New article by Stephen and me rereading NZ creative educationalist Elwyn Richardson

Sturm, S., & Turner, S.F. (2015). The tyre-child in the early world. Educational Philosophy and Theory: Incorporating ACCESS.

In the Early World

The abstract:

This article considers the ‘creative education’ of influential Aotearoa/New Zealand art educator Elwyn Richardson, which is based on what he calls the ‘discovery method’: the ‘concentrated study of material from [students’] own surroundings’. Through a game that his students play with tyres, we explore the role that tools play in Richardson’s classroom and in the imaginary ‘worlding’ of his students’ play. By taking the ‘early world’ of the children’s development to be a product of the tools through which they describe it, we reveal Richardson’s educative process to be essentially technological. His idea of the whole child who emerges through a process of experience and observation – of ‘emotion recollected in tranquillity’, in the well-known phrase of Wordsworth cited by Richardson – conflates the nature of the child and nature of the ‘natural’ world. By this act of ‘natural settlement’ not untypical of settler narratives in Aotearoa/New Zealand, the child’s – and, by implication, other settlers’ – relation to the world of nature is naturalized. Instead, we would argue that the child’s relation to nature is altogether unnatural: it is imprinted by the technological means through which she explores the world and makes it her own – and by which she is made over. The ‘tyre-child’ is no child of nature, but a child of technology (as every settler is a technological settler), for whom creative errors – acts of ‘mis-taking’ like the ones Richardson’s children make in playing with tyres – reveal an imaginary capacity at once theoretical and unsettling.

First fifty reads free for non-subscribers apparently at


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).

Workplace: The New Academic Manners, Managers, and Spaces

Check out Workplace 20 (2012): The New Academic Manners, Managers, and Spaces (link).

Workplace is a refereed, open access journal published by a collective of scholars in critical higher education promoting a new dignity in academic work.

Stephen Turner and my “Cardinal Newman in the Crystal Palace: The Idea of the University Today” appears here.

Excellent Universities, Here, There and Everywhere

A draft of an essay with Stephen Turner. See the finished version at Inquire.

University of Auckland Owen G. Glenn Building (a.k.a. the Business School)

We are asked to address the university today in the local context of the University of Auckland, New Zealand, where we live and work. On the one hand, this is an educational setting at the ends of the earth, exotic and exciting (perhaps); on the other, and rather more apropos, this is a university much like any other. Very much wanting to be Melbourne, it is probably also rather more like Minnesota (no disrespect intended). In any case, the difference between all three, in terms of their globalising design-drive, is negligible. The league tabling of universities worldwide has produced an uncanny genericity — universality, even — of aims, objectives and outcomes, which is to say, university mission statements (UMSs): excellence, enterprise and efficiency. And it has greatly increased the importance of the measures (“econometrics”) that assure us that these ends, to which all who work in universities are now thoroughly devoted, willingly or not, have been achieved.

Econometric education (what David Weinberger calls “accountabalism”) is often couched in terms of the word “experience,” as the emergent property of the three E’s, so to speak, and as if it too were simply measurable (and as if universities actually cared about their clientele). It describes a “good” at our university in the same way that the word permeates the prospectuses of our (league-table) poor city cousins AUT University and Unitech: that is to say, our “experience” is better than yours because league tables say it is so — or, rather, make it so. Actual experience of an institution, a community and a place is systematically devalued. Class warfare has not so much migrated to the tertiary sector as embedded and enhanced age-old discrimination. The trick is that “discrimination” today refers to “improved” systems of measure — their increased ability to slice and splice space, time and value (see Hoskin and Frandsen on “space/time/value machines” [p. 1]) — rather than to social status, so making university environments appear class-free. (The capping of student intakes — by raising entry criteria — at our university has greatly nonetheless affected the ability of those most poorly-off in our society, in particular, indigenous Maori, to participate.) What we can report, therefore, is that our university here looks very much the same as your university there and indeed universities everywhere. This sameness, for us, spells the death of education in any non-cosmetic sense of “enhancement,” which is to say transformation by collective imagination, or “democracy” (Rancière 2010 45ff.). The word enhancement itself is now metricised (as are many of its synomyms: “improvement,” “growth,” “evolution,” etc.). Imagining itself is subject to systems of measure, such that it is difficult to imagine things being different; this is the ascriptive force of systems of measure at work: what isn’t measured, or strictly measurable, doesn’t count for anything.

Leonardo da Vinci, Vitruvian Man (c. 1487)

If anything, the New Zealand university is more generic in the world-excellent sense, though this may be special pleading (New Zealanders are notoriously modest in their narcissism). Our colonial past, however, makes us super-globalisers (settlers are avant-garde in their capitalism): we act out the historical design-drive of globalisation in our “fast-following” tendencies — our inherent slavishness to metropolitan models (Skilling and Boven 40-41) — and consequent genericity and “B+-ness.” The Occupy movement, and accompanying student unrest at the University of Auckland throughout 2011, which ran alongside a protracted dispute between unionised academics and our corporate-minded Vice-Chancellor, begs the question of the deeper “occupation” of the country by Pakeha (non-Maori) settlers and its radical transformation by colonising capital. In the context of on-going educational “reforms” (a.k.a. restructuring of university units and programmes for the sake of greater efficiencies), it cannot be surprising that Maori stand to lose most. What connects our colonial history to globalising imperatives of enterprise and has affected universities everywhere is a logic of replication that is as old as the nation itself but that now assumes a pedagogical guise. Given that knowledge itself, or more properly information, has became the commodity of commodities, and immaterial labour has displaced material labour, colonisation today takes the form of pedagogical “enterprise,” with the university as its flagship.

A little history is unavoidable if we are to understand the local development of the university, and not simply replicate the imperatives of globalisation (enterprise, excellence and efficiency). Historically, the globalising design-drive of settler capitalism initially worked to subsume the long history of indigenous inhabitation to the short history of the settler’s make-over of place (Turner ); we inhabit its continuous present (or future anterior: its always-already-will-have-been [Hill 193]). To retool some Marxist terminology, “formal subsumption” may be considered the formal alignment of the new country with the capital interests (in land, population and export) that its settlers represent, and the extension in and through their enterprise of an imperial economy (see Marx 1019-38). Those “forms” include land titles, property rights and wage relations. “Real subsumption” makes such forms the actual content of lived local relationships. So settlers replicate the propertied society of the mother country, but also, over time, adopt a local identity in terms of which the interests of the colony and the metropole have been fully aligned. (That settlers consider themselves not to be English simply masks the unexceptional nature of their settlement, and the fact that local public culture largely comes from other Anglo-settler societies, with Maori called upon to fill the local uniqueness deficit [Fairburn].) The result is a political economy of identity — an identitarian economics — in which to be a “New Zealander,” or “Kiwi,” itself signals the success of the enterprise of settlement. Local universities are not just determined by this logic but are its flag bearers.

Today, the logic of replication drives the production of local knowledge, and explains the country’s highly generic fast-following tendencies, albeit masked by our Asia-Pacific branding. The transformation of the older brick and mortar university (the Oxbridge University 1.0) into the steel and glass — and fibre — university (the transnational University 2.0) has been enabled by the new econometrics of knowledge. The technical capitalism of “improved” measure, delivered by a raft of business school devices (like Total Quality Management), drives the “universalising” of world-excellent universities. Due to the new infrastructure of managerialism, the content of education — indeed the very “idea” of the university — has undergone a process of abstraction, making enterprise the sole horizon of human possibilities, and thereby limiting different imaginings of our collective future. It is not that the economy has become more productive but that systems of measure have reoriented its operation, likewise the mission of universities: academics are incentivised to research rather than teach, to network globally, and to post outputs in world-leading journals, mostly outside New Zealand, while students are incentivised to gain the transferable skills that match openings in the market. Teaching merely ensures that the aims, objectives and outcomes of courses, properly aligned with those of the department, discipline, faculty and university — the nested capitalism of its micromanagement — are ticked off by student evaluations. Altogether more important — for universities and other “stakeholders” at least — is the national measure of academic performance (PBRF or the Performance-Based Research Fund), which has us academics competitively discriminating and counting outputs, googling for peer esteem — and discounting non-countable activities.

Seismic Section

This kind of join-the-dots education fulfils the design-drive of techno-capitalism and obscures our ongoing colonialism. In this context, it is difficult to appeal to “critical” and “creative” thinking, as this is precisely what the world-excellent university says it does. We prefer vocabulary that sits less comfortably with mission-statement speak, and which suggests a renewed role for such off-mission “arts” like wisdom, charity, idleness, chance . . . just talking. As opposed to the capitalistic consonance (“consensus”) of the “creative”/entrepreneurial class ecosystem, we prefer the democratic dissonance of noise (“dissensus” [Rancière 2010 37-38]) and privilege the classroom as the site of its production. In a university whose architectural template is the “built pedagogy” of its flagship Business School (Sturm and Turner), which also has a one-billion-dollar building programme, which also sits within a Auckland City’s newly devised “learning quarter,” which also dovetails with Auckland City’s vision, which also reflects the National government’s management of the country as investment space, we teach, above all, the university (see Williams).

Against research, at once utopian and utilitarian, we emphasis the enduring value of the classroom, the “factor[y] of the future” (Flusser 49-50) and producer of “publics and counterpublics” (Warner). The pedagogy of corporate capitalism, and its arsenal of econometrics, makes of the university a combat zone. In our own teaching, we cross the science-arts divide that has crippled and isolated “literarity” (Rancière 2000 115), or literary reflexivity (language about language, we stress, doesn’t stop at “literature”). We advocate Writing Studies as an ur-discipline that takes in the entwined history of writing technologies and accounting; we teach “seismotics” rather than semiotics (with a view to our earthquake-ridden local landscape and the recurrent shocks of the world finance), an alertness to the way place and its peoples are shaped by geopolitical rumblings from afar. We have no room here to detail such initiatives, but we are concerned to reclaim place from colonisation: it is our claim that people live in a place, not in the air, or airport lobbies, or the airy conference centres of “transcendental capital” (Hage 2001 4; see de Cauter 273). We are particularly interested in occupying these techno-spaces to pervert their protocols and confuse their logics. To use against itself the apparatus of econometric education, haloed as it is by global technophilia, we seek the commotion of thinking together using whatever technological means our world-excellently equipped classrooms provide.


de Cauter, Lieven. “The Capsular Civilization.” The Hieroglyphics of Space: Reading and Experiencing the Modern Metropolis, ed. Neil Leach. London; New York: Routledge, 2002. 271-80. Print. [Available here.]

Fairburn, A. R. D. We New Zealanders. Wellington: Progressive Publishing Society, 1944. Print.

Flusser, Vilém. The Shape of Things: A Philosophy of Design. London: Reaktion, 1999. Print. [See Google Books.]

Hage, Ghassan. “The Incredible Shrinking Society: On Ethics and Hope in the Era of Global Capitalism.” Weekend Review: The Australian Financial Review 7 Sep. 2001: 4-5. [Available in edited version here.]

Hill, Christopher L. National History and the World of Nations: Capital, State, and the Rhetoric of History in Japan, France, and the United States. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008. Print.

Hoskin, Keith, and Frandsen, Ann-Christine. Where is Strategy? APIRA 2010 Conference, University of Sydney, 12-13 July 2010. Web. [Available here.]

Marx, Karl. Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Vol. 1. Middlesex: Penguin, 1976. Print. [See Amazon.]

Rancière, Jacques. Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics, trans. Steve Corcoran. London: Continuum, 2010. Print. [Available here.]

Rancière, Jacques (w. Davide Panagia). “Dissenting Words: A Conversation with Jacques Rancière.” diacritics 30.2 (Summer 2000): 113-26. Print. [Available at after login.]

Skilling, David, and Boven, David. We’re Right Behind You: A Proposed New Zealand Approach to Emissions Reduction.New Zealand Institute Discussion Paper 2007/2. Auckland, NZ: NZI, 2007. Print. [Available here.]

Sturm, Sean, and Turner, Stephen. “ ‘Built Pedagogy’: The University of Auckland Business School as Crystal Palace.” Interstices 12 (2011): 23-34. Print. [Download.]

Turner, Stephen. “Make-Over Culture and the New Zealand Dream of Home.” Landfall 214: Open House (2007): 85-90. Print. [Download.]

Warner, Michael. “Publics and Counterpublics.” Public Culture 14.1 (2002): 49-90. Print. [Available here; available in edited version here.]

Weinberger, David. “The Folly of Accountabalism.” Harvard Business Review 10 Feb. 2007: 24-25. Print. [Available here.]

Williams, Jeffrey J. “Teach the University.” Pedagogy 8 (2008): 25-42. Web.

Workshop Teaching

Workshop teaching, because it is not-for-credit and often one-off, involves a combination of learning prompts (LPs) and classroom assessment/evaluation techniques (CATs) that are mnemonic and/or formative in nature:

prebrief — introduce yourself (and signal the inclusive and interrogative nature of the workshop), survey the room (about the learners and what they already know)* and on that basis prompt an agenda for the class

teaching — mini-lessons as LPs (asking questions as you go) → templates and mnemonics

practice — individual and collaborative CATs like

  • minute papers — writing a brief response to questions like “What was the most important thing you learned during this class?” (constructive) or “What important question remains unanswered?” (deconstructive).
  • muddiest point cards — jotting down a quick response to the question “What was the muddiest [most unclear or confusing] point in the workshop?”
  • classroom polls
  • chain notes — passing around an envelope with a question on it into which a written response can be placed.
  • directed paraphrases writing a lay person’s “translation” of something from the workshop, aimed at a specified audience.
  • one-sentence summaries — writing a single sentence that answers the question “Who does what to whom, when, where, how, and why?”
  • focussed lists — listing ideas closely related to a term, name or concept from a mini-lesson or elsewhere in the workshop.
  • what’s the principle problem-solving — clarifying the problem at hand and deciding what principle(s) to apply to solve it.
  • application cards/articles — writing down a real-world application for a concept — or a short article about it.
  • memory matrixes — filling in a table where the rows and column headings are given but the cells are left empty to categorize information and illustrate relationships (similar to categorizing grids, where a table is given with two or three superordinate categories filled in and we are asked to fill in the gaps by unscrambling a list of subordinate elements that belong in one or another of those categories).
  • empty (or half-empty) outlines — filling in an empty or partially completed outline of a workshop.
  • learner-led test Qs — writing mock test or exam questions and model answers.
  • suggestion boxes.

debrief — summarize and prompt further action

N.B. Don’t just think about

  • what you will teach (content) and
  • when you will teach it (sequence, duration), but
  • how you will teach, i.e., your
    • mode (teacher- or student-led, co-constructed; content- or task-driven) and
    • means of delivery (telling: lecturing, talking, or showing: performing, modelling; powerpoint, images, document camera, whiteboard, flashcards, etc.), and
  • where you will teach (the room and how you use it), not to mention
  • why (although you need to decide how much you want brief the learners on the aims and objectives of the class — some learning can remain beneath the surface).

* This is known as a background knowledge probe: a short-answer or multi-choice questionnaire given to students at the start of a workshop, designed to uncover students’ preconceptions.


See Classroom Assessment Techniques at Iowa State and Hawaii.


  • Angelo, T.A. & Cross, P.K. Classroom Assessment Techniques. 2nd ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1993.
  • Davis, B.G. Tools for Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1993.

Teaching as Letting-Learn: Heidegger on Pedagogy

Paideia (παιδεία)

In What Is Called Thinking? (1951-52), Martin Heidegger seems to foreshadow what we teachers know as “co-construction” in the classroom. He calls it “letting-learn”:

Teaching is more difficult than learning because what teaching calls for is this: to let learn. The real teacher, in fact, lets nothing else be learned than — learning.

The teacher teaches learners how to learn — though they might not get it:

Their conduct, therefore, often produces the impression that we properly learn nothing from him [or her], if by “learning” we now suddenly understand merely the procurement of useful information.

But the teacher also learns from teaching; he or she learns how to let learn:

The teacher is ahead of his [or her] students in this alone, that he [or she] has still far more to learn than they — he [or she] has to learn to let them learn.


The teacher must be capable of being more teachable than the students. The teacher is far less assured of his [or her] ground than those who learn are of theirs. (WCT 15)

This “teachable moment,” when the teacher becomes the taught and their own teaching comes into question, entails risk, courage, trust . . . questioning (Havinghurst 5). Not for nothing is Socrates’ paradox “I know that I know nothing” the principle of pedagogy for Heidegger. But this revaluation of teaching also brings research into question, as Heidegger argues elsewhere:

Hitherto it was thought that teaching had to arise out of research—but the boundlessness of research has made teaching aimless. Not research—and thereby also teaching, but rather teaching—and in teaching—researching. [. . .] Only out of teaching does genuine research, that is, research that knows its limits and responsibilities arise again. (“GU” 305-06)

Teaching is not the poor relation of research: teaching is research. This is the deeper lesson of letting-learn.


Robert J. Havighurst. Human Development and Education. New York: Longmans Green, 1952.

Martin Heidegger. “The German University” (1934). Trans. the author. Gesamtausgabe 16: Reden und Andere Zeugnisse eines Lebensweges, 1910-76. Ed. Hermann Heidegger. Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann, 2000. 285-307.

—. What Is Called Thinking? (1951-52). Trans. Fred D. Wieck and J. Glenn Gray (slightly amended by the author). New York: Harper & Row, 1968.

For Heidegger on teaching, see also:

[Heidegger on] the Art of Teaching” (1945). Trans. Valerie Allen and Ares D. Axiotis. Heidegger, Education, and Modernity. Ed. Michael A. Peters. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002. 27-45.

Modern Science, Metaphysics and Mathematics” (1962). Basic Writings. Ed. D. F. Krell. New York: Harper & Row, 1982. 249-54 (247-82). Excerpt from What Is a Thing? Trans. W.B. Barton and Vera Deutsch. Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1967. 66-108.

Plato’s Doctrine [or: Teaching] of Truth” (1947). Trans. Thomas Sheehan. Pathmarks. Ed. William A. McNeill. Cambridge: CUP, 1998. 155-82.

“Traditional Language and Technological Language” (1962). Trans. Wanda Torres Gregory. Journal of Philosophical Research 23 (1998): 129-45. [See Gregory’s “Heidegger On Traditional Language And Technological Language.”]

The writing zone as “writing-intensive zone” (Wendy Bishop)

Wendy Bishop, “Contracts, Radical Revision, Portfolios, and the Risks of Writing,” ed. Anna Leahy, Power and Identity in the Creative Writing Classroom: The Authority Project (Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, 2005) 109-20.

Further to my summary of Peter Elbow’s “Ranking, Evaluating, and Liking,” a summary of Bishop’s recipe for “a ‘writing-intensive’ zone,” which focusses on

how evaluation discourages and encourages student writers’ entry into the revision process and concurrently supports them in learning to understand themselves as writers

i.e. “authority-conscious pedagogy” (109).

First off, using portfolios to create an “evaluation-free zone” (Elbow 1993) allows us to focus on revision and risk. Revision is compelled by the course contract, and risk—a.k.a. “experimentation” (115)—is practised in our writing (and in the zone more generally—and, needless to say, in our teaching).

Second, setting up an atmosphere of risk in the writing zone encourages “going public,” not only with “therapeutic” disclosure but also “writerly disclosure” (112). Of course, it requires that readers of this disclosure be trained to help improve it.

Third, as a consequence of the first and second ingredients, creating “classroom carnival, turning the text upside down”—and the hierarchy and codes of the university (115). (This sense of carnival I call decryption and deformance.)

Fourth, recognising that the teacher is an authority, who “tell[s] students not what to write, but to write” (113). That is to say, the writing zone is not just a risky and upside-down place, a place where “trust” must prevail, it is also a place where people are compelled to write, and thus, inevitably, a place of “resistance” (118).

The resistance is at least fourfold, then: against public disclosure and compulsion, against our preconceptions of writing and the university, and against the university and its codes—not to mention, against that common enemy of writers: resistant material.)

(Bishop takes as a given reading [of our own, and others’ unpublished and published writing], drafting, and a language for talking about reading and writing.)

Affect in the Writing Zone (Susan McLeod)

It must be recognized that affect (that is, the noncognitive aspect of mental activity) plays a large role in writing and in learning to write. Most models of the writing process are based either on cognitive psychology (“embrained” cognition) or a social constructionist approach (embedded cognition)—and ignore affect (embodied cognition).

This is a problem in—and of—the governance of the supposedly “excellent” (transnational, transcendentally capitalised, technobureaucratic, programmatic) university (“U 1.5”) in which we find ourselves, I would suggest, because the calculative or quantitative measurement of processes from above in terms of throughputs and outcomes does not reckon with affect, except insofar as it can be registered on rating scales and in repeat business (essentially measures of customer satisfaction)—not that it was registered particularly well in the old national university (“U 1.0”), which was captured by a reductive Enlightened model of rationality. The “exploded” (nodal, glocal, technoimaginary, programmable) university (“U 2.0”) must take account of the media that do manifest affect from below—like Facebook, etc.—and embody a new orality beyond literacy (the term was coined by Ong in the ‘seventies [see 136-37]).

So, to understand the writing process more completely, Susan McLeod suggests that “we need to explore how cognitive, affective, and social elements interact as people write” (n.pag.).

(Note that though I use three terms—embrained, embodied, embedded cognition—I’d say that the first is not, in fact, separable from the second, though it is often seen that way, the corollary being that one cannot, except in theory, split the cognitive and affective elements of the writing process.)

This, then, is a ecological reading of the writing zone, a description/decryption of the living relations that are at work—and at play—there (ecology: from Greek: οἶκος, oikos, “house, household, housekeeping, or living relations”; -λογία, -logia, “study of”).

Affect in the writing zone manifests itself, for example, in

  1. anxiety in the face of the secret codes (cryptograms) of the university and at the failure of autodidactic codes (idiograms)—what I call fumblerules—to adequately encode their own writing. Alice Horning calls this the “climate of fear” in the classroom that becomes a “Filter” [sic] between the teacher and the learner (65). Elsewhere, in the context of L2 research, Heidi Dulay and Marina Burt describe an analogous process by which “the [L2] learner constructs, internally and unconsciously, the system of rules and principles by which a language is governed” as filtered by “affective delimiters” (1977, 99), there being four key ones: the learner’s personality, anxiety level, peer identification, and motivation to learn (1982, 72).
  2. aspiration, which begins with writers bringing their humanistic assumptions about learning to learn in the university (in particular, that learning will be passively received and mimicked in return) and then becomes mimicry of these secret codes in an attempt to propitiate the university
  3. a background awareness of the dissonance of space and place (the global and the local), which to a degree work at cross purposes (thereby generating the glocal site we actually inhabit)

And . . .

Teachers are not unaffected: they are anxious about the process (about the contract, assessment, revealing themselves, their writing, and their likes and dislikes); they aren’t objective about either their students: McLeod describes a “Pygmalion effect”—students becoming better because the teacher believes they are—and the more common opposite, a “golem effect”—students becoming less capable because their teachers view them that way (108-09), or their writing: see Elbow on liking.


Heidi Dulay and Marina Burt. “Remarks on Creativity in Language Acquisition.” Viewpoints on English as a Second Language. Ed. Marina Hurt, Heidi Dulay, and Mary Finocchiaro. NY: Regents, 1977. 95-126.

Heidi Dulay, Marina Burt, and Stephen D. Krashen. Language Two. NY: OUP, 1982.

Alice E. Horning. “The ‘Climate of Fear’ in the Teaching of Writing.” Teaching Writing: Pedagogy, Gender, and Equity. Ed. Cynthia L. Caywood and Gillian R. Overing. NY: SUNY P, 1987. 65-81.

Susan H. McLeod. Notes on the Heart: Affective Issues in the Writing Classroom. Carbondale: SIUP, 1996.

Walter S. Ong, Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word. 1982. NY: Routledge, 1988.

The University in Ruins (Not)

The problem

Bill Readings, The University in Ruins (Harvard UP, 1996), the blurb:

It is no longer clear what role the University plays in society. The structure of the contemporary University is changing rapidly, and we have yet to understand what precisely these changes will mean. Is a new age dawning for the University, the renaissance of higher education under way? Or is the University in the twilight of its social function, the demise of higher education fast approaching?

We can answer such questions only if we look carefully at the different roles the University has played historically and then imagine how it might be possible to live, and to think, amid the ruins of the University. Tracing the roots of the modern American University in German philosophy and in the work of British thinkers such as Newman and Arnold, Bill Readings argues that historically the integrity of the modern University has been linked to the nation-state, which it has served by promoting and protecting the idea of a national culture. But now the nation-state is in decline, and national culture no longer needs to be either promoted or protected. Increasingly, universities are turning into transnational corporations, and the idea of culture is being replaced by the discourse of “excellence.” On the surface, this does not seem particularly pernicious.

The author cautions, however, that we should not embrace this techno-bureaucratic appeal too quickly. The new University of Excellence is a corporation driven by market forces, and, as such, is more interested in profit margins than in thought. Readings urges us to imagine how to think, without concession to corporate excellence or recourse to romantic nostalgia within an institution in ruins. The result is a passionate appeal for a new community of thinkers.

This sounds familiar.

The solution

Jeffrey J. Williams outlines the history of the idea of the university and offers a solution to this ruinous situation: teaching the idea, history, literature and sociology of the university in the university, specifically, in English departments that, as writing zones, are supposed to know well what is ostensibly the language of the university: writing (“Teach the University,” Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition, and Culture 8.1 [2007]: 25-42).

Williams Intro

Jacques Derrida offers a radical—and perhaps utopian—response, arguing for “The University without Condition,” in which the “new humanities” will play a vital role, because they are concerned with humanity, human rights and crimes against humanity, the same concerns that “organise” mondialisation (globalisation), “which wishes to be a humanisation” (Without Alibi, trans. Peggy Kamuf [Stanford UP, 2002]):

University Without Condition 202


University Without Condition 203


What, then, is the role of the humanities in the university without condition? It is to exercise the right to speak without condition—“to say everything” and “to say it publicly,” as literature does (cf. Jacques Rancière, who might say that whereas the “police” operates via consensus, “politics” operates via dissensus; the university without condition would be “political”—or “redistributed” according to what he calls the “democratic heresy”):

University Without Condition 205(205)

(So I read Williams as more pragmatic than Derrida—or perhaps he’s just less Continental: for Derrida, literature, the writing of différance, will take over from philosophy as the language of university; for Williams, it seems, it’s writing per se.)

This solution is complicated if we view the historical situation in which we find ourselves as not amenable to humanistic, literary or writerly enquiry, as Vilèm Flusser suggests it is in “The Codified World” (Writings [U MN P, 2002] 35-41). His epochal reading of codes is as follows:

  1. premodern/prehistorical: image—the scene (imagination: magic, myths)
  2. modern/historical: writing—the concept (conception: explanations, theories, ideologies)
  3. postmodern/posthistorical: techno-image—the program (techno-imagination: models, games)

For Flusser, we face a “crisis of values” at the transition to techno-images because the old written “programs,” politics, philosophy and science, not to mention art and history, have been disempowered (41).


I would say: the university is not in ruins—a certain idea of the university might well be: of the university as “literary” research institution, certainly, or, more broadly, of the human university. It is, in fact, in rude good health, not so much in the Crystal Palace of the Business School, the “excellent” (transparent/transcendentally capitalised) university, with its reduction of governance to calculability, but in the face-to-face encounter in the place of learning, wherever it should be.

Said “excellent” university wants to count its students and research outputs, but it does not account for itself (it is non-reflexive); teachers in the university ought to account for themselves—as should students (they should be reflexive). This teachers can do, not by grading students and counting research outputs, but by taking account of the “distribution of the sensible” (a description of what counts) that prevails in the place of learning: affect from below (democratic affect); deformance, intentional and otherwise; decryption; etc. . . . (of which more later).

And because the “excellent” university is also an “exploded” university, it is distributed well beyond the walls of the Crystal Palace through the relatively autonomous—and thus relatively incalculable—nodes of remote learning and other @-universities; and encloses within its walls other similar nodes, such as centres, writing-studies classrooms (!), and (post-)seminars.