Ritual, Reform and Resistance in the Schoolified University - On the dangers of faith in education and the pleasures of pretending to taking it seriously


  • Sverker Lundin University of Gothenburg, Sweden
  • Susanne Dodillet University of Gothenburg, Sweden
  • Ditte Storck Christensen University of Gothenburg, Sweden




Why is there such a striking discrepancy between the flexibility, democracy and empowerment that the Bologna process aims for, and the superficial educational activities that it actually results in? Our answer is based on the ritual theory of the American anthropologist Roy Rappaport and the psychoanalytical framework of the Austrian philosopher Robert Pfaller. Interpreting schoolified education as a ritual, we argue that both the reform initiative and its ensuing educational activities should be interpreted as mainly productive of a certain appearance, of compliance with prominent norms of modern society: the norms are articulated in policy documents and enacted in educational activity. We take schoolified education to be a normal ritual, in that this appearance is accepted ‘as if’ it corresponded with reality, while at the same time most people are aware (in a certain sense) of its superficial and ritualistic character. A twist, however, is added by the fact that modern society is distinctly anti-ritualistic, and therefore constantly tries to make education work ‘for real’. Drawing on Pfaller’s distinction between belief and faith, we show that this pursuit of de-ritualisation actually makes education progressively more formalised and coercive.


Agnafors, Marcus (red.), Universitet AB: om kommodifiering, marknad och akademi, Daidalos, 2017

Asad, Talal. Genealogies of Religion: Discipline and Reasons of Power in Christianity and Islam. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993.

Bell, Catherine M. Ritual: Perspectives and Dimensions. Oxford University Press, 1997.

Boli, John. New Citizens for a New Society: The Institutional Origins of Mass Schooling in Sweden. Pergamon, 1989.

Ellul, Jacques. The Technological Society. Vintage books, 1964.

Furedi, Frank. What’s Happened to The University? A Sociological Exploration of Its Infantilisation. Routledge, 2016.

Gillespie, Michael Allen. The Theological Origins of Modernity. University of Chicago Press, 2008. https://doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226293516.001.0001

Graeber, David. The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy. Melville House, 2015.

Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time. State University of New York Press, 2010.

Hesslefors, Elisabeth, Jan Carle and Heléne Engberg. ”Bolognaperspektiv. Om progressionslinjer inom lärarutbildningen vid Göteborgs universitet”. Dnr G 219 2781/10. UFLs Bolognagrupp, 16 June 2010.

Horst, Johanna-Charlotte. Was passiert? Stellungnahmen zur Lage der Universität. Diaphanes, 2010.

Hutchins, Edwin. Cognition in the Wild. MIT Press, 1996.

Illich, Ivan. Deschooling Society. Harper & Row, 1971.

Kühl, Stefan. “Verschulung wider Willen. Die ungewollten Nebenwirkungen einer Hochschulreform”. Working paper 5/2011. http://www.uni-bielefeld.de/soz/personen/kuehl/pdf/Working-Paper-5_2011-Verschulung-wider-Willen-110415.pdf

Latour, Bruno. We Have Never Been Modern. Harvard Univ. Press, 1993.

Lindström, Margareta Nilsson, and Dennis Beach. ”Changes in Teacher Education in Sweden in the Neo-Liberal Education Age: Toward an Occupation in Itself or a Profession for Itself?“ Education Inquiry 6, no. 3 (January 2015).

Luhmann, Niklas. Das Erziehungssystem der Gesellschaft. Suhrkamp, 2002.

Lundin, Sverker. “Hating School, Loving Mathematics. The Ideological Function of Critique and Reform in Mathematics Education.” Educational Studies in Mathematics, vol. 80, no. 1, (2012): 73–85. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10649-011-9366-6

Lundin, Sverker. “Verklighetsoptimering och verklighetsprövning – om varför goda intentioner ibland får motsatt verkan inom utbildningsområdet”. EDUCARE, No. 3, (2016): 38-62.

Lundin, Sverker, and Ditte Storck Christensen. “Mathematics Education as Praying Wheel: How Adults Avoid Mathematics by Pushing It onto Children.” The Disorder of Mathematics Education, edited by Hauke Straehler-Pohl et al., Springer International Publishing, 2017. 19–34. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-34006-7_2

McLaren, Peter. Schooling as a Ritual Performance: Towards a Political Economy of Educational Symbols and Gestures. Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1986.

Meyer, John W., and Brian Rowan. “Institutionalized Organizations: Formal Structure as Myth and Ceremony.” American Journal of Sociology, vol. 83, no. 2, (1977): 340–363. https://doi.org/10.1086/226550

Milbank, John. Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason. Blackwell, 2006. https://doi.org/10.1002/9780470694121

Oelkers, Jürgen, et al. Das verdrängte Erbe. Beltz, 2003.

Pfaller, Robert. Wofür es sich zu leben lohnt. Fischer Verlag, 2011.

Pfaller, Robert. On the Pleasure Principle in Culture: Illusions Without Owners. Verso Books, 2014.

Pfau, Thomas. Minding the Modern: Human Agency, Intellectual Traditions, and Responsible Knowledge. University of Notre Dame Press, 2013.

Pongratz, Ludwig A. Bildung im Bermuda-Dreieck, Bologna - Lissabon - Berlin: eine Kritik der Bildungsreform. Schöningh, 2009.

Quantz, Richard A., et al. Rituals and Student Identity in Education: Ritual Critique for a New Pedagogy. Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230117167

Quantz, Richard A“School Ritual as Performance: A Reconstruction of Durkheim’s and Turner’s Uses of Ritual.” Educational Theory, vol. 49, no. 4 (1999): 493–513. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1741-5446.1999.00493.x

Rappaport, Roy A. Ritual and Religion in the Making of Humanity. Cambridge Univ. Press, 1999. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511814686

Utbildningsnämnden vid Göteborgs universitet. Pedagogiskt idéprogram vid Göteborgs Universitet. Ref. No V2015/353, 1 Oct. 2015.

Winter, Martin. Das neue Studieren. Chancen, Risiken, Nebenwirkungen der Studienstrukturreform: Zwischenbilanz zum Bologna-Prozess in Deutschland. Wittenberg: Arbeitsbericht des Institut für Hochschulforschung, 2009.

Žižek, Slavoj. ‘Philosophy, the ‘Unknown Knowns,’ and the Public Use of Reason.’ Topoi, vol. 25, no. 1–2, Sept. (2006): 137–42. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11245-006-0021-2

Žižek, Slavoj. The Sublime Object of Ideology. Verso, 1989.