Sentimental Education

Sentimental Education:School, Popular Culture and the Regulation of Liberty

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What sort of institution is education? In this iconoclastic study, James Donald restores the school to its proper place at the heart of post-Enlightenment culture and politics. He traces the emergence of education as an apparatus designed—forlornly—to shape the souls of citizens. He also draws illuminating analogies between education and broadcasting, showing how both conjure up publics and structure the everyday lives of individuals.
To balance this focus on the institution of cultural norms, Donald emphasizes the dynamics of fantasy and desire in their negotiation. He therefore juxtaposes the normative practices of education and broadcasting against more transgressive forms of popular culture: pornography, racist thrillers like Fu Manchu, vampire films, and what he calls the vulgar sublime. Finally, drawing on postmodern debates about community and democracy, he sketches a context for reforms in broadcasting and presents a provocative alternative to orthodox progressive ideas about education from the primary school to the university.


  • His fascinating argument contributes to those important debates that are changing our sense of what it means to become intellectually ‘responsible’ and to create a community of cultural critics.

    Homi Bhabha
  • James Donald sounds a refreshingly caustic note among the usual dull certainties of current education debate. Sceptical about the belief that schooling changes anything or anyone, his enthusiasm is for education as a site of argument—about history, about language, about the very idea of the democratic subject.

    Simon Frith