Henry Giroux

Russell Haggar

Site Owner

Henry Giroux and Resistance Theory

Click here for Henry Giroux [You Tube 10 minutes]  “All Education is a struggle over what kind of future you want for young people.”

Henry Giroux is currently a professor at McMaster University Canada who in a long and distinguished  career has written more than seventy books on educational theory  and policy. His ideas have occasionally been summarised very briefly in GCE Advanced Level Sociology textbooks such as Sociology : Themes and Perspectives by M. Haralabos and M Holborn  but do not appear regularly  and so A Level Sociology students  might like to consider this brief item as part of their extension work.

Professor Giroux writes from a radical democratic socialist perspective and is consequently highly critical of neoliberal policy and in his most recent work has been vehemently critical of  the policy directions of former US President Donald Trump.

Henry Giroux’s study Theory and Resistance in Education was originally published in 1982 and in this study he sympathises far more with Marxist than with Functionalist perspectives but is nevertheless critical of the work of Louis Althusser and Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis  on the grounds that they overstate the structural power of education systems to help to reproduce capitalist class structures while underestimating  the abilities of pupils and teachers  to apply  human agency  to resist the structural powers of educational institutions.. Therefore, against these authors’ theories of social reproduction  Professor  Giroux develops the alternative resistance theory  which gives much greater emphasis to the importance of human agency as a determinant of human behaviour.

As examples of such resistance, Giroux cites studies by Willis [1977] Hebdige [1979] and Corrigan [1979]  in which school pupils and other young people resist the institutional powers of schools and other capitalist institutions . In relation to the Willis study Giroux accepts that although the “lads”  in the study resist the authority structures of the school,  they express a range of racist and sexist views  and are also keen to  accept the kind of low skilled manual work which  will lead to their own future exploitation. However, for Giroux, progressive teachers should use the pupils’ opposition  to their schooling as an opening to discuss  their socially disadvantaged situation more widely  and thereby  to help the pupils to come to a fuller understanding of their disadvantaged situation.

He hopes that if sufficient  numbers of teachers create opportunities for the discussion of social inequality  and for discussion of the democratic  socialist alternative which he regards as the necessary solution  to national and international social. Economic and political problems, this can contribute to the development of a much wider and more powerful movement for radical democratic socialist reform.

In the Introduction to the second edition of his book [2001[, Professor Giroux notes that it was in the late 1970s and early 1080s that neoliberalism began to emerge as a powerful socio-political project which has subsequently attracted  both powerful support and extreme criticism. Neoliberalism has led to the quasi- marketisation of education which according  to its supporters has resulted in improved overall education standards including those of the most disadvantaged pupils  but which for its critics  has entrenched greater educational inequality.

For Henry Giroux the expansion of neoliberalism has strengthened the necessity of its critique from within the education system, but it can also be argued that under conditions of quasi- marketisation the opportunities to critique and reform  the education system in the direction suggested by Henry Giroux are much reduced.

Meanwhile supporters of neoliberalism argue that it will ultimately improve living standards for all  and that the educational strategies proposed by Henry Giroux would result in an entirely undesirable intrusion of political bias into the educational system . However, the Professor would counter that the current organisation of education, especially in some Republican – controlled American states, is already heavily influenced by neoliberal ideology…and not in a good way.