The Department of Government
The Department of Government

Political Theory Speaker- Rita Koganzon (Univ of Virginia)

Sophie is Not Oppressed: Sex, Education, and Freedom in Rousseau’s Emile

Tue, December 10, 2019 | BAT 5.108

12:00 PM - 1:30 PM

Political Theory Speaker- Rita Koganzon (Univ of Virginia)

Abstract: Book V of Emile, which describes the education of women, has largely been read as Rousseau’s most complete and straightforward statement about female nature and capacity, and as a misogynistic statement at that. But if we recall that Emile is at least in part a response to John Locke’s book on education, and we look closely at Rousseau’s recommendations for the education of girls, we might discover that they are uncannily similar to Locke’s proposed curriculum for boys. Moreover, they effectively fulfill the educational demands that Rousseau makes in Book I, before he abruptly abandons the “tender mother” to whom he addresses his book and an imaginary tutor in her place. Why might this be? This paper re-examines the relationship between Books I and V and the rest of Emile, and argues that Sophie represents both the practical strengths and philosophical weaknesses of Lockean pedagogy, while Emile’s education is a philosophical correction to Lockean pedagogy that is, ultimately, impracticable. To the extent that Rousseau thinks that individual liberty and moral regeneration in corrupt modern regimes is possible, it is Sophie’s education that facilitates it, while Emile’s demonstrates the limitations and contradictions of this hope.

Bio: I am the associate director of the Program on Constitutionalism and Democracy and Assistant Professor of Politics (General Faculty) at the University of Virginia. I received my PhD in political science from Harvard in 2016, and my BA in history from the University of Chicago in 2007.

My research focuses on the themes of education, childhood, authority, and the family in contemporary and historical political thought. Children are born incapable of full citizenship, and so require both a justification for their subordination to adults and an education that will prepare them for citizenship. These requirements are especially difficult for liberal democracies, for whom the exercise of authority is fundamentally at odds with the natural liberty and equality of citizens on which the state is grounded. My work aims to recover the ways that earlier writers have addressed the problem of childhood in political thought, education, literature, and the law.

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