History of the Reproduction-Resistance Dichotomy in Critical Education

The Line of Critique Against Louis Althusser, 1974-1985


  • David I Backer




Critical Education, Reproduction, Resistance, Althusser


This paper examines one intellectual and historical premise upon which the foundational distinction between reproduction and resistance rests in critical education: the line of critique against the French communist philosopher Louis Althusser’s theory of education. In the paper, I claim that a particular reading of Althusser coming out of British Marxist scholarship in the 1970s helped configure the distinction, making it thinkable for two founders of critical education: Michael W. Apple and Henry A. Giroux. I contend that this set of interpretations of Althusser during the years before and just after Bowles and Ginitis’s Schooling in Capitalist America was published, gave substance to the distinction between reproduction and resistance at the heart of critical education. I first briefly revisit Althusser’s theory of education and its accompanying philosophy as I understand them. I then look at Apple and Giroux’s interpretations of Althusser and the interpretations’ importance to the reproduction-resistance dichotomy. Third, I trace the provenance of their interpretations via their citations to a series of source critiques of Althusser by Jacques Ranciere, Michael Erben and Denis Gleeson, Alex Callinicos, and E. P. Thompson. I conclude the paper by suggesting that, if this earlier line of critique against Althusser were somehow flawed, then the distinction between reproduction and resistance might be flawed as well since Apple and Giroux base their concepts of reproduction and resistance upon it. And if this were the case, scholars and practitioners of critical education would have to rethink the foundations of our general paradigm.

Author Biography

David I Backer

Assistant Professor, College of Education and Social Work, Department of Educational Foundations & Policy Studies, West Chester University of Pennsylvania. Member of the Democratic Socialists of America.