Slaying the rough beast: an ironist ontology of education

Stock, Nicholas ORCID: 0000-0002-0040-1889 (2021). Slaying the rough beast: an ironist ontology of education. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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This thesis is written within the field of philosophy of education, with a particular interest in poststructuralist and postmodern philosophy, largely from the Rortyan ironist perspective. This perspective holds a consciously ironic comportment to the use of final vocabulary and thus seeks to challenge, destabilise and deconstruct this finality. Such philosophy also incurs an engagement with postmodern ontologies, thus asks the question of ‘what is education?’ through a number of bifurcating perspectives.

Generally, this thesis explores education’s ontology through an interrogation of the language, specifically the vocabulary or metaphor, that pervades educational discourse. A range of seminal texts in the field of educational literature are thus explored through the ironist perspective to
consider how they contribute to education at an ontological level – notably Plato’s Republic, Milton’s Paradise Lost and Rousseau’s Émile. Ironic techniques such as Derridean deconstruction and fictional redescription are employed to inquire about the nature of the vocabulary at play in these texts, and the vocabulary explored is broken down into three key metaphors that are further deconstructed – darkness and light, the shepherd and the flock and Nature. Engagement with these metaphors is shown to have a large bearing on the way education is understood in dominant ontologies, or ‘ontotheologies’.

Furthermore, in the course of this thesis it is uncovered that all philosophical exploration of any kind is only a matter of redescription, and as such holds no privileged place in broader educational discourse. Secondly, as this thesis recognises itself as such, it must admit that it too is open to further redescription. Consequently, this thesis practises an under-utilised technique in academia through an intentionally fictional narrative and vocabulary being intertwined with the archetypically philosophical investigation. It is in this element that the eponymous ‘rough beast’ is explored, as it stands as a potentially horrifying yet illuminating way of understanding the ontology of education. The Yeatsean allusion to the rough beast implies this being is massive, spreading, horrifying, and yet worshipped as humanity’s redemption; the metaphors deconstructed also contribute to the shape of this rough beast.

The conclusions of this thesis are thus important and generally under-recognised in educational research. I contend that such an ontological question is not only neglected by most of the educational field, but perhaps overlooked due to the unsettling, even terrifying, possibilities of what this being might be. A second important conclusion of this thesis is the way in which it claims education cannot be grasped in its wholeness and presence as many educationalists claim to do. In part, the destabilising of education as a being of presence shakes the bedrock of educational study in general; the conclusions drawn in such studies are destabilised in themselves. Thirdly, the being that I present education to be, even if it is one that lacks firm presence, challenges the dominant educational narrative that it is a force for good or societal betterment. Finally, due to the ironic comportment held towards education more broadly, this thesis recognises concerns in the educational structure of a thesis itself, thus the thesis genre is challenged throughout in terms of structure, style and method.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
Licence: All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Social Sciences
School or Department: School of Education, Department of Education and Social Justice
Funders: Other
Other Funders: University of Birmingham, School of Education Studentship
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BD Speculative Philosophy
L Education > L Education (General)
L Education > LA History of education
L Education > LB Theory and practice of education


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