Benign Violence: Education in and beyond the Age of Reason

2014, Palgrave. (free on

“We should invert the old cliché: this book talks Power to Truth, and does so brilliantly… He tells us, in effect, to stick our liberalism up our holism.” – Ian Stronach

elementary school children


Education is a violent act, yet this violence is concealed by its good intent. Education presents itself as a distinctly improving, enabling practice. Even its most radical critics assume that education is, at core, an incontestable social good.

Setting education in its political context, this book offers a history of good intentions, ranging from the birth of modern schooling and modern examination to the rise (and fall) of meritocracy. In challenging all that is well-intentioned in education, this book reveals how our educational commitments are always underwritten by violence. Our highest ideals have the lowest origins.

Seeking to unsettle a settled conscience, this book is designed to disturb the reader. Education constitutes us as subjects; we owe our existence to its violent inscriptions. Those who refuse or rebel against our educational present must begin by objecting to the subjects we have become.

eugenics human genetics


Stronach, I. (2014) Pedagogy, Culture & Society, 22 (3), 479-484; Ecclestone, K. (2014) Times Higher Education, 4 December; Ecclestone, K. (2015) Journal of Education Policy. 30(3), 459-464; Mendick, H. (2015) 4 June; Ball, S. (2015) openDemocracy 31 July; Griffin, S. (2015) Other Education, 4(2), 247-248; Williams, J., Mendick, H. & Lapping, C. (2015) Review Symposium. British Journal of Sociology of Education 36(7), 1091-1107; Bojesen, E. (2015) British Journal of Educational Studies. 63(4), 507-508. Mifsud, D. (2015) Scottish Educational Review. 47(1), 98-102;  Jha, M. K. (2016) LSE Review of Books. 16 May.

Shortlisted for the 2015 ‘British Sociological Association Philip Abrams Memorial Prize’. “Highly commended” Society for Educational Studies Book Prize 2015.

Podcast with: Professor Patrick Ryan.


A two part lecture introducing key ideas in the history of mass schooling and modern examination. Drawing from Benign Violence and The Cynical Educator.

A four part lecture on the early development of schooling, psychometric or intelligence testing, and eugenics, focused on the UK context. Drawing from Benign Violence.

A three part lecture on the inauguration and development of the ideology of meritocracy, focused on the UK context. Drawing from Benign Violence.