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Auckland Medical Aid Trust Scholarship

Since 2005, Auckland Medical Aid Trust has offered a scholarship of up to $25,000 per year for doctoral
students in New Zealand.  Several of our scholarship recipients have completed PhDs; another is due to
complete this year. Three students are currently being supported by scholarship funding - one at
University of Auckland and two at University of Waikato. 

The purpose of the scholarship is to encourage research into social issues concerning being and
becoming human.

New Zealand is currently debating the impact of the changing relationship between nature and technology
in a number of different fields. This Scholarship is designed to further that debate by promoting discussion
of the cultural, ethical, legal, and spiritual issues arising from such developments.

The Selection Committee will consider projects that intersect with these debates from a number of
disciplines across the arts and humanities, including, but not limited to, bioethics, sociology, philosophy,
anthropology, Maori studies, education, religion, and law.

The Scholarship is administered by the New Zealand Vice-Chancellors' Committee in Wellington,
which will be responsible for publicising the availability of the Scholarship, receiving applications,
assisting the Scholarship's Board in the selection process, advising candidates of the results,
arranging for payments, and reporting annually on the outcomes.

Application details are advertised on the website of Universities New Zealand - Te PÕkai Tara.

Education as a contestable field

It can be argued that the objectives of AMAT embrace the (re)production of the human subject. 
Education, as a discipline and as an event, is crucial to the investigation of the process of producing
human beings.

Education as an event - a phenomenon - is a both an informal and a formal process through which the
'naked' child takes on the physical and metaphysical clothing of its community.

Education as a discipline investigates how this happens, how it can be made to happen better, and
whether or not we can justify some or all of the happenings associated with the education of the child.
There is therefore, a descriptive, an instrumental and an ethical element to much education research,
although obviously some research is more instrumental (how can we do it better) and some is more
ethical (should we be doing this?).

There is often a kind of indignant reaction to education research along the lines that we should leave
people alone to just ‘get on with it’ - ‘leave the kids alone’ as Pink Floyd sang, or stop interfering in family
disciplinary practices (‘spare the rod and spoil the child’), or leave teachers alone so they can get on
with it - as if there were an 'it’ which is innocent of education. Children are educated by parents, siblings,
peers, teachers, reading, and the media in all its forms. Their environment educates them, one way or
another. To envisage a child growing up without learning is like asking a tadpole to grow up out of water.
When Education as a discipline describes, prescribes or evaluates the learning experiences of children it
is not in a situation where an alternative to education is possible. An alternative to formal education may
be possible, but not to education itself, understood in its wider connotations of learning and socialisation.

In this wider sense, education is what enables a community to grow its own replacements. Children are
‘socialised’ or educated into seeing themselves as members of specific communities who take part in
quite definable practices - hip hop, Passover, Christmas, circumcision, Diwali.

There are various viewpoints in the current debate about what makes a good education.

Marxist: It is an important criticism of education that its function is purely to train people as
replacements: that it preserves existing social distinctions and functions and does not have a reforming
or diversifying role. Moreover, in formal education, the criticism is more severe: formal education focuses
on the practices, beliefs and needs of the ruling group and reproduces a society in which the dominant
party not only continues to rule, but its rule is legitimated through the practices of education, because
the definition of what counts - as practices and as curriculum - is in line with the assumptions of the
ruling group, and others are led to accept these practices and assumptions as sufficient reason for their
own continued neglect.

The underlying point of this kind of criticism is that education can become a vehicle for changing the
human subject: it can help people to become aware of the injustices from which they either suffer or
prosper, and by sensitising people, and calling these practices into question, education can make a
difference in the direction of greater social justice. Note that this kind of change can only be done by
procuring a change in the nature of the person themselves: they have to believe differently, question,
act, etc in a way which is not typical of their own parents or social group.

Liberal: Another criticism of education comes from the liberal point of the political compass: it is that
education is often a form of deliberate manipulation of students in order to create some kind of artificial
ideal society. If education is seen in the wider sense of socialisation and learning however, accusations
of ‘social engineering’ are meaningless: all education is social engineering. The forms which we or a
society are accustomed to become ‘naturalised’ so that it is taken for granted that people go through
those steps to become adult persons, rather than perceiving that the adult persons produced by that
society are procured by the educational steps they go through. Education which produces adults who
are just like ourselves does not so readily evoke accusations of ‘social engineering’. But an education
system which produces adults who are conspicuously different to ourselves does, especially if our
children are among the students!

The underlying assumption of this form of reproof is that there is a natural individual: a kind of essential
person whose nature can be enhanced or deformed by education. ‘Education’ and ‘training’ enhances
that person’s essential being. ‘Social engineering’ does not. The autonomy of the individual is threatened
by an education system which imposes some kind of learning on the child which it would not have
chosen, or its parents would not have chosen for it.

Néo-liberal: the notion of the autonomous individual, or the ‘autonomous chooser’, is the dominant idea
of néo-liberalism. It is a little unclear though, from the neo-liberal literature, who is autonomous. It seems
to be the parent who is the chooser - the child is constructed as something more akin to the property of
the parent. So the parent has the right to choose the education he (rarely she) wants for their child.
Education is a commodity which the chooser purchases, and is then added to the child who emerges with
‘added value’. The choice is conducted along the usual néo-liberal lines of maximising value to the
purchaser. Value is seen as financial, rather than social, emotional or cultural. The choice of education is
therefore likely to be a choice of vocational education with a strong expectation of future dividend. The
individual it produces will be markedly different to that produced by a ‘liberal arts’ or religious education.

Human capital theory: is a subset of néo-liberal theory. Investment in education is an investment in
the business of oneself, and is therefore a private matter. However, public prosperity is dependent upon
the creation of certain kinds of workers, and it is an appropriate task for government and public
education to create those skilled workers for the needs of the economy. This however must not be read
as ‘for the needs of the state’, (which would be a position acceptable to Marxists) but rather as
‘acceptable to business’ which has become identified in common parlance with the economy.

Post-structuralism: Post -structuralism is more of a critique of other theories and positions than a
theory or position in itself. However, some of its proponents see it as a kind of super-liberalism:
post-structuralism, by denying the power of meta-narratives, makes the student truly free to choose
whatever kind of education they want. Other see it as a form of updated Marxism: by recognising the
power that society, history, culture have on the production of the subject, post-structuralists destabilise
the notion of the autonomous individual, but by similarly identifying the contingent, spatially and
temporally located nature of those influences, post-structuralists also destabilise the certainties of
conventional Marxism.

All these elements can be seen in current debates around the issues of physical and social reproduction.
In my opinion, it is as appropriate for AMAT to interest itself in these debates concerning social theory as
it is to pursue matters of purely technological relevance to the (re)production of the human subject.

Nesta Devine