by Susan L. Robertson
Wow! What a session! Scholars from the universities in the geographic north and south, Julia Erdelmann and Garrett Rubin and (CPGJ at Cambridge) and Ritesh Shah and Daniel Couch (Auckland), gave presentations that challenged our classical understandings of the state and its relationship to education.
All drew on their ongoing empirical work to explore regime challenge, state collapse and state-building in the Middle East; Palestine, Syria and Afghanistan. Spotlighting Europe, Erdelmann focused on Germany and the 2008 global financial crisis, and how financial education is mobilised as a means for mediating this crisis.
So what does it mean to ‘remap’ the state/education relation? The presenters all pointed to the key tenets of state theory, largely drawn from the work of Max Weber. For Weber, the state is characterized as having a monopoly on violence. State rule is also assumed to depend on sovereignty, territory, and its capacity to legitimate its rule (Jessop, 2016). Yet in the Middle East, these characteristics seem to either break down, or do not have the kind of relevance one might assume.
Ritesh Shah began the panel with some general remarks about state theory and its close ties to understanding Westphalian states. He also pointed to work some of the CPGJ members are engaged in on problematizing our theorising of the state (Robertson and Dale, 2015). This took Shah to posing questions for state theory when trying to understand claims to statehood and state-making in Palestine. Using Dale’s (1999, 2007) work on the governance of education – from funding to provision to regulation, Shah points to the multi-scalar, multi-actor, multi-history, and multi-policy dynamics shaping this political space. Despite issues around territory and legitimacy and struggles over the monopoly of violence, this is a state project with education central to its ongoing claims-making, and how such struggles are legitimated.
Garrett Rubin drew on recent work completed as part of his Master’s work at Cambridge on Syria and the ways in which education was central to the ongoing legitimacy of the Assad regime. He challenged Wedeen’s argument that legitimacy is impossible in regimes that are characterised by violence and conflict. Yet Rubin shows the myriad of ways in which the state is performed on a daily basis, for example through the extreme efforts to get to examination centres despite the surrounding violence, and through affect. By valuing some of the ways in which the state continues to provide valued credentials, this paradoxically legitimates a highly illegitimate state.
Daniel Couch’s doctoral research on higher education in Afghanistan gave us further insights into the state – and the ways in which state-building has been highly dependent on sectors like higher education. Yet higher education is being built from without and not within, despite its territorial location. As a result, it is difficult for the Afghan state to secure legitimacy in large part because its sovereignty is in question. Whose curriculum is this? Who was consulted? Whose knowledges are included? Despite this, higher education continues to be regarded by the Afghan population in cities like Kabul as an important means to becoming a better person.
In the final panel paper, Julia Erdelmann argued it is also important to recognise state strategies are mediated by a value base that is contextually and ideologically specific to that territory. This is particularly visible in the solutions to the 2008 crisis in Germany.
Two elements are central to her argued. First, that since the post-war 2 period, Germany has adopted ordo-liberalism as the ideological anchor, and it is ordo-liberalism that also accounts for the distinct ways in which Germany has responded to the 2008 financial with its own brand of financial education. What does this mean? It means a rejection of conspicuous consumption – ala US neoliberalism. Rather, prudence and saving are promoted as fundamental, through there are gestures in the direction of risk and entrepreneurship.
What do these papers add up to regarding remapping the state-education relation? Placing the ‘south’ into our understanding of the state provokes us to think in more complicated ways about the state, legitimacy, authority and territory. Most important, it shows us that northern understandings simply will not do as the obvious answer as to how best to think about the state-education relation.