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19 Sep 2023

Critical Times? Conditions, constraints, and cooptions in contemporary educational critique

Educational Philosophy and Theory Special Issue: Critical Times? Conditions, constraints, and cooptions in contemporary educational critique

Abstract deadline
1 November 2023

Manuscript deadline
1 April 2024

Special Issue Editors
Dr. Antti Saari, Tampere University
Dr. Nelli Piattoeva, Tampere University
Dr. Radhika Gorur, Deakin University
Dr. Katja Brøgger, University of Aarhus

The term critique and its derivatives have become so commonplace in educational research that their meanings are rarely interrogated. They function as indices for certain genres of research and writing as well as types of journals and monographs. (Molla, 2021; Savage 2021). This alone calls for sensitivity towards the meanings of being critical. This is made all the more pertinent by the rise of the evaluation culture, the proliferation of market mechanisms and economic rationality, and the use and abuse of critique as a purely subjective stance weaponized for many different purposes (think, for instance, of Trump’s climate denialism) (Raffnsøe, Staunæs, and Bank, 2022). Different ways of being critical can be mobilized and co-opted for a wide variety of political and governmental purposes (Boltanski & Chiapello 2005) and the ‘trivialization of critique’ (Masschelein 2004) has become an advanced form of exercising power. Overall, such observations lead to an unsettling realization that critique is not solely the lofty privilege of academics, and it can rarely be insulated from or stand outside of the context it is examining. This special issue engages theoretically and empirically with the notion of critique and what it means to be critical. It interrogates the diverse conditions, constraints and cooptions of critique in contemporary education.

In contemporary educational research, there is a broad catalogue to draw from when seeking to define one’s position as ‘critical’. First, critique can assume the form of removing the veils of ideology or ‘false consciousness’, presented under the guise of neutrality (Raffnsøe, Staunæs, 2022; Garlitz & Zompetti 2023). Often this approach follows the calls for ‘situated knowledges’ (Haraway 1988) and gestures of ‘provincializing’ Euro-centric viewpoints (Chakrabarty 1992) among feminist and post-colonial theories (McArthur 2022). Second, critique can engage in an act of ‘problematization’ (Barnett 2015). Such approaches in education often draw from post-structuralist approaches of genealogy and deconstruction driven by a willingness to ‘stay with the trouble’ (Haraway, 2016; Saari & Mullen 2020). For Latour (2004) both of these types of critiques had ‘run out of steam’ by the turn of the millennium. Thereby the third approach, often attached to Actor-Network Theory and ‘new materialist’ approaches see critique as diffraction, a practice of addition or composition rather than subtraction from reality, the multiplication of complexities rather than reduction to a single, albeit heretofore hidden, mechanism of ideology or power (Edwards & Fenwick 2014; Ulmer 2016). Fourth, a critical tradition coming especially from queer studies, is sometimes dubbed ‘reparatory’ critique, or a post-critical approach (Anker & Felski 2017; Hodgson, Vlieghe & Zamojski 2018). This brings to (critical) relief the emotions and affects that drive and are produced in the implications and fallout of practicing critique (Raffnsøe, Staunæs, and Bank, 2022). This list does not imply a hierarchy or a developmental sequence, nor does it assume strict boundaries between the various approaches.

The number of ways for ‘being critical’ alone calls for reflection as to how educational theory and research engages critique (Rasmussen 2013; Alexander 2018). Engaging with the conditions, constraints and cooptions of critique today is also vital due to the deeply contested nature of academic discourses within and outside academia. Critical approaches in education are frequently challenged as partisan or ideological, as we can observe in different attacks on ‘critical race theory’, ‘woke ideology’ etc. across geopolitical locations. Such encounters engender constraints as well as new possibilities for how forms of critique can be mobilized, diverted and reimagined.

This special issue welcomes texts that can address, but are not limited to, the following topics:

  • Subjugated and subversive onto-epistemologies in education today: postcolonial and feminist critique, situated knowledges, critique and/as activism, critique as embodied-affective and aesthetic.
  • Ethics and contextuality of critique: e.g., fearless speech, the dangers and threats of being critical and exposing vulnerable communities, challenges of and new demands on critique such as awareness of traumatization and triggering.
  • Being critical in media/mediatization of critique, e.g., social media delimiting forms of critique, critique of education policy in or by the media.
  • Genealogies of contemporary conditions of critique
  • Trivialization and cooptation of critique: e.g., right-wing/conservative based critique of academic criticism (critique of/opposition to academic critique as ideologically biased and activist), conspiracy theories, populist and anti-elitist critique of education.
  • Constraints and conditions of critique in informing and influencing education (policy) and the public: e.g., academic critique and activism, critique, and evidence.

About the Special Issue Editors
Antti Saari is Associate professor in Tampere University Faculty of Education and Culture. His main research interests include history and philosophy of education and curriculum studies. Saari’s studies on educational research and governance have analyzed how transnational discourses of educational research and expert knowledge are translated to practices of evaluation, classroom management, and the uses of instructional technology in Europe and the United States. Saari is the leader of the research group Political Philosophies and Sociologies of Education (POISED) and a member of the editorial team for the Flashpoint book series for Routledge.

Nelli Piattoeva is Professor at the Faculty of Education and Culture, Tampere University, Finland and director of the Research Centre on Transnationalism and Transformation, Tampere University. Her research is motivated by the broad questions about what education does and is asked to do for society, leading to a focus on how education governs, and thence to enquiry into the actors and technologies that are implicated in governing. Her previous works have been published, among others, in Critical Studies in Education; Journal of Education Policy; Comparative Education Review; Cultural Studies ↔ Critical Methodologies; and Learning, Media and Technology. Nelli is associate editor of Critical Studies in Education, director of the Laboratory of International Assessment Studies, and a founding member of the international STudieS network.

Radhika Gorur is Associate Professor in the School of Education at Deakin University. Her research is in the fields of education and education policy, the sociology of quantification and metrics, and critical data studies. She is interested in the social and political lives of data and in how policies get mobilised, stabilised, circulated and challenged. Her research spans education policy and reform; global aid and development in education; data infrastructures and data cultures; accountability and governance; large-scale comparisons; classroom research; and the sociology of knowledge. Radhika is a founding director of the Laboratory of International Assessment Studies, and a founding member of the international STudieS network.

Katja Brøgger, PhD, is Associate Professor (tenure track) at Aarhus University, Denmark. She is the research program director of Policy Futures and PI of two comparative projects and an EU COST Action on how new nationalisms and geo-political shifts affect European higher education and research openness, funded by the Independent Research Fund Denmark and the COST Association. Her research on higher education policy and governance focuses on the relation between the universities, the nation-states and international polities such as the EU. She is a member of the Editorial Board of Journal of Education Policy and Globalisation, Societies and Education.

Submission instructions
Abstracts can be submitted to Antti Saari ( no later than November 1st, 2023. Abstracts should be no longer than 1000 words plus key references. The proposals should include title of the proposal, authors (including affiliations and email addresses), 3–5 keywords. They should indicate how the article will address the key themes of the call, the theoretical perspectives, data, and methods (if applicable) as well as a clear outline of the argument.

1st November 2023         Submission of abstracts (1000 words)
15th December 2023       Announcement of the decision on papers to be invited to the SI
1st April 2024                    Submission of full final papers

If you have any queries regarding this Special Issue, please contact the Special Issue Editors.


Alexander, H. A. (2018). What is critical about critical pedagogy? Conflicting conceptions of criticism in the curriculum. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 50(10), 903-916.

Anker, E. S., & Felski, R. (Eds.) (2017). Critique and postcritique. Duke University Press.

Barnett, C. (2015). On Problematization: Elaborations on a theme in “late Foucault”. Nonsite. org, 16.

Boltanski, L., & Chiapello, E. (2005). The new spirit of capitalism. International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Aociety, 18(3), 161-188.

Chakrabarty, D. (1992). Provincializing Europe: Postcoloniality and the critique of history. Cultural Studies, 6(3), 337-357.

Edwards, R., & Fenwick, T. (2015). Critique and politics: A sociomaterialist intervention. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 47(13-14), 1385-1404.

Garlitz, D., & Zompetti, J. (2023). Critical Theory as post-marxism: The Frankfurt school and beyond. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 55(2), 141-148.

Haraway, D. J. (2016). Staying with the trouble: Making kin in the Chthulucene. Duke University Press.

Haraway, D. (1988). Situated knowledges: The science question in feminism and the privilege of partial perspective. Feminist Studies, 14(3), 575-599.

Hodgson, N., Vlieghe, J., & Zamojski, P. (eds.) (2018). Manifesto for a post-critical pedagogy. punctum books.

Latour, B. (2004). Why has critique run out of steam? From matters of fact to matters of concern. Critical Inquiry 30(2), 225-248.

McArthur, J. (2022). Critical theory in a decolonial age. Educational Philosophy and Theory 54(10), 1681-1692.

Masschelein, J. (2004). How to conceive of critical educational theory today? Journal of philosophy of education 38(3), 351–367.

Molla, T. (2021). Critical policy scholarship in education: An overview. Education Policy Analysis Archives. 29(2), 2–26.

Raffnsöe, S., Staunaes, D. & Bank, M., (2022). Affirmative critique. Ephemera. [Online] 22(3).

Rasmussen, M. L. (2015). ‘Cruel Optimism’and contemporary Australian critical theory in educational research. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 47(2), 192-206.

Saari, A., & Mullen, J. (2022). Strange loops, oedipal logic, and an apophatic ecology: Reimagining critique in environmental education. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 54(3), 228-237.

Savage, G. S., Gerrard, J., Gale, T., & Molla, T., (2021). The politics of critical policy sociology: mobilities, moorings and elite networks. Critical studies in education 62(3), 306–321.

Ulmer, J. B. (2016). Diffraction as a method of critical policy analysis. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 48(13), 1381-1394.

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