Monday, 8 December 2014

Braidotti, revisited

Rosi Braidotti argues that her “monistic philosophy of becomings” (2013: 35) rests on the idea that matter is intelligent and self-organising. [Does she mean that intelligence is an emergent property of particular forms of material arrangements or organisation; or does she intend that intelligence is a property of matter?] Human embodiment is part of that more general intelligent self-organisation. In this approach, subjectivity is a process of auto-poiesis or self-styling. It therefore involves continuous, and complex, negotiations with dominant norms and values and, by implication, multiple forms of accountability. 

In Braidotti’s account, post-humanism is an historical moment that marks the end of the period when Humanism and anti-humanism were seen as opposites. She calls her variant of posthuman thought ‘critical post humanism’. This strand of thinking explores the potential of post-structuralist thought, the anti-universalism of feminism and the anti-colonial phenomenology of Franz Fanon and Aime Cesaire. 

The value of post-colonial theory for Braidotti is that it recognises that, 

“ideals of reason, secular tolerance, equality under the Law and democratic rule, need not be, and indeed historically have not been, mutually exclusive with Wuropean practices of violent domination, exclusion and systematic and instrumental use of terror.” (2013:46)

While this is to recognise that reason and barbarism are not mutually exclusive, and nor are Enlightenment and horror, Braidotti insists that this is not to sink into cultural relativism or moral nihilism. 

Braidotti positions her particular version of post-humanism as within an ecological framework. Thus, she argues, her critical post-human subject operated within an eco-philosophy of multiple belongings. This subject is constituted as relational and as as multiple. This is a form of subjectivity that works across differences while also being internally differentiated. However, this form of subjectivity remains grounded and accountable. 

As Braidotti explains, 

“Posthuman subjectivity expresses an embodied and embedded and hence partial form of accountability, based on a strong sense of collectivity, relationally and hence community building.” (2013: 49)

The position she outlines is one that favours complexity and promotes radical post-human subjectivity, relaying upon an ethics of becoming. Braidotti reaffirms that while this position rejects individualism, it also distances itself from relativism and nihilistic defeatism. She proposes a “post human ethics for a non-unitary subject”. (2013: 49)

The post human subjectivity she advocates is materialist and vitalist, embodied and embedded, and is firmly located (spatio-temporally), in line with a feminist politics of location. 


Braidotti, R. (2013). The Posthuman. Cambridge: Polity.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Variations on the theme of a third generation university

As mentioned in The familiar, yet strange, topological inversions and reversions of the flyped university, Gary Hall develops a concept of the ‘third generation university'. He suggests that the ‘third generation university' is critical of "the processes whereby capitalist neo-liberal economics are increasingly turning higher education into an extension of business", a period which Hall refers to as the second generation university. 

The third generation university, Hall contends, is also critical of attempts to return to the kinds of paternalistic and class-bound ideas which previously dominated the university, a condition that Hall defines the first generation university. This first generation university, Hall argues, was oriented towards an elite cultural training and the reproduction of a national culture.

Hall's third generation university may be seen to have a British provenance and to concern only the recent past, notably the post-1945 period of British history. 

Hall’s concept of a 'third generation university' is not, however, the only such concept. J. G. Wissema, Managing Director, J.G. Wissema Associates bv and Professor Emeritus of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Delft University of Technology, the Netherlands, has proposed another kind of third-generation universities model. 

Such universities, according to Wissema are international know-how hubs. Wissema posits nine fundamental characteristics of third generation universities.  As summarised by Isaiah T. Awidi (2014), they are as follows:
  1. Fundamental research is the core activity of the university.
  2. Research is largely transdisciplinary or interdisciplinary.
  3. They are network universities.
  4. They operate in an internationally competitive market.
  5. They operate a two-track system, with special facilities for the best and brightest students and academics.
  6. They embrace the concepts of consilience and creativity. 
  7. They are cosmopolitan.
  8. They are a cradle of new entrepreneurial activity, in addition to performing the traditional tasks of research and education.
  9. They are financed by output financing rather than input financing.
As such, they are more akin to Hall's second generation universities than his third.


Awidi, I.T. (2014). Repositioning Budget-Constrained Universities as Third-Generation Universities.EDUCAUSE Review Online. 49 (6). Available at: Accessed on 2 December 2014.

Hall, G. (2009). Front page: The University 3G. Hyper-Cyprus [Website] Available at Accessed 26 November 2014.

Wissema, J.G. (2009) Towards the third generation university: managing the university in transition. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Educational labour

Given the changes that have occurred since 2010, can higher education in the UK be said to constitute 'a system'? Rather, do we not have a proliferation of systems or a series of systems and sub-systems, arising from the break-up of a prior system, again one whose coherence should not be overstated and one that certainly should not be viewed through rose-tinted spectacles, or indeed specularised at all.
At a Symposium organised by Matt Charles held on 7 November 2014, under the joint aegis of the Institute for Modern & Contemporary Culture (IMCC) and the Higher Education Research Centre (HERC) at the University of Westminster, a number of pressing issues pertaining to those questions were raised for those partaking in higher education, whether as givers or receivers, in the UK, and elsewhere.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Honig: Antigone and contemporary democratic theory

In a review of Bonnie Honig's "Antigone, Interrupted", Andres Fabian Henao Castro (2014) points out that the dominant reception of the play that Honig contests is a de-politicising one, that is to say, one which minimises the conflicts and neutralises the divisions in the play. This dominant interpretation of the play considers it to be an icon of human universality in mourning, lamentation and death, in which everyone is equally implicated. 

The goal of Honig's "Antigone, Interrupted", as Henao Castro explains, is to re-politicise the play. This means accentuating the conflict, the divisions and the fractions, to unsettle those places where the dominant interpretation had sought to ground universality. Against such universal humanism, Honig proposes agonism, i.e. rivalry and contestation. 

In her articles on the sororal conspiracy between Antigone and her sister Ismene, Henao Castro (2014: 606) notes that Honig argues that the relevance of "Antigone" for contemporary democratic theory rests, paradoxically, in the character's anti-democratic commitments to an aristocratic form of lamentation, which democracy was seeking to replace in the politics of burial in 5th century Athens


Henao Castro, Andres Fabian (2014). Antigone and democratic theory. The Classical Review, New Series, 64 (2), pp.606-608. 

Honig, Bonnie (2013). Antigone, interrupted. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Knowledge, Stability, Print Technology

The book, or at least the text/book considered in an academic context, is a source of intelligence, Ranciere argues, an intelligence equally accessible to the student as the teacher (‘master’), an intelligence that is not solely accessible to explicators, those with hidden, secret or ulterior knowledge.

The book, we think, stabilises knowledge. The book ‘contains’ knowledge (double sense intended), ‘encases’ knowledge or ‘binds’ knowledge. However, as Johns (1998: 5) makes clear, "... early modern printing was not joined by any obvious or necessary bond to enhanced fidelity, reliability, and truth. That bond had to be forged."

Johns continues:
"We ourselves routinely rely on stable communications in our making and maintenance of knowledge, whether of the people around us or of the world in which we live. That stability helps to underpin the confidence we feel in our impressions and beliefs." (Johns, 1998: 5)
In the 16th century, printers took to praising their craft for its powers to preserve. They contrasted their craft with that of scribal reproduction, which they characterised as intrinsically corruptive, i.e. productive of textual corruption and, thereby, corrupted readers.

It is not printing in itself that possesses preservative powers, but printing put to use in particular ways. While it is important to observe the differences between print and manuscript reproduction, it is equally important, Johns insists, to consider how the press itself and its products have been, and continue to be, employed.

The roots of textual stability are to be found in the practices of employment of printed products as much as in the press itself.

Knowledge, such as we conceive it, has come to depend on that stability. A reappraisal of print in the making can contribute to our understanding of the conditions of knowledge itself, Johns contends.

The de-stabilising of the book, as knowledge format and as knowledge technology, and the de-stabilising of ‘print culture’, then, has great consequence for knowledge as well as for its transmissibility. A major presumed base of knowledge becomes questionable.

This de-stabilising of the book, in turn, has great consequence for ‘the library’, in its role as a stabilising institution which maintains the integrity of the text/book-basis of knowledge.


Johns, A. (1998). The Nature of the book: print and knowledge in the making. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014


According to Samuel Chambers (2014), Jacques Ranciere’s pedagogy can be called radical because it challenges traditional pedagogy at its heart, which is to say it challenges explanation. Ranciere claims that traditional models of teaching depend on the act of explanation as the pre-eminent teaching activity: to teach is to explain.
[How does this relate to another rubric, 'to teach is to instruct', in the sense of information transfer from master to student? Are they both variants of the 'transmission' model of learning and teaching?]
This practice of teaching presumes a hidden truth, a truth which is demystified by the master explicator. Such explanatory discourse enacts a science of the hidden (Ross, 1991: xxiii)

Ranciere shows that explanation depends on a background structure of explication, which he call the explicative order. The traditional schoolmaster-schoolmistress-pedagogue-teacher, SSPT, assigns a text to his or her students to read. When they arrive in class, the SSPT explains the text to them, both by showing them and by telling them what it means. 

In this way, Ranciere makes explicit the deep and pervasive inequality that underlies the order of explication. 

In performing his or her traditional work, i.e. in explaining, the SSPT uses explanation as a display, or rather enaction, of inequality. To explain is not just to give them knowledge but also to prove that they do not have that knowledge prior to the SSPT’s delivery of it. 

Thus, while explanation is the engine of the explicative order, explanation turns out to be stultification, a practice of rendering stupid.
[While this character, the SSPT, is somewhat of a ‘straw figure’, there may be some value in outlining the situation in such an extreme way, in order to get at 'structures of explication’, or, rather, the various discursive practices in play in pedagogy, amongst which is explanation, that concern equality/inequality.
There is also the question of the text-based-ness of this characterisation, which may need to be opened up to other media and other situations in which explanation is also in play. 
By 'text', is 'book' meant or implied? Is this articulation of text/book with learning/knowing part of a specific era of educational technology, in which knowledge is 'contained' in 'the book', and a specific era of 'literacy', as 'book'-(based)-'learning', as well as a specific era of 'the library', as repository of book-encased-knowledge? See Knowledge, Stability, Print Technology]
To avoid the resultant stultification, how is the teacher-student relation to be re-articulated? 

In citing Joseph Jacotot as model, Ranciere holds out the promise of teachers who teach despite the fact that they do not know, which includes the promise of teachers who teach as if they do not know. 
[There is a place here, that is to say, for performance as play-acting, playing a role or pretending, with a wholly sincere intention of achieving a practical pedagogic goal.]
In the Rancierian pedagogy, the teacher creates an environment, constructs a context and builds an overall structure in which students can learn. There is a difference between assuming that the student can read the text on their own and assuming that the student will decide on their own account to select and read that text. 
[The environment here is multi-levelled, a materialised environment, an intercorporeal environment and an intersubjective environment, a location, a position and a relation, not necessarily at one and the same time, i.e. with different spatio-temporalities gathering together at different times and places.]
[In general, as is often the case, it is a question of opening up the ‘text’ to the ‘environment’ and the ‘environment’ to the ‘text’, through the inter-corporeal, such that their interpenetrated technological, mediated and inter-subjective characters may be recognised.]
[Jacotot’s students had learned (the French language) without the aid of a master explicator. However, for all that, they had not learned without a master.
For Ranciere (1991: 13), there is stultification when one intelligence, that of the student, is subordinated to another, that of the master; while there is emancipation when one will, that of the student, is subordinated to another, that of the master.
Ranciere specifies two faculties in play during the act of learning: intelligence and will, holding that they can and should be considered separately. In the learning situation set up by Jacotot, Ranciere argues, a relationship of will-to-will is established between master and student.
This relationship of domination, Ranciere deems, resulted in a liberated relationship between the intelligence of the student and that of the book. The intelligence of the book is the thing-in-common, the egalitarian link between master and student.
That relationship would need to be characterised in terms other than that of 'domination', surely? Is a will-to-will relation a material, inter-subjective relation?
This leads to a circle of empowerment, wherein the student gradually, and increasingly, recognises the power of their own intelligence as the will to learn.]
[All of which begs the question: where do the 'masters', whose will is to be followed, even though they are not 'master explicators', emerge from? What are the conditions for 'learning without masters'?]

Chambers, S. (2014). Walter White is a bad teacher: pedagogy, partage, and politics in Season 4 of Breaking Bad. Theory & Event. 17 (1). Available from: [Accessed 12 October 2014].

Ross, K. (1991). Translator’s introduction. In: The ignorant shoolmaster: five lessons in intellectual emancipation by Jacques Ranciere. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, vii–xxiii.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Education and Literacy

Picking up on two of the themes scattered throughout this blog, i.e. literacy and education, for example as discussed in The Re-uses of Literacy, Lesley B. Cormack writes that prior to the early modern period in Europe education had been an ecclesiastical concern:
"Most schools were sponsored by the church, and many schoolmasters were clerics." (Cormack, 2007: 623)
Secular interest in education began to develop from the mid-15th century onwards. This occurred first in Italy and then the rest of Europe. A career in the church was no longer the sole aim of education. There were new incentives for achieving a certain level of education, provided by government offices and secretarial positions as well as by gentry culture and the possibilities of patronage.

Contemporaneously, although it is disputed by historians, it can be argued that the Protestant Reformation provided a new impetus for education and literacy. This was, in part, because Protestants emphasised the value of personal and vernacular Bible reading; and, in part, because the Catholic Church responded through educational strategies.

Education, Cormack concludes, became an aspiration for a wider sector of the population.

In England, for example, during the 16th century, entry to government and public careers was increasingly provided by formal education rather than household apprenticeship. Literacy and knowledge of a number of disciplines were perceived as important attributes of the ambitious man. Gentle and mercantile families sent their sons to school and then to Oxford or Cambridge, so that they would meet the right people, on the one hand, and gain access to the understanding of the world that would enable them to govern, on the other hand.

Universities in the Middle Ages had developed as a training ground for clerics. In the 15th century, professional training for lawyers and medical doctors was added. In the 16th century, students began to attend universities even though they had no intention of taking up a profession in the church, law or medicine.

At this time, in early modern Europe, it is estimated that no more than 10% to 15% of the population was literate, although several European towns had male literacy rates of over 90% (Cormack, 2007: 625; citing Houston, 1988: 130-154).


Cormack, L.B. (2007). Maps as educational tools in the Renaissance. In: Woodward, D., (ed.) History of cartography. Volume three (part 1): Cartography in the European Renaissance. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 622–636.

Houston, R. A. (1988). Literacy in early modern Europe: culture and education, 1500-1800. London: Longman.