This paper explores contemporary thinking about learning mathematics, and within that, social justice within mathematics education. The discussion first looks at mechanisms offered by conventional explanations on the emancipatory project and then moves towards more recent insights developed within mathematics education. Synergies are drawn between that theorising and the Foucauldian project. It is contended that in embracing the potential for creativity and agency within social constraints, Foucault’s concept of ethical self-formation offers a direction to the undefined work of freedom. His project creates a politically constructive moment for mathematics education by offering the tools for invoking ethical deliberation.