April 25, 2013

The Myth of Pedagogy

The inequitous and iniquitous logics of contemporary neoliberal educational reform are underpinned by an ideology of progress. This manifests in policy narratives scripted around ‘the future’, emphasising the importance of aspiration and becoming. These (often emotive) narratives exert tremendous hold on us and as in our teaching and research we are implicated in progressive systemic and pedagogic practices. As the work of French philosopher Jacques Rancière (1991) demonstrates, the logic of social and political progress is underpinned by explicative pedagogies and the temporal delay they create between not knowing and knowing. According to Rancière (1991: 6-7), a hierarchy of intelligences is thereby generated and sustained via;

... the myth of pedagogy, the parable of a world divided into knowing minds and ignorant ones, ripe minds and immature ones, the capable and the incapable, the intelligent and the stupid. The explicator’s special trick consists of this double inaugural gesture. On the one hand, he (sic) decrees the absolute beginning; it is only now that the act of learning will begin. On the other, having thrown a veil of ignorance over everything that is to be learnt, he appoints himself to the task of lifting it.

This assumed incapacity of the many to understand, ‘divides the world into two’ (p 7) and ensures that emancipation will always rest in the hands of the knowing and learned: and always, significantly, in the future. ‘We know, in fact’, Rancière (1991: 117) tells us, ‘that explication is not only the stultifying weapon of pedagogues but the very bond of the social order’. The only way to challenge the hegemony of this pedagogic relation is to critique processes of explication and propose an alternative model of intellectual capacity that destroys the temporal delay, the distance of inequality. Rancière does this by reframing equality as something to be declared at the outset rather than achieved as an endpoint. Put simply, all must be considered to have equal intellectual capacity. The declaration of equality as a starting point rather than (endlessly) postponed aspiration or goal enacts a critique of progressive pedagogy and the systems and practices dependent on an ideology of progressivism. At the same time, the sort of critique and intervention necessary in relation to the contemporary crisis of higher education must resist the temporal flow of ‘progress’ and the lure of an imagined ‘future’.

Can we begin to think and practise this? What might our planning, pedagogies and curricula look and feel like?  



Rancière, J (1991) The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation, Stanford University Press, California.

- 2 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. Katharina Karcher

    This is food for thought, Cath!:)

    Your entry made me think about the potentials and pitfalls of the term equality in feminist theory. Is equality something that we can declare at the outset, and if so, how can we do that without reinforcing existing power asymetries? Equality is still a central demand of liberal feminists all over the world. But, the feminist theorist and author bell hooks rightly emphasises that there is no equality among men. In her book “Feminist Theory: From Margin To Center”, she asks pointedly: in “white supremacist, capitalist, patriachal class structure, which men do women want to be equal to?” (2000, p. 19).

    Sometimes, equality and difference are presented as mutually exclusive, but I think this is wrong. Following Luce Irigaray and other (so called) difference feminists, I think that we can be equal in difference. Equality in the class room cannot be based on the assumption that all are the same. It must acknowledge and value cultural, ethnic, linguistic, sexual, age and class differences among teachers and students.

    As teachers and experienced researchers, we are in a different position than most of our students, and I think it would be wrong to deny that. But this does not mean that teachers are better than students, or that they should simply impose their views on their students. In my eyes, equality in the class room means learning from each other and learning together whilst acknowledging constitutive differences among us and challenging preexisting hierarchies.

    25 Apr 2013, 16:52

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    10 May 2013, 11:33

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