Forms of exchange: Education, economics and the neglect of social contingency



Cope P & I'Anson J (2003) Forms of exchange: Education, economics and the neglect of social contingency. British Journal of Educational Studies, 51 (3), pp. 219-232.

Economics is privileged in contemporary government policy such that all human transactions are seen as economic forms of exchange. Education has been discursively restructured according to the logic of the market, with education policy being increasingly colonised by economic policy imperatives. This paper explores some of the consequences of this re-framing which draws upon metaphors from industrial and business domains. This paper examines a significant dimension of teaching that currently has marginal presence in official discourse: social contingency. We argue that social contingency is characterised by a variety of distinctive features that include unpredictability, relationality and ethical demands. The significance of social contingency is highlighted by a comparison with industrial production, which is organisationally contingent, and craft production, which is characterised as materially contingent. We argue that the different nature of contingency in these domains makes them inappropriate as metaphors for teaching. We explore the nature of social contingency and some of the practical and ethical consequences of the failure to articulate this in official discourse. Its absence in such discourse is illustrated by consideration of competence statements in the Initial Teacher Education context. We argue that the neglect of social contingency is founded on assumptions of teacher sovereignty that are both philosophically and ethically unsustainable.

government policy; economy; social contingency

British Journal of Educational Studies: Volume 51, Issue 3

Publication date30/09/2003

People (1)


Dr John I'Anson
Dr John I'Anson

Senior Lecturer, Education