Author Interview: Geoff Hinchliffe

Geoff Hinchliffe is author of Liberty and Education: A civic republican approach, reviewed here. Alongside his research in philosophy of education he is Course Director of the MA in Higher Education Practice at the University of East Anglia. You can read more about his research and teaching on his university profile. Here, Geoff discusses Liberty and Education and what inspired him to write it…


Why did you decide to write Liberty and Education: A civic republican approach

I had a number of ideas both from an epistemological and pedagogical perspective and I was looking for some way of bringing them together. I started to read papers by Quentin Skinner on the idea of republican liberty and decided that the idea of liberty as non-domination was attractive and could help to provide a thread to connect a range of themes.


What’s the main aim of the book, and why is it important now?

I think the main aim is to explore the idea of freedom as non-domination in the sphere of education. In my estimation we too easily accept domination as a fact of life and don’t think of ourselves as what I term ‘liberty-bearing’. The treatment of teachers, especially primary school teachers, is a good example of domination in action. I wanted to show that the treatment of teachers isn’t only a question of professional autonomy but strikes at the heart of their fundamental liberties, as I see it.

At the same time I wanted to show that education provides us with the long term means of providing resilience against domination. But for this to happen the curriculum has to actually empower children and students; whereas in fact, I argue, much of the curriculum and its attendant pedagogies of engagement merely re-enforce domination.


And what is it that draws you, personally, to this area of research?

I strongly believe that any kind of innovation in educational research has to draw on ideas that lie outside education. Otherwise one ends up saying the same things over and over again, drawing on the same old familiar, tired, stale sources. Hence my interest in Skinner, J. G. A. Pocock, Machiavelli, Hobbes., Locke, Gramsci, McDowell, and others (although I also spend a bit of time talking about the old favourites such as Dewey, Hirst, Peters, etc.). Moreover I started to get, for the first time, a real appreciation of the achievements of the Renaissance and the prodigious scholarship that has occurred over the last 50-60 years in recovering this work. The Renaissance or early modern period is important for the development of republican liberty or liberty as non-domination.


What sort of reaction do you hope the book will get?

This is a difficult one. First of all, I hope that people will enjoy reading the book and I’ve tried to lighten the tone in a few places although I daresay there are one or two stodgy passages as well. Second, I hope people will agree or disagree with the main ideas (I don’t mind which that much) and that it may help to stimulate fresh thinking about education. When you write a book and obviously put quite a lot of effort into it you just have to wait to see if anybody really cares what you said!


What sort of audience did you have in mind when writing the book?

Well, I wanted to see if I could broaden the audience a bit. I was hoping that maybe students of politics and political philosophy might be able to see that ideas they are familiar with could be applied to a different area (education). Obviously I’m hoping that it will appeal to the philosophy of education community but in addition it could be of interest to educational practitioners. My idea was that maybe it could help teachers and possibly those close to policy by arming them with a few new ideas.


What’s your current project? What’s next?

The perennial problem of the second LP! Part of me would just love to immerse myself in Renaissance scholarship, but I would never be more than a novice given the training in Latin, Italian, and Greek that you need. So I may leave that path for later. I have been interested in exploring the idea of ‘domination’ in more depth and that leads naturally to Adorno. His thesis was that in modernity our very social and cultural existence attests to our being dominated (post-modernity is just a fancy way of accepting domination). I think there is a lot of what Adorno says that is right (or at least, right up to a point) and I’ve started to get interested in Kant’s notion of the causality of freedom as a way of constructing a discourse that resists domination. Somewhat late in the day, I’m realising just how important Kant is. I’ve also been reading Agamben, which is a revelation. It seems to me that his idea of ‘bare life’ is another novel yet compelling way of understanding domination.


What is philosophy of education and why does it matter?

I guess ultimately Philosophy of Education tries to stimulate thinking about the purpose of education and what its value is, exactly. This gets neglected by two sets of practitioners. First, there are those who are entirely wrapped up in process – assessment, student feedback, modes of pedagogy – but for whom the value of education is pretty much ignored. Second, there are the HE academics immersed in their subject matter (which in one sense I’m all in favour of) but who have little awareness of what education actually is. So, for example, if you ask them what the value of education is, often the answers are pedestrian, predictable, and process-orientated. But the people who really need philosophy of education are the policy makers and, of course, they are normally the least people likely to know or care about the values and aims of education. Their ignorance is in direct inverse proportion to the power they wield. But that is another topic!


Questions: Naomi Hodgson