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Reading, writing, and representation: Politics and education in France, 1762-1794.

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Adrian O’Connor

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This dissertation explores the evolving relationship between politics and education in Ancien Regime and Revolutionary France, from the expulsion of the Jesuits (1762-1764) to the National Convention's attempts to design and implement a new politics and a new system of national instruction (1792-1794). The 'education question,' as it has come to be known, will be approached from several perspectives. First, an examination of proposals for the reform of education during this period will reveal the contours of the debates over education. It will also make clear how questions of educational reform became intertwined with broader social and political concerns while simultaneously influencing the ways in which such broader concerns were approached. Second, the relationship between matters pedagogical, on the one hand, and questions of social and political organization, authority, and practice, on the other, will be explored in the analysis of texts which, while important to the debates over education, were concerned primarily with matters of philosophical, political, or social import. Third, it will be shown that the debates over education served as a political channel through which members of the French "public" could and did participate in, and communicate their views about, the new political system that was taking shape after 1789. Fourth, the attempts to establish a new mode of politics during the early years of the Revolution will be reconsidered alongside, and in light of, the debates over education; on this point, particular attention will be paid to the Constitution of 1791 and to issues of political representation. Throughout this dissertation, it will be argued that conceptions of the "public sphere" and views of politics and political representation were at once articulated in, and shaped by, arguments about education and its perceived relationship to the organization of French society and politics. Moreover, it will be argued that ideas about education and its possible reform were crucial to the social and political dynamics of Ancien Regime France and to the political and social undertakings of the French Revolution.


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U of Pennsylvania

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