Publication Details

This journal article was originally published as Ashbolt, A, Public Education in the Universe of Closed Discourse, Overland, 186, Autumn 2007, 86-91.


IN HIS CLASSIC ANALYSIS of consumer capitalist society, One Dimensional Man, Herbert Marcuse pinpointed the crucial role of language in fashioning conformist thinking. A one-dimensional framework of thought prevailed and alternative ways of thinking were cast out, characterised as propaganda or absorbed into the dominant discourse and thus suitably domesticated: "The unification of opposites which characterises the commercial and political style is one of the many ways in which discourse and communication make themselves immune against the expression of protest and refusal . . . In exhibiting its contradictions as the token of its truth, this universe of discourse closes itself against any other discourse which is not on its terms. And, by its capacity to assimilate all other terms to its own, it offers the prospect of combining the greatest possible tolerance with the greatest possible unity. Nevertheless its language testifies to the repressive character of this unity. This language speaks in constructions which impose upon the recipient the slanted and abridged meaning, the blocked development of content, the acceptance of that which is offered in the form in which it is offered." There is, to put it in more recent terms, no alternative. As the choices diminish under an ideological cloak proclaiming an abundance of choices, even oppositional forces begin to work within the closed universe of discourse. Thus the education debate in contemporary Australia is dominated by certain assumptions and mythologies. One of these is that the public/private distinction is no longer worth making in any absolute sense.