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:

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 ( 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

3. Sturm, S., & Turner, S. (2011, April-May). The idea of the university. Arena, 111, 16-19. Retrieved from

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

Interstices Call for Papers: Immaterial Materialities [submit by 3 March 2013]


Materiality has recently claimed centre stage in architectural discourse and practice, yet its critical meaning is ever receding. Tropes like material honesty, digital materiality, material responsiveness and dematerialisation mark out an interdisciplinary field where scientific fact and artistic experimentation interact, and where what in fact constitutes materiality and immateriality is constantly re-imagined.

Interstices14 invites contributions that address the thematic strands: Immateriality; Atmosphere+Experience; Interactivity; Material Politics; Material Technology+Aesthetics; Material Referents.

Immateriality: As a reaction to developments in science, materiality came under scrutiny with the emergence of nineteenth century German aesthetics (Vischer, Schmarsow) and the early avant-garde projects (Lissitzky, van Doesburg). Initiating an epistemic shift in art and architecture, these works pointed point to the connection between the concrete material properties of objects and their interaction with the inhabitant through psycho-physiological effects. From one of these early projects, this publication borrows its title – Immaterial Materialities – a term invented by El Lissitzky to describe the dynamics of our spatial conception, which could be explored through the design of imaginary spaces – possibilities pioneered by film and modern mass media. The inclusion of ephemeral elements such as light, line, colour, and media, reconceptualised materiality as an entirely dynamic category, a kind of ‘materialised energy’ (Vesnin). These ideas re-emerged transformed  in the work of the Neo-avant-garde of the 1960s and 70s, and surfaced again in contemporary architectural debates.

Atmosphere + Experience: Gernot Böhme thematizes the idea of ‘materialized energy’ under the heading of ‘atmospheres,’ which he sees as the fundamental concept of a new aesthetics in architecture. Questioning the primacy of vision, Böhme asks “is seeing really the truest means of perceiving architecture? Do we not feel it even more? And what does architecture actually shape – matter or should we say space?” Böhme points to the architecture of Herzog & de Meuron and Peter Zumthor whose works build upon material experimentation and foreground sensory qualities. “Atmospheres”, notes Böhme “are something that defines the human-in-the-world as a whole, i.e. his relationship to the environment, to other people, to things and works of art”.

Interactivity: Considerations on our relationship with atmosphere and weather have informed recent projects, which deploy materials as mediators or activating agents that probe the relationship between audience/user and the physical environment: Spatial investigations with phenomena-producing materials such as water, light, colour and temperature experiment with the viewer’s experience (Eliasson); responsive high-tech materials interact with audiences (Spuybroek); ‘weather architectures’ (Hill), or ‘atmo architectures’ (Sloterdijk) technologically re-create nature as spatial experience and spectacle (Diller and Scofidio).

Material Politics: Traditional materials such as timber and concrete have been re-imagined through the rediscovery of forgotten methods and connect us to the material traditions of historic regional architecture. Through the use of low-cost materials such as corrugated metal, Australian architects connect the beach house, the wool-shed, and industrial estates educing trans-historical, cross-cultural, and climatic associations by fusing the Australian vernacular with international modernism. In East Germany, architect Ulrich Müther’s material experimentation with cast concrete generated an aura of cosmopolitanism that stood in stark contrast to the visual monotony of the iconic ‘Plattenbauten’ (pre-cast concrete towers) promoted by the government; whereas in 1950s Bosnia, Juraj Neidhardt argued that a systematic re-arrangement of architectural elements could facilitate an interactive relationship between the heritage built fabric and the new Communist society.

Material Technology + Aesthetics: Architectural experiments in material-oriented computational design explore the design potential of conventional construction materials. Waste material and natural materials are fused chemically, or mechanically-fixed, providing imaginative design solutions for technological problems. New composites with changed material and aesthetic properties are suitable for an extended variety of applications. The traditional visual language of tectonics gives rise to a plastic aesthetic that rejects discrete structural elements in favour of homogeneity and gradient – a language that is just beginning to be explored.

Material Referents: In contemporary art, Liam Gillick uses materials and architectural elements that reference the universal modernism favoured in corporate architecture; plexiglas, steel, and colour aluminium connect “the project of emancipation of the avant-gardes and the protocol of our alienation in a modern economy”; these material fragments prompt the viewer to reflect on a range of, at times conflicting, environments, which can be read “as partial images that call to mind a range of other moments and environments” (Verhagen).  It is precisely this “calling to mind of other moments and environments” that Philip Ursprung detects in Hans Danuser’s photographic representations of Peter Zumthor’s architecture. Danuser’s images evoke seemingly incompatible associations by revealing unexpected links between Zumthor’s atmospheric concrete spaces and the problematic, post-industrial spaces of Alpine power plants and cooling towers. Photography, as Barthes argues, entails a frictional encounter with the reality of an image; an invisible disturbance of the photographic surface.

All these approaches probe boundaries — between material and immaterial, art and science, practice and theory, representation and experience, tradition and innovation, and producer/object/user, giving rise to the following concerns:

  • What is the validity of different approaches to materiality in relation to the vital problems of our time?
  • Where do materials allow us to cross disciplinary, cultural, or other boundaries?
  • Can materials be deployed to create environments which predict user behaviour and control social relations and experiences?
  • Which trans-historical correspondences can be detected in contemporary approaches to materiality, and how do these challenge, imitate and expand on previous thinking?

Submissions: Interstices: Journal of Architecture and Related Arts 14, “Immaterial Materialities: Materiality and Interactivity in Art and Architecture,” invites critical investigations of theoretical and historical content from academics, as well as practice-oriented contributions from content providers such as architects, artists and curators, that redress imbalances and missing links in the portrayal and debate of matters concerning materiality and interactivity in art and architecture from the 1920s onward.

For the refereed part, we welcome submission of 5000 word papers and visual submissions with an accompanying text of approximately 500 words. For the non-refereed part, we welcome papers up to 2500 words and project reports and reviews of up to 1000 words related to the issue theme. Please check out the Notes for Contributors for details about the reviewing process, copyright issues and formatting for written and visual submissions.

Please send your submission to Sandra Karina Löschke ( by 3 March 2013.

Authors accepted for the reviewing process will receive confirmation and a schedule of production in mid-March and the journal will go to publication in October/November 2013.