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Palgrave Macmillan

Benign Violence: Education in and beyond the Age of Reason

ISBN 9781137272850
Publication Date July 2014
Formats Hardcover Paperback Ebook (EPUB) Ebook (PDF) 
Publisher Palgrave Macmillan

Education is a violent act, yet this violence is concealed by its good intent. Education presents itself as a distinctly improving, enabling practice. Even its most radical critics assume that education is, at core, an incontestable social good.

Setting education in its political context, this book offers a history of good intentions, ranging from the birth of modern schooling and modern examination, to the rise (and fall) of meritocracy. In challenging all that is well-intentioned in education, this book reveals how our educational commitments are always underwritten by violence. Our highest ideals have the lowest origins.

Seeking to unsettle a settled conscience, this book is designed to disturb the reader. Education constitutes us as subjects; we owe our existence to its violent inscriptions. Those who refuse or rebel against our educational present must begin by objecting to the subjects we have become.

  • Short-listed for the British Sociological Association's Philip Abrams Memorial Prize 2015

Ansgar Allen is a Lecturer in Education at the University of Sheffield, UK.

1. Bodies

2. Populations

3. Meritocracies


BSA Philip Abrams Memorial Prize 2015 - Shortlisted
"We should invert the old cliché: this book talks Power to Truth, and does so brilliantly... He tells us, in effect, to stick our liberalism up our holism." - Prof Ian Stronach, Liverpool John Moores University, UK
"The great distinction of this book is that it is unremittingly and wonderfully offensive to liberal piety, that whispering ghost that sighs its sad way through the instituted wreckage of the education system. Ansgar Allen's genealogy of examination sets out education's passage from optimistic or sinister (as you will) Enlightenment dreaming to the structured chaos and brutality that today makes knowledge and its transmission safe for capitalism. If you can face up to what education has become, read this book." - Dr Roy Goddard, University of Sheffield, UK
"Allen shows us that the classroom is a dangerous place, forensically and painfully he very convincingly spoils our love affair with education... Beautifully written and exquisitely understated - this should be required reading for every would-be educator." - Prof Stephen Ball, Institute of Education, University of London, UK
"Brilliantly original and beautifully written....If you think that education should be guided by such high- minded liberal principles as freedom, equality and rational autonomy then this book will certainly make you think again." - Prof Wilfred Carr, University of Sheffield, UK
"This book is subtly written and conceived, meticulously scholarly but above all it invites us, coolly, persuasively, to abandon what's left of our present faith and to commit to the serious, difficult business of forging new bearings." - Dr Nick Peim, University of Birmingham, UK
"Full marks for this critique of examination. An antidote to contemporary educational platitudes and banalities of aspiration and meritocracy that sanitise and soothe away their technological continuities with eugenics. A rare Foucauldian critique combining outstanding scholarship with the incitement to action. Every teacher, parent and student needs to read this." - Prof Erica Burman, University of Manchester, UK
"I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book. I loved the unique style you offered, it was quite different from the usual academic literature I read. ... It is always refreshing and quite satisfying to read a book that is clear from the beginning and makes sense. There is a clear sense of rebellion but its great to see an academic who does not sit on the fence and is not in fear of offending other academics. It's great to be different!" - Sumera Usman, undergraduate student
"Allen's ... prose is well crafted, sparing and provocative." - Kathryn Ecclestone, Journal of Education Policy
"This is a brave and important book which sets forth an intensely claustrophobic analysis of the operation of power in society, creating new precedents for future critiques of education, examination and meritocracy." - British Journal of Education Studies
"This is a rich, admirable, provocative, timely, and refreshing book." - Stpehen Ball, openDemocracy
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