If mathematics and power are interrelated in a globalised world, what does that mean for a mathematical literacy to be either functional or critical? The discussion of this question is organised in three steps:

First, different processes of globalisation are outlined. The thesis of indifference – that mathematics is a pure science without any socio-political or technological significance – is contrasted with the thesis of significance – that mathematics in action can operate in powerful ways, and power can be exercised though mathematics in action

Second, the processes of constructing, operating, consuming and marginalising are analysed. Here mathematics is operating, and mathematical literacy might be either functional or critical: (1) Processes of construction include advanced systems of knowledge and techniques, by means of which technology, in the broadest interpretation of the term, is maintained and further developed. (2) Processes of operation refer to work practices and job functions where mathematics may operate, although without surfacing in the situation. (3) Processes of consuming refer to situations in which one is addressed as a receiver of goods, information, services, obligations, etc. (4) Processes of marginalising turn out to be an aspect of globalisation, governed by a neo-liberal economy, which is far from being inclusive

Third, as conclusion, I get to the aporia, which questions the very distinction: functional-critical. On the one hand, I find this distinction important with respect to mathematical literacy. On the other hand, the distinction is vague, maybe illusive. Being both important and vague-illusive indicates the aporia we have to deal with, with respect to any critical mathematics education


Mathematical literacy globalisation ghettoising uncertainity 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ole Skovsmose
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Education, Learning and PhilosophyAalborg UniversityFiberstraede 10Denmark

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