Every now and then I read something which helps me to understand, or to question, the world in which I find myself living. Often it’s great to have a prejudice re-enforced, and though having the stuffing knocked out of those same prejudices is not fun, sometimes it can also be really persuasive and interesting. One of the things that I am really enjoying about my course is the chance to experience and understand some new ideas – many of which are having this dizzying effect. Over the last few days I have been reading ‘Social Theory and Education Research’ edited by Mark Murphy (I bought it from the excellent Mr B’s Emporium) in an attempt to understand the way that other people have understood the social, and in particular the power relationships of education and educational research. It’s not an easy read, but it is strangely gripping. Chapter 2, a description of the development of the ideas of Michael Foucault by Julie Allan has grabbed me and will not let me go.
Firstly there are ideas about surveillance, observation and judgement in education which, had I known about them over the last couple of years, would have made me question the practice of ‘mock ofsteds’ and making judgements on learning walk visits that I have been part of in school, and the student-teacher observations I did as a PGCE mentor and tutor. Foucault sees a system of surveillance designed to mark people as ‘types’, to carry those marks and to be normalised to homogeneity over time through the judgements that are made on them. (Interestingly the very thoughtful and extremely practical David Didau has also been writing about the issue of observation today).
In his earlier writing (I’m told – I have to admit here I did once, as a much younger person, try to read ‘Archaeology’ but had to give up as I found it completely incomprehensible) Foucault did not offer any answers to this predicament, and indeed commented upon the impossibility of resistance to this system of surveillance. However, later in his work he wrote about a framework of ethics which sees deliberate and disciplined ‘self care’ (though not in a hedonistic and self-centred) as a way of resisting, and which was to be achieved and maintained through activity; ‘if everything is dangerous then we always have something to do. So my position leads not to apathy, but to a hyper- and pessimistic activism” (Quoted on page 27 of Allan). Part of this activism is achieved through ‘transgression’, which I would really like to know more about and plan to cover in a later post.
A very important part of this self-care and the exercises that enable it is in writing. Writing is something that I enjoy having done. I can’t pretend that I find it easy whilst I do it, and I’m not one for making time for writing everyday. I know lots of bloggers who do, and I admire their discipline. Foucault would say, if I read Allan right, that such discipline is part of self-care and a way of resisting the power relations that we find ourselves living in. Foucault has it that writing is a form of meditation, in that it helps one bring to mind knowledge, and to work at understanding and creating knowledge. This writing is not just a lonely task, but one which should be outward facing, so that one is helped by reading others’ work, but also so that we ‘summon the gaze of the other’ and, I am guessing, get that other’s help in own reflection and meditation.
Don’t worry – this isn’t the start of a ‘365’ blogging experiment. However, I am going to make an effort to write more, because it seems to me that Foucault is right about writing, as another post is exploring it on Crooked Timber – it makes you think.