Foucault on psychagogy and the politics of education

Nick Dorzweiler*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


For the past half-century, critical pedagogy has represented perhaps the most influential response to traditional ‘banking’ models of education and the political obedience and social conformity they are purported to engender. Precisely because of its lasting impact, however, it has tended to overshadow other possible visions of the critical political potential of education. In this article, I trace the origins and development of a distinctive yet under-discussed concept in Michel Foucault’s late ethical work – psychagogy – to pursue an alternative depiction of education as a critical political practice. Attending to the origins and meaning of psychagogy in Foucault’s work is valuable, I argue, for two reasons. On the one hand, the concept offers a vision of political education that avoids reproducing problematic juridical binaries – truth and ideology, rationality and irrationality, absolved and condemned – that Foucault believed inhered in Enlightenment-era conceptions of emancipation. On the other hand, it demonstrates how political problems of our present might be rendered workable not only through recourse to the authoritative discourses of experts or collective demands of revolutionaries, but also through exercises in subjectivity formation that are rather more quotidian, experiential, and conditional in nature.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)547-567
Number of pages21
JournalContemporary Political Theory
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2021


  • Foucault
  • critical pedagogy
  • education
  • psychagogy
  • specific intellectual

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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