Thomas S. Popkewitz

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Thomas S. Popkewitz (born August 16, 1940) is an American curriculum theorist on the faculty at the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Education. His studies are concerned with the knowledge or systems of reason that govern educational policy and research related to pedagogy and teacher education. His research includes histories of the present, ethnographic and comparative studies of national educational reforms in Asia, Europe, Latin America, Southern Africa, and the US. His book Cosmopolitanism and the Age of School Reform (2008) explores the systems of reason in pedagogy through historically examining the changing images and narratives of Enlightenment concerns with cosmopolitanism. He has written or edited approximately 30 books and 300 articles in journals and book chapters. Two of his books (Paradigms and Ideology in Educational Research and A Political Sociology of Educational Reform) have won awards for their contribution to educational studies. His work has been translated into twelve languages (Chinese, Danish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Japanese, Portuguese, Norwegian, Russian, Spanish and Swedish).

Curriculum Theory (CT) is an academic discipline devoted to examining and shaping educational curricula. There are many interpretations of CT, being as narrow as the dynamics of the learning process of one child in a classroom to the lifelong learning path an individual takes. CT can be approached from the educational, philosophical, psychological and sociological perspectives. James MacDonald states "one central concern of theorists is identifying the fundamental unit of curriculum with which to build conceptual systems. Whether this be rational decisions, action processes, language patterns, or any other potential unit has not been agreed upon by the theorists." Curriculum theory is fundamentally concerned with values, the historical analysis of curriculum, ways of viewing current educational curriculum and policy decisions, and theorizing about the curricula of the future.

University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Education

The University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Education is a school within the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Although teacher education was offered at the university’s founding in 1848, the School was officially started in 1930 and today is composed of nine academic departments. U.S. News & World Report in its 2016 Best Grad School rankings rated UW-Madison's School of Education No. 1 among public institutions and tied for fourth overall. In all, seven UW-Madison education specialty programs were ranked by U.S. News among the top three nationally. Diana Hess succeeded Julie Underwood as the school's ninth dean in August 2015.



Popkewitz earned a B.A. at Hunter College, City University of New York (1962), a M.A. at Teachers College, Columbia University (1964) and an Ed.D. from New York University (1970). The American Educational Research Association awarded Popkewitz the Division B (Curriculum Studies) Lifetime Achievement Award (2008) and the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Education gave him its Distinguished Faculty Award (2008). Popkewitz was elected as Fellow to the American Educational Research Association (2014). He has also been awarded a fellowship as Guest Researcher Professor at the French Ministère de L’Éducation Nationale, De L’Ensigeignement Supérieur et De La Recherche, Institut National de Recherche Pédagogique (2010), [1] Distinguished Overseas Professor at East China Normal University (2014–2016), Guest Professor at Luxembourg (2012–2014), Doctor Honoris Causa at the Universidad de Granada in Spain (2014), and Lifetime Honorary Professor at the Nanjing Normal University.

A Bachelor of Arts is a bachelor's degree awarded for an undergraduate course or program in either the liberal arts, sciences, or both. Bachelor of Arts programs generally take three to four years depending on the country, institution, and specific specializations, majors, or minors. The word baccalaureus should not be confused with baccalaureatus, which refers to the one- to two-year postgraduate Bachelor of Arts with Honors degree in some countries.

Hunter College university

Hunter College is one of the constituent colleges of the City University of New York, an American public university. It is located in the Lenox Hill neighborhood of the Upper East Side of Manhattan, New York City. The college offers studies in more than one hundred undergraduate and postgraduate fields across five schools. It also administers Hunter College High School and Hunter College Elementary School.

A Master of Arts is a person who was admitted to a type of master's degree awarded by universities in many countries, and the degree is also named Master of Arts in colloquial speech. The degree is usually contrasted with the Master of Science. Those admitted to the degree typically study linguistics, history, communication studies, diplomacy, public administration, political science, or other subjects within the scope of the humanities and social sciences; however, different universities have different conventions and may also offer the degree for fields typically considered within the natural sciences and mathematics. The degree can be conferred in respect of completing courses and passing examinations, research, or a combination of the two.

Popkewitz began his career at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1970, where he holds the position of Professor. In 1978 Popkewitz was selected by the US State Department to organize an American delegation on teaching and learning for joint Soviet/American seminar at USSR Academy of Pedagogical Sciences Presidium, marking the beginning of a career that has been particularly defined by its international focus. In 1981, he was named a Fulbright Fellow, allowing him to spend the year at the USSR Academy of Pedagogical Sciences as a Senior Researcher. In the fall of 1988 he was a Fellow at the Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study in the Social Sciences in Uppsala and from 1994 to 1999 acted as a Visiting Professor at Umeå University in Sweden. His international work has also included an award (1988) as W. F. Wilson Fellow from the Oppenheimer Foundation 1999–2000, in 1999–2000 a Senior Fulbright Fellow award at the University of Helsinki, and in 2004 a Finnish Academy of Science Fellow award. [1]

Uppsala Place in Uppland, Sweden

Uppsala is the capital of Uppsala County and the fourth-largest city in Sweden, after Stockholm, Gothenburg, and Malmö. It had 168,096 inhabitants in 2017.

Umeå University University in Sweden

Umeå University is a university in Umeå in the mid-northern region of Sweden. The university was founded in 1965 and is the fifth oldest within Sweden's present borders.

The Finnish Academy of Science and Letters is a Finnish learned society. It was founded in 1908 as a Finnish-language counterpart of the Swedish-language Finnish Society of Sciences and Letters, which had existed since 1838.

Curriculum Studies

From the 1940s through the Cold War, curricular thinking was dominated by Ralph W. Tyler and his idea of teaching. In the post-Sputnik years, this procedural and instrumental mentality was recast as the development of scientifically oriented and efficient teaching methods (Pinar, et al.[4]). In the 1960s a variety of social and academic movements recognized the role of the politics of knowledge, cultural differences and the limits of objectivity-based theories. In this context, Pinar and colleagues (1995) consider that Popkewitz summarized the key elements of the new era already in 1988:

Ralph W. Tyler (1902–1994) was an American educator who worked in the field of assessment and evaluation. He served on or advised a number of bodies that set guidelines for the expenditure of federal funds and influenced the underlying policy of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. Tyler chaired the committee that developed the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). He has been called by some as "the father of educational evaluation and assessment".

Understanding research…requires thought about the intersection of biography, history, and social structure. While we are immersed in our personal histories, our practices are not simply products of our intent and will. We take part in the routines of daily life, we use language that is socially created to make camaraderie with others possible, and we develop affiliation with the roles and institutions that give form to our identities. [2] [3]

Green and Cormack (2009) credit Popkewitz with having founded "The Popkewitz School of Research", [4] or alternatively called "the Popkewitz Tradition", [5] that investigates the social epistemology of the school. Green and Cormack (2009) note that the most interesting and conceptually rich work in curriculum has increasingly addressed itself to questions of textuality, language and discourse, noting further that previously there had been little explicit recognition or acknowledgment in the field as a whole of the importance of language in and for schooling, as well as for knowledge, identity and power. They argue that “here what might be appropriately if somewhat provocatively called the Popkewitz school” was a central site of embracing the linguistic turn (2009, p. 224).

Clearly, his research introduced the construct of social epistemology to Curriculum Studies. It considers language and knowledge as cultural practices having significant material consequences, from a theoretical viewpoint far different from Marxist or Neo-Marxist critiques of functionalism and instrumentalism (Pereyra & Franklin, 2014). Popkewits’ publications on social epistemology are: Cosmopolitanism and the age of school reform: Science, education and making society by making the child (2007), translated into Spanish, Swedish, and forthcoming in Chinese and Italian; A political sociology of educational reform: Power/Knowledge in teaching, teacher education, and research (1991), translated into Spanish, Portuguese, and Russian, and forthcoming in Chinese. He co-authored Educational knowledge: Changing relationships between the state, civil society, and the educational community (2000) and Foucault's challenge: Discourse, knowledge, and power in education (1998).

Foucaultian Approaches to Curriculum Studies

Popkewitz draws on the work of philosopher Michel Foucault already in 1988 (Foucault Challenge). [6] In his works, the knowledge of education is an issue of power as productive, as shaping, and in circulation rather than a simplistic concept of power envisioned as negative, juridical, sovereign, and static.

The Political Sociology of Educational Reform takes the sociology of knowledge into dialogue with Foucault and other continental philosophical work. Thus, Popkewitz historicizes knowledge and analyses the way school transforms it into a “psychologized” type in the K-12 curricula. His analysis problematizes reductionist, dualistic and what he calls “administrative conceptions” of being, agency, and change – a social epistemology of knowledge-production as non-monolithic and contingent. Key in Popkewitz's approach is the inherent reflexivity, which enables him to questions the “systems of reason”. In Cosmopolitanism and the Age of School Reform (2008), “the cosmopolitan” is approached through historicizing its epistemological principles. The analysis demonstrates the assemblages of systems of reason and illustrates the shifts within different moments and under different cultural, statist, and global pressures. Popkewitz's research shifts the question in education research from “Whose knowledge is of most worth?” to “What gets to count as knowledge in the first place?” His redefinition attempts to challenge a set of traditional binaries often found in educational research.

Studies of Social Inclusion, Exclusion and Abjection

Popkewitz engages in fundamental questions about social exclusion in national school reform efforts. Popkewitz explores historically and sociologically how a comparative style of thought enters into school reform to recognize difference. In his view, difference produces distinctions and differentiations that leads to exclusion and abjection.

Struggling for the Soul (1998) combines Foucauldian power-knowledge nexus with ethnographic research of teachers in urban and rural schools. The study offers a way of thinking about how differences such as national/international, advanced/left behind are produced through the commonsense reasoning on teaching. The book's focus on urban education is significant as reforming urban education has been a major social policy and research effort since WWII. The volume's thesis is that different ideological positions about school reform and concepts of equity and justice often maintain the same principles of ordering, classifying and dividing, keeping problematic and restricted notions of identity still in play.

Development of New Theoretical Approaches and Constructs

The social epistemology of Popkewitz engages with what he calls “systems of reason.” His research maps “reason” as the historical logic and underlying cultural principles that inform the practices of teacher education, educational reform, and the education sciences. Systems of reason are arbitrary, historical, and culturally constituted. In each time/space, systems of reason influence the construction of the line between truth and falsity, knowledge and opinion, fact and belief. Popkewitz examines how the rules and standards of reason in various disciplinary fields are translated and transformed within the practices of schooling; how historically formed systems of ideas construct our sense of identity; and, how these systems of reason are part of institutional standards and power relations. Through ethnographic,[7] textual and historical studies,[8] he has "made visible" the principles that order and shape how teachers organize, observe, supervise, and evaluate students and has illuminated the ways these systems produce norms that serve to exclude students who are poor or of color.

Popkewitz has developed a number of new constructs to engage in empirical research related to education: double gestures, traveling libraries and the indigenous foreigner, cosmopolitanism as a cultural thesis, the alchemy of school subjects, and salvific themes in secular objects. Through the construct of “traveling libraries,” Popkewitz challenges comparative education scholarship in that he focuses on how ideas travel and intersect with other “authors" to produce particular cultural ways of “seeing” and acting. “Traveling libraries” is linked to an “indigenous foreigner” concept, that implies an ironic understanding how ideas are nationalized and naturalized. This mode of analysis produces a notion of Dewey (2005) as “an indigenous foreigner,” whose ideas connect significantly with other ideas and cultural principles (“traveling libraries”) in different times and geographical spaces that have little to do with pragmatism's historical and cultural origins.

Popkewitz plainly demonstrates that the traveling of discourses is neither purely from a center to a periphery, or from fixed point to fixed point, but rather, it is mediated by sociohistorically specific discursive frames that redefine “the national interest”. What appears to be a unidirectional spread or diffusion of discourses is a far more complex appropriation of available tools enmeshed with localized systems of reason (2009). Highly visible and popular worldwide trends in education are reinterpreted and redefined such as inclusive schooling, best practices, and “Education for All”.

Finally, through his examination of what he calls salvific themes in secular objects, Popkewitz challenges the secularization thesis of modernity as it relates to the school.[10] He articulates how particular strains of American Protestant reformism are inscribed in what are widely viewed as secular education practices; to demonstrate how these discourses have shaped dominant education logics; and to document how they have informed dominant conceptualizations in education sciences of children's learning, problem solving, action, and community.

Popkewitz's approach goes beyond intersectionality studies, systems theory, and the qualitative/quantitative divide. He proposes a radical critique of how the European and American enlightenments helped to constitute what count as good knowledge, good method, good care, and good education through the formation of the very academic disciplines. Through integrating a variety of postfoundationalist literatures, cultural histories, and accounts of American exceptionalism, Popkewitz has demonstrated how narratives that emerged through a particular Protestant reformism shaped dominant education discourse. He is the first scholar in curriculum studies in the US to reference how religious discourses about salvation and redemption were inscribed in educational practices and research. [7]

A variety of “mixed methods” approaches that involve historical, policy, statistical, and ethnographic study illustrate a further innovation in the field. His major contributions in this area include The study of schooling: Field methodologies in educational research and evaluation (1981), Teacher education: A critical examination of its folklore, theory, and practice (1987), The formation of the school subject-matter: The struggle for creating an American institution (1987), Critical theories in education: Changing terrains of knowledge and politics (1997), Cultural history and education: Critical studies on knowledge and schooling (2001), Governing children, families, and education: Restructuring the welfare state (2003), and Education research and policy: Steering the knowledge-based economy (2006).

The international recognition of Popkewitz's (Pereyra & Franklin, 2014) is evident from the translation of his major books, such as, The myth of educational reform: School responses to planned change (1982, into Spanish), Paradigm and ideology in educational research: Social functions of the intellectual (1984, Spanish), Teacher education: A critical examination of its folklore, theory, and practice (1989, Spanish), A political sociology of educational reform: Power/Knowledge and power in teaching, teacher education, and research (1991, Spanish Portuguese, Russian, and Traditional Chinese), Struggling for the Soul: The politics of education and the construction of the teacher (1998, Spanish, Portuguese, and Chinese), Foucault's challenge: Discourse, knowledge, and power in education (2000, with M. Brennan, Spanish), Reformas Educativas e Formacao de Professores Novoa, A., & Popkewitz, T. S. (Eds.), (1992), Cosmopolitanism and the age of school reform: Science, education and making society by making the child (2008, Spanish).

Selected books

Selected articles

Related Research Articles

Discourse written or spoken conversation

Discourse denotes written and spoken communications:

Sociology of knowledge Study of the relationship between human thought and the social context within which it arises, and of the effects prevailing ideas have on societies

The sociology of knowledge is the study of the relationship between human thought and the social context within which it arises, and of the effects prevailing ideas have on societies. It is not a specialized area of sociology but instead deals with broad fundamental questions about the extent and limits of social influences on individuals' lives and the social-cultural basics of our knowledge about the world. Complementary to the sociology of knowledge is the sociology of ignorance, including the study of nescience, ignorance, knowledge gaps, or non-knowledge as inherent features of knowledge making.

Pedagogy the study of education

Pedagogy refers more broadly to the theory and practice of education, and how this influences the growth of learners. Pedagogy, taken as an academic discipline, is the study of how knowledge and skills are exchanged in an educational context, and it considers the interactions that take place during learning. Pedagogies vary greatly, as they reflect the different social, political, cultural contexts from which they emerge. Pedagogy is the act of teaching. Theories of pedagogy increasingly identify the student as an agent, and the teacher as a facilitator. Conventional western pedagogies, however, view the teacher as knowledge holder and student as the recipient of knowledge.

Critical pedagogy is a philosophy of education and social movement that has developed and applied concepts from critical theory and related traditions to the field of education and the study of culture. Advocates of critical pedagogy view teaching as an inherently political act, reject the neutrality of knowledge, and insist that issues of social justice and democracy itself are not distinct from acts of teaching and learning. The goal of critical pedagogy is emancipation from oppression through an awakening of the critical consciousness, based on the Portuguese term conscientização. When achieved, critical consciousness encourages individuals to effect change in their world through social critique and political action.

Michael W. Apple is an educational theorist specialized on education and power, cultural politics, curriculum theory and research, critical teaching, and the development of democratic schools.

A hidden curriculum is a side effect of schooling, "[lessons] which are learned but not openly intended" such as the transmission of norms, values, and beliefs conveyed in the classroom and the social environment. It should be mentioned that the breaktime is an important part of the hidden curriculum.

Peter McLaren Canadian academic

Peter McLaren is Distinguished Professor in Critical Studies, College of Educational Studies, Chapman University, where he is Co-Director of the Paulo Freire Democratic Project and International Ambassador for Global Ethics and Social Justice. He is also Emeritus Professor of Urban Education, University of California, Los Angeles, and Emeritus Professor of Educational Leadership, Miami University of Ohio. He is also Honorary Director of Center for Critical Studies in Education in Northeast Normal University, Changchun, China.

Critical literacy is defined as the ability to take apart various texts in media or writing to find any possible discrimination that the author might have embedded in his or her presentation of the world since authors have social and political influence. This is done by analyzing the messages promoting prejudiced power relationships found naturally in media and written material that go unnoticed otherwise by reading beyond the author’s words and examining the manner in which the author has conveyed his or her ideas about society’s norms to determine whether these ideas contain racial or gender inequality.

Composition studies

Composition studies is the professional field of writing, research, and instruction, focusing especially on writing at the college level in the United States. In many American colleges and universities, undergraduate students must take freshman—sometimes even higher—composition courses.

Madeleine Arnot, née MacDonald is a Professor of Sociology of Education at the University of Cambridge, Faculty of Education. She is Director of Studies (Education) at Jesus College. Internationally known for her work on socio-cultural reproduction theory and her use of Basil Bernstein's theory of pedagogy in relation to gender and education.

Sociology of education

The sociology of education is the study of how public institutions and individual experiences affect education and its outcomes. It is mostly concerned with the public schooling systems of modern industrial societies, including the expansion of higher, further, adult, and continuing education.

Schooling in Capitalist America: Educational Reform and the Contradictions of Economic Life is a 1976 book by Marxist economists Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis. Widely considered a groundbreaking work in sociology of education, it argues the "correspondence principle" explains how the internal organization of schools corresponds to the internal organisation of the capitalist workforce in its structures, norms, and values. For example, the authors assert the hierarchy system in schools reflects the structure of the labour market, with the head teacher as the managing director, pupils fall lower down in the hierarchy. Wearing uniforms and discipline are promoted among students from working class, as it would be in the workplace for lower levels employees. Education provides knowledge of how to interact in the workplace and gives direct preparation for entry into the labour market.

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In the United States and Canada, a school of education is a division within a university that is devoted to scholarship in the field of education, which is an interdisciplinary branch of the social sciences encompassing sociology, psychology, linguistics, economics, political science, public policy, history, and others, all applied to the topic of elementary, secondary, and post-secondary education. The U.S. has 1,206 schools, colleges and departments of education and they exist in 78% of all universities and colleges. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 176,572 individuals were conferred master's degrees in education by degree-granting institutions in the United States in 2006–2007. The number of master's degrees conferred has grown immensely since the 1990s and accounts for one of the discipline areas that awards the highest number of master's degrees in the United States.

Education sciences and education theory seek to describe, understand, and prescribe educational policy and practice. Education sciences include many topics, such as pedagogy, andragogy, curriculum, learning, and education policy, organization and leadership. Educational thought is informed by many disciplines, such as history, philosophy, sociology, and psychology.

Allan Luke is an educator, researcher, and theorist studying literacy, multiliteracies, applied linguistics, and educational sociology and policy. Luke has written or edited over 15 books and more than 200 articles and book chapters. Luke, with Peter Freebody, originated the Four Resources Model of literacy in the 1990s. Part of the New London Group, he was coauthor of the "Pedagogy of Multiliteracies: Designing Social Futures" published in the Harvard Educational Review (1996). He is Emeritus Professor at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia and Adjunct Professor at Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

Mark Olssen New Zealand philosopher

Mark Olssen, FAcSS, a political theorist, holds a professorial chair of higher education at the Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand, and is Emeritus Professor of Political Theory and Education Policy in the Department of Politics within the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Surrey.

Multiliteracies is a term coined in the mid-1990s by the New London Group and is an approach to literacy theory and pedagogy. This approach highlights two key aspects of literacy: linguistic diversity, and multimodal forms of linguistic expression and representation. The term was coined in response to two significant changes in globalized environments: the proliferation of diverse modes of communication through new communications technologies such as the internet, multimedia, and digital media, and the existence of growing linguistic and cultural diversity due to increased transnational migration. Because the way people communicate is changing due to new technologies, and shifts in the usage of the English language within different cultures, a new "literacy" must also be used and developed.

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Tara J. Yosso, Ph.D. is a professor in the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Riverside. Dr. Yosso’s research and teaching apply the frameworks of critical race theory and critical media literacy to examine educational access and opportunity. She is specifically interested in understanding the ways Communities of Color have historically utilized an array of cultural knowledge, skills, abilities, and networks to navigate structures of racial discrimination in pursuit of educational equality. She has authored numerous collaborative and interdisciplinary chapters and articles in publications such as the Harvard Educational Review,International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education,Journal of Popular Film and Television, and The Blackwell Companion to Social Inequalities. She been awarded a Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship for Diversity and Excellence in University Teaching, and honored with a Derrick Bell Legacy Award from the Critical Race Studies in Education Association. She is extensively cited within and beyond the field of education.


  1. 1 2 "Thomas Popkewitz". Department of Curriculum & Instruction, School of Education, University of Wisconsin–Madison. Retrieved 2019-04-25.
  2. Popkewitz, Thomas S. (Winter 1988). "What's in a Research Project: Some Thoughts on the Intersection of History, Social Structure, and Biography". Curriculum Inquiry. 18 (4): 379. doi:10.2307/1179385.
  3. Pinar, William F.; Reynolds, William M.; Slattery, Patrick; Taubman, Peter M. (1995). Understanding Curriculum: An Introduction to the Study of Historical and Contemporary Curriculum Discourses. Peter Lang. p. 55. ISBN   9780820426013.
  4. Cormack, Philip; Green, Bill (2009). "Re-Reading the Historical Record: Curriculum History and the Linguistic Turn". New Curriculum History. Educational Futures. 33: 221–240. doi:10.1163/9789087907655_011.
  5. Pereyra, Miguel; Franklin, Barry, eds. (2014). Systems of Reason and the Politics of Schooling: School Reform and Sciences of Education in the Tradition of Thomas S. Popkewitz. New York; London: Routledge. doi:10.4324/9781315778402. ISBN   9781317696377.
  6. Popkewitz, Thomas S. (1988). Purvis, Ian; Purves, Alan C. (eds.). "Knowledge, power, and a general curriculum". Cultural literacy and the idea of general education. Chicago: National Society for the Study of Education. 2: 69–93.
  7. Popkewitz, Thomas S. (1984). Paradigm and Ideology in Educational Research: The Social Functions of the Intellectual. London: Routledge. ISBN   9780203127957.

Postiglione, G. A. (1986) Reviewed work(s): Paradigm and Ideology in Educational Research: The Social Functions of the Intellectual by Thomas S. Popkewitz. Comparative Education 30(1), 180-182.

(2009) BOOK REVIEWS, Policy Futures in Education, 7(5), 578-580.