Original Research

Refusal as a democratic catalyst for mathematics education development

Dalene Swanson, Peter Appelbaum
Pythagoras | Vol 33, No 2 | a189 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/pythagoras.v33i2.189 | © 2012 Dalene Swanson, Peter Appelbaum | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 21 August 2012 | Published: 04 December 2012

About the author(s)

Dalene Swanson, Educational Research and Engagement, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, South Africa; Faculty of Education, University of Alberta, Canada
Peter Appelbaum, Department of Curriculum, Cultures, and Child/Youth Studies, Arcadia University, United States


Discussions about the connections between mathematics and democracy amongst the general populace have not been explicitly well rehearsed. A critical relationship with democracy for mathematics education may involve directing and redirecting its purposes. But, we ask, what if the ‘choice’ to not participate in experiences of mathematics education, or in its (re)direction, were itself also a critical relationship with mathematics education? What if this refusal and disobedience to the evocative power of mathematics were a democratic action? We argue that consideration of mathematics education for democracy and development must take seriously specific acts of refusal that directly confront the construction of inequality common in most development contexts. Globalisation and development discourses, via citizenship and nationalism, construct relationships with learners and mathematics education in very specific ways that delimit possibilities for egalitarianism and democratic action. But, might such action not be recognised, not as refusal to participate per se, but as a refusal to participate in mathematics education’s colonising and/or globalising neo-liberal gaze? In arguing for the opening of a position of radical equality, we introduce Jacques Rancière to mathematics education theory, noting that for Rancière emancipation is the intentional disregard for ideological narratives such as the ones produced by mathematics education discourses. Thus, we provoke serious reconsideration of the assumptions behind most school improvement and professional development projects, as well as mathematics education policies and practices framed by globalising development discourses, and in the process we challenge our colleagues to consider ‘refusal’ not as deficit or failure, but as a critical position of radical equality in relation to mathematics education.


refusal; democracy; Ranciere; mathematics; mathematics education; radical equality; development; globalisation; critical relationship


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