More questions and themes of inquiry

A new list of questions and themes of inquiry, raised in discussion of Alice’s and Stephen’s work this evening, can be found here: http://socialsciencecentre.org.uk/groups/social-science-imagination/.

Additional themes that came up before these discussions included the role of ‘secrets’ in social life, as forms of knowledge that have the dual function of bonding and uniting people with, and excluding and dividing people from one another. This moved quickly into discussions of information, power and knowledge, power/knowledge (Foucault’s work), and ‘rules of engagement’. Interesting as well, as there was another discussion about access to resources and to the latest research and thinking on our matters of concern… Another question centred around the concept of ‘social science’. What is the link between the social and the scientific? Is there anything scientific about it, and if so, what? Should there be? How is this situated historically? How do we decide what constitutes a legitimate way of knowing? There seemed interest in exploring both themes at some point…might we also reflect upon them in the context of the SSC?

Some new thoughts on pedagogy from the group, as I remember (reconstruct). Continue exploring autobiographies together, discussing and raising questions. When we’re finished, we will sit down independently and together with these rich ideas, make sense of them, and make choices about what we wish/need to work on in more depth. This may or may not involve entirely common themes. We are working out the relationship between indepedent and collective work. It may well involve people developing their work individually or together and presenting things to the group along the way. We are not yet sure what the next phase of our work will look like, but I had a strong sense that there is confidence we are shaping it as we work. Very exciting. I have no idea if this paper will speak to me in any way at the moment, but I plan to read it and find out.

Other things to consider: access to libraries, resources (work now underway on open access, sharing, suggestions of British Library catalogue and reader’s pass); how we write, how we read, how we create bibliographies…

Thanks to Zoraida, Alice, Annie, Stephen and Vernon for an amazing class. I’m looking forward to having everyone else back soon!

Night reading: notes on the ‘dialogical method’ of teaching

From a dialogue between Ira Shor and Paulo Freire, Journal of Education, 1987, 169(3), discussing the politics and aesthetics of dialogic teaching.
 
The ‘right to dialogue’. Why? Is dialogue essential for recognition? Freire argues that it is ‘part of our historical progress in becoming human beings’; that it is a humanising process and relationship; that it is an act against domination, fixation, finishing; that it is an epistemological relationship which necessitates reflection. Shor argues that it ‘confirms the relationship between the people communicating’. In all cases, there is an assumption that the term refers to genuine, communicative dialogue – not a ‘free-for-all’, not imposed and not manipulation.
 
What are the conditions (material, social, intellectual, affective) for such humanising and transformative dialogue, in concrete circumstances? Is it actually possible to ‘start with reality to overcome it’? Is it possible not to?
 
Dialogue as both means and end. The ‘texture of voices’ in a classroom as part of this process; the aesthetics of learning. Speaking and silences as scripts – we can read or rewrite them.
 
‘“Situated pedagogy” as one route to student participation’. What we continue to discover, and continue to ignore, repress or find too difficult: that learning makes most sense and happens most successfully when it is an integral part of life. Three paths along the route:
 
(A) Discovering with students ‘the themes most problematic to their perception’, not in order to affirm or valorise common sense or to manipulate ‘motivation’ but to introduce material and raise questions that ‘open an investigating dialogue through which we re-examine the subject, until it is no longer the routine matter which absorbed uncritical attention before’. The approach promises potentially productive and transformative tensions, if it enables ‘advanced reflections’.
 
(B) ‘Studying academic or formal subjects in a situated manner…that is, inserting biology or history or nursing into their social contexts’. Research, on any scale, educates autonomy – an autonomy that Freire argues is necessary, but not sufficient, for engaging in autonomous social and political action.
 
(C) ‘Researching my students’ cognitive and political levels at the course’s opening, to see what kinds of critical thinking, literacy and political ideas are operating’, to understand better what is needed. Perhaps in some contexts, but in others, this surely needs to be democratised…
 
Liberatory dialogics rather than lecture-Socratic methods. For when we don’t presume to know what people can or should know at the start, as if we could determine the creation of knowledge itself. Broadly agreed, although I think this is a weak interpretation of Socratic pedagogies… Better maybe here. Liberatory learning as not individualised ‘self-directed’ learning, as so often presumed. ‘Liberation is a social act. Liberating education is a social process of illumination’, not an individual one. Nice.
 
‘The concepts that we study in the university can work to amputate us from the concrete reality they are supposedly referring to’. And yet, the desire for ‘concreteness’ does not necessitate or justify a flight from the conceptual. Distinguishing between a curriculum and programme, on the one hand, and the organisation of studies, on the other. It is possible to critique power in the latter without rejecting the potential usefulness of the former.
 
How is teaching an art? Both are creative practices. They shape worlds. But Shor’s description of codification as artistic, in so far as it ‘uncovers key themes and access points to consciousness, and then recomposing them into an unsettling critical investigation, orchestrating them into a prolonged study’, sits uncomfortably in my mind; it is far too orchestrated. I am more interested in his argument that critical education is an ‘aesthetic moment as well as a political one, because it asks the students to reperceive their prior understandings and to practice new perceptions as creative learners’.
 
‘Another point that makes education once more an artistic event is precisely when education is also an act of knowing. For me, knowing is something beautiful! To the extent that knowing is unveiling an object, the unveiling gives the object “life”, calls it into “life”, even gives it a new “life”. This is an artistic task because our knowing has a life-giving quality, creating and animating objects as we study them.’ Irritated by the grounding in subject-object relations; there is an interesting and sympathetic discussion about this in footnote 4 here.
 
Planning to read Tyson Lewis’s The Aesthetics of Education next, just after Silvia Federici’s Revolution at Point Zero, which has just arrived.