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Foucault’s 1984 course summary June 18, 2009

Posted by Andy in Foucault, Le Courage de la Vérité.
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I’ve now made a pdf version of my summaries of Foucault’s 1984 lectures, Le Courage de la Vérité, and included my response. Hope this comes in useful if anyone’s working on this stuff. You could also just click on the right category, and then you’ll get to see the comments too.

Answering to Foucault June 18, 2009

Posted by Andy in Foucault, Le Courage de la Vérité.
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When I started reading the 1984 lectures, I was hoping that I’d be able to provide a different interpretation to that offered by the likes of McGushin and Bernauer, because their take seemed so unFoucauldian. As my notes have perhaps indicated, I believe these lectures are atypical Foucault in a range of ways that I’m not going into. The point is that some (but not all) of the arguments that made me uncomfortable did originate with Foucault and not his interpreters. So I feel obliged to give an answer to them, because I have taken these issues seriously. So in what follows, I will give my answer to Foucault. (more…)

Describing the Person June 15, 2009

Posted by Andy in pedagogics.
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There has been a fair amount of activity around the question of describing the human situation through the person of Christ of late, and my position has largely been that the whole project of describing who we are is all wrong. I started off my PhD being naively suspicious of the disciplines of sociology and anthropology, and this caution has cropped up again in the wake of my teacher training. So I thought I’d just justify this fear by sketching out something I’m working on at the moment.

Educational studies are full of wonderful words about the human being. The good teacher should give space to his/her students so that their inborn talents may have free reign to develop unhindered; students love to discover if left to their own devices; it’s important to have a positive view of the person. The classic expression of all these beautiful thoughts is in the general part of the national curriculum in Norway (isn’t it pretty?). In addition to ensuring that students can follow the normal development of the human species, teachers should address all parts of the student.

This document is divided up into a series of sections called “the x human being” – where x stands for spiritual, creative, working, liberally-educated, social, environmentally aware and integrated. The grammar of each chapter basically states that children are x anyway, and so the teacher needs to accommodate and direct that x-ness so that it is conducive to learning and being together. Children are creative, so let their creativity find expression in the classroom for everyone’s good.

OK. So this is clearly a move away from a kind of academic cerebral classroom towards a more holistic education no doubt. But the argument employs a familiar move. Why should we all be utilitarians? Because everyone wants to be happy anyway! This insight is at least as old as Aristotle (Nich. I.iv). Why does it become so important in Mill’s time? Well, I think the answer lies in the concerns common to Mill and the writers of national curricula. It is important for the art of governing.

If you are disillusioned with exclusionary tactics like exile, the death penalty, and seclusion (or in school, expulsion, selection and failure), and you want to find ways of being together that compensate for everyone’s different tastes and peculiarities, you need to find some common ground in the population. Utilitarianism was a way of building a society based on everyone’s common need to be happy. As long as everyone is trying to be happy – which is to say, as long as everyone is being human – then utilitarian government works. Similarly, as long as every child is trying to be creative, social, integrated, etc. then Norwegian pedagogical theory works. The teacher uses those human characteristics in constructing learning contexts for classroom activities.

The dark side of this is perhaps that those who do not pursue happiness, attempt to be creative, etc. are thereby labelled subhuman rather than just in the wrong, and that has certain consequences. But they don’t have to be serious consequences: as long as human sciences can develop, you can keep them in the system by re-interpreting what you mean by the pursuit of happiness, being creative, etc.

The point is that the model of current class leadership is based on compensation rather than discipline. It’s about allowing for weirdness whilst appropriating the universal. The human sciences allow the leader to calculate the levels of dissidence, transgression and lawlessness whilst finding a human common denominator that can give them a handle on the classroom population. It’s a kind of intervention through human independence (and this model is largely worked out in Foucault’s Security, Territory, Population).

As soon as we know what is essential to the human being, we can compensate for it. The current political model is not the disciplinary prison, but the indulgent uncle. I allow my daughter to run away as far as she likes because I know she doesn’t like to run away further than is good for her. And by letting her run off, I don’t have to discipline her movements or teach her to walk independently. I use her own independent desire for my company (whilst it lasts!) in order to control her movement.

And that’s why I think describing humanity is complicit with government.