Education as Agency: Challenging educational individualisation through alternative accounts of the agentic

Matthew Bunn, Matt Lumb


In this paper, we problematise current conceptualisations of agency in education. Firstly, we consider how the construction of the hyper-individual, one that is entirely determined by its own internal capacities, has become the norm within Australian educational policy. We propose that this conceptualisation produces undemocratic educational possibilities, built on assumptions that individuals have the capacity to rationally choose pathways that will maximise their own interests, ignoring the contextually bound ways in which this produces, makes durable and reproduces trajectories of disadvantage and advantage within the educational system. We experiment with how education could be understood if the ontological assumption of the individual was unsettled, with a focus shifting to relations rather than intrinsic entities. To do this, we draw from New Materialist literature, and Karen Barad’s agential realism, to suggest that the assignment of ‘interactive’ agency between fully interiorised individuals, especially through competitive logics, confuses the basis, and possibility, of democratic action. We consider how educative spaces are the enactments and realisation of knowledge and, thus, how an enactment of education is not reducible to separate or separable individuals.


education policy, democracy, agency, individualisation, agential realism

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