The Alchemies Of The Arts In Education, Problematizing Some Of The Ingredients Of The Recipe

  • ECER 2017 Copenhagen, 23 de agosto de 2017

One of the most common thoughts and sayings about the arts in education is their power to enhance creativity and motivation in children and youth. This idea is almost taken as an unquestionable evidence when discussing the impacts of the arts in education. The arts are believed to make students more focused, highly motivated when compared to the rest of curriculum subjects, make students improve the results in tests and subjects as maths or sciences, and enhance creativity in order to prepare the citizens of the 21st century, among many other rethorical arguments. In this paper, my aim is to problematize these blind spots, by questioning how the arguments of creativity, motivation and potential are part of the alchemies of the curriculum subjects that act as technologies of government in the making of the contemporary neoliberal citizen as a moral and well behaved subject (Martins, 2013). These discourses on the intrinsec and instrumental values of the arts are shared, with different intensities, by experts in arts education, educators in general, parents and commonly repeated by government agencies. I will consider some of the ingredients of these discourses, such as creativity and motivation, not as natural attributes of the person that can be insuflated and raised through the arts, but as classifications that are mobilized in the making up of a certain kind of subject. In this line, I will take a historical approach as a way of denaturalizing the psychological categories inscribed in these discourses.


My departure platform is both theoretical and methodological. I start from the understanding of language not only as a way of describing a reality, but as a material practice that makes what counts as reality. I borrow from Michel Foucault (1981 [1970]) these compreehension of discursive practices as constitutive of what can be seen, said, thought, acted on, and also of what is impossible to see, say or do. Tom Popkewitz uses the metaphor of the recipe and the outcome to explain how the outcome becomes a determinate object whose ingredients and historical layers are forgotten when it appears as an essential and finished object. In terms of the arts in education, my goal is to deconstruct the recipe to make visible the ingredients used, and that make possible to think about the arts in education through the rethorics of their impacts and as a way of governing people in the present. This is also what Popkewitz considers as the ‘alchemies’ of school subjects “that transmogrify disciplinary thinking into normalizing pedagogies for making the child who he is and who he should be” (2007, p. 65). This making up of the child is here explored through Hacking’s (2002) notion of ‘making up people’ as a style of reasoning that fabricates certain human kinds. In the discourses about the powers of the arts in education, my intention is to examine the psychological style of reasoning inscribed in the educational purposes of the arts. These discourses, as stated through Popkewitz’s notion of alchemy, do not talk about the arts but about moral ways of living and being that determine who the child is but also who is not the desired child of the 21 st century. The classifications used to describe that child, mainly psychological, will be taken in their historicity. The historian of psychology Kurt Danziger (1997) states that the Western assumption on the universality and validity of many psychological categories used to describe the subject misses its historical construction. Topics such as motivation, creativity, personality, among many others, only acquire their meanings according to a certain system of possibilities. They are not natural objects. My aim in the paper is in disrupting these consensus, as a way of exposing these categories and these unquestionable impacts of the arts in education, as inventions with a great degree of arbitrariness and contingency. Both the arbitrariness and contingency makes what is (im)possible for us to think.

Expected Outcomes

Through the analysis of research papers and governmental documents on the impacts of the arts in education, I will question the systems of rationality embodied in these documents. My intention is to make strange what appears to be natural as a way of depicting how these discourses are not only describing realities, but making those realities as possible to be seen and thought as such. My argument is that the discursive practices attached to the arts in education make up a certain kind of subject and also traces the limits of its abject.


Danziger, K. (1997). Naming the Mind: How Psychology found its language. London, Thousand Oaks, New Delhi: Sage Publications.
Foucault, M. (1981 [1970]). The order of discourse. Robert Young (ed.), Untying the text: A Post-structuralist raeder, pp. 48-78. Boston, London and Henley: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Hacking, I. (2002). Inaugural Lecture: Chair of Philosophy and History of Scientific Concepts at The Collège de France, 16 January 2001.
Martins, C. (2013). Disrupting the consensus: Creativity in european educational discourses as a technology of government. Knowledge Cultures 2, 3, pp. 118-135.
Popkewitz, T. (2002). Alchemies and governing: or, questions about the questions we ask. Educational Philosophy and Theory, pp. 64-83.

Event Title European Conference on Educational Research
Comunication Title The Alchemies Of The Arts In Education, Problematizing Some Of The Ingredients Of The Recipe
Date 23 of August of 2017
URL Link