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Unglamorous Tasks: What Can Education Learn from its Political Traditions?


In the inaugural issue of e-flux journal, Irit Rogoff, under the deliberately ironic title “Turning,” calls attention to the recent “educational turn in curating,” thereby marking important shifts in the understanding of both practices: curating is no longer understood as the mere mounting of exhibitions; education is no longer understood as the transmission of existing values and acquirements. Thus we are dealing with a turn in two arenas, the curatorial and the educational.

By saying this I want to emphasize that the important move in Rogoff’s text does not consist in simply connecting the two, curating and educating—which would be a rather traditional enterprise, as the modern museum since the French Revolution has always seen itself as an educational institution. Traditionally, in addition to collecting, preserving, and researching, the tasks of representing and mediating were understood precisely as educational tasks of the museum. Moreover, the educational aspect of the museum—we owe these ideas to the reflexive turn of the New Museology—has first and foremost been a technique of power, aimed at absorbing and internalizing bourgeois values. But I understand Rogoff’s point to be a different one. For her, education is not about handing down existing national and bourgeois values, as Tony Bennett would have it, nor about the mere reproduction of knowledge, but about exploring the possibilities of an alternative production of knowledge that resists, supplements, thwarts, undercuts, or challenges traditional forms of knowledge.

In this text I want to examine the traditional tasks of education as well as the possibility of thinking about the educational as something that overcomes the function of reproducing knowledge and becomes something else—something unpredictable and open to the possibility of a knowledge production that, in tones strident or subtle, would work to challenge the apparatus of value-coding. Our challenge is to imagine a form of education that would demand learners take a political stand, but without anticipating what that stand should be and thus effecting closure (in other words, always leaving an open space for other possibilities). Such an undertaking may provide, as we will see in this brief argument, further insight into our educational and curatorial practices, which are often quite tedious and not always glamorous.

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