The history of the future and the shifting forms of education


Across the globe, education has recently been through a major semantic shift, where new notions such as ‘learning’, ‘competences’, ‘projects’ came to replace or complement an older, more established, educational vocabulary. The political approach to education has also evolved, as many authors have underlined, from established national forms of governing to global, transnational forms of governance. These evolutions, often abbreviated to shifts ‘from teaching to learning’ and ‘from governing to governance’ have resonated globally and attracted the attention of researchers. Most sociological accounts of such evolutions attribute them to the development and primacy of a preponderant logic, generally politics/power, culture or the economy. Niklas Luhmann’s systems theory, on which we draw in this article, suggests to start from a different, opposite, premise: not the predominance but instead the lack of any predominant logic characterizes modernity. The functional differentiation of modern society into a multiplicity of—specific yet universal—systems should therefore be the pivotal point that helps make sense of these transformations. We argue that the very coexistence of such systems, their simultaneous and therefore uncoordinated existences, increases the complexity of the social world tremendously and leaves them with an uncertain future. The so-called turns to governance and to learning, we argue, should be understood, respectively, as political and educational attempts to deal with this loss of direction.

Educational Philosophy and Theory