“Exchanging Values”: Negotiating Pedagogical Authority and the Transmission of Knowledge in Sixteenth-Century English Pedagogical Literature

“Exchanging Values”: Negotiating Pedagogical Authority and the Transmission of Knowledge
in Sixteenth-Century English Pedagogical Literature

McGregor, Rachel

Education: Forming and Deforming the Premodern Mind – Selected Proceedings of the Newberry Library Center for Renaissance Studies 27th Graduate Student Conference


Since the time of the ancient Greeks reward for learning has remained an ideologically charged subject, and anxieties regarding the sale of wisdom have a long history in western culture. The sixteenth century holds special significance for scholars of English exchange practices, and this is equally true for the study of the exchange of learning. For contemporary pedagogues the emerging print market provided new opportunities for dissemination of their teachings; yet publication also risked breaching ancient injunctions against the sale of knowledge. This study investigates the way two tropes, giving and working, were used to avoid accusations of prostituting wisdom in some of the seminal educational works of the later sixteenth century. In a famous thesis that has informed numerous studies of the early modern period Marcel Mauss argues that capitalist societies evolve from older gift-based formations. While we do witness a shift from notions of gifts to commodities in the prefatory matter of the educational works discussed here, this study rejects the objective categories of gift and commodity employed by Mauss and his ideas regarding societal development. Instead, this investigation draws on more recent anthropological work to expose the subjective investments that govern our understanding of exchange.Once we recognize that discourses of exchange do not attest to objective values and practices we can better appreciate the ideological agendas that representations of exchange are made to serve. For the educators in question, drawing on the associations of various symbolic modes of exchange affords specific opportunities for legitimization and authorization. In the texts examined here representations of exchange are deployed to demonstrate pedagogical worth and as a means to channel the reproduction of cultural values.

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