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Educated Hope in an Age of Privatized Visions Henry A.

Penn State

Questions of agency and hope are inseparable from questions of politics and social struggle. As the vast majority of citizens become detached from public forums that nourish social critique, agency not only becomes a mockery of itself, it is replaced by market-based choices in which private satisfactions replace social responsibilities and biographic solutions become a substitute for systemic change. As the worldly space of criticism is undercut by the absence of public spheres that encourage the exchange of information, opinion, and criticism, the horizons of a substantive democracy disappear against the growing isolation and depoliticization that marks the loss

of a politically guaranteed public realm in which autonomy, political participation, and engaged citizenship make their appearance. Drawing on the work of Cornelius Castoriadis, the author attempts to address the current crisis of meaning, political agency, and pedagogy and develop a cultural politics that links the notion of educated hope to the promise of a radical

As to power-it sails away from the street and the market-place, from assembly halls and

parliaments, local and national governments, and beyond the reach of citizens control, into the exterritoriality of electronic networks. Its strategic principles are nowadays escape, avoidance, disengagement and invisibility.

(2001a, p. 107)

There is a growing sense in the popular imagination that citizen involvesocial planning, and civic engagement are becoming irrelevant in a sociin which the public sphere is aggressively dismantled and important social ety issues are trivialized in mainstream media. Those traditional, if not imagined, public spheres in which people could exchange ideas, debate, and shape the conditions that structured their everyday lives increasingly appear to have little relevance or political importance. Emptied of any substantial content, democracy appears imperiled as individuals are unable to translate their privately suffered misery into public concerns and collective action. The prevailing modes of domination have been reversed. As Zygmunt Bauman (2001 a) pointed out, the public no longer dominates the private: &dquo;The opposite is the case: it is the

Authors Note: This piece draws some of its analysis from my Public Spaces, Private Lives: Beyond the Culture

of Cynicism (2001).
Methodologies, Volume 2 Number 1,
2002 93-112

Cultural Studies H Cnticat © 2002 Sage Publications



private that colonizes the public space, squeezing out and chasing away every-

thing which cannot be fully, without residue, translated into the vocabulary of private interests and pursuits&dquo; (p. 107). As the idea of the public is dissolved into constituencies and the concept of public interest disintegrates into talk about privatization and personal scandals of public figures, the language of commonality, shared values, a just society, and public goods are severed from the imperatives of a critical and substantive democracy (Wolin, 2000, p. 10). Civic engagement and political agency now appear impotent, and public values are rendered invisible in light of the growing power of multinational corporations to privatize public space and disconnect power from issues of equity, social justice, and civic responsibility (McChesney, 1999). As democratic public spheres are either eliminated or commercialized, agency is no longer linked to challenging and producing a crisis in established power. As the vast majority of citizens become detached from public forums that nourish social critique, agency not only becomes a mockery of itself, it is replaced by market-based choices in which private satisfactions replace social responsibilities and biographic solutions become a substitute for systemic change (Beck, 1992, p. 137). As the worldly space of criticism is undercut by the absence of public spheres that encourage the exchange of information, opinion, and criticism, the horizons of a substantive democracy disappear against the growing isolation and depoliticization that marks the loss of a politically guaranteed public realm in which autonomy, political participation, and engaged citizenship make their appearance (Brenkman, 2000, pp. 124-125). As Margaret Kohn (2001) pointed out, &dquo;Public sidewalks and streets are practically the only remaining available sites for unscripted political activity&dquo; (p. 71 ). Few sites now exist &dquo;that allow people to talk back, to ask a question, to tell a story, to question a premise&dquo; (p. 71). Rapidly disappearing are those public spaces in which peomeet removed from the ravages of a market logic that underface-to-face, ple mines the ability to communicate through a language capable of defending vital institutions as a public good. One consequence is that political exhaustion and impoverished intellectual visions are fed by the increasingly popular
assumption that there are no alternatives to the present state of affairs (Bauman, 2001 a; Boggs, 2000; Jacoby, 1999). Within the increasing corporatization of everyday life, market values replace social values and people
appear more and more willing to retreat into the safe, privatized enclaves of the family, religion, and consumption. At the same time, power is removed from politics to the degree that it has become global and exterritorial; power now flows, escaping from and defying the reach of traditional centers of politics that

nation-based and local. The space of power now appears beyond the reach of governments and, as a result, nations and citizens are increasingly removed as political agents with regard to the effect that multinational corporations have on their daily lives (Bauman, 2001 a, p. 203). Once again, the result is not only silence and indifference, but the elimination of those public spaces that reveal the rough edges of social order, disrupt consensus, and point to the need for


modes of education that link learning to the conditions necessary for developing democratic forms of political agency and civic struggle (Giroux, 2001). As those public spaces that offer forums for debating norms, critically engaging ideas, making private issues public, and evaluating judgments disappear under the juggernaut of neoliberal policies, it becomes crucial for progressives to raise fundamental questions about what it means to revitalize a politics and ethics that takes seriously &dquo;such values as citizen participation, the public good, political obligation, social governance, and community&dquo; (Boggs, 2000, p. ix). A renewed and vibrant politics would take on the challenge of creating the necessary discourses for investing in public life and for keeping open democracy as a site of permanent struggle and ongoing possibility &dquo;where the fullest human experiences-social, intellectual, political-could best be realized&dquo; (Boggs, 2000, p. 95). The call for a revitalized politics and civic consciousness grounded in a thriving democratic society substantively challenges the dystopian practices of neoliberalism-with its all-consuming emphasis on market relations, commercialization, privatization, and the creation of a worldwide economy of part-time workers-against its utopian promises. Such an intervention confronts progressives with the problem as well as challenge of developing those atrophied public spheres-such as the media, higher education, electronic communities, and other cultural sites-that provide the conditions for creating citizens who are capable of exercising their freedoms, competent to question the basic assumptions that govern political life, and skilled enough to participate in effectively shaping the basic social, political, and economic orders that govern their lives. Neither homogeneous nor nostalgic, the public sphere points to a plurality of institutions, sites, and spaces (Fraser, 1990) in which people not only talk, debate, and reassess the political, moral, and cultural dimensions of publicness but also develop processes of learning and persuasion as a way of enacting new social identities and altering &dquo;the very structure of participation and the very horizon of discussion and debate&dquo; (Brenkman, 1995, p. 7). As the promise of a radical democracy along with social, economic, and racial justice recedes from public memory, unfettered brutal self-interests combine with retrograde social policies to make security a top domestic priority. One consequence is that all levels of government are being hollowed out as their policing functions increasingly overpower and mediate their diminishing social functions. Reduced to dismantling the gains of the welfare state and constructing policies that now criminalize social problems and prioritize penal methods over social investments, government is now discounted as a means of addressing basic, economic, educational, environmental, and social problems (Parenti, 1999). Zero-tolerance policies link the public schools to the prison systems as both substitute education, amelioration, and compassion for mandatory intolerance and a culture of regulation and punishment. The police, courts, and other disciplinary agencies increasingly become the main forces used to address social problems and implement public policies (Giroux, 2001 ).


by neoliberals and right-wing politicians as the enemy of freedom when it aids big business), government is discounted as a guardian of (except the public interests (Bourdieu, 1998). Disparaged as a provider of essential services and for assuming a responsibility for providing crucial safety nets for the less fortunate, government bears no obligation for either the poor and disposed or the collective future of our children. Public goods are now disparaged in the name of privatization, and those public forums in which association and debate thrive cease to resonate as sites of utopian possibility, as fundamental spaces for how we reactivate our political sensibilities and conceive of ourselves as critical citizens, engaged public intellectuals, and social agents. The growing lack of justice and equity in American society rises proportionately to the lack of political imagination and collective hope (Unger, 1998; Unger & West, 1998). We live at a time when the forces and advocates of hyper capitalism and the marketplace undermine all attempts to revive the culture of politics as an ethical response to the demise of democratic public life. In fact, they aggressively wage war against the very possibility of creating noncommodified public spheres and forums that provide the conditions for connecting critical education to social change, political agency to the defense of public goods, and intellectual courage with the refusal to surrender knowledge to the highest bidder. Understood as both a set of economic policies and an impoverished notion of citizenship, hypercapitalism represents not just a series of market-driven programs but also a coherent set of cultural, political, and educational practices. Rather than believe the fraudulent, self-serving hegemonic assumption that democracy and capitalism are the same or that politics as a site of contestation, critical exchange, and engagement is in a state of terminal arrest, it is crucial that progressives respond with a renewed effort to merge politics and ethics with a revitalized sense of the importance of providing the conditions for forms of critical citizenship and civic education that provide the knowledge, skills, and experiences to produce democratic political agents. In part, this would demand engaging the alleged death of politics argument as not only symptomatic of the crisis of democracy but also as part of the more specific crisis of vision, meaning, education, and agency that disconnects public values and ethics from the very sphere of politics. Politics devoid of a radical vision often degenerates into either cynicism or appropriates a view of power that appears to be equated only with domination. Some social theorists such as Tony Bennett (1998), Ian Hunter (1994), and Todd Gitlin (1997) made the plunge into forms of political cynicism easier by suggesting that any attempt to change society through a cultural politics that links the pedagogical and the political will simply augment the power of the dominant social order. Lost from such accounts is the recognition that democracy has to be struggled over-even in the face of a most appalling crisis of political agency. Within this discourse, little attention is paid to the fact that the struggle over politics, power, and democracy is inextricably linked to creating public spheres where individuals can be educated as political agents equipped with the skills, capacities, and knowledge they need not only



to actually perform as autonomous political agents, but also to believe that such struggles are worth taking up. The struggle over politics, in this instance, is linked to pedagogical interventions aimed at subverting dominant forms of signification to generate a renewed sense of agency and a critical subversion of power itself. Agency now becomes the site through which, as Judith Butler has pointed out in another context, power is not transcended but reworked, replayed, and restaged in productive ways (cited in Olson & Worsham, 2000, p. 741). Central to my argument is the assumption that politics is not simply about power, but also, as Cornelius Castoriadis (1996a) pointed out, &dquo;has to do with political judgements and value choices&dquo; (p. 8), indicating that questions of civic education-learning how to become a skilled citizen-are central to both the struggle over political agency and democracy itself. Finally, there is the widespread refusal among many progressives and critical theorists to recognize that the issue of civic education-with its emphasis on critical thinking, bridging the gap between learning and everyday life, understanding the connection between power and knowledge, and using the resources of history to extend democratic rights and identities-is not only the foundation for expanding and enabling political agency, but that such education takes place across a wide variety of public spheres, mediated through the very force of culture itself. There is more at stake here than recognizing the limits and social costs of a neoliberal philosophy that reduces all relationships to the exchange of goods and money; there is also the responsibility on the part of critical intellectuals and other activists to rethink the nature of the public and how new forms of social citizenship and civic education that have a purchase on peoples everyday lives and struggles might be expressed through a wide range of institutions and spheres. I believe that intellectuals and other cultural workers bear an enormous responsibility in opposing neoliberalism by bringing democratic political culture back to life. This is not meant to suggest that before neoliberalisms current onslaught on all things public that liberal democratic culture encouraged widespread critical thinking and inclusive debate-an argument that allows any appeal to democracy to be dismissed as nostalgic. Although liberal democracy offers an important discourse around issues of &dquo;rights, freedoms, participation, self-rule, and citizenship,&dquo; it has been mediated historically through the &dquo;damaged and burdened tradition&dquo; of racial and gender exclusions and a formalistic, ritualized democracy that substituted the swindle for the promise of democratic participation (Brenkman, 2000, p. 123). At the same time, liberal and republican traditions of Western democratic thought have given rise to forms of social and political criticism that at least contained a &dquo;referent&dquo; for addressing the deep gap between the promise of a radical democracy and the existing reality. With the rise of neoliberalism, referents for imagining even a weak democracy or, for that matter, understanding the tensions between capitalism and democracy (which animated political discourse for the first half of the 20th century) appear to be overwhelmed by market discourses, identities, and practices on one hand, or a corrosive cynicism on the other hand.


Democracy has now been reduced to a metaphor for the alleged &dquo;free&dquo; market. It is not that a genuine democratic public space once existed in some ideal form and has now been corrupted by the values of the market, but that these democratic public spheres, even in limited forms, seem to no longer be animating concepts for making visible the contradiction and tension between the reality
of existing

democracy and the promise of a more fully realized, substantive democracy (Unger, 1998). Part of the challenge of creating a radical democracy suggests constructing new locations of struggle, vocabularies, and subject positions that allow people in a wide variety of public spheres to become more than they are now, to question what it is they have become within existing institutional and social formations and, as Chantal Mouffe pointed out, &dquo;to give some thought to their experiences so that they can transform their relations of subordination and oppression&dquo; (cited in Olson & Worsham, 1999, p. 178). In part, this implies resisting the attack on existing public spheres such as the public schools while simultaneously creating new spaces in clubs, neighborhoods, bookstores, schools, cyberspace, and other locations where dialogue and critical exchanges become possible to create the pedagogical and political conditions for individual resistance and active social movements. In spite of the urgency of the current historical moment heavily weighted by the full-fledged attack on democratic public life being waged by the right-wing Bush administration, progressives must avoid at all costs crude antitheoretical calls to action. More than ever, progressives need to appropriate scholarly and popular sources and use theory as a critical resource to name particular problems and make connections between the political and the cultural-to break what Homi Bhabha has called &dquo;the continuity and the consensus of common sense&dquo; (cited in Olson & Worsham, 1998, p. 11). As a resource, theory becomes as a of important way critically engaging and mapping the crucial relations among language, texts, everyday life, and structures of power as part of a broader effort to understand the conditions, contexts, and strategies of struggle that will lead to social transformation. I am suggesting that the tools of theory emerge out of the intersection of the past and present and respond to and are shaped by the conditions at hand. Theory, in this instance, addresses the challenge of connecting the world of the symbolic, discursive, and representational to the social gravity and force of everyday issues rooted in material relations of power. If theory is to escape from its most retrograde academic uses, it must avoid any form of theoreticism-an indulgence in which the production of theoretical discourse becomes an end in itself, an expression of language removed from the possibility of challenging strategies of domination. Rather than treating theory as a closed circuit, it must be mined critically to perform the bridging work between intellectual debates and public issues; at best, theory should provide the knowledge and tools to connect concrete academic issues with broader public debates, opening up possibilities for new approaches and ways to address social problems and social reforms. To mobilize power as a


constructive cultural and political force, theory should not be used by academics simply to incorporate knowledge into specialized disciplines or be reduced to a methodology for reading texts. For theory to connect learning to social change and knowledge to power, it must acknowledge and contest the presence and manifestation of knowledge and power in public life, particularly as both

function interrelatedly either to expand or close down democratic relations and


overriding political project at issue here is one that suggests that progressives produce new theoretical tools-a new vocabulary and set of conceptual resources-for linking theory, critique, education, and the discourse of possibility to the demands of a more fully realized democracy. In part, such a project points to constructing both a new vocabulary for connecting what we read to how we engage in global movements for social change while recognizing that simply invoking the relationship between theory and practice, critique and social action is not enough. Any attempt to give new life to a substantive democratic politics must also address how people learn to be political agents, what kind of educational work is necessary within what kind of public spaces to enable people to use their full intellectual resources and capacities to provide a profound critique of existing institutions and struggle to create, as Stuart Hall put it, &dquo;What would be a good life or a better kind of life for the majority of people&dquo; (cited in Terry, 1997, p. 55). Bauman (200 1 b) added to the gravity of such a political project by calling for progressives to fully address the &dquo;hard currency of human suffering,&dquo; to undertake an ethical activism whose task was &dquo;to cry at


the wolves, not to run with them ... to count human costs, alert others to them, consciences to resist them, to think of alternatives, less costly, other ways of living together&dquo; (p. 343). One challenge facing progressives at the present time is that we need to understand more fully why the tools we used in the past often feel awkward in the present, more times than not failing to respond to problems now facing the United States and other parts of the globe. More specifically, we need to understand the inability of existing critical discourses to bridge the gap between how the society represents itself and how and why individuals fail to understand and critically engage such representations to intervene in the oppressive social relationships they often legitimate. Such forms of intervention are complicated by the pressing requirement to construct politics as a mode of intervention that runs counter to the natural order of things, but on a scale in which individual empowerment is viewed as inseparable from broader social and political transformations. Intervention in this sense is complicated by a dialectical understanding of the relationship between local change and global structures as well as the imperative to view public engagement within a global notion of social transformation (Dirlik, 2000). The growing attack on all aspects of the democratic public sphere in American society may say less about the reputed apathy of the populace than it might about the bankruptcy of older political vocabularies and the need for new languages and visions for clarifying our intellectual, ethical, and political projects,


especially as they work to reabsorb questions of agency, ethics, and meaning back into politics and public life. Along these lines, Sheldon Wolin (2000) has recently argued that we need to rethink the loss of political agency and how it affects the possibility for opening up democratic public life. Wolin pointed to the need for progressives, theorists, and critical educators to resurrect and raise questions about &dquo;what survives of the defeated, the indigestible, the unassimilated, the cross-grained, the not wholly obsolete (p. 4). He argued that &dquo;something is missing&dquo; in an age of manufactured politics and pseudo-publics catering almost exclusively to desires and drives produced by the commercial hysteria of the market. What is missing are languages, movements, and visions that either refuse to equate democracy with consumerism, market relations, and privatization, or refuse, as Ulrich Beck (1998, p. 38) argued, the equation of politics with traditional arenas of struggle and political agency with duly authorized parties, trade unions, and business-sponsored coalitions. In the absence of such languages and the social formations and public spheres that make them operative, politics becomes narcissistic and caters to the mood of widespread pessimism and the cathartic allure of the spectacle. In addition, public service and government intervention is sneered on as either bureaucratic or a constraint on individual freedom. The age of manufactured politics and neoliberal values no longer translates private problems into public issues or collective solutions. Emptied of its political content, public space increasingly becomes a site of self-display, a sphere dominated by a notion of freedom that is located exclusively in an inner world marked by the spectacle of the media confessional on one hand, and the social Darwinism of reality-based television with its endless instinct for the weaknesses of others and its masochistic affirmation of ruthlessness and steroidal power on the other hand. Escape, avoidance, and narcissism are now coupled with the public display, if not celebration, of those individuals who define agency in terms of their survival skills rather than their commitment to dialogue, critical reflection, solidarity, and relations that open up the promise of public engagement with important social issues.

We should be, without hesitation or embarrassment, utopians. At the end of the twentieth century it is the only acceptable political option, morally speaking... irrespective of what may have seemed apt hitherto either inside or outside the Marxist tradition, nothing but a utopian goal will now suffice. The realities of our time are morally intolerable.... The facts of widespread human privation and those of political oppression and atrocity are available to all who want them. They are unavoidable unless you willfully shut them out. To those who would suggest that things might be yet worse, one answer is that of course they might be. But another answer is that for too many people they are already quite bad enough; and the sponsors of this type of suggestion are for their part almost always pretty comfortable. (Geras, 1999, p. 42)


Against an increasingly oppressive corporate-based globalism, progressives

need to resurrect a language of resistance and possibility, a language that embraces a militant utopianism while constantly being attentive to those forces that seek to turn such hope into a new slogan or punish and dismiss those who dare look beyond the horizon of the given. Hope, in this instance, is one of the preconditions for individual and social struggle, the ongoing practice of critical education in a wide variety of sites, the mark of courage on the part of intellectuals in and out of the academy who use the resources of theory to address pressing social problems. But hope is also referent for civic courage and its ability to mediate the memory of loss and the experience of injustice as part of a broader attempt to open up new locations of struggle, contest the workings of oppressive power, and undermine various forms of domination. At its best, civic courage as a political practice begins when ones life can no longer be taken for granted. In doing so, it makes concrete the possibility for transforming hope and politics into an ethical space and public act that confronts the flow of everyday experience and the weight of social suffering with the force of individual and collective resistance and the unending project of democratic social transformation. If progressives are to revitalize the language of civic education as part of a broader discourse of political agency and critical citizenship in a global world, they will have to consider grounding such a call in a defense of militant utopian thinking in which any viable notion of the political takes up the primacy of pedagogy as part of a broader attempt to revitalize the conditions for individual and social agency while simultaneously addressing the most basic problems facing the prospects for social justice and global democracy. Militant utopianism addresses what Ernst Bloch (1988) called the possibility of the not yet.&dquo; Bloch believed that utopianism could not be removed from the world and was not &dquo;something like nonsense or absolute fancy; rather it is notyet in the sense of a possibility; that it could be there ifwe could only do something for it&dquo; (p. 3). For theorists such as Bloch, utopian thinking was anticipatory and not messianic, mobilizing rather than therapeutic. At best, utopian thinking, as Anson Rabinach (1977) argued, &dquo;points beyond the given while remaining within it&dquo; (p. 11). The longing for a more human society in this instance does not collapse into a retreat from the world but emerges out of critical and practical engagements with present behaviors, institutional formations, and everyday practices. Hope in this context does not ignore the worse dimensions of human suffering, exploitation, and social relations; on the contrary, it acknowledges the need to sustain the &dquo;capacity to see the worst and offer more than that for our consideration&dquo; (Dunn, 2000, p. 160). The great challenge to militant utopianism, with its hope of keeping critical thought alive, rests in an emerging consensus among a wide range of political factions that neoliberal democracy is the best we can do. The impoverishment of intellectuals, with their growing refusal to speak of addressing (if not ending)



suffering, is now matched by the poverty of a social order that cannot conceive of any alternative to itself. The profound antiutopianism that is spurred by visions of the market on one hand, and visions of displacement by some versions of poststructuralist
and postmodern discourses on the other hand, either commodify the subject or eliminate even the possibility of theorizing a notion of agency out of the now fashionable discourse of pluralized subjectivity. The radical socialist ideal of realizing the potential of the full human being has given way to a debilitating pessimism that finds it hard to imagine a life beyond capitalism, or for that matter a life beyond the failure of the present. The limits of the utopian imagination are related, in part, to the failure of intellectuals and cultural workers in a variety of public spheres to not only conceive of possibility as capacity and intervention, but also to imagine what pedagogical conditions might be necessary to bring into being forms of political agency grounded in the knowledge, skills, and capacities that enable people to govern democratically the major institutions that shape the economy, state, civil society, culture, and everyday life. In opposition to this position, Ruth Levitas (1993) commented on the need to locate utopian longings in a process of concrete experience and social change. She pointed to a notion of hope based on the recognition that it is only through education that human beings can be informed about the limits of the present and the conditions necessary for them to &dquo;combine a gritty sense of limits with a lofty vision of possibility&dquo; (Aronson, 1999, p. 489). Levitas (1993)


The main reason why it has become so difficult to locate utopia in a future credibly linked to the present by a feasible transformation is that our images of the present do not identify agencies and processes for change. The result is that utopia moves further into the realms of fantasy. Although this has the advantage of liberating the imagination from the constraint of what it is possible to imagine as possible-and encouraging utopia to demand the impossible-it has the disadvantage of severing utopia from the process of social change and severing social change from the stimulus of competing images of utopia. (p. 265)

Educated hope, in this instance, combines the pedagogical and the political in ways that stress the contextual nature of learning, emphasizing that different contexts give rise to diverse questions, problems, and possibilities. In doing so, such hope brings to the fore the call for cultural studies theorists and other critical intellectuals to be attentive to the ways in which institutional and symbolic power are tangled up with everyday experience, and how any politics of hope must tap into individual experiences while at the same time linking individual responsibility with a progressive sense of social destiny. Emphasizing politics as a pedagogical practice and performative act, educated hope accentuates the notion that politics is played out not only on a terrain of imagination and desire, but is also grounded in relations of power mediated through the outcome of situated struggles dedicated to creating the conditions and capacities for people to become critically engaged political agents.



a form of utopianism, educated hope engages politics through the interconnected modalities of desire, intervention, and struggle. As Houston Baker, Jr. (1994) argued in a different context, the imagination does not point simply to the realm of fantasy and escape, but to a form of social practice, a site that is marked by the intersection of politics and pedagogy on one hand, and agency and possibility on the other hand. Baker argued,

No longer mere fantasy (opium for the masses whose real work is elsewhere), no longer simple escape (from a world defined principally by more concrete purposes and structures), no longer the elite pastime (thus not relevant to the lives of

ordinary people) and no longer mere contemplation (irrelevant for new forms of desire and subjectivity), the imagination has become an organized field of social
practices, a form of work... and a form of negotiation between sites of agency (&dquo;individuals&dquo;) and globally defined fields of possibility. (p. 12)
Educated hope engages the imagination as social practice and takes seriously the importance of civic education while recognizing that such education takes place within a vast array of public spheres and pedagogical sites throughout the culture. As a form of utopian thinking, educated hope provides the foundational connection that must be made among three discourses that often remain separated: democracy, political agency, and pedagogy. The concept of educated hope rests on an expansive notion of pedagogy by pointing to broader considerations about the role that education now plays in a variety of cultural sites, and how the latter have become integral to producing models of human nature through the pedagogical force of a &dquo;capitalist imaginary&dquo; based almost &dquo;exclusively on economic exchange&dquo; (Castoriadis, 1997b, p. 347). A democratically engaged cultural politics requires that progressives understand and challenge how neoliberalism undermines meaningful democracy in its relentless attempts to valorize private space over public space, commercial goods over public goods, and a wholly privatized, personal notion of citizenship over public citizenship and social provision. Progressives will have to challenge forcefully the portrayal of public space as simply an investment opportunity and the increasing attempt by neoliberals to represent the public good as a metaphor for public disorder-epitomized in the now familiar mantra used by the right that any investment in the public good should be summarily dismissed as an indulgence of the tax-and-spend policies of &dquo;big government.&dquo; In doing so, they will have to address the pedagogical force of the broader culture in producing public transcripts and modes of political agency that shut down democratic relations, identities, and visions. But if progressives are to develop an oppositional cultural politics, it will require more than simply the language of critique. As important as immanent critique might be, it always runs the risk of representing power in the absolute service of domination, thus failing to capture the always open and ongoing dynamic of resistance at work in alternative modes of representations, oppositional public spheres, and modes


of affective investment that refuse the ideological push and institutional drive of dominant social orders (Castoriadis, 1991 ). Combining the discourse of critique and hope is crucial to affirm that critical activity offers the possibility for social change. An oppositional cultural politics can take many forms, but given the current assault on democratic public spheres, it seems imperative that progressives revitalize the struggles over social citizenship, particularly those struggles aimed at expanding liberal freedoms and civic rights while developing collective movements that can challenge the subordination of social needs to the dictates of commercialism and capital. Central to such politics would be a public pedagogy that attempts to make visible in a wide variety of sites alternative models of radical democratic culture that raise fundamental questions about the relationship between social justice and the distribution of public resources and goods on one hand, and the conditions, knowledge, and skills that are a prerequisite for political agency and social change on the other hand. At the very least, such a project involves understanding and critically engaging dominant public transcripts and values within a broader set of historical and institutional contexts. Making the political more pedagogical in this instance suggests producing modes of knowledge and social practices that not only affirm oppositional cultural work but offer opportunities to mobilize instances of collective outrage, if not collective action, against glaring material inequities and the growing cynical belief that todays culture of investment and finance makes it impossible to address many of the major social problems facing the United States and the larger world. Most important, as I mentioned previously, such work points to the link between civic education and modes of oppositional political agency that are pivotal to elucidating a politics that promotes autonomy and social change. Unfortunately, many progressives have failed to take seriously Antonio Gramscis (1971) insight that &dquo;every relationship of hegemony is necessarily an educational relationship&dquo; (p. 350)-with its implication that education as a cultural pedagogical practice takes place across multiple sites as it signals how, within diverse contexts, education makes us both subjects of and subject to relations of power. I want to build on Gramscis insight by exploring in greater detail the connection among democracy, political agency, and pedagogy by analyzing some of the work of Greek philosopher Cornelius Castoriadis. Castoriadis has made seminal and often overlooked contributions to the politics of hope and the role of education central to the regime of political democracy. I focus on this work to reclaim a legacy of critical thinking that combines a concrete and militant sense of utopianism with the imperatives of a participatory civic education designed to enrich and enable the possibility of political agency and its crucial role in struggling for a radical democracy. This tradition of critical thought signals for progressives the importance of investing in the political as part of a broader effort to revitalize notions of democratic citizenship, social justice, and the public good.


We must return to the does not mean human

original meaning of the word, &dquo;democracy.&dquo; Democracy rights, does not mean lack of censorship, does not mean elections of any kind. All this is very nice, but itsjust second-or third-degreeconsequences. Democracy means the power (kratos) of the people. (Castoriadis, 199Gb, p. 21 )

Cornelius Castoriadis was profoundly concerned about what it meant to think about politics and agency in light of the new conditions of capitalism that threatened to undermine the promise of democracy at the end of the 20th century. Moreover, he argued that education in the broadest sense is a principle feature of politics because it provides the capacities, knowledge, skills, and social relations through which individuals recognize themselves as social and political agents. Linking such a broad-based definition of education to issues of power and agency also raises fundamental questions that go to the heart of any substantive notion of democracy: How do issues of history, language, culture, and identity work to articulate and legitimate particular exclusions? If culture in this sense becomes the constituting terrain for producing identities and constituting social subjects, education becomes the strategic and positional mechanism through which such subjects are addressed, positioned within social spaces, located within particular histories and experiences, and always arbitrarily displaced and decentered as part of a pedagogical process that is increasingly multiple, fractured, and never homogenous. Castoriadis has in the past 30 years of the 20th century provided an enormous theoretical service in analyzing the space of education as constitutive of the site of democratic struggle. Castoriadis pursued the primacy of education as a political force by focusing on democracy as the realized power of the people and a mode of autonomy. In the first instance, he insisted that &dquo;democracy means power of the people... a regime aspiring to social and personal&dquo; freedom (1996b, p. 19). Democracy in this view suggests more than a simply negative notion of freedom in which the individual is defended against power. On the contrary, Castoriadis (1991) argued that any viable notion of democracy must reject this passive attitude toward freedom with its view of power as a necessary evil. In its place, he called for a productive notion of power, one that is central to embracing a notion of political agency and freedom that affirms the equal opportunity of all to exercise political power to participate in shaping the most important decisions affecting their lives. He ardently rejected the increasing &dquo;abandonment of the public sphere to specialists, to professional politicians&dquo; (1991, p. 91), just as he rejected any conception of democracy that does not create the means for &dquo;unlimited interrogation in all domains&dquo; (19976, p. 343) that closed off in &dquo;advance not only every political question as well as every philosophical one, but equally every ethical or aesthetic question&dquo; ( 997b, p. 341 ). Castoriadis also refused a notion of democracy restricted to the formalistic pro-


of voting while at the same time arguing that the notion of participatory democracy cannot remain narrowly confined to the political sphere.

Democracy, for Castoriadis,





itself with the issue of cul-

rightly argued that progressives are required to address the ways in which every society creates what he called its &dquo;social imaginary significations,&dquo; which provide the structures of representations that offer individuals selected modes of identifications, provide the standards for both the ends of action and the criteria for what is considered acceptable or unacceptable behavior, while establishing the affective measures for mobilizing desire and human action ( 1997a, pp. 87-88). The fate of democracy for Castoriadis was inextricably linked to the profound crisis of contemporary knowledge, characterized by its increasing commodification, fragmentation, privatization, and turn toward racial and patriotic conceits. As knowledge becomes abstracted from the demands of civic culture and is reduced to questions of style, ritual, and image, it undermines the political, ethical, and governing conditions required for individuals and social groups either to participate in politics or construct those viable public spheres necessary for debate, collective action, and solving urgent social problems. As Castoriadis (1993) suggested, the crisis of contemporary knowledge provided one of the central challenges to any viable notion of politics and educated hope. He wrote,
Also in question is the relation of... knowledge to the society that produces it, nourishes it, is nourished by it, and risks dying of it, as well as the issues concerning for whom and for what this knowledge exists. Already at present these problems demand a radical transformation of society, and of the human being, at the same time that they contain its premises. If this monstrous tree of knowledge that modern humanity is cultivating more and more feverishly every day is not to collapse under its own weight and crush its gardener as it falls, the necessary transformations of man and society must go infinitely further than the wildest utopias have ever dared to imagine. (pp. 153-154)

Castoriadis was particularly concerned about how progressives might address the crisis of democracy in light of how social and political agents were being produced in a society driven by the glut of specialized knowledge, consumerism, and a privatized notion of citizenship that no longer supported noncommercial values and increasingly dismissed as a constraint any view of society that emphasized public goods and social responsibility. What is crucial to acknowledge in Castoriadiss work is that the crisis of democracy cannot be separated from the dual crisis of representation and political agency. In a social order in which the production of knowledge, meaning, and debate are highly

restricted not only are the conditions for producing critical social agents limited, but also the democratic imperative of affirming the primacy of ethics as a way of recognizing a social orders obligation to future generations is entirely lost. Ethics in this sense recognizes that the extension of power assumes a comparable extension in the field of ethical responsibility, a willingness to acknowl-


edge that ethics means being able to answer in the present for actions that will be borne by generations in the future (Binde, 2000, p. 65). This leads directly to Castoriadiss concern with linking the meaning and purpose of democracy to
the project of autonomy. As a project of autonomy,

democracy implies a mode of politics that puts into question a societys &dquo;already given institutions, its already established representation of the world&dquo; (Castoriadis, 1991, p. 136). Within this perspective, politics, in part, implies a rejection of all those forms of authority that impute their existence to transcendent and extra social sources (i.e., God, the market, etc.), and in doing so produce a notion of authority that refuses to &dquo;render an account and provide reasons ... for the validity of its pronouncements&dquo;
(Castoriadis, 1997c, p. 4). Autonomy as a project of democracy renders society
social-historical creation and politics as part of a broader concern with power andjustice &dquo;to create citizens who are critical thinkers capable of putting existing institutions into question so that democracy again becomes societys movement... that is to say, a new type of regime in the full sense of the term&dquo; (Castoriadis, 1997c, p. 10). For Castoriadis, the project of autonomy was incompatible with the corporatist emphasis on mastery, &dquo;perpetual restlessness, constant change, a thirst for the new for the sake of the new and for more for the sake of more&dquo; (Castoriadis, 1997a, p. 88). Central to Castoriadiss (1991) work is the crucial acknowledgment that society creates itself through a multiplicity of organized pedagogical forms that provide the &dquo;instituting social imaginary&dquo; (p. 145) or field of cultural and ideological representations through which social practices and institutional forms are endowed with meaning, generating certain ways of seeing the self and its possibilities in the world. Not only is the social individual constituted, in part, by internalizing such meanings, but he or she acts on such meanings to also participate and, where possible, change society. According to Castoriadis (1991), politics within this framework becomes the collective activity whose object is to put into question the explicit institutions of society while simultaneously creating the conditions for individual and social autonomy. Castoriadiss unique contribution to democratic political theory lies in his keen understanding that autonomy is inextricably linked to forms of civic education that provide the conditions for bringing to light how explicit and implicit power can be used to open up or close down those public spaces that are essential for individuals to meet, address public interests, engage pressing social issues, and participate collectively in shaping public policy. In this view, civic education brings to light &dquo;societys instituting power by rendering it explicit ... it reabsorbs the political into politics as the lucid and deliberate activity whose object is the explicit [production] of society&dquo; (Castoriadis, 1991, pp. 144-145). According to Castoriadis, political agency involves learning how to deliberate, make judgments, and exercise choices, particularly as the latter are brought to bear as critical activities that offer the possibility of change. Civic education as it is experienced and produced throughout a vast array of institutions provides
as a


individuals with the opportunity to see themselves as more than they are within the existing configurations of power of any given society. Every society has an obligation to provide citizens with the capacities, knowledge, and skills necessary for them to be, as Aristotle claimed, &dquo;capable of governing and being governed&dquo; (Castoriadis, 1997c, p. 15). A democracy cannot work if citizens are not autonomous, self-judging, and independent, qualities that are indispensable for them to make vital judgments and choices about participating in those decisions that affect everyday life, institutional reform, and governmental policy. Hence, civic education becomes the cornerstone of democracy in that the very foundation of self-government is based on people not just having the &dquo;typical right to participate; they should also be educated [in the fullest possible way] in order to be able to participate&dquo; (Castoriadis, 1996b, p. 24). At stake here, as John Binde (2000) wrote, is not only the legitimacy of civic education as a cultural practice, but utopian thinking as an ethics of the future:
The human city represents the ideal context for civic education and the promotion of the value of alterity. But, beyond the political feat involved, the stakes... are cultural. It is not merely a matter of transforming minds in order to adapt them to the requirements of our contemporary world. It is also necessary to change attitudes, customs, and lifestyles. Preparing citizens for the future is just as much about giving them the means to think as about giving them the freedom and will to do so. If devoid of the strength of will and the certainty of decision, knowledge is either suffering or sheer bliss. The ethics of the future therefore deserves to be part and parcel of an educational design. (p. 71)

Castoriadis was deeply concerned about the relationship between autonomy, judgment, and critical participation in democratic public life. He recognized that people had to learn from a variety of educational spheres the skills needed to be active citizens. But he never substituted the postmodern emphasis on skepticism and irony for the courage and judgments that were necessary for intellectuals and others to take a stand in the face of the current onslaughts against humanity and democracy by a rapacious neoliberalism and various updated versions of totalitarianism. Skepticism was an element of autonomy but not an end in itself Autonomy makes justice the first resort of its discourse and dialogue; deliberation and social action its outcome. It rejects postmodern versions of skepticism, which increasingly have little to say about the need to address how one must act in the interest of the greatest possiblejustice. At the same time, autonomy does not offer up a politics of guarantees as much as it claims, as Jacques Derrida (2000) put it, that
there is no &dquo;politics,&dquo; no law, no ethics without responsibility of a decision which, to be just, cannot content itself with applying existing norms or rules but must take the absolute risk, in every singular instant.... To that end, one must change laws, habits ... the entire horizon of &dquo;the political,&dquo; of citizenship, of

belonging to a nation, and of the state.


Autonomy, according to Castoriadis, rejects any notion of skepticism that does

open up the terrain of the political. At stake here is the call to not only problematize the political, but to take the next step and extend its possibilities by opening up new locations for resistance, struggle, pleasures, and social relations that expand the public culture, social agency, and meaningful democracy. Autonomy, in this instance, is not only about problematizing meaning but also providing the conditions for reappropriating and resuscitating political culture as an ethical response to the demise of democratic public life. Castoriadiss work is important because it gives substance to the notion of educated hope as a mode of pedagogical intervention that is crucial to the very notion of political agency. For Castoriadis, the separations of politics and culture was, in effect, a form of anti politics because it refused to recognize that the struggle over power, goods, capital, and rights is inseparable from the struggle over forms of identification and agency linked to citizenship rights that expand the imperatives of a meaningful and substantive democracy. Castoriadis rightfully recognized that the realm of culture had taken on a new role in the latter part of the 20th century because the actuality of economic power and its attennot

dant networks of control now exercised more influence than ever before in shaping how identities are produced and desires mobilized, and shaping how particular social relations take on the force and meaning of common sense. He clearly understood that making the political more pedagogical meant recognizing that where and how the psyche locates itself in public discourse, visions, and passions provides the groundwork for agents to enunciate, act, and reflect on themselves and their relations to others and the wider social order. For Castoriadis, democracy was not simply about guaranteeing individual rights and extending democratic ownership and control to all aspects of cultural and economic life, it was also about creating the pedagogical conditions, cultural spheres, and public spaces that allowed people to express and create the public values and practices of a substantive democracy. The meaning of democracy could not be defined simply through the lens of power, but also had to be understood as an ethical, political, and educational relationship. Castoriadis believed that democracy was about both dismantling hierarchical and oppressive relations of power and providing the social provisions for all individuals to have access to the political and cultural resources that enabled them to participate in and shape the larger society. If one of the characteristics of the present time is a retreat from the political accompanied by a growing disdain, if not cynicism, toward public life, the work of Castoriadis reminds us of what it means to recognize that changing consciousness and transforming institutions is as much a pedagogical issue as a strictly political one. Any worthwhile notion of politics must acknowledge that although it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism, any viable notion of struggle must foreground the crucial relationship between


critical education and political agency and recognize that the longing for a more just society does not collapse into a retreat from the world but emerges out of critical and practical engagements with present behaviors, institutional formations, and everyday practices. Hope in this context does not ignore the worse dimensions of human suffering, exploitation, and social relations; on the contrary, it acknowledges the need to sustain the &dquo;capacity to see the worst and offer more than that for our consideration&dquo; (Dunn, 2000, p. 160). N ote
1.I purposely have not drawn in this case on the work of Paulo Freire because I have discussed his notion of utopianism and education in great detail in Giroux (2000).

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Unger, R., & West,


Henry A. Giroux holds the Waterbury Chair professorship and is currently the

Waterbury Forum in education and cultural studies at Penn State University. His most recent books include: ImpureActs: ThePracticalPolitics of Cultural Studies (Routledge, 2000); The Mouse That Roared. Disney and the End of Innocence (Rowman and Littlefield, 2001 ); Stealing Innocence: Corporate Cultures War on Children (St. Martins, 2001 ); and the forthcoming Beyond the Corporate University, edited with Kostas Myrsiadis (Rowman and Littlefield); Public Spaces, Private Lives: Beyond the Culture of Cynicism (Rowman and Littlefield); Breakingln to the Movies: Film and the Politics ofRepresentation (Basil Blackwell); and a revised edition of Theory and Resistance in Education (Bergin and Garvey). His primary research areas are cultural studies, youth studies, critical pedagogy, popular culture, social theory, and the politics
of higher education.

director of the