On the other side of meaning. Merleau-Ponty and Agamben on the body and education

Joris Vlieghe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this article I develop a perspective on the interconnectedness of education and corporeality that allows to analyze concrete school practices in a way that has not been explored so far. After briefly explaining why the body is an important issue for educational research, I explore more extensively a school of thought, which goes back to the work of Merleau-Ponty and which has monopolized the way in which we are inclined to think about corporeality and education. I argue that, in the end, this particular perspective doesn’t take the body seriously. This is because the body is reduced to an instrument, and because the body always appears as a source of meaning. Therefore we run the risk to pay no attention to potentially relevant dimensions of corporeal life that resists human intentionality and any attempt to render the body functional. In order to develop an alternative approach that takes seriously the non-expressive and non-functional body, I turn to the ideas Agamben has formulated in connection with gestures and the potentiality of movement. Gestures concern a repertoire of bodily action/experience that shows in an immediate way what it means that we are creatures of possibility. Elaborating this idea, I concentrate on specific occurrences and practices in the world of education during which we literally coincide with our non-expressive and non-functional bodies, and during which a strong experience of potentiality is granted. In this way it may be argued that certain bodily practices are in and of themselves educationally relevant.
Translated title of the contributionOn the other side of meaning. Merleau-Ponty and Agamben on the body and education
Original languageSpanish
Pages (from-to)21-39
Number of pages19
JournalTeoría de la Educación. Revista Interuniversitaria
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 30 Apr 2014


  • educación
  • Agamben
  • Merleau-Ponty
  • gestos
  • corporalidad
  • experiencia corporal


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