The Failed Ubermensch: A Marxist Reading of Crime and Punishment


Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment highlights the turmoil, and tribulations of the societal exclusion of 19th century Russia’s lower class. Raskolnikov, Dostoevsky’s neuroses-ridden, eccentric wanders about the streets of Saint Petersburg while rubbing shoulders with the city’s cesspool of drunkards and the poverty stricken depressed. Alas, Crime and Punishment can be read as a Marxist text in which Raskolnikov becomes a proletariat figurehead driven by a Nietzschean, ubermensch ideology. Yet, in contrast to Nietzsche’s extreme philosophy of a Napoleonic will to power, Dostoevsky rehabilitates his characters with the whimsical, deus ex machina of Christian forgiveness. This paper aims to analyze Crime and Punishment as a literary piece that reveals Marxist class divisions in 19th century Saint Petersburg. Through this dissection, a follow up argument will be concluded in relation to Raskolnikov’s nature as a representative failure of communist ideals in which his effort to “crossover” with a Nietzschean god complex is aborted due to his impotence to erode the societal field of play and his all too easy acceptance of Christian redemption.

Raskolnikov’s Saint Petersburg is one of drunken strife and citizenry depression. His inveterate compulsion to simultaneously riddle himself with the lower stratum yet mentally distance himself from these “louses” reflects an internal conflict that is both disgust and fascination with the marginalized subalterns and their pecuniary disadvantages. The perhaps equally neurotic Katerina Ivanovna embodies the lower class’s jealousy of the elite’s material and opulent lifestyles. Her own pathologic obsession with her ostensible, aristocratic heritage becomes the evident gap in which her desire to be considered of noble origin is presented in her articulated delineation of upper class, culture capital. For example, in the wake of her husband’s death, Ivanovna indulges in a luxurious funeral despite her poor, financial condition. The intention stems from a last resort opportunity to demonstrate her purported nobility, “[…she wanted to show] that she had been brought up ‘in a noble, one might even say aristocratic, colonel’s house,’ and was not at all prepared for sweeping the floor herself and washing the children’s rags at night” (378). Her situation only unveils the state of hopelessness that Raskolnikov is exposed to in Saint Petersburg. Ivanovna’s condition is a tragic one in which her attempts to imitate an upper class identity ends dismally when a fight breaks out between her German landlord and herself — destroying her aristocratic facade. Alas, class struggle is reified in this instance as the perpetual inferiority and desperation of economic struggles dictating social determinism. In conjunction, Ivanovna’s stepdaughter and Raskolnikov’s archetypal, savior Sonya, is forced into prostitution in order to financially sustain her family (14).

Luzhin, the nefarious fiancé to Raskolnikov’s sister Dunya, plays the role as the Marxist, bourgeois villain. His determination for power and control is manifested in his sexualization of class differences, specifically in his relationship to Dunya. The narrator tells:

In deepest secret, he entertained rapturous thoughts of a well-behaved and poor girl (she must be poor), very young, very pretty, well born and educated, very intimidated, who had experienced a great many misfortunes and was utterly cowed before him, a girl who would all her life regard him as her salvation, stand in awe of him, obey him, wonder at him and him alone. (307)

Luzhin’s schemes involve the manipulation of Dunya’s poverty and desperation as a means to satisfy his perverse desire to socially control a “well-behaved and poor girl”. His objective seeks to play the economic field of class differences in order to inculcate Dunya into a financial and, perhaps, sexual slave through the pretense of marriage wrapped in the lie of social and monetary salvation. In another attempt at manipulating class divisions, Luzhin attempts to frame Sonya as a thief during her father’s funeral. If it were not for Luzhin’s progressive, socialist roommate Andre Semyonovich to attest on Sonya’s behalf that Luzhin is playing a ruse, he would have succeeded in using the socio-economic playing field for his own depraved objectives (398).

Raskolnikov’s world is one filled with despair and social stagnation. He himself is alienated by his financial struggles as a university dropout in which his repulsion of contemporary society is only heightened by his detest for the upper class characters of the metropolis; driving him to hatch a master plan motivated by Marxist ideals. In a private setting with Sonya, he discloses his reasons for committing the murder of the gluttonous pawnbroker at the start of the novel, “Well… well, so I decided to take possession of the old woman’s money and use it for my first years, without tormenting my mother, to support myself at the university […]” (416). Raskolnikov can be viewed as symbol for the proletariat in which he is an eccentric who is mentally putrefied by the socio-economic conditions of 19th century Russia. Thus, class divisions have taken their toll on his psyche and his reaction is an act of violence, which can embody the Marxist armed struggle. The pawnbroker he murders is a symbol of the upper class greed who, while in the eyes of the law, has done nothing wrong but for Raskolnikov and Marxist thought, she is the bourgeois enemy who allocates finances against the detested lower stratum. Raskolnikov’s act of murder is a political transgression, which supersedes the law in terms of his moral convictions that she is the one who is ethically depraved. The violence enacted seeks to redistribute wealth in which her belongings would be ripped from her avarice disposition and allotted into his own life to alleviate his financial burdens. The wealth would then be transitioned from the upper to lower stratum, in which this act, despite its morbidity, is nonetheless a utilitarian motion against the amoral elite. In this interpretation, Raskolnikov is attempting to reorganize the objective field by tearing off the yoke of Marxist false consciousness, in which his actions are beyond the scope of what is considered lawful in order to restructure the notions of good and evil.

The complications of these actions arise when Raskolnikov becomes overwhelmed with murderous guilt. Plagued by nightmares and physical illness, the embodied self-condemnation eventually is released when he discloses the truth to Sonya who seemingly solves his feelings by urging him to turn himself in both to the authorities and to Christianity’s redemption (421). Here, Marxist thought is aborted and Raskolnikov becomes the failed ubermensch who was unable to follow through with the Nietzschean will to power. While, Dostoevsky stresses a prescription of Christian doctrine as the panacea to Russia’s societal diseases, this can be viewed as Raskolnikov’s return to false consciousness. His inability to proceed with the aftermath of the murder only reflects that he has appropriated the concocted contemporary discourse that stunts progress for Saint Petersburg’s subaltern caste and reproduces class divisions devoid of socio-economic change. The elite win through the false indoctrination of Christian atonement pressured upon Raskolnikov and his guilt through the words of Sonya and the detective Porfiry.

Prior to the Raskolnikov’s confession to the authorities, his personal ideology has an immediate connection to Nietzsche’s notions of the slave and master moralities. For Raskolnikov the human race is split between the “louses” and the Napoleonic heroes. These heroes are men transcended in which they are the ones who embellish their personal motivations to lead the remaining masses of people (415-419). These men who can bend the arc of history can be considered Nietzsche’s ubermensch and this dichotomy of moralities is dictated in Beyond Good and Evil (153). The inspiration from Dostoevsky’s character is evident but where Raskolnikov fails, Nietzsche’s ubermensch would persevere. Here, he describes the condition in which the master morality transcends and breaks the mold of society populated by the louses:

Most of all, however, the master morality is foreign and embarrassing to current taste because of the severity of its fundamental principle: that we have duties only towards our peers and that we may treat those of lower rank, anything foreign as we think best or ‘as out heart dictates’ or in any event ‘beyond good and evil’ […]. (155)

The morality from the elite must adjust the objective field of society by its foreign conceptions that break the inherent morals of the day. Raskolnikov’s ideology drives him to murder the pawnbroker, in which his rationale is foreign but utilitarian. Though, much to Nietzsche’s dismay, he becomes absorbed by Christian thought and sacrifices his will to power for the pleasures of artificial forgiveness and atonement. Raskolnikov’s blunder and inability to “crossover” could not come to fruition and thus, in the ideas of both Marxist ideology and Nietzschean morality, Raskolnikov fails to throttle his personal philosophy into a successful and objective reality.

Crime and Punishment can be read as a literary text that embodies the Marxist notions of alienation of the lower class. As Raskolnikov oscillates in and out of his frantic neuroses, his desire to end the looming doom that something is amiss in Russia cannot be completed due to the ebullition of his guilt. Thus, he is the failed ubermensch that could not reconstruct the world at large, even if it was just the murder of a small, greedy pawnbroker. Regardless, the reading of Crime and Punishment can be viewed as evidence of the precursor conditions to the future Russian Revolution in which a Marxist revolt (though guided by the bourgeoisie) eventually reorganizes the state. Raskolnikov shows a progression of his discontent into a Nietzschean ideology but eventually is disrupted by a weak and guilty conscious. Whereas he basks in the newfound forgiveness of Christianity, others, not in a Dostoevskian world, would take the mantle of the ubermensch to ultimately crossover and change the societal conditions. Perhaps it is Lenin who would inevitably, progress over the inherent notions of good and evil — crime and punishment.

Works Cited

Dostoyevsky, Fyodor, Richard Pevear, and Larissa Volokhonsky. Crime and Punishment. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993. Print.

Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm, and Marion Faber. Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008. Print.


Mexico’s Education System: A Battleground for Class Struggle Problems and Solutions


The Mexican education system is an arena where social and economic strata manifest themselves as symbols for the politically driven elite and the lower/middle class. On one side The National Union of Education Workers (SNTE) regards itself as the defender of the lower class whereas the government’s imposition to alter education policy is viewed as the ruling elite’s attempts to increase state power (Knowland 2014). In this sense, education policy and education reform become distinct discourses where the divisions between Mexican classes make themselves visible. In conjunction with the Marxist embedded union versus state oppositions, there are also greater subliminal contentions that make themselves known through the dissection of Mexico’s education system.

Mexican Education and Social Stratification I:

Habitus, Higher Education and Political Nepotism

To begin, higher education in Mexico reflects the complicated social stratification of the population due to divisional economic status and the lack of opportunities for social mobility. Since the 1990s there has been a decrease in confidence in the ability of public universities to efficiently provide an education in which students can prosper from their degrees (Higher Education in Mexico: From unregulated expansion to evaluation Kent, 79). Similarly, and as expected, due to such a shared sentiment, private institutions have only led to greater social mobility for the already established elite (79), the reason being a higher quality of education in private institutions, “[…] by well-trained and full-time academics,” who have motioned towards developing research as integral pieces of their schools (74). Such a stress on research-oriented programs has proven to expand university and college quality and to allow them a “foot-in-the-door” to the greater, higher education community.

The National Autonomous University (UNAM), which is the most highly regarded private institution in Mexico, is a powerful player in the realm of higher education discourse. In Education and Political Recruitment in Mexico: The Alemán Generation, Roderic Ai Camp gathers research during the time of President Miguel Alemán’s rise to power in 1946 when there was a substantial increase in educational recruitment into political offices from UNAM (Camp, 301-302). Educational recruitment represents a stratification of social class in which the elite are able to reproduce positions in office for their closest friends and allies. To this degree, education and politics blend into one as only certain segments of Mexican society enter into these education institutions, thus easily allowing them to seep into government roles. Camp stresses that this form of nepotistic allocation of political positions is deeply rooted not necessarily in the educational institution but rather in the relationships students have with each other and their professors: “ […] not only do many students remember individual teachers; their careers in public life were actually initiated and supported by such teachers” (313). Higher education and political life eventually become synthesized into one another, as each piece becomes an extension of itself by permitting the upper class to marginalize the lower stratum from opportunities for both social mobility and political life.

Here, higher education can be viewed not as bodies of knowledge that aim to increase the well-being of the greater Mexican population, but as tools for political and social reproduction of the elite. The role of UNAM has been reconstructed through nepotism as a method to draw lines through society and to siphon in only those who fit the correct social criteria and economic status. Much of this social reproduction does not originate in higher education but is inherently solidified through primary and secondary schooling (Camp 297). Due to its extensive origins then, it is worth analyzing such practices of the elite through a sociological lens. That is to say, these are not simply coincidental motions of political and educational life, but rather they are communal and reproductive practices that have fundamental implications in the way Mexico’s society is structured and experienced.

The French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of habitus has become a useful analytical tool in understanding the corridors of power between social classes. In his Logic of Practice (1980), Bourdieu explains that habitus is constituted by

[…] systems of durable, transposable dispositions, structured structures predisposed to function as structuring structures, that is, as principles which generate and organize practices and representations that can be objectively adapted to their outcomes without presupposing a conscious aiming at ends of an express mastery of the operations necessary in order to attain them. Objectively ‘regulated’ and ‘regular’ without being in any way the product of obedience to rules, they can be collectively orchestrated without being the product of the organizing action of a ‘conductor.’ (54)

In other words, habitus exists as inherent structures that produce our social worlds and the manner in which we navigate through them. Our demeanors are thus the results of the conditioning we instinctively receive from the social classes we were born into. Habitus is a means of social reproduction in which our lives are predetermined by “motivating structures” (54) that drive our interactions with others and our relationships with our social worlds. A key piece is the idea of a rebirth of inherent social qualities that the present gleans from the past. In this sense habitus is a “[…] product of history [that] produces individual and collective practices – more history – in accordance with the schemes generated by history” (55).

Habitus becomes the background that defines the stratification of Mexico’s social classes. Teleologically, the political and government positions become the end goals of social processes that begin through the primary conditioning of Mexico’s elite in specific educational environments. The private elementary school evolves into the private high school, which then siphons the upper class into a private tertiary institution. Bourdieu may overuse terms such as “structuring structures,” but they are indeed necessary in explaining the methods in which social classes are reproduced through social architectures that command not just the most miniscule, such as the way we speak or act, but also the grander image of how pockets of power are distributed in Mexican society. This is defined by means of who does and who does not have the right and ability to access certain resources, social mobility, and, within both of those contexts, education. The lower class lacks the resources and, one could argue, the right to access the communal sphere or higher education. This then relegates them to the same position where each generation is prone to the cyclical lifestyle associated with the bottom stratum. Thus, they are pressured to remain on the outer rim of the elite society.

If one can expand this even further, education is not just a resource that is accessible to certain members of society but it also becomes an institutional tool that cuts up the populi into certain divisions in which the ability to navigate the political and social realm becomes accessible only to the elite few. By closing the social advancement of one group and not the other, the opportunity for the upper class to reproduce itself, generation after generation, becomes increasingly stabilized and regimented. In conjunction, the blending of the political realm with higher education further stratifies classes and constructs private, social avenues in which only those with the elite habitus can maneuver, operate and then reestablish these cyclical, political and social trajectories that oppress and marginalize the lower class for elite preservation. Education is deterministic and lacks opportunities for non-upper class students. It is not a tool of liberation but rather a structured system whose marginalized products are inculcated in divided social worlds.

Another level of analysis that stems from an examination of Mexico’s higher education is whether or not these political actors are aware that their nepotistic tendencies have the implications that they do. If above I could argue that higher education no longer serves a purpose to educate but rather to divide and control, then in this sense it has also taken on a mind of its own. Its very fabric of existence is to regiment and control the distribution of bodies and their location, physically, economically, racially, and socially. If habitus is the milieu that dictates the lives and strata of society, then education has failed to condition itself into a function of social mobility and has become another cog in the machine to oppress and control.

If societal practices from the local to the global are manifested through a social milieu, then Michel Foucault’s conception of the docile bodies in which we appropriate authority is not at odds with Bourdieu’s sociology. Foucault’s interest lies in the method in which the body becomes an object of control:

This new object is the natural body, the bearer of forces and the seat of duration; it is the body susceptible to specific operations, which have their order, their stages, their mental conditions, their constituent elements. In becoming the target for new mechanisms of power, the body is offered up to new forms of knowledge. It is the body of exercise, rather than a speculative physics; a body manipulated by authority […] (Discipline and Punish, 155)

If education has become a tool to bifurcate classes at the hand of the elite, then the latter’s habitual marginalization of the lower classes’ social mobility treats these strata as objects to control and to funnel into the peripheries of society. They have become objectified into labor producers but with no benefit to their financial apparatuses. Education has lost its ability to enrich the lives of all, but rather it has evolved into (or perhaps has been) a tool to sustain the gap between social classes. Even Foucault, in his great debate against Noam Chomsky, states, “We all know that university and the whole educational system that [sic] is supposed to distribute knowledge, we know that the educational system maintains the power in the hands of a certain social class and exclude the other social class from this power” (1971).

Another level of applicable analysis is that of Paolo Freire’s notions of revolution and education within his momentous work Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970). His final chapter outlines how part of the oppressor’s ability to preserve control is that of division. By systematically “Dividing in order to preserve the status quo […],” the hegemonic structure of Mexican society is sustained (145). Such a bifurcation of classes in education is increasingly dangerous as higher education has all too easily become a platform in which the lower class is separated from political life through the nepotistic tendencies that have now become a normality.

However, if we can still digest the post-modern pill, we should be hesitant to impose all blame on this vilified, social elite. Below, I will shed light on the contentions between the upper and lower class through education reform. If above I identified and analyzed issues stemming from the elite’s institutional violence through education, then below I will do the same for the lower class. This is not to say either side is a hundred percent in the right, but rather there is a failure in dialogics, admittance and recognition of the education problem which needs to be resolved through the discovery of a class middle ground.

Mexican Education and Social Stratification II:

Peña Nieto and Union Hypocrisy

In September of 2013, President Enrique Peña Nieto signed in new educational reforms that finally (subdued) / engaged in the SNTE’s longstanding battle to control teacher wages and positions. Peña Nieto’s reforms usurp union power through government policies that have, more specifically, mandated teacher testing and increased the state’s regulation of the hiring process (Teachers, Education Reform, and Mexico’s Left Smith, 1). Although the unions have successfully dominated the allocation of finances and decisions as to who obtains certain positions in educational institutions, the reforms have altered the playing field by significantly degrading their political and educational control.

Due to such a transfer of power, unions and their supporters have taken to the streets in Mexico City to accuse Peña Nieto and his administration of purposefully attempting to further stratify social classes and to position Mexico closer to an ostensibly successful neoliberal state. Despite the validity and falsity of both sides, the situation echoes a Marxist struggle as the unions have become representatives of the lower stratum, and the government, despite its claims with regard to oncoming years of educational prosperity, has been framed as the nefarious and oppressive upper class. The unions’ discourse evokes an us versus them dichotomy that seems to further solidify the distinctions between elite and non-elite:

Como no conviene a los intereses de los ricos que la sociedad conozca lo que esconde esta reforma, la mayoría  de los medios de comunicación de nuestro país, que están al servicio del gobierno  y de los grupos que tienen el poder político y económico (televisión, radio, periódico),  difunden noticias mentirosas que mantienen al pueblo confundido, facilitando la manipulación de la opinión sobre la lucha magisterial y popular. El quehacer educativo es preocupación de primer orden en cada uno de las maestras y maestros que estamos presentes en la lucha nacional. Nuestras acciones están encaminadas consecuentemente con nuestro papel de ser transformadores sociales por una mejor educación que necesitan los pueblos de México. Nuestro actuar en esta lucha, nos hace más conscientes y nos impulsa con mayor compromiso en el acompañamiento de los padres de familia y sociedad en general por ofrecer una educación que sirva realmente en la formación integral y armónica de las niñas, niños y jóvenes de nuestra nación. (Documento para padres de familia y pueblo en general de México 2013)

[It doesn’t suit the rich that society knows what hides in this reform / this reform hides, the majority of the media in our country, that are in government service and groups who hold political and economic power (television, radio, newspaper), lie and spread news that keep / keeps people confused, facilitating the manipulation of opinion of the magisterial and popular struggle. The educational workers’ top concern is each of the teachers who are present in the national struggle. Our actions are consequently determined by our role as social transformers for better education that the people of Mexico need. Our actions in this fight make us more aware and urge us to greater commitment in accompanying parents and society in general to provide an education that truly serves the integral and harmonious formation of children and youth in our nation.]

The SNTE thereby reifies a Mexico in which the rich, the upper class and the government have become blended into one scheming and oppressive entity. The above quote aims to take the woes of Mexico’s societal struggle and to reframe the unions as educational messiahs whose objective is to position themselves as “social transformers” against the upper class’ sinister agenda. Education becomes a topic of warfare in which the unions impose a certain frame to instill themselves as heroes of the oppressed. Yet, despite their assertion of increasing education, their previous tendencies involving teaching positions and finances reflect politically narcissistic ideologies (or so it seems).

Paulo Freire would perhaps go further, since these attempts to mend the education situation may be political facades: “Almost always the metropolitan society induces these reformist solutions in response to the demands of the historical process, as a new way of preserving its hegemony” (162). Don Knowland’s “Mexican government imposes education ‘reform’ over protests” (2014) states that “Ultimately, the education reform represented an effort by the Mexican ruling class to discredit and divide teachers from parents and the rest of the population, by accusing them of being overpaid and incompetent.” In this sense, the class statuses are made visible when education policy becomes the battleground for the organization of Mexican society. Thus, education reform has transformed into an outlet where social stratification becomes apparent through movement, protest and discourse.

In an alternate view, Jeffrey Puryear, Lucrecia Santibañaz and Alexandra Solano argue that the unions are in the wrong due to their ability to dominate the education discourse, not by trying to improve the condition of schools or education but by ensuring that teachers’ salaries are their primary concern and not the welfare of students (91). While each side attempts to argue for the overall improvement of education, there is a discomfort in that the agendas both fail to recognize their own flaws.

The argument against education reform imposed by the government stems from the political side’s ostensible negligence in recognizing Mexico’s poor infrastructure and the overall poverty of the population (Knowland 1). President Peña Nieto plans to standardize hiring and the promotion of teachers have been perceived as an attack on the lower class. Yet following Puryear, Santibañaz and Solano, it has also been reported that the education system has become increasingly corrupt, with some teachers secretly undermining education funding for personal purposes:

More than a year after an education overhaul in Mexico, a private research center said Wednesday that it had found hundreds of teachers making ‘exorbitant’ salaries, scores who earn more than the nation’s president, hundreds of ‘ghost schools’ – which siphon off funds but don’t exist – and even hundreds of schools that don’t have electricity (In Mexican education, huge salaries, ‘ghost’ schools Johnson, McClatchy 1)

It would therefore appear that state intervention is necessary in order to combat the allocation of finances by teachers who are exploiting funding for personal gain. If the discourse of education is perceived as a battleground for classes, then how does one make sense of the unions’ irresponsible actions to promote better quality education if one can argue that stronger educational bodies would increase standards of living? In conjunction, Puryear, Santibañaz and Solano mention that some of education funding goes into teachers’ salaries whereas there is none left for “Basic school construction, maintenance and facility issues [that] plague communities across the country” (93). If this is true, then the unions’ claims that the government’s new reforms fail to recognize the systemic issues, such as poor infrastructure and lack of resources, are false. Rather, corrupt educators’ perpetual desire for greater income is the cause of these educational failures.

In this sense, government intervention is necessary to weed out corrupt teachers and to regulate hiring and payment. This would be highly beneficial in allowing educators with a greater dedication to the schooling system to be able to come to the forefront of the educational arena. Their ability to be accepted by predetermined educational standards set by the government would reaffirm their capacity to adequately teach and not follow the corrupted footsteps of their predecessors.

Mexican Education and Social Stratification II:

Critique of and Repairs to Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Mexico’s current educational dilemma thus becomes a reality that can be used to reflect Paulo Freire’s work in Pedagogy of the Oppressed. While Freire’s ideology is strongly influenced by Marxist discourse through his division of society between oppressed and oppressor, his literature does well to serve empirical data revolving around capitalist influenced bouts between classes. If one can map out the “blame guy” that permeates Mexico’s education discourse, then one can see how Freire’s lenses into education, learning, revolution and the life of proletariat are appropriate to come into viable solutions to Mexico predicament.

To briefly review Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire argues for a new social consciousness through dialogical approaches to revolution. While at times the work can be seen as an outline to methodologies of teacher-student relationships, for the most part these ideas are always strung back to revolutionary instructions. To highlight, Freire’s core tenets can be summarized as “[…] cultural revolution develops the practice of permanent dialogue between leaders and people, and consolidates the participation of the people in power” (160). The establishment of dialogue and the need to distribute power between all members of society are the objectives of his work. For Freire, education cannot be separated from power and this notion reflects that knowledge too cannot be separated from politics. The oppressor therefore eliminates social realities that would impede on sustaining the societal hegemony in place.

In terms of Mexico’s current predicaments involving education, there exists an endless cycling of accountability for its destitute state in which the government blames corrupt teachers for the poor education and degrading infrastructure, yet the unions refocus this claim onto politics. Freire’s deconstruction of oppressor and oppressed has validity in these situations but on a more local level, Freire does well to serve that the oppressor can lie within the oppressed. That is to say that the bodies of the lower class become clad within the societal system and they act out in ways that diverge from the productivity of a successful revolution by the proletariat. Here, I connect this analysis to corrupt educators allocating finances and the unions’ preoccupation with salaries over the improvement of education.

Freire accounts that revolutionary leaders must decide on how to conduct a liberation movement by choosing which demands of the oppressed must be restructured as the driving force for the societal transformation. Whereas the argument above insists that Mexican unions’ are solely focused on increasing salaries, Freire comments that a leader should expand such a societal shift to extend the demands of the oppressed to a far more transformative aspirations:

To be concrete: if at a given historical moment the basic aspiration of the people goes no further than a demand for salary increases, the leader can commit one of two errors. They can limit their action to stimulating this one demand or they can overrule this popular aspiration and substitute something more far reaching — but something which has not yet come to the forefront of the people’s attention. (182)

To this degree, the oppressed must become self-critical political actors by acknowledging that within their own fabric lies figures that move in narcissistic directions impeding on societal transformation. This is not to say that the oppressed should shift away from leading the struggle against transforming the consciousness of the oppressor, but rather that to sustain themselves and to increase the potential for a successful revolution, then the oppressed must ensure that their efforts are united and not stuck within selfish goals. Freire would also argue that such a conflict internal to the oppressor is another tactic by the oppressed to divide the population, thus undermining their ability to produce societal transformation (173-175). Thus, the allocation of educational finances and the advocacy of an increase in salaries by unions must be dealt with internally before the unions and/or the lower class can confront the oppressor.


If Mexico and education are a battleground for the social classes, then there is exigency for a solution consolidating education into the realm of human universality which can sustain transformative processes for all stratums of Mexican life. However, there are inherent issues and roadblocks that have become integral pieces of the education system and that are unconsciously being reproduced with every generation. To end such internal conflict, and to increase the awareness of the differing social habituses that demarcate the political and educational world must, Mexico must acknowledged and debate such social stratification. Yet if the economy of Mexico has bifurcated the country into two social hemispheres of life, then what Freire deems the oppressed must muster the strength to support itself on its own two feet. That is to say that it must acknowledge the injustices that are a part of the elite but it must also review its own internal oppressors and restructure its political body to not fall victim to selfishness and inner turmoil. A construction of community based ethics and the large scale desire to produce viable change is necessary for Mexico’s oppressed. Without a strong body, the lower stratum will increasingly be destroyed by the upper classes’ political rhetoric. The shift of accountability is impeding on the non-elites ability to produce change, but by finetuning their internal conflicts, the lower stratum could undermine the habitus which demarcates their society and bring about social transformations in education and Mexican politics.

Works Cited

Ai Camp, Roderic. “Education and Political Recruitment in Mexico: The Alemán Generation.” Journal of Intramerican Studies and World Affairs 18.3 (1976): 225-321. Web.

Bourdieu, Pierre. The Logic of Practice. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 1990. Print.

Debate Noam Chomsky & Michel Foucault – On Human Nature. Perf. Michel Foucault and Noam Chomsky. 1971. Web.

“Documento Para Padres De Familia Y Pueblo En General De México | Sección XXII Oaxaca – ¡Unidos Y Organizados Venceremos! – CNTE – SNTE.” Seccin XXII Oaxaca Unidos Y Organizados Venceremos CNTE SNTE. N.p., 30 Aug. 2013. Web.

Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum, 2000. Print.

Johnson, Tim. “National News from McClatchy DC News | Washington DC.” National News from McClatchy DC News | Washington DC. McClatchy DC, 14 May 2014. Web.

Kent, Rollin. “Higher Education in Mexico: From Unregulated Expansion to Evaluation.” Higher Education 25.1 (1993): 73-83. Web.

Knowland, Don. “World Socialist Web Site.” Mexican Government Imposes Education “reform” over Teacher Protests –. World Socialist Website, 1 Oct. 2014. Web.

Puryear, Jeffrey, Lucrecia Santibañez, and Alexandra Solano. “Education in Mexico.” OECD Economic Surveys (2011): 87-108. Web.

Smith, Benjamin T. “Teachers, Education Reform, and Mexico’s Left | Dissent Magazine.” Dissent Magazine. N.p., 7 Oct. 2013. Web.

Violence, Cultural Transformation and Self-Reflexivity

Violence and Cultural Transformation

Violence, chaos and anarchy are terms that are quite often associated with the degradation of a civil society. Yet, in particular, the threat of violence can appear foreign to certain individuals that feel safeguarded by their personal worlds. Though, at times violence is easily identifiable, such as cases involving physical altercations, other manifestations exist on a different tier in which they implicitly constrict, control and regulate individuals. This paper will argue that violence must be analyzed on multiple levels in order to understand the way it constructs power and impedes on culture and society. In conjunction I will make the case that violence is not the end means, but rather experiences with violence can be reassembled through self-reflexivity as a vehicle for personal and societal empowerment.

An important concept to utilize in analyzing violence is that of habitus which originates from the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. Habitus is a means of social reproduction in which individuals inherit predisposed dispositions based off class, status, wealth, religion and race. In Bourdieu’s world, habitus deprives the individual of social agency and transformation. To correlate such a concept to violence, one can analyze it as a certain behavior that can be exerted on a group of people solely based off of social habitus. For example, anthropologist Charles Lindholm explains the Pukhtun perspective on the female sex in his book The Islamic Middle East: Tradition and Change (1996):

[…] women are a separate human species that is naturally stupid, lazy, untrustworthy, polluting, obstinate, emotional, wilful, talkative, greedy, and innately immoral. For men to maintain control of these dangerous and wayward creatures is no easy task; they have to be kept strictly isolated and regularly beaten. (Lindholm 228)

This description of the relationship between men and women reflects that violence is deeply ingrained in the manner in which men interact, treat and think of the opposite sex. The habitus of the Pakhtun women automatically inherits the violence that has reverberated throughout the cultural history. Violence, in this sense, is a piece of an oscillating pattern in which these women cannot exist without these dispositions being exerted upon them by the male sex. To expand, violence does not have to be viewed strictly as a case-by-case basis such as the beating of women, but rather it also exists on a second tier involving habitus, in which these violent dispositions and the inequality of the sexes are reproduced generation after generation. In sum, violence becomes reconstructed and reestablishes itself incessantly as a highly deterministic force that is embedded in the culture and political power of the Pakhtun people.

To expand upon inherent violence, the French philosopher Michel Foucault constructed the idea of the docile body in his book Discipline and Punish (1977). Foucault stresses the evolution of the corporeal into an object that can be disciplined to function in a specific way. For Foucault, this is a sense of bodily control that reveals how space, placement, stance and predetermined actions are the acts of greater forces manifesting themselves in the physicality of the human body:

This new object is the natural body, the bearer of forces and the seat of duration; it is the body susceptible to specific operations, which have their order, their stages, their mental conditions, their constituent elements. In becoming the target for new mechanisms of power, the body is offered up to new forms of knowledge. It is the body of exercise, rather than a speculative physics; a body manipulated by authority […] (Foucault 155)

Foucault calls into question the normality of the everyday life. From a soldier’s posture, to the way in which we are conditioned to write in cursive, Foucault argues that these influences on our bodies control us as they physically contort and condition the corporeal into mechanized regimentation.

In this sense, I wish to expand the definition of violence to incorporate Foucault’s concept of the docile body. Though what we see is not physical violence in the traditional sense, we can still view a different form of physiological violence in which power is constructed through control of the corporeal. Eventually, the body appropriates the demands from authority and self-regulates itself in these practices. Violence becomes self-inflicted and dissipates into the sea of normality. It is only when Foucault questions such physiological patterns can the truth of societal violence be resurrected and have charges brought against its political nature. Even if subordinated, bodily acts are performed without consciousness of their origin; the mere act still forces the body to undergo certain postures and motions which in turn embody political power and views. This form of violence submits individuals into a political stance through the appropriation of physiological patterns. Despite the amount of awareness by the individual on his or her actions, the performance still represents a certain amount of political control since the body becomes mechanized and follows the regimentation regardless if one believes in the symbolic depth to such actions.

The issue between Bourdieu and Foucault tends to stem from the fact that both of their works fail to provide a solution for society and individuals to gain agency and to break free from the constraints of the looming state authority (or in Bourdieu’s case, habitus). This depth of determinism bereaves actors of their social autonomy and by doing so, paints a bleak picture as to the true nature of the world. Other scholars, however, have exhumed instances where violence has been reconstructed to lead to transformative experiences. No longer are individuals deprived of their ability to gain agency but also they can also reimagine the state of reality by utilizing a form of self-reflexivity in which the state of the world is questioned, critiqued and reorganized into a form of political and cultural power. Anthropologist Saba Mahmood details the Piety Movement in Egypt in which Cairo women are returning to Islamic practices that have been neutered of religiosity. In her argument she elucidates:

I will show how such an analysis of bodily practices helps us understand the question of politics, particularly the relationship between social authority and individual freedom. Specifically, I will argue that, far from being inconsequential, differential understandings of performative behavior and ritual observance among contemporary Egyptian Muslims enfold contrasting conceptions of individual and collective freedom–conceptions that have radically different implications for the organization of political life within public and personal domains. (Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject 122)

Mahmood claims that the Piety Movement has identified that that state of Islam in Egypt has diverged from the true religious meanings that give certain practices depth. By replacing the hollow nature of certain customs, such as the installation of the muslim veil for women, there is a revitalization of teh Islamic identity, which Mahmood would argue, is another manifestation of modernity (Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject 51).

If one can combine Foucault’s idea of the docile body with that of the Islamic veil, one could argue that the veil is another form of violence or control in which the body is physically being manipulated in a symbolic fashion to demonstrate a reminder of a devout, Muslim female identity. Yet, Mahmood presents us with a sense of agency in which self-reflexivity and critique on the deprivation of religiosity in Islam has resulted in a reconstruction of the veil’s definition. The presence of the veil is no longer a habit but has become reinvigorated with meaning that has previously been dispossessed. While practices such as the veil can be seen in the Western eyes as contrictions against women and archaic, religious customs, the Piety Movement has restructured their meaning in which agency and empowerment is given to the woman by their ability to critique the nature of the world and to resubstantiate Islamic practices.

In a similar fashion anthropologist Veena Das explores another reconstruction of violence in her work Language and Body: Transactions in the Construction of Pain (1997). Das recounts the Partition of India and how violence imbued onto women has resulted in new agency:

The bodies of the women were surfaces on which texts were to be written and read – icons of the new nations. But women converted this passivity into agency by using metaphors of pregnancy – hiding pain, giving it a home just as a child is given a home in the woman’s body. (85)

Indian women became the harborers of pain and were now given a specific role to carry on the weight of the suffering and the violence that had been enacted on them by the Partition as a whole. This type of self-reflexivity manifested itself through language in which discourses about violence were able to analyzed and made sense of in contemporary fashions. Physical violence becomes the catalyst for women to reorganize their role in Indian culture due to their digestion of violence and pain. Here, there is a great shift in the objectification of the female sex in which they motioned towards active and empowered social agents through self-reflexivity and discourses on violence, “The sliding of the representations of the female body between everyday life into the body that had become the container of the poisonous knowledge of the events of the Partition perhaps helped women to assimilate their experiences into everyday lives” (Das 85).

Violence reveals itself in different stratums. From the physical brutality of others against themselves or the results of the looming state or religious authority, violence can be elusive in the manner in which it makes itself corporeal. Despite the apparitions of violence that can haunt and reverberate through society they do not strictly deprive individuals of agency. But rather, they can be catalysts of growth through mental and societal critiques of their existence. Mahmood and Das reveal areas where agency and cultural transformation occurred through the revitalization and questioning of political power and cultural semantics. In this sense, the French scholars have been undermined and the fluidity of cultural and societal change exists in the ability of reappropriation, discourses and self-reflexivity.

Works Cited

Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Pantheon, 1977. Print.

Kleinman, Arthur, Veena Das, and Margaret Lock. Social Suffering. Berkeley (CA): U of California, 1997. Print.

Lindholm, Charles. The Islamic Middle East: An Historical Anthropology. Oxford, OX: Blackwell Pub., 1996. Print.

Mahmood, Saba. Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2005. Print.

Foucault and Digital Discourse

Foucault calls into question the definition of discourse in his famous, methodological work the Archaeology of Knowledge. What is traditionally identified as a communicative practice of conversation and talk — Foucault opens up discourse as systems of thoughts that reside and manifests themselves in notions, ideas, concepts, ideologies, academic disciplines and the materiality of language (books, film, art etc.). In this sense, discourses exist as separate and dispersed, yet overlapping domains that are regimented in how they are constructed and practiced by their content. If we unhinge discourse as solely a means of oral communication than a Foucauldian analysis on digital media is also in demand. By doing so we can label such an analysis as the exploration of Digital Discourses — in which interlocutors participate, construct and act in virtual spaces that cater to certain content and diverge from the physical discourse through the utilization of specific and distinct semiotic tools (that is the new, complex and trademarked means of digital communication that vary in their formation but construct a distinct consciousness and sense of practice in how they are utilized with various users and interlocutors).

Foucault stresses the deconstruction of discourse by breaking it down into its most atom-like form. This is what he labels the statement. The statement is not merely a proposition or an analysis of grammatical components of a sentence, but rather a statement is the last dissectable piece of a discourse configuration. Or, we can say, it is a discourse artifact. Its importance stems from the fact that a statement cannot exist solely by itself, but rather it comes into being by its direct attachment to the past. A statement, therefore is constructed by what has existed before it, what exists now and what can exist in the future. In Foucault’s terms it is what has been said, what is being said and what can be said. Statements are distinct in their manifestation due to their regimented existence in discourse. While they are influenced by the discourse as a whole, they are also its influencers. This leads us to the contradiction yet essential insight of the Foucault argument in which discourse simultaneously defines and is defined by itself. Statements, therefore can only erupt into existence due to the larger, defining and oscillating contents of the discourse — in this sense, the statements that can be produced are finite as their configuration is dependent on the structures, rules, tactics and practices of a discourse. As artifacts, statements are unchanging once they become formulated. Further or future statements can dismantle other statements’ legitimacy, since their construction is also defined by their status in a given discourse (that is to say their validity to the ‘truth’ of the content). With each statement comes a proposed world, in which a consciousness-worldview is presented and constructed by the discourse in which it occupies. Statements, therefore are the smallest component of discourse but still carry with it the substance of history, previous statements and what can be uttered in the future.

Yet, if we look at Digital Discourses we can view interactions as Foucauldian statements, in which the content and structure of virtual spaces define and are defined by the interactions being practiced. Things become regimented and certain content is only able to be displayed, manipulated, discussed in their properly directed outlets. The history of all that precedes a subject is influenced over the statements that can be made. Their analysis must not only be taken at face level but must be infused by the past, the present and the future. These aspects are crucial to be considered in order to gauge the weight and the substance of Digital Discourses.
For example if there exists an online forum that is concerned with computer malfunctions, the possible discourse must take into account what has been said on computer malfunctions, what is being said on computer malfunctions and what can be said on computer malfunctions. The discussions are locked in so that they are influenced by the past and constricted to always revolve around computer malfunctions.

However, we find a problem with such an analysis due to its strictly deterministic ideals. For my personal theory desires to disrupt this notion of discourse and to shatter the underlying structures that, one could say, condemn discourse and limit the content within. If we are to enact my proposition that “second language acquisition may occur as an unintended consequence of interaction with Digital Discourses”, the question is where is the “unexpected” in Foucault’s discourse. If statements are condensed by the history of their context, then where is the transformative, unintended, residue of knowledge and learning that I am searching for? Where is the agency in which the acquisition of language unexpectedly comes into being by the shattering of the rectilinear screen? Where can the understanding of the Spanish subjunctive become acquired as a byproduct of participation within an online forum on cars? (For this is the specific phenomena I have tasked myself for searching!)

The goal is to find where the unexpected leaks over what is determined as the finite discourse and to see what is happening. For virtual spaces are not limited by time and space – the spatiotemporal; they are different from the physical reality we exist in — the meatspace; their existence utilizes its own repertoire of distinct semiotic tools (and no Digital Discourse is the same as the other). Where this residue leaks through and pushes past the virtual space and into the consciousness, it can alter, transform and define identity, habitus, language and the social world. Discourse cannot be finite and predictable, but it must produce the unexpected in which language and culture are remixed in any discourse content in which they can have crucial consequences that are conscious disrupting and conscious enhancing.

Connecting the Classroom to Online Experiences


Monolingual Habitus

Ingrid Gogolin’s Linguistic and Cultural Diversity in Europe: a challenge for educational research and practice, explores German classrooms and the pervasive use of monolingual and monocultural habitus that is socialized onto students. The claim is that certain languages that expose themselves in classroom discourse reinforce the social reproduction of a monolingual habitus for students (in this case, those attending German schools). In one segment, the teacher’s use of “we” solely refers to German culture, practices and German language speakers — excluding the remaining students, who (by Gogolin’s claims) make up 50% of the average German classroom.

This plays into the notion that languages exist in a hierarchal structure, in which certain languages are accepted or refuted  and my or may not gain a certain sense of legitimacy. Status is important. In Germany, English exists as a langua franca, in which it can act as the connecting language between two non-native German speakers. This is an example of a language gaining some form of a legitimacy, yet it does not exist as the official and ultimately legitimized language of a state.

“The monolingual habitus was built and secured by the traditions of the educational system itself; the less conscious the individual teacher is about its existence, the more effectively it operates.”

Gogolin highlights the dangers of operational habitus that are used to exclude certain members of society. The growing structure of the monocultural, nation state that dominates European culture looks for methods to relegate non-natives to marginalized societal roles. The irony is that Europe is a heavy immigrant continent and the possibility of reversing that phenomena is nearly impossible. Thus, when traditional education systems use certain language to exclude immigrant students, there is a failure to adhere, and to conform to a new growing, social reality. The monolingual habitus must eventually be dismantled in order to cater to various students whose on cultures are becoming ever permanent to Germany’s.

Thoughts for Research on Digital Media:

One idea that I have would be to locate how students can react to a monolingual/monocultural habitus that is being constructed in the classroom. What role can online tools play? Can there be a way to vent about the pains of classroom experiences, or can they be used to gain a linguistic repertoire to conform to German schooling?

Are digital tools being used to increase proficiency or ways to subvert the classroom culture? And what is the byproduct of using tools and gaining language acquisition? Perhaps if students refuse to conform, their online experiences still lead them to achieving language acquisition.

In conjunction with asking students about their online experiences, it is worthwhile to ask about classroom experiences as well. Could any type of anxiety or poor experiences in SL classroom trigger a use of online tools? What are the connections here? And what forms of habitus can be constructed and found in the digital realm?

New Media Literacies

Steven Thorne and Jonathon Reinhardt collaborated on an article that explores the idea of “bridging activities”. The goal of this concept is to increase foreign language proficiency by connecting the dots between in school literacies and new, emerging digital literacies that exist in out-of-school contexts.

Their objective seeks to increase awareness of different modes of language construction and for students and teachers to compare, contrast and make connections between academic and non-academic literacies. The goal is not solely to become proficient in these literacies, but to also understand their cultural and linguistic construction in which new realities can come into existence.

“[…] raise learner awareness of the grammatical and lexical choices that comprise a text and to have the learner critically consider how these linguistic choices combine to realize different textual, interpersonal, and ideational meanings in situational and cultural contexts.”

I think an extension of my research may look into how digital literacies can be used to make sense of the academic literacies. Obviously, part of my personal objective is to locate where non-academic, digital literacies can enhance learning in unpredictable ways (specifically in ESL), yet Thorne and Reinhardt argue that their integration into institutional education contexts can substantiate and give meaning to both academic and non-academic literacies. That may be an area of interest during post-research.

Thorne and Reinhardt lay out a map of what New Media Literacies are and where we should be looking for them. This categorization will aid in my research by defining what can considered digital tools:

  1. Instant Messaging and Synchronous Chat
  2. Blogs and Wikis
  3. Remixing (Use of multimodal and cultural artifacts to construct new registers)
  4. Multiplayer Online Gaming

These are resourceful categories to provide to interviewees as they may or may not consider certain practices as digital communications.

Thorne, Steven L., and Jonathon Reinhardt. “3) Bridging Activities, New Literacies, and Advanced Language Proficiency 558 CALICO Journal, 25(3), P-p 558-572. © 2008 CALICO Journal “Bridging Activities,” New Media Literacies, and Advanced Foreign Language Proficiency.” CALICO Journal 25 (2008): 558-72. Web.

Language, Learning, Identity