Sunday, 14 September 2014

Barad and pedagogy

One of the most problematic passages in Karen Barad’s Meeting the Universe Halfway begins on page 378, where she states,

"Brittlestars know better than to get caught up in a geometrical optics of knowing.” 

This is a sentence that is so breathtakingly problematic as to halt readers in their tracks, in part because it is meant to be a playful, sophisticated, rhetorical use of language. Be that as it may, it is a sentence that defeats much of the argument and position that Barad has been seeking to construct.

First, while Barad has been berating humanists and deflating the role of humans in the world's becoming, is this not an anthropomorphic act? She grants brittlestars the status of being participants engaged in the practical debate about Western epistemology which she has been elaborating. 

Perfomatively, this anthropomorphic act may be said to ground and constitute an epistemic claim, itself an act, a complex act that incorporates projection, identification, appropriation and exploitation, as we will see. The epistemic claim is that: ‘I know that “Brittlestars know better than to get caught up in a geometrical optics of knowing”’.

Second, having anthropomorphised the brittlestar, is this not a case of projection and identification? It is as if brittlestars are close academic colleagues of Barad’s advancing her arguments alongside her, on her side against the representationalists and the humanists, those who only know the geometrics of reflection. Does she not suggest that they are brittlestars-colleagues rather than, as she herself subsequently states, being "merely tools that we can use to teach”, i.e. pedagogic tools or pedagogic resources for the study and practice of 'science', as a field of acts of knowing.

Brittlestars are, in short, abstracted and extracted from their ‘apparatus’, the environment in which they exist and survive, and in which they have determinate value, and given fictitious (narrative and performative) value as knowing actors in a communal, academic, epistemological debate, a further apparatus. 

Performatively, this may be said to ground the initial epistemic claim in a further a communal epistemic claim: ‘We, brittlestars and I, know better than to get caught up in a geometrical optics of knowing’.

Third, is this not an appropriation of brittlestars to a particular position for a particular purpose? Does it not take whatever capability to act in specific environments brittlestars have, their phenomenal existence, and grant them an epistemologically-informed, communal agency in which they not only ‘know’ a geometric optics of knowing, but  demonstrate an awareness that shows that they ‘know better’ than to adhere to its practices and principles. 

Knowing better, indeed, by being beyond knowing; or rather being incapable of knowing reflectively, mediately. While claiming to be on their side, by recognising their superior form of ‘knowing’, is Barad not simply appropriating them for her arguments, as if they themselves were making those arguments? As she says later: "Brittlestars literally enact my agential realist ontoepistemological point about the entangled practices of knowing and being.” (Barad, 2007: 379)

Performatively, this may be said to take the initial epistemic claim (‘I know’) and its communal extension ('We know’) to generate an ontological entity as a persona, the brittlestar-agential-realist, in this communal, academic, epistemic apparatus. 

Fourth, in reducing them to being pedagogic tools, "merely tools that we can use to teach”, is it not an exploitation of brittlestars as a ‘resource’, much in the same way that ’natural resources’ are exploited by scientific research, engineering and capitalist industrial production?

Performatively, brittlestars become a technological resource within an economic praxis, an apparatus with its own regimes of cognition and re-cognition, of knowing and knowing better, and its own ecologies of mutual interdependence and contingency. Their performative 'identity' is that of being a technical 'entity'.

In brittlestars, has Barad not constituted a 'technical entity', a ’scientific entity’ and a ‘pedagogic entity’, within a technical, scientific, pedagogic apparatus. This entity, this onto-epistemological entity, we might say, is replete with its own distinctive attribute: that of ‘knowing better than to get caught up in a geometrical optics of knowing’. Yet this attribute is not a ‘property’ of brittlestars; it is an attribution.

All this, as Barad says, without eyes or a brain, such that brittlestars might respond enactively: ’No, that is not what we are doing. No, that is not what we know. No, that is not what we mean. No, that is not who we are’; a kind agential realist resistance to, or refusal of, technical, scientific, pedagogic, enclosure, if such were possible?


Barad, K. (2007). Meeting the universe halfway: quantum physics and the entanglement of matter and meaning, Durham: Duke University Press.


Monday, 8 September 2014

The Constitution in Question

Colin Kidd (2014), in reviewing two books on the impeachment and trial of Henry Sacheverell in 1710, traces the emergence of the foundations of the modern British state, in which the Crown in Parliament is sovereign, to the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the decades that followed. He notes that,
"Ironically, the foundational moment of an enduring British state was greeted not with quiet assurance that comes from universal acclamation, but with the din of disputed narratives." (Kidd, 2014: 19)
Interestingly, amid the clamour of current disputatious narratives, in seeking to undo the Union of Parliaments, the Scottish referendum to be held on 18 September 2014 is not a vote about also undoing the Union of the Crowns. As Kidd (2013) points out in the Stenton Lecture,
"The independence white paper Scotland’s Future issued by Scotland’s SNP Government in November 2013 announced that an independent Scotland would ‘remain within the Union of the Crowns’ – or ‘social union’ - and that the Queen’s position as head of state would ‘form an intrinsic part of the constitutional platform in place for independence’."
The relationship between Scottish nationalism and Scottish republicanism, as Kidd (2013) goes on to discuss, is far less straightforward than the close and intimate relationship that exists between Irish nationalism and the cause of republicanism.


Kidd, C. (2013). From Jacobitism to the SNP: the Crown, the Union and the Scottish Question. The Stenton Lecture 2013 [online]. Available from: [Accessed on 8 September 2014]

Kidd, C. (2014). Break their teeth, O God. London Review of Books, 36 (16), pp.19-20.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Such is the case...

To cite a previous post:

To permit the unquestioned ascendancy of ‘performance management’ over language and cybernetic performativity is to inhibit, if not to destroy, the creative and caring dimensions of the performative, thereby breaking the social bond that such language and cybernetic performativity enacts, instilling instead fear and conformity.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Pedagogic suicide. The scene of teaching. A work in progress. Part 4.

This text continues, and completes, The Scene of Teaching. A work in progress. The earlier parts can be found here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.
My Struggle is the chronicle of Knausgaard turning his back on the genre of the novel…He has described the writing of My Struggle as an act of ‘literary suicide’: ‘There is nothing left; I can never again write something from the heart without repeating myself, but I wanted it that way. In Volume 6 I even wrote a couple of lines about future novels, stories I’d thought of, just to kill them off. The last sentence in that book is: “And I’m so happy that I’m no longer an author’” (Lerner, 2014, citing Karl Ove Knausgaard)

54. To reiterate, invisible pedagogies generate procedures of control based on multi-layered class patterns of communication required to support and promote their concept and practice of social order.
[Is this the case even for those who have come to realise that the heart of discourse is not order but disorder, not coherence but incoherence, not clarity but ambiguity and that the heart of discourse is not control but the possibility of new realities?]
[55. Is this not also to neglect to consider that the preservation of (fixed, hierarchical) order is not the priority for the class fractions under consideration, who seek not just an overturning of an established order but a continual ‘revolution’, a churning of hierarchy and of order? Is this view of order, as a certain kind of controlled regularity, not one from pre-bourgeois Europe, when the preservation of order was more important than the generation of new ideas, a time when power, the ability to act politically and the ability to act economically, was centralised in royal families and professional guilds?
Rothman, J. and McCloskey, D. (2011).]
56. The construction of these communicative competences, concerning, that is, social order, is “likely to be”, Bernstein says, class-based. Thus, where these competences are not made available in the home (the scene of domesticity, the scene of familiarity, the scene of domestication), the child is less likely to be self-regulating in school, according to the requirements of the school’s invisible pedagogic practice. The child, therefore, is likely to mis-read both the classroom practice and its pedagogic context. 
[We are in the domain of some kind of ‘literacy’ here, with its communicative competences and readings/mis-readings, but not of texts, this time, rather mis/readings of situations, behaviours, intentions and inter-actions. We might punningly call it ‘class literacy’: the literacy of the classroom through the literacy of being middle class]
Bernstein reiterates: The assumptions of invisible pedagogies as they inform spatial, temporal and control grids [how ‘inform’?; why ‘grid’?] are less likely to be met in working class or ethnically disadvantaged groups. In consequence, the working class or ethnically disadvantaged child is likely to mis-read the cultural significance and the cognitive import of classroom practice articulating/articulated by an invisible pedagogy. Equally, the teacher is likely to mis-read the cognitive and cultural significance of the child.

57. Bernstein recounts: in his analysis of the social class assumptions of visible and invisible  pedagogies, he has defined two sites: 
the school/classroom, where his analysis dwelt upon visible pedagogies; and 
the family/home, where he dwelt on invisible pedagogies.
The ‘scene of teaching’ stretches across these two sites, sites which are both institutions and locations, taking into account the ambiguity of our understanding of ‘situation’, being situated, being environed (inter-corporeally), perceiving-being-perceived, being positioned (inter-subjectively). Two times, two places, one scene. The strength of a particular pedagogic practice, Bernstein suggests, depends on how well it articulates and coordinates the pedagogic practice of the school/classroom and that of the family/home, i.e. how well they supplement one another. 

58. To complicate matters, Bernstein argues that one rarely finds pure forms of pedagogic practice. Rather, the invisible pedagogy is embedded in a visible pedagogy. The form of this embedding is such that, 
“The specific specialised skills and attributes of a visible pedagogy are beneath the surface of an invisible pedagogy.” (Bernstein, 2004: 211)
On the 'class supports’ of visible and invisible pedagogies, Bernstein states that advocates of the ‘new education’ of the 1920s and 1930s were drawn from professional agents of symbolic control; while those who opposed invisible pedagogies were likely to be members of the middle class whose work had a direct relation to the production, distribution and circulation of capital. 

59. The conflict between these fractions of the middle class, Bernstein suggests, is over principles of social order, i.e. over control, and not over the distribution of power. They differ over the necessity for and the role of the nation-state, i.e. the parliamentary and legislatorial apparatuses of a representational democracy. 

In simplistic terms, middle-class sponsors of invisible pedagogy support state intervention and the expansion of agents and agencies of symbolic control, and in consequence support growth in public expenditure. This, argues Bernstein, is self-interested because such growth provides ground and opportunity for their own advancement. In contrast, middle-class sponsors of visible pedagogies, drawn from the economic sector and the entrepreneurial professions, oppose growth in public expenditure. 

Thus, these two middle-class fractions represent opposed material and symbolic interests. 

Visible pedagogies; two modalities

60. Schools and universities are increasingly engaged, Bernstein argues, in struggles over:
what should be transmitted
the degree of autonomy of transmission
conditions of service of those who transmit
the procedures of evaluation of acquirers
Bernstein considers two modes of settling those conflicts:
in favour of a knowledge-oriented visible pedagogy; or
in favour of a market-oriented visible pedagogy
A market-oriented visible pedagogy, Bernstein comments, is a truly secular form, born out of the context of cost-efficient education.

61. The explicit rules of selection, sequence, pace and criteria of a visible pedagogy translate readily into performance indicators both of staff and pupils' performances in schools; while a behaviourist theory of instruction (i.e. of teaching and learning) readily leads to the realisation of programmes, manuals and packaged instruction. In this way, the market and the economy are reproduced in the school. 

The knowledge-oriented visible pedagogy justifies itself through the intrinsic worthwhileness and value of the knowledge it ‘relays’ and through the (behavioural) discipline its acquisition requires: the dispositional discipline of acquiring a disciplinary discipline; the subjectivity acquired through subjection to the subject discipline[, a form of subjectivity, it might be said, that under-emphasises inter-subjective relation in favour an an (imaginary) relation to a disciplinary subject as a ‘body of knowledge’, elaborated from a ‘set of principles’ or possibly ‘laws’ - of nature and of society].

62. Bernstein notes that the arrogance of a knowledge-oriented visible pedagogy lies in:
its claim to the moral high ground;
its claim to the superiority of its culture;
its indifference to its stratification consequences;
its conceit in presuming the possibility of a lack of relation to anything other than itself; and
its (presumptive) self-referential, abstracted autonomy.
Ideologically, the market-oriented visible pedagogy is a far more complex construction. In one direction, it incorporates some of the criticisms of the knowledge-oriented visible pedagogy, often deriving from a Leftist position (to use this political imagery, inadequate though it has become), but these criticisms are woven into a new discourse. 

63. Thus, Bernstein critiques: 
First, the explicit commitment to greater choice by parents and pupils, because it is not a realisation of participatory democracy. It is, rather, a thin cover for the ongoing stratification of schools and curricula.
Second, new forms of assessment and profiling, which are criteria-referenced rather than norm-referenced. While purportedly to recognise and liberate individual qualities, they actually permit greater control of assessment.
Third, periodic mass testing of pupils concentrates new distribution procedures for homogenising acquisition while creating performance indicators of its effectiveness. 
Fourth, vocationalism, while appearing to offer the lower working class a legitimation of their own pedagogic interests in a manual-based curriculum, thereby seeming to include them as important pedagogic subjects, at the same time closes off their own personal and occupational possibilities.
64. In the UK, the market-oriented visible pedagogy, while apparently creating greater local independence for, and competition among, schools and teachers, at the same time ties the schools more directly to central state regulations and control.

The shift which seems to be taking place in the UK is away from the state regulation of the economy to state regulation of symbolic control, accomplished through the intermediate agency of managers, administrators and industrialists. 

65. In sum, for Bernstein, the ideological message of a market-oriented visible pedagogy is less the regulation and realisation of ‘relevance’ [to market-based conditions] than the new regulation and realisation of symbolic control in the transition from a form of capitalism based on financing industrial production and consumption, and extracting value from surplus labour, particularly though the processes of automation, to one based on financing broadcast mass communications and tele-communications as ‘industries’ in their own right.

And I am so happy I am/no longer/never was a teacher. Delete as appropriate…


Lerner, Ben (2014) Each cornflake. London Review of Books, 36 (10), 21-22.

Rothman, J. and McCloskey, D. (2011). Learning to love the bourgeois. Prudentia. Available at: [Accessed August 10, 2014].

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Control (systems and systems of control)

If Basil Bernstein (see earlier posts, 1, 2, 3) struggles to articulate a satisfactory framework in which to discuss the role of education in producing, reproducing and changing social order, Gary Indiana (2014) brings to attention William Burroughs’ much more simple and straightforward, if rather deterministic, metaphor of control. For Burroughs, 
“the social order controls its subjects by addicting them to drugs, money, sexual desire, consumer products and technology; to habit, insensible codes of morality and binary logic; and by reproducing the species in gendered bodies on a planet of incompatible life forms.”
Is Burroughs, perhaps, a new materialist, if hardly a feminist, avant la lettre?


Indiana, Gary (2014) Predatory sex aliens. London Review of Books, 36 (9), pp.25-26.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Professionalism, Identity and Professional Identity

Continuing the theme of identity raised in Declarative identity and (processes of) identification, one should consider the stance of Johnny Tragedy/Jonathan Stanish on the matter of identity, professionalism and professional identity, expressed from a US, particularly New York perspective, in the context of art practice.

He says, in an interview with Mark Sengbusch:

"Johnny Tragedy is what non-artists think artists are—someone who lives in a Bushwick loft, has an MFA, tattoos, and is in a band (laughs). Even being in a band seems so old fashioned at this point. Jonathan Stanish is what the art world wants artists to be—marketable, palpable to market trends, and easily digestible. They both are cliches, they both pander to their audiences. (Don’t we all to some degree?) But by having both, I get some freedom in being able to go back and forth. Tragedy can get away with making a lot weirder art, and the pseudonym keeps it separated from what comes up when you Google search “Jonathan Stanish”, so Stanish’s professionalism remains preserved. Stanish, in some ways, allows Tragedy to have this freedom by supporting him financially. I also get to make art as Stanish that Tragedy might consider “selling out.”  Stanish’s goal is to make money as a “capital A Artist.” His work is about the history of printmaking and ceramics. Tragedy’s practice takes place more online, often in the form of self-promotion for the sake of self-promotion."

Source: Sengbusch, M. and Tragedy, J. (2014). Born Tragedy. NYArts, 21 (2), pp.10-11.

An online version of this interview is available at: