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Curriculum Studies

Learning, Curriculum and Life Politics: the selected works of Ivor F. Goodson

The Story So Far

Denzin (1991) has commented on this in his critique of the rehabilitated ‘life story movement’.

The cultural logics of late capitalism valorize the life story, autobiographical document because they keep the myth of the autonomous, free individual alive. This logic finds its modern roots on Rousseau's Confessions, a text perfectly fitted to the cultural logics of the new capitalist societies where a division between public and private had to be maintained, and where the belief in a pure, natural self was cherished. The logic of the confession reifies the concept of the self and turns it into a cultural commodity. The rise to power of the social sciences in the twentieth century corresponded to the rise of the modern surveillance state. That state required information on its citizens. Social scientists, of both qualitative and quantitative commitments, gathered information for this society. The recent return to the life story celebrates the importance of the individual under the conservative politics of late postmodernism (p. 2).

Hence, in the cultural logic of late capital the life story represents a form of cultural apparatus to accompany a newly aggrandising state and market system. In the situation that is being ‘worked for’ the subject/state, consumer/market confrontation will be immediate. The range of secondary associations and bureaucracies which currently ‘buffer’ or mediate this pattern of social relations will be progressively reduced. The cultural buffer of theory, critique and political commentary will likewise wither. It will not be the state that withers (as in fond Marxist theory) but the critical theory and cultural critique that stand against the state. In the ‘end of history’ we shall indeed see the closure of cultural contestation as evidenced in theoretical and critical discourse. In its place will stand a learned discourse comprising stories and practices - specific local and located but divorced from understandings of social context and social process.

In the next section I review how this cultural redefinition is emerging in some aspects of the media.

The Media Context of Personal Knowledge

This section briefly examines the promotion of more personal stories at the level of the media. The promotional strategies at these levels pose questions about in whose interests the move to more personal knowledge is being undertaken. There is after all an ‘opportunity cost’ to the time being spent on personal stories — in a finite world of time, less time is thereby spent on other aspects, most notably on more wider ranging political and social analysis.

The move towards story-telling is becoming pronounced in the media. This can be seen most clearly in the media of those countries which have retained until recently, a strong tradition of political and cultural analysis. Michael Ignatieff, a Canadian working in Britain and one of the most elegant of cultural analysts recently wrote in The Observer, "Whatever we hacks may piously profess, the media is not in the information business. It is in the story-telling business (Ignatieff 1992, p. 21)". He then details a range of new developments in the British media which evidence this trend. Story-telling and personal anecdotes are the powerful new fashion he writes.

As if to make this plain, ITN's News at Ten is reintroducing its `And finally' end piece, `traditionally devoted to animals, children and royalty'. After footage from Sarajevo, we'll be treated, for example, to the sight of some lovable ducks on a surfboard. The ducks are there not just to cheer us up but to reach those subliminal zones of ourselves which long to believe that the horror of Sarajevo is just so much nasty make-believe.
The audience's longing for stories about ducks on surfboards is only one of the trends which is taking the media away from even notional attention to the real world. The other is the media's growing fascination with itself. The last few weeks have seen this obsession inflate to baroque extremes of narcissism. When Trevor McDonald gets the News at Ten job and Julia Somerville does not: when Sir David English vacates one editor's chair and Simon Jenkins vacates another; when Andrew Neil snarls at the `saintly' Andreas Whittam-Smith and the saint snarls back, I ask myself: does anybody care but us hacks? (Ignatieff 1992, p. 21).

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  • Date of publication: 15/09/2005
  • Number of pages (as Word doc): 272
  • Publisher: Routledge
  • Co-author: NAN
  • Subject:
    Curriculum Studies, Narrative Theory
  • Available in:
    English
  • Appears in:
    Learning, Curriculum and Life Politics: the selected works of Ivor F. Goodson
  • Number of editions: 1
  • Paperback
  • Price of book: £27.99
  • ISBN: 978-0-415-35220-8
  • Purchase this book:
    Routledge
  • Buy used and new from: amazon