Subjectivity, Bildung, pedagogy: “Coming of age” in modernity

Date

2018-10-26

Authors

Heslop, Jacqueline Ann

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Abstract

Subjectivity, Bildung, Pedagogy: “Coming of Age” in Modernity is a trans-disciplinary study of the concept of subjective maturation in the post-Enlightenment West. The study hinges on an historicization of the idea of Bildung, or coming of age, from its inception in the German Enlightenment, through its inflection in Nazism, to its contemporary resonances in literary, psychological and pedagogical discourses. In the first half of the study, I denaturalize the axiomatic view of subjective achievement as a natural process of the private and essential self by disclosing the ideological imbrication of Bildung with modernitys narrative of the progressive development and “emancipation” of liberal individualism. Although Bildung pervades modern culture—the Bildungsroman appears ubiquitously in literature and film—I am less concerned with close readings than with the ways in which the critical discourse about the genre reproduces the ideology of Bildung. In this way, my study is more a meta-criticism about the institutions and discourses of English studies than it is in English studies. Thus, I take a conceptual approach to the genre by tracing the narrative of Bildung as an idea. I explore, furthermore, the entrenchment of the metanarrative of development in the normalizing discourses and institutions of psychology and pedagogy. The narrative of maturation—or the teleological development of full, adult subjectivity as unencumbered autonomy—has normalized as universal and neutral what is in fact modeled on white, Eurocentric, male subjectivity, and, in doing so, has marginalized modernity's gendered, racial, and sexual others. The education of the human race was one of the great promises of the European Enlightenment, a promise articulated in Bildung as pedagogy. The second half of the study engages with contemporary critical pedagogy to investigate the ways autonomous and disengaged individualism intersects with modern notions of disinterested knowledge to legitimize a pedagogy that reproduces relations of power in the university. I conclude by interrogating the notion of academic freedom, the debate over which in Canada embodies fundamental questions regarding modern pedagogy and the “crisis” in the university. Against the undertheorized, classic notion of academic freedom as negative freedom, I argue that a positive conception of freedom offers a way of theorizing academic freedom in terms other than that dictated by the possessive individualism of Bildung.

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Keywords

Subjectivity in literature, Bildungsromans

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