Argos Aotearoa

The Argos Aotearoa hypertext site is up and running at http://argosaotearoa.org.

Argos aims to circulate writing about topical matters of public and political import that is local, critical and accessible. We believe critical intellectual conversation should be heard here in Aotearoa-New Zealand, not simply published for credit in international fora for more limited and specialised audiences. Of particular interest to us is writing that grounds its concern with the public or political good of place-making in theory or philosophy.

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Argos Aotearoa #1 - The University Beside Itself

Argos Aotearoa #1 – The University Beside Itself

The first issue of the Argos print journal is available to read and share at Argos #1. Hard copies will be available soon.

The University Beside Itself

Out now, a new essay by Stephen and I, “The University Beside Itself,” from Re-imagining the Creative University for the 21st Century, ed. T. Besley and M. Peters (London: Routledge, 2013) 49-59:

[I]n and through seismotic construction, which is to say through attention to the unstable ground of the university, the nature of the class and classroom is reconstructed to form a new disposition. Such a practice, we suggest, places teaching – education, in fact – at the centre of the university, rather than research or management. Construction is not just a matter of learning learning; it makes the ability to ask after grounds the basis of being educated, and it makes being able to question a key social value of education. Without it, we think that a society lacks the wherewithal for self-transformation. The experience of transformation, or being transported, is to be beside oneself. And to be beside someone, as one is in a classroom, is to find one’s thinking transposed through a dialogic doubling. This is why classrooms matter, and cannot simply be replaced by downloaded notes or lectures. The “live” classroom, animated by open-ended dialogue rather than end- stopped programming, offers a creative and collaborative capacity that is chancy and risky, or, in any case, uninflected by the discursive consistency of the university template – how it is that you are supposed to meet the aims, objectives and outcomes of a course, or at higher levels, the mission statement and strategic plan of the university. (53-54)

It’s available through SpringerLink: http://link.springer.com/book/10.1007/978-94-6209-458-1.

Erratology and the Ill-Logic of the Seismotic University

Garden of Forking Paths

A new essay by Stephen Turner and myself, “Erratology and the Ill-Logic of the Seismotic University”:

With the tertiary education mantra of creativity, critical thinking and innovation in mind, we consider the critical-creativity of error. Taking the university to model social orthography, or “correct writing,” according to the norms of disciplines, we consider the role of error in the classroom. Error questions the norms governing norms and the instability of disciplinary grounds; it involves a mis-taking, or taking another way. By tracing the origin of error, we are able to reconstruct the social world in terms of which it is conceivable for a mistake of any kind to have been made. The university, we find, withholds worlds which are not new but are sources of creativity, and constitutes a pluriversity or poly-versity.

In short, we learn by making mistakes.

Download here (subscription required).

Invisible ties: Finding learning as it happens

This essay is available at ATLAANZ (http://www.atlaanz.org/research-and-publications/2011-petone-proceedings-published-2012). An excerpt:

My question is: how can we assess learning as it happens, to find the learning that goes on seemingly invisibly in the classroom? We teachers are past masters (and mistresses) at assessing learning in hindsight — through some sort of examination; assessing learning in action is new to us.

Why is finding the learning important? Because as teachers we can feel when a class is going well and think we can explain why: we’re getting our content across — and all (or enough) of it and in an order that makes sense; we’re making sense; we’re feeling in control or challenged, depending on our preferred style; we’ve plenty of questions or dialogue; we notice that the class is busy and noisy — or the opposite, depending on the discipline. If we feel that a class is going well, most of us would say that there must be learning going on. We don’t know, of course, because students might just be playing along or they might be good at pretending, that is, they might be playing at being good learners. It’s hard to know (most of us teachers are, of course, just playing at being good teachers; we’re just “muddling through,” as Stephen Brookfield (2006, p. 1) puts it. [1]

So, how to assess what’s going on in the learning situation is one problem.

Finding the learning is also important because we currently assess learning — in fact, we tend to define learning — in econometric terms.2 For example, what is considered best practice in assessment, namely, the “constructive alignment” of aims, objectives and outcomes theorised by Biggs (1996) in the ’nineties and now orthodox in higher education is often destructive because it is practiced less flexibly and educatively than it might be. (Biggs himself describes “trapp[ing]” learners in a teaching system as if this were a good thing [2003, p. 2]). [2] I call this end-stopped teaching and learning, or “teaching [and learning] to the test” (Sturm & Turner, 2011, p. 19). We decry this in schools (well, some of us do), while lauding it in universities. [3]

In other words, what to assess in the learning situation is another problem. Not only, then, does this kind of assessment fail to account adequately for learning, but it counts the wrong things (of course, whether we want to count to right things, if to count them is to control them, is questionable). [. . .]

It is through a formative assessment cycle of five actions: notice, recognise, respond, record, revisit (N4R), a.k.a. “planning on our feet,” that we can positively feed back on the learning attributes at work in students’ learning behaviours as they happen by prompting, acknowledging or rewarding them, and feed forward into their future learning. [4] [. . .] Through the heuristic of the formative assessment cycle, I notice learning happening, recognize it as an instance of learning, respond by acknowledging it and recording it (saying something affirmative and writing it down, for example) and revisit the moment in discussion (or writing) later.

Reference list

1. Brookfield, S. (2006). The skilful teacher: On technique, trust, and responsiveness in the classroom (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

2. Biggs, J. (1996). Enhancing teaching through constructive alignment. Higher Education, 32, 1-18. Biggs, J. (2003). Aligning teaching for constructing learning. York: The Higher Education Academy. Retrieved from http://dev.nmcweb.co.uk/african/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/id477_aligning_teaching_for_constructing_learning.pdf

3. Sturm, S., & Turner, S. (2011, April-May). The idea of the university. Arena, 111, 16-19. Retrieved from http://www.arena.org.au/2011/06/the-idea-of-the-university/

4. I am indebted to Jacqui Sturm of the Education Leadership Project for alerting me to the idea of a “cycle of planning” and “planning on your feet” (see Ramsey, K., Breen, J., Sturm, J., Lee, W., & Carr, M. [2006]. Roskill South Kindergarten: Centre of Innovation 2003-2006. Hamilton, New Zealand: University of Waikato School of Education, Wilf Malcolm Institute of Educational Research).

“Off with their Heads!”: Un-Mastering the Masters of the University

An abstract for an upcoming talkfest on Lacan and the Discourse of Capitalism at Massey University in Wellington . . .

The matheme-atics of Jacques Lacan’s four — or more — discourses can enable us to account for changes in the university, and the place of dissent within (or outside) it. If, to misapply Lacan, we take the discourse of the university to represent the University 1.0 (the national university that exists to create good citizens), his fifth discourse, that of capitalism, can represent the University 2.0 (the transnational university that exists to generate transcendental, or global, capital).[1]

Discourses of the University and Capitalism

Both discourses, Lacan might say, serve the hidden truth of the master: the mathemes that occupy the position of agency (top left on the quadripode) are “fake masters,” to use Slavoj Žižek’s term,[2] namely,

  1. in the University 1.0, knowledge (S2) — or learning, embodied in the professorate, and
  2. in the University 2.0, the subject ($) — or consumers, including managers and academics as well as students.

The shift from a ruling discourse that produces a certain subjectivity (learning producing learned subjects) to one that is driven by a certain subjectivity (consumers producing profit) can account for changes in the university.

How are we, then, to understand the place of dissent within the university (or outside it, given that the university is now taken to be captive to and of a piece with capitalism)? The discourses of the hysteric and the analyst can be read as dissenting: the hysteric questions the hidden masters of university and capitalist discourse to protest against them;[3] the analyst works with the subjectivities that are produced in university discourse and drive capitalist discourse to transform them. But it struck me, when reading Alice and the Cheshire Cat’s ripostes to the Queen of Hearts in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (link), that I might instead construct a sixth discourse: of dissent, or dissensus, to use Jacques Rancière’s term.[4] (The Cheshire Cat hystericises and analyses the Queen; Alice dissents.)

Discourse of Dissent

Dissent takes the discourse of the university as its starting point, but swaps the “covert” mathemes (the bottom two mathemes) $ and S1, such that its truth becomes the subject and its product, a new kind of mastery. It is a “subjectification” of the university and a re-mastering of its universe; how so, my talk will explore.[5]


[1] Before Lacan added a fifth discourse, of capitalism (“On Psychoanalytic Discourse,” 1972/1978), he took the discourse of the university, the historical successor to the discourse of the master, to represent capitalism (The Other Side of Psychoanalysis, 1968/2007).

[2] Slavoj Žižek, Iraq: The Borrowed Kettle, 2004.

[3] For this reason, Lacan came to take the discourse of the hysteric to represent science, which offers — or ought to offer — an implicit critique of the status quo of knowledge (e.g., in Television, 1974; 1990).

[4] Jacques Rancière, “The Thinking of Dissensus: Politics and Aesthetics,” 2003.

[5] Note that Alain Badiou (Philosophy for Militants, 2012) argues by way of Lacan’s discourses for a re-mastering of philosophy: for him, philosophy has for the most part been co-opted by the discourse of the university (it has become antiphilosophy); to find its rightful place, it must re-appropriate the discourse of the master.

The Cult of Done Manifesto

Perfectionism is procrastination.

After Voltaire, La Bégueule (1772): “the better [le mieux] is the enemy of the good” (compare Jacques Lacan on beauty as our saviour from truth; see The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 1959-60217).

From Bre Pettis and Kio Stark comes a recipe for productivity (Bre Pettis: I Make Things, 3 Mar. 2009):

  1. There are three states of being. Not knowing, action and completion.
  2. Accept that everything is a draft. It helps to get it done.
  3. There is no editing stage.
  4. Pretending you know what you’re doing is almost the same as knowing what you are doing, so just accept that you know what you’re doing even if you don’t and do it.
  5. Banish procrastination. If you wait more than a week to get an idea done, abandon it.
  6. The point of being done is not to finish but to get other things done.
  7. Once you’re done you can throw it away.
  8. Laugh at perfection. It’s boring and keeps you from being done.
  9. People without dirty hands are wrong. Doing something makes you right.
  10. Failure counts as done. So do mistakes.
  11. Destruction is a variant of done.
  12. If you have an idea and publish it on the internet, that counts as a ghost of done.
  13. Done is the engine of more.

Provost - The Cult of Done