The Interpellative Crises of Critical Thinking
thesisposted on 21.10.2015, 00:00 by Kevin C. Carey
Both in academia and in the public sphere there is a strong sense that higher education today is imperiled. While critics from right, left, and center understand “the crisis of higher education” differently, most agree that the cultivation of critical thinking is a (if not the) central purpose of undergraduate education. Despite their ideological differences, these groups understand critical activity to be essentially productive, and that critical thinking is a skill to be taught or produced. My dissertation challenges what I call the “production paradigm” of critical thinking, offering in its stead an interpellative account. I argue that the cultivation of critical citizens entails an ethical and political – i.e. a material – commitment to providing them with the resources generative of such development, as opposed to simply access to quality education. Louis Althusser developed the notion of interpellation in the late 1960s/early 1970s as a way of describing how humans come to know themselves as subjects, and as precisely the kind of subjects that they are. He locates the shaping forces of identity in a matrix of material and discursive experiences that give rise to a person’s ideas, desires, and practices. In examining differing accounts of higher education and its crises, I illuminate how each of them depends implicitly upon the logic of interpellation in making their analyses, while at the same time neglecting to address the material and discursive concerns entailed by such analyses. I frame my understanding of interpellation within the classical notion of the liberal arts. There, “liberal” did not refer to a course of study that would emancipate a person; rather, it referred to the condition of liberty (a material and discursive condition) requisite to pursue and profit from such a course. Thus I argue that if we are truly committed to the value of critical thinking, this obligates us to providing and securing the material and discursive conditions requisite to liberty.