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Foucault as Educator (SpringerBriefs in Education)

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This book considers Foucault as educator in three main ways. First, through some consideration of what his work says about education as a social and political practice. That is, education as a form of what Allen (2014) calls benign violence – which operates through mundane, quotidian  disciplinary technologies and expert knowledges which together construct a ‘pedagogical m This book considers Foucault as educator in three main ways. First, through some consideration of what his work says about education as a social and political practice. That is, education as a form of what Allen (2014) calls benign violence – which operates through mundane, quotidian  disciplinary technologies and expert knowledges which together construct a ‘pedagogical machine’. Second, through an exploration of his ‘method’ as a form of critique. That is, as a way of showing that things are ‘not as necessary as all that’, a way of addressing what is intolerable. This suggests that critique is education of a kind. Third, through a discussion of some of Foucault's later work on subjectivity and in particular on ‘the care of the self’ or what we might call ‘a pedagogy of the self’. Each chapter  introduces and discusses some relevant examples from educational settings to illustrate and enact Foucault’s analytics.


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This book considers Foucault as educator in three main ways. First, through some consideration of what his work says about education as a social and political practice. That is, education as a form of what Allen (2014) calls benign violence – which operates through mundane, quotidian  disciplinary technologies and expert knowledges which together construct a ‘pedagogical m This book considers Foucault as educator in three main ways. First, through some consideration of what his work says about education as a social and political practice. That is, education as a form of what Allen (2014) calls benign violence – which operates through mundane, quotidian  disciplinary technologies and expert knowledges which together construct a ‘pedagogical machine’. Second, through an exploration of his ‘method’ as a form of critique. That is, as a way of showing that things are ‘not as necessary as all that’, a way of addressing what is intolerable. This suggests that critique is education of a kind. Third, through a discussion of some of Foucault's later work on subjectivity and in particular on ‘the care of the self’ or what we might call ‘a pedagogy of the self’. Each chapter  introduces and discusses some relevant examples from educational settings to illustrate and enact Foucault’s analytics.

31 review for Foucault as Educator (SpringerBriefs in Education)

  1. 4 out of 5

    Trevor

    I'm not sure how useful this review will be - I've tried to summarise the main ideas of this book, and this review is probably both too long and yet still too hard. I apologise before I begin. This is a very short book - but that isn’t much help as you might need to read it a couple of times. It can be quite heavy going at times and I imagine would be very hard to read without having already read some Foucault. All the same, this is useful in that Ball gives us an insight into changes in Foucault I'm not sure how useful this review will be - I've tried to summarise the main ideas of this book, and this review is probably both too long and yet still too hard. I apologise before I begin. This is a very short book - but that isn’t much help as you might need to read it a couple of times. It can be quite heavy going at times and I imagine would be very hard to read without having already read some Foucault. All the same, this is useful in that Ball gives us an insight into changes in Foucault’s ideas over his life and how these might help us to understand Foucault ‘as an educator’. Unlike other dead French guys – say, Bourdieu – Foucault didn’t leave any writings on education as such. However, his books often discuss the role education plays in both society and in the lives of individual people. Something to know about Foucault is that his ideas developed over the course of his life. This is true of lots of writers, obviously, but in his case he saw this as essential – not that he ought to randomly change his views so as to surprise people, but rather he felt that learning something new ought to change who we are. As he famously says in his Archaeology of Knowledge, he writes books to see who he might become after finishing them, rather than to tell the world about something he had deep inside himself. This is utterly essential, and important to all aspects of his philosophy – it is an attitude that defined how he was to go about considering philosophical problems. Ball’s introduction says that he is writing this book in much the same spirit – not so much to apply Foucault’s method, but rather to struggle with similar ideas and to see how engaging in this kind of critique becomes a kind of education in itself. And so the book follows three of Foucault’s phases. The first part of the book focuses on domination – the ideas that would be familiar if you have read ‘Discipline and Punish’. This stands in stark contrast with the last chapter of the book which is perhaps a closer engagement with the ideas around the ‘care of the self’ more closely associated with his later work on the history of sexuality. In the middle of these is probably the major ‘method’ sections of the book – that is, a chapter where he looks at critique, genealogy and transgression as methods for undoing the domination explained in the first chapter. We begin by looking at the history of schooling – to the extent that schooling and education might seem identical. “In these terms the school is quintessentially a disciplinary institution which through the organization and division of space and time and the concomitant organisation and division of learners formed a key part of the new urban landscape of the late 18th early 19th centuries as a constituent of the urban grid of power” (p.3). That is, around 1800 there was a need for a new type of citizen and schools became sites where these new citizens could be produced, en masse, so to speak. This form of discipline was applied to the souls, and not merely the bodies, of those that attended the schools. And everything about the schools reinforced the messages the schools were constructed to convey. And when I say constructed, I mean exactly that. “Power was literally made visible and visceral as architecture and space, and as practices of division and exclusion” (p.4). Power becomes “an everyday, socialised and embodied phenomenon” (ibid). What is important to note in all of this is the power that is created not so much by force, but by norm. And he means norm in all senses – particularly in the sense of the statistical norm. As much as we like to think that we are all keen to be exceptional, far too often what we really want is to be average, hidden in an identical mass and definitely not standing out too far or too obviously. That feeling of wanting to be normal, Foucault maintains, is a powerful force to regulate us in terms of our behaviour and beliefs. Here power is to be seen as being also part of knowledge – for knowledge regulates while it makes a ‘moral call’ upon our actions. For Foucault it is not that there is no difference between knowledge and power, but rather that one justifies and reinforces the other - he talks of this by writing power/knowledge almost as one word. What is taken to be knowledge then acts to reinforce power and power then stands on the side of knowledge to similarly support it. The more ‘self-evident’ the world is made to seem, the easier the world is to rule. Ball then discusses three pedagogical practices from the 20th century to help explain this relationship between discipline, knowledge, truth and power. This desire to be compared to the norm is complex – since the act of comparison also implies a kind of individualisation. Ball refers to this as pastoral power – where (quoting Foucault) “the pastor must really take charge of and observe daily life in order to form a never-ending knowledge of the behaviour and conduct of the members of the flock he supervises” (p.9). The pastor becomes a kind of site of individualising – the pastor having to get to know the individual characteristics of his flock means he must create biographies of them, biographies based on facts, figures, truths. This alone individualises them. But this is always done with reference, again, to the norm, and therefore it implies encouraging outliers to ‘regress’ back to the average. The pastor’s role is that of the conductor of an examination – and so the teacher's role becomes one also associated with exams – there is a truth, and the exam measures the examined according to that truth, examines how well they measure up. At least, this is true while it is clear that there is an absolute criterion upon which to judge people – once we move towards norm-based understandings, then it is the test that comes into its own. This is because we suddenly have a developmental understanding of where people ought to be at certain stages in their development and we need to test them to see where they actually are along that continuum. This involves us in learning the ‘truth’ of the child and therefore requires us to be an expert able to read the signs, or as he says, able to move from surfaces to deeper truths – that is, a “shift from measurement to developmentalism (which) addresses an intensification of power which is more focused on the question of who we are and who we might become than our performances” (p.17). He talks here of the work of Bernstein around pedagogy, assessment and curriculum as the three message systems of school – but here the expert doesn’t use the examination to fix the student, but rather a series of tests as a way to understand the phase the student is in on their journey – you test so as to know what to do next, rather than to know the final answers that fix the student – that is, assessment becomes formative, rather than summative. An exercise in what to teach next, rather than what has been learnt. But the ultimate point of these assessment strategies is not just to allow the expert teacher to know what needs to be taught, but for the students themselves to learn what it is they need to learn – that is, education becomes a process of self-regulation leading to self-recognition within the ‘regime of truth’ that allows individuals to know themselves. All the same, Ball then stresses that the new ‘neoliberal’ school system has made a kind of return to the examination – particularly in so far as it has become obsessed with league tables, international comparisons and benchmarks. And these have again been associated with various pathologies located within the body of the student that the expert must again find and use to explain their fundamental dysfunction. So now we have dyslexia, ADHD and so on, and while we feel we have moved on from eugenic explanations of differences, the difference between the effects of the vagaries of genes and those of neurons seems almost like splitting hairs. This once again leads us back to notions of meritocracy. It is almost impossible to explain a grossly inequitable society as being a meritocracy unless we can also find a way to blame differences in outcomes back on the individuals themselves. Therefore, the need to move back from tests to exams – from locating where people are on a ladder to help them continue climbing, to finding within them the reason for them being stuck and needing to be left behind. The problem here is what Ball refers to as the ‘impossibility of education’ where “The more we learn, the more we are made subject. Here education is straightforwardly a grid of power” (p.29) – that is, education is designed to create us as particular types of people, subjects in the dual sense of being subjected to power and having a subjective identity. Education, then, is yet another instrument of power that is used upon us and in doing so creates us in our identity. This is often where people leave off with Foucault – with the notion of governmentality and us being pawns within a power system we can neither change nor live outside of. But for Ball the next step is to use Foucault’s methods as a way for us to ‘uneducate’ ourselves. And in this we need to understand Foucault’s complex relationship with truth, to quote Ball again: “Foucault describes his primary concern has having been focused on developing a ‘history of truth’; with three main aspects. (1) An analysis of ‘games of truth’—those systems of discourse that developed to produce truth. (2) The relation of these to power. (3) The relation of these to the self” (p.37). It is within this shift to the relation of truth to the self in which Foucault sees the possibility of truth being a libationary idea. If truth is one of the tools that helps to create a world of ‘common sense’ and that therefore limits what we are capable of thinking and being, then critique is a means to help unpack that world. “To criticise is to think about the ways in which current structures construct and constrain our possible modes of action and being” (p.37). What is interesting here is that, given the nearly impenetrable nature of the true – since it is a product of power – critique is unlikely to sweep the ‘true’ aside in one go. Therefore, critique needs to allow itself room, or as Ball puts it, “The problem for Foucault is the struggle against what is, and not, at least initially, to rush to delineate what might be an alternative…The primary task is as much one of refusal as it is of resistance” (p.42). All of which means that the often used, ‘oh yeah, and so what would you replace it with’ is often highly effective in shutting down critique, but is in fact the wrong response, since identifying that something is wrong is valuable in itself, even if you can’t see how to put it right. A method of more fully understanding the sense that something is wrong with the world that then goes beyond mere critique is something Foucault borrowed from Nietzsche – genealogy. And much like constructing a family tree, one moves backward through time to uncover the origins of troubling concepts in our world. To quote Ball again, “Genealogy seeks to trace and challenge the origins of practices and institutions… It is a strategy for mapping out the topology of local situations” (p.46) Ball makes an interesting point on the next page, that genealogies “reveal the discontinuities and breaks in a discourse” (p.47) and by bringing our focus back to the particular in the history of the development of a concept that has come to have power over us, we can gain some power over its seemingly universal hold upon us. As he says, quoting Foucault, “Things ‘can be unmade as long as we know how it was they were made’”. The point Ball is making here is that if Foucault understands one kind of truth as being summarised in his hyphenated term Power/Knowledge (effectively slamming these two ideas into one concept) then “the subject needs to be inserted between power/knowledge” (ibid) as a means prise these apart again. This brings us, then, to the idea of transgression. I think he means this as a kind of hyper-critique – a form of radical doubt, “That is a problematizing, transgressive style of thinking oriented towards challenging existing ways of being and doing, with a view to liberating new possibilities for advancing ‘the undefined work of freedom’” (p.49). To transgress involves going beyond the limits – but one can only go beyond limits if one knows those limits exist. He says at one point that “Power and resistance are mutually constitutive” (p.50) and by this I take him as meaning that power is only noticed as power once it has been resisted – if you do not transgress the limits power sets, then power itself is hidden from you – but once you do transgress it, that is, call power into question, then power is obliged to pull you back into line. Transgression is resistance in the sense that it must be conscious in the mind of the person doing the transgression, even if its outcome might remain unknown and even unpredictable. This means that transgressions are essential not necessarily because they will bring a new world into view, but mostly because they highlight the boundaries, the borderlands, the places where trespasses occur, and that will not be forgiven, and therefore they show us the stakes in game. Transgressions display the limits of our freedom. This, in part, leads to one of the things that I find least satisfying in Foucault – what I think of as his psychology of liberation, as it always seems to be the individual that needs to be the focus and agent of transgression and therefore also of liberation. His dual meaning of subject (individual and under subjugation) is always realised and embodied in the experiences of a single person. This is the charge that is often made against Foucault of his providing a theoretical justification for ‘identity politics’. But it is hard to see how larger groups of people can act as transgressive in the sense he means here, although Ball does stress later that this is possible. The last chapter Ball moves to the care of the self – which he says is Foucault’s way of “seeking to remediate the over-emphasis on domination in his earlier work” (p.61). In this chapter Ball spends much more time than in the previous ones engaged with correspondence he has had with teachers and school principals who have lived out these experiences of ‘transgression’ as discussed above. This is an interesting chapter, since it brings to life many of the deeply theoretical ideas that the earlier chapters provided – although, that said, this chapter is hardly less theoretical. He once again shows how people’s subjectivities are defined by the discourses they find themselves in and are made to be complicit with – in one case a teacher is criticised for not being properly prepared, with the expected data at a performance review, and so is told that they are unable to properly show their teaching practice, or to be able to prove they have been an effective teacher. But the teacher's point was a rejection of the 'truth' the data constructed - more for what it left out than what it displayed. The care of the self is manifest in parrahesia (truth-telling) and this again seems to relate to being true to one’s self, a willingness to tell the truth in a way that allows the truth to open for the teller. As he quotes Foucault as saying, “This is ethics as a practice rather than a plan, as ‘the kind of relationship you ought to have with yourself…’” (p.69). That is, care for the self is hard work, and perhaps unusual in the sense that the point of it is “to become other than how you find yourself” (ibid), or as Ball says “between what it is one does not want to be and what one might become” (p.70). This leads to a discussion on the power of writing to allow us to ‘author’ ourselves (see p.73) – and writing then becomes a form of parrahesia. This prepares the way for an understanding of what an education informed by Foucault might look like – and Ball says, “pedagogy becomes the practice of critique, learning by opposition, an on going critical insubordination aimed at destabilising truth, rather than learning it, historising excellence and beauty rather than appreciating it—‘a commitment to uncertainty’” (p.81). And so, inevitably, “teachers must nurture truth-telling” (p.82) and this process is never-ending, because freedom isn’t something one achieves once and for all time. “Freedom is not tautological with liberation, freedom is only possible with concrete struggles over situated values, freedom is historically contingent, we have to give up on the idea that freedom has an end point” (p.85). I think this is a difficult place for us to end – we like the idea of there being a utopia, and as Bauman says, utopias direct our struggles as a journey toward somewhere, even if that somewhere is ultimately ‘no place’. The idea that we shall always be Moses, forbidden to ever reach the promised land, is ultimately the lesson Foucault is teaching us – and as such telling us the journey is still essential and will always remain so.

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