module specification

ED7122 - Critical Theory and Education (2023/24)

Module specification Module approved to run in 2023/24
Module title Critical Theory and Education
Module level Masters (07)
Credit rating for module 20
School School of Social Sciences and Professions
Total study hours 200
30 hours Scheduled learning & teaching activities
9 hours Assessment Preparation / Delivery
161 hours Guided independent study
Assessment components
Type Weighting Qualifying mark Description
Coursework 100%   Coursework
Running in 2023/24

(Please note that module timeslots are subject to change)
Period Campus Day Time Module Leader
Autumn semester North Wednesday Evening

Module summary

The module aims to:
• familiarise students with a wide range of previous academic experience and backgrounds with key moments in the Western intellectual history; 
• analyse the European Enlightenment and its impact on our understanding of the world, the emergence of social sciences and the modern school;
• encourage students to develop a holistic understanding of the Scientific Revolution, the European Enlightenment, and the rise of capitalism and how these intersected with one another in creating the modern world and how these continue to shape and influence the contemporary world;  
• introduce students to multiple perspectives on the social world and their implications for understanding the processes of schooling and education;
• introduce the students to the so called ‘linguistic turn’ in the social sciences and its implications for understanding the social reality, including school curricula and educational processes;


The syllabus is designed in three parts.
It begins with an exploration of the nature and meanings of education as a way to introduce students to basic philosophical questions which seek to form the epistemological and ontological positions present within the study of education. This is followed by critical explorations into the notion of ‘curriculum’ and how it can be thought of as more than text, posing more critical questions around knowledge. The concept of Enlightenment and the consequences of conceptualising knowledge as underpinned by the Scientific Revolution are problematized.
The second part, utilises the definitions and critique developed in the first part of the module to study and explore key sociological perspectives which can be used to argue the ways in which education becomes an element of ideology. The notion of ideology is constructed as embedded in the rise of Capitalism, the dualism of knowledge left from the era of Enlightenment and how these maxims have an impact on dominant ways of understanding learning, children, childhood and the processes of education.
The final part provides opportunities to problematize common-sense ways of looking at social reality, ideas around knowledge and education as a process by engaging rigorously with critical pedagogy. The module will conclude by looking at the works on critical pedagogy to analyse, problematize and interrogate official policies, school curricula and various discursive practices related to education. 
The module will also include a briefing on the assignment, and feedback sessions involving a workshop in which students present and discuss aspects of their essay for in-class peer and tutor review; and a personal tutorial to give feedback on their assignment.

Learning Outcomes LO1 - LO4

Balance of independent study and scheduled teaching activity

Lectures and seminars delivered, once a week, in three hours blocks in the evenings. These contact sessions will be accompanied by some opportunities to extend understanding and analysis of key ideas and issues in the virtual learning space for the module and reading some academic educational research to deepen parts of the theory.

Learning outcomes

On completing this module, the students will be able to:
1. identify and understand the key moments in the history of Western thought;
2. appreciate and articulate the impact of the Scientific Revolution, the European Enlightenment and the rise of capitalism on the modern world and how educational institutions have been conceived and operationalized in a variety of contexts;
3. demonstrate understanding of some key sociological perspectives and how these might be used to engage with and analyse the social world;
4. confidently engage with a variety of theoretical perspectives and use these to analyse and critique the processes and institutions of education.

Assessment strategy

Indicative assessment task:
• a critical essay which analyses evaluates the usefulness of critical theoretical perspectives in understanding the social world of education, whilst showing awareness of educational changes, processes or debates.
Summative Assessment:
• 100% by coursework: one 5000 word essay to be submitted in week 15.


Core reading.

Chapter 1 – ‘The Nature of Education
'Introduction' & 'The Concept of Enlightenment' in Adorno, T. & Horkheimer, M.  [1944] (1997) Dialectic of Enlightenment. London: Verso.

Bartlett, S., and Burton, D. (2012) Introduction to Education Studies. SAGE: Los Angeles.
Bourdieu, P. (1991) Language and Symbolic Power Cambridge:  Polity.

Foucault, M. [1970] ‘The Order of Discourse’ in R. Young (ed.) (1990) Untying the Text: A Post-Structuralist Reader. London: Routledge.

Foucault, M. [1977] ‘Truth and Power’ in M. Foucault (1980) Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews & Other Writings 1972-1977. Harlow: The Harvester Press, Ed. Colin Gordon.

Freire, P. (2000) Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum.

Giroux, H. ‘Theories of Reproduction and Resistance in the New Sociology of Education’ in H. Giroux (2006) The Giroux Reader. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, Ed. Christopher G. Robbins.

hooks, b. (1994) Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. London: Routledge.

Muller, J. (2000) Reclaiming knowledge: social theory, curriculum, and education policy. Routledge: London.

Additional Reading
Althusser, L.  (2008) On Ideology, London: Verso.
Barthes, R. (1993) Mythologies, London Vintage.

Ball, S. J. (2013) Foucault, Power and Education. London: Routledge.
Bourdieu, P. (1991) Language and Symbolic Power, Cambridge : Polity.
Burman, E. (2008) Deconstructing Developmental Psychology, 2nd edition, London: Routledge.
Burr, V. (2003) Social Constructionism, 2nd edition, London: Routledge.
Culler, J. (1986) Ferdinand de Saussure, New York: Cornell University Press.
Foucault, M. (1980) Two Lectures, in Gordon, C. (ed.) Michel Foucault – Power Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-1977 by Michel Foucault, Harlow: Pearson Education Limited.
Foucault, M. (2002) The Archaeology of Knowledge, |London: Routledge. 
Fulcher, J. (2004) Capitalism: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Gergen, K. J. (2008) An Invitation to Social Constructionism, London: Sage.
Giroux, H. (2006) The Giroux Reader, London: Paradigm Publishers.
Henriques, J., Hollway, W., Urwin, C. and Walkerdine, V. (1984) Changing the Subject: Psychology, Social Regulation and Subjectivity, London: Routledge.
James, A. and Prout, A. (eds.) (1997) Constructing and Reconstructing Childhood: Contemporary Issues in the Sociological Study of Childhood, London: UK Falmer Press.
Kojeve, A, (1980) Introduction to the Reading of Hegel: Lectures on the Phenomenology of Spirit, New York: Cornell University Press.
Marcuse, H. (1969) Eros and Civilisation: A Philosophical Inquiry into Freud, London: Allen Lane.
Marx, K. (1996) Wage labour and capital & Wages, price and profit, London: Bookmarks.
Marx, K. and Engels, F. Manifesto of the Communist party, Lawrence and Wishart (ed. And pub.) (1968) Marx and Engels: Selected Works, London: Lawrence and Wishart. 
Morris, M. (2007) Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Wittgenstein and Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, London: Routledge.
Murphy, M. (2013) Social Theory and Education Research: Understanding Foucault, Habermas, Bourdieu and Derrida. London: Routledge.
Potter, J. and Wetherell, M. (1987) Discourse and social psychology: beyond attitudes and behaviour, London: Sage.
Saussure F. (1983) Course in General Linguistics, London: Duckworth. 
Walkerdine, V. (1990) The Mastery of Reason: Cognitive Development and the Production of Rationality, London: Routledge.

Journal Articles:

Allen, L. (2009) ‘The 5 cm rule’: biopower, sexuality and schooling, Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 30:4, 443-456, DOI: 10.1080/01596300903237214.

Bacchi, C. (2000) Policy as Discourse: What does it mean? Where does it get us?, Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 21:1, 45-57, DOI: 10.1080/01596300050005493.

Ball, S. J. &  Olmedo, A.  (2013) Care of the self, resistance and subjectivity under neoliberal governmentalities, Critical Studies in Education, 54:1, 85-96, DOI: 10.1080/17508487.2013.740678.

Cho, M. K. & Apple, M. W. (1998) Schooling, Work and Subjectivity, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 19:3, 269-290, DOI: 10.1080/0142569980190301.

Cooley, A. (2009) Is education a lost cause? Žižek, schooling, and universal emancipation, Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 30:4, 381-395, DOI: 10.1080/01596300903237172.

Mac an Ghaill, M. (1996) Sociology of Education, State Schooling and Social Class: beyond critiques of the New Right hegemony, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 17:2, 163-176, DOI: 10.1080/0142569960170203.

Spohrer, K. (2016) Negotiating and contesting ‘success’: discourses of aspiration in a UK secondary school, Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 37:3, 411-425, DOI: 10.1080/01596306.2015.1044423.

Whitty, G. (2001) Education, social class and social exclusion, Journal of Education Policy, 16:4, 287-295, DOI: 10.1080/02680930110054308.


The Sociological Review -

Electronic Databases:

British Educational Research

British Journal of Sociology of Education

The Sociological Review

Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education

Journal of Philosophy of Education

Educational Review

Critical Studies in Education