Responsibility of Parents for the Education of Their Children

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This book utilizes Foucault’s thinking about the practice of government to analyze how the parent is made responsible for educating the child in the name of freedom. It maps the rationality of freedom as a formula for power to govern the conduct of parents by fabricating the responsible parent that makes deviant ‘others’ as those who act outside the limits of certain prescribed actions.

Central to the work is an examination of the School Education Act 1999 (Western Australia) and associated contemporary material, analyzed to map the limits of freedom which specify certain actions to be undertaken by the parent in educating the child. This is prefaced by a historical account of different discourses on childhood as the will to truth that justify these limits by constraining other dangerous discourses in the present.

The book reveals how legislating as a practice of liberal government simultaneously accommodates two different discursive formations of freedom (positive and negative), thus producing a governmentality of fears and dreams about freedom. Such governmentality divides the community through the on-going production of ‘irresponsible others’ for the political purpose of inciting autonomous parents to constitute themselves as responsible.


“Dr. McGowan’s book is important because it is an original application of a Foucauldian perspective to parenting in relation to education and thus combines theory and policy analysis. The originality rests on the idea of using Foucauldian notions, including those of discourse, discursive formations, power, power/knowledge, archaeology, epistemes, genealogy, and of course governmentality, to problematize the new Western Australia School Education Act, 1999 (the Act) in how it relates to constructions of two types of parent – the responsible and the unfit parent, and two types of children – the innocent and the evil child. The author analyzes how these two types are policed and describes how the interventions are instigated to govern the conduct of the persons involved, and how these in turn further construct both positive and negative freedoms for both parents and children …” – (from the Foreword) Professor Tina Besley, University of Glasgow

“This book explores the boundaries that determine the shape of the parent as a political subject of education, even within the rhetoric of a liberal democracy ... By looking to the relationship between the parent and the idea of childhood/freedom as a historical contingency rather than a fundamental concept, he provokes us into thinking about how the boundaries that determine the shape of the responsible parent come at a particular social cost to others. To those interested in political philosophy, this text represents an important contribution to questions of rights, freedom, tolerance, difference and political surveillance/identification in our political present.” – Professor Felicity Haynes, The University of Western Australia

“This book offers an extremely valuable resource for those interested in discourse analysis. It introduces a genealogical approach to the analysis of discourse by explaining Foucault’s philosophy and analytical guidelines that aimed to bring a critical edge to the notion of social construction. Dr. McGowan illuminates the logic behind this qualitative method to social research through a contemporary analysis of educational legislation. For the student and lecturer alike this is both a valuable summary of Foucault’s contribution to discourse analysis as well as a provocative challenge to traditional thoughts about the responsible parent in relation to educating the child.” – Professor Keith F. Punch, The University of Western Australia

Table of Contents

The Shape of Freedom
Discourse Analysis
Power and Ethics
The Deployment of Childhood/Freedom
The Pathological Parent
The Responsible Parent
Thinking About the Responsible Parent

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