Education, discipline, discourse, and the academic subject

Annie Pirrie, Donald Gillies

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


This is a conceptual paper that considers the debate about the place of education in relation to academic disciplines. While recognising the force of some of the arguments involved (Bridges, 2006; Furlong & Lawn, 2011), the paper questions if the concept of disciplinarity is at all helpful in framing education as an academic activity and focus of study. Education has traditionally been seen as a field in which several discrete discourses operate largely independently - psychology, sociology, history, and philosophy. However, Biesta (2009) has argued that in much of continental Europe, particularly in Germany, there is a tendency to view education as having disciplinary integrity.The paper explores the disciplinary field in its various forms – interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary, pluridisciplinary, transdisciplinary, supradisciplinary, postdisciplinary – arguing that the debates have become somewhat stale and unfruitful. Even if there were to be some universal acceptance of education as a discrete discipline, it is not clear how beneficial that might be. Acknowledging some of the critiques of the notion of the academic discipline (Giroux, 1992; Sayer, 1999), the paper argues that the concept is sufficiently problematic to warrant a new approach.The paper identifies three key problems with the recent attempts to defend the disciplines of education from the threat of erosion; firstly, the epistemological consequences of the lack of emphasis on the historical emergence of the disciplines and their contingent epistemological status in the modern academy; secondly, a corresponding failure to acknowledge their social construction and development, which gives rise to a tendency towards reification and the ascription of objective ontological reality to entities that are in fact rather more fluid; and thirdly, that the disciplines of education are interwoven with hugely troublesome issues around power, intellectual imperialism, conservatism, and control.
Original languageEnglish
Pages13 SES 11 B
Publication statusPublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes
EventEuropean Educational Research Association Conference 2012 - Cadiz, Spain
Duration: 18 Oct 201221 Oct 2012


ConferenceEuropean Educational Research Association Conference 2012


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