n South African Journal of Higher Education - Education, performance and a cosmopolitan imaginary : towards enhanced democratic reflexivity in South African education

Volume 24, Issue 6
  • ISSN : 1011-3487



This article explores the question of the purpose of education within the context of performance and cosmopolitanism in South Africa. The publication of Jean-Francois Lyotard's classic text, The postmodern condition of knowledge in 1984 spawned much debate and controversy about postmodern framings for education, the most significant of which have been those on the concepts of 'performativity', 'performance', 'incredulity', 'nihilism' and 'paralogy'. Unlike those who associate the use of these postmodern framings for education with a philosophical movement of deconstruction which foregrounds the place of language and discourse and the challenges of foundational certainties (or grand narratives) in thought and action (Lemert in Edwards 2006, 273); or the promotion of individualism and lifestyle practices commensurate with neoliberalism (Featherstone in Edwards 2006, 273); or the offering of space for forms of radical and emancipatory politics which bring to the fore issues of gender, race, ethnicity and sexuality (Ellsworth in Edwards 2006, 273), I wish to talk about education as a performance of a cosmopolitan imaginary. Simply put, I want to argue that the purpose of education is to perform a cosmopolitan imaginary which can unleash a wide range of encounters within educational practices, particularly that of democratic reflexivity. Put in a different way, I want to answer an ontological, ethical and epistemological question: why should performing a cosmopolitan imaginary be considered as a postmodern purpose of education?

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