The Absence of ‘race’ in German Discourses on Bildung: Rethinking Bildung with Critical Race Theory

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This paper investigates the impact of mostly implicit convictions about ‘white supremacy’ and racist ideas in traditional and recent theories of Bildung which is a central educational concept in Germany. Concepts of Bildung describe processes of individual self-formation. It will be argued that the notion of Bildung is still very important in academic and public discourses on education in general and on educational inequities in particular. It will be argued that the concept of Bildung focuses on a certain understanding of the subject which does not take into account structural inequities in terms of diversity, even though it is omnipresent in discourses on education and diversity in Germany. To show how deeply ingrained in philosophical and political ideas a racialised concept of Bildung is, selected works of Kant, Hegel and Wilhelm von Humboldt on education on the one hand, and on ‘race’ on the other will be analysed by using Critical Race Theory. However, despite this critique concerning the inherent ‘white’ supremacy, the critical potential of Bildung is worth recognising by formulating a critical race perspective on Bildung.

Original languageEnglish
JournalRace Ethnicity and Education
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)471-485
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - 04.07.2018