs to be told”: Fostering critical historical reasoning in the classroom. Cognition and Instruction 33(4): 357–398.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Jay, M. 2005. Songs of experience: Modern American and European variations on a universal theme. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  19. King, L. 2017. The status of black history in US schools and society. Social Education 81(1): 14–18.Google Scholar
  20. Kysia, A. 2013. Bashing Howard Zinn: A critical look at one of the critics. Retrieved 26 March 2018 from
  21. Leonardo, Z. 2003. Interpretation and the problem of domination: Paul Ricoeur’s hermeneutics. Studies in Philosophy and Education 22(5): 329–350.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Löwy, M. 2005. Fire alarm. New York, NY: Verso.Google Scholar
  23. Marx, K. 1904. A Contribution to the critique of political economy. Trans. N.I. Stone. Chicago: Charles H. Kerr & Co. (Original work published 1897).Google Scholar
  24. Mikaelian, A. 2013. The Mitch Daniels controversy: Context for the AHA statement. Retrieved 26 March 2018 from
  25. Nembhard, J.G. 2014. Collective courage: A history of African American cooperative economic thought and practice. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press.Google Scholar
  26. Ngai, S. 2005. Ugly feelings. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Popper, K. 2002. The poverty of historicism. New York: Routledge. (Original work published 1957).Google Scholar
  28. Snyder, J. 2003. Benjamin on reproducibility and aura: A reading of “The work of art in the age of its technical reproducibility”. In Mapping Benjamin, ed. H.U. Gumbrecht and M. Marrinan, 158–174. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  29. Trouillot, M.-R. 1995. Silencing the past: Power and the production of history. Boston: Beacon Press.Google Scholar
  30. VanSledright, B. 2002. Fifth graders investigating history in the classroom: Results from a researcher-practitioner design experiment. The Elementary School Journal 103(2): 131–160.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Volosinov, V. 1986. Marxism and the philosophy of language. 1973. Trans. L. Matejka and I.R. Titunik. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  32. Wineburg, S.S. 2001. Historical thinking and other unnatural acts. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.Google Scholar
  33. Wineburg, S.S. 2012. Undue certainty: Where Zinn’s A People’s history falls short. American Educator 36(4): 27–34.Google Scholar
  34. Zinn, H. 2003. A people’s history of the United States. New York: Harper Collins. (Original work published 1980).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Lyons Community SchoolBrooklynUSA

Personalised recommendations