Student Culture: Anthropological Insights into Teaching and Learning

Collected below is the first part of my notes on reading My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student, a pop-ethnographic study of undergraduates conducted at Northern Arizona University – anonymized as AnyU – in 2002 by Rebekah Nathan, the pseudonym of Cathy Small, a Professor of Anthropology at the same institution. Perhaps because of confusion […]

via Rebekah Nathan’s My Freshman Year: Part 1 — Pedagogy & the Inhumanities

Avant-Garde Pedagogies Conference Schedule


To book your seat for the Avant-Garde Pedagogies conference, please follow this link: Book Now!

Friday 8th and Saturday 9th July 2016, University of Westminster, London

Hosted by the Higher Education and Theory (HEAT) network, the Institute for Modern and Contemporary Culture (University of Westminster) and the Philosophy of Education Research Centre (University of Winchester)

Continue reading Avant-Garde Pedagogies Conference Schedule

Gert Biesta’s The Beautiful Risk of Education

Please join us for our next reading group, which takes place on Wednesday 2nd March, from 2pm to 4pm, in Room c389 (the Chiltern Building of the Marylebone campus).

We will be reading the prologue and two chapters from Gert Biesta’s recently published book, The Beautiful Risk of Education (2014):

  • ‘Prologue: On the Weakness of Education’ (pp.1-9), ‘Teaching’ and ‘Learning’ (pp.43-76)

For University of Westminster staff, the whole book can now be accessed from this link in Library Search. A pdf of these chapters is available here: Biesta, Beautiful Risk of Education.

Biesta argues that what many teachers know but are increasingly prevented from talking about is that education always involves a risk, and that attempts to take the risk out of education by making it strong, secure and predictable involve the chance of removing education altogether.

There’s an interview with Biesta about his book here:



HEAT Conference: Avant-Garde Pedagogies

Avant-Garde Pedagogies CFP

Friday 8th and Saturday 9th July 2016

University of Westminster, London

Hosted by the Higher Education and Theory (HEAT) network, the Institute for Modern and Contemporary Culture (University of Westminster) and the Philosophy of Education Research Centre (University of Winchester)

BLAST …British Academy (Blast 1)

The conference is intended to provide an interdisciplinary forum for addressing how we might respond to the contemporary crisis or transformation of education without succumbing to conservative nostalgia for the past or an uncritical acquiescence to present forces in an increasingly corporately-driven agenda. The concept of the avant-garde will be used as a lens to focus these discussions.

The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries witnessed a series of social, political, economic and technological upheavals that transformed aesthetics and contributed to a sense of the crisis of the arts and culture. While the technical developments of photography, radio and film, increasing commodification, the emergence of the culture industry and the rise of kitsch, mass and popular culture produced tensions within art that lead to a reactionary nostalgia for the culture of the past they also gave rise to a period of intense artistic innovation and experimentation that has come to be associated with modernism and the avant-garde. As Poggioli Renato puts it, avant-garde literature sought to be not a ‘display case or a salesroom but a free, or least an open, laboratory’.

In his Theory of the Avant-Garde, Peter Bürger claimed the avant-garde turns against both ‘the distribution apparatus on which the work of art depends, and the status of art in bourgeois society as defined by the concept of the autonomy’. If the publication of Bürger’s book in 1974 perhaps marks the point of avant-garde art’s exhausted collapse into postmodernism, Hannah Arendt was already in the 1950s anticipating an attendant ‘crisis of education’. At the turn of the twenty-first century, a comparable series of transformations – the rise of the internet and new media, the dominance of the education industry, commodification and indebtedness, globalisation and the growth of mass and popular education – have lead teachers, scholars and activists to talk increasingly of a contemporary assault on education. In response to these claims, this conference seeks to address these issues through the lens of the avant-garde. It seeks to recover an alternative perspective for theoretical approaches beyond the impasses designated by classical philosophies and postmodern theories of education. For the avant-garde is ‘not that which is most historically advanced in the sense that it has most history behind it’ but, as Peter Osborne suggests, that which ‘disrupts the linear time-consciousness of progress in such a way as to enable us, like the child, to “discover the new anew” and, along with it, the possibility of a better future’. Or, as Jacques Rancière more succinctly claims, the avant-garde is ‘the aesthetic anticipation of the future’.

A hundred years on from the frenetic flurry of movements and manifestoes that characterized the high point of modernism and the avant-garde in art, this conference asks where can we find the comparable experimentation in pedagogical theory and practice or the open laboratory of learning? How might such modernist or avant-garde impulses in the arts provide a framework for calling into question not merely traditional or bourgeois pedagogical ideas, techniques and the distribution apparatus upon which education depends, but perhaps also the dominance and assumed value of higher education itself within contemporary society?

The absolute rationalism that is still in vogue allows us to consider only facts relating directly to our experience …Under the pretence of civilization and progress, we have managed to banish from the mind everything that may rightly or wrongly be termed superstition, or fancy; forbidden is any kind of search for truth which is not in conformance with accepted practices… we do not “learn,” …all we ever do is “relearn”
(Manifesto of Surrealism)

Currently Confirmed Speakers:

Alan Golding (English, Louisville, KY.), author of ‘Isn’t the avant-garde always pedagogical: Experimental Poetics and/as Pedagogy’ (2006) and From Outlaw to Classic: Canons in American Poetry (1995).

Aislinn O’Donnell (Learning, Society and Religious Education, Mary Immaculate College, University of Limerick), author of ‘Experimental Philosophy and Pedagogy’ (2015) and ‘Another Relationship to Failure: Reflections on Beckett, Failure and Education’ (2014).

Gary Peters (Faculty of Arts, York St John University), author of ‘Ignorant Students/Ignorant Teachers’ (2010) and Irony and Singularity: Aesthetic Education from Kant to Levinas (2005).

Hannah Proctor (English and Humanities, Birkbeck, University of London), author of ‘Synthetic Dreams: Gender, Modernity and Art Silk Stockings’ (2015) and ‘Neuronal Ideologies: Catherine Malabou’s Explosive Plasticity in Light of the Marxist Psychology of A. R. Luria’ (2011).

Peter Roberts (School of Educational Studies and Leadership, University of Canterbury, NZ), author of Happiness, Hope, and Despair: Rethinking the Role of Education (2016) and Better Worlds: Education, Art, and Utopia (2013).

Stevphen Shukaitis (Centre for Work, Organization and Society, University of Essex), author of ‘Pedagogical Labor in an Age of Devalued Reproduction’ (2016) and The Composition of Movements to Come: Aesthetics & Cultural Labor After the Avant-Garde (2016).

Titles & abstracts to be sent to Matthew Charles by Tuesday 1st March 2016:

Possible Areas of Interest:
 Aesthetic education: Dada, Fluxist, Futurist, Surrealist or Vorticist perspectives
 Avant-garde architecture and spaces of learning
 Avant-garde pedagogies and institutional critique: unschooling, unlearning
 Chance, spontaneity, the irrational and the unconscious: towards anti-constructivist theories of learning
 Cognitive capitalism and teaching in the creative industries
 Contradictions of contemporary pedagogy: education and anti-education
 “Dada means nothing”: pedagogical pessimism, educational nihilism
 Ezra Pound as educator: teaching literature
 Feminism, modernism and education: Amy Lowell, H. D., May Sinclair and Virginia Woolf
 “Grand Pedagogy”: Brecht’s Didacticism
 Historic, Neo- and Post-Avant-gardes and education
 Kitsch, education and public policy
 Pedagogical experimentations and innovations: flipped, blended, hybrid learning and the avant-garde
 Queer Pedagogies/Queering Education
 The Academy and the avant-garde: dependence and resistance
 The poets, artists and pedagogues of the Black Mountain College
 The Russian avant-garde, biomechanics, Soviet psychology: historical, dialectical and anthropological materialist theories of education
 Torn-halves: elite education, the Educational Industry and Adorno
 Walter Benjamin on teaching in the age of digital reproducibility

Avant-Garde Pedagogies CFP

The New Spongers?

Stefan Collini in the London Review of Books Vol. 38 No. 2 · 21 January 2016
pages 33-37 reviews

Fulfilling Our Potential: Teaching Excellence, Social Mobility and Student Choice
Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, November 2015, ISBN 978 1 4741 2492 8

Collini argues that:

Much of our contemporary discourse about universities still draws on, or unwittingly presumes, [this] pattern of assumptions: the idea that the university is a partly protected space in which the search for deeper and wider understanding takes precedence over all more immediate goals; the belief that, in addition to preparing the young for future employment, the aim of developing analytical and creative human capacities is a worthwhile social purpose; the conviction that the existence of centres of disinterested inquiry and the transmission of a cultural and intellectual inheritance are self-evident public goods; and so on.

While that conception of a university and its purposes is still very much alive and may, I suspect, still be the one held by a great many ‘ordinary’ citizens, we may be nearing the point, at least in Britain, where it is starting to give way to the equivalent of MacIntyre’s barren utilitarianism. If ‘prosperity’ is the overriding value in market democracies, then universities must be repurposed as ‘engines of growth’. The value of research has then to be understood in terms of its contribution to economic innovation, and the value of teaching in terms of preparing people for particular forms of employment. There are tensions and inconsistencies within this newer conception, just as there are in the larger framework of neoliberalism: neoliberal thinking promotes ‘free competition’ in international markets, while the rhetoric of national advantage in the ‘global struggle’ often echoes mercantilist assumptions. But, gradually, what we still call universities are coming to be reshaped as centres of applied expertise and vocational training that are subordinate to a society’s ‘economic strategy’.

… It takes no great insight to foresee that a form of TEF-guff will develop in parallel to the existing REF-guff

Follow this link to the full article to read about the potential fate of the academic as ‘sponger’ (akin to the familiar stereotype of the ‘student sponger’ in the 1960s).

Collini’s review applies his critique of higher education policies previously published in What Are Universities For? (Penguin, 2012). This book prompted much debate in the weeklies. Fred Inglis gave it a positive review in the Times Higher Education whereas Peter Conrad in the Guardian gave it a scathing one, stating that the book was ‘heavy on hand-wringing and light on real answers’.

Heat Workshop: Emerging learning ecologies within higher education

Doris Salcedo, Untitled, 2004-2005

The University of Westminster Academic Liaison Librarian team and the HEAT (Higher Education and Theory) group present:

Emerging learning ecologies within higher education

Lutyens Room, 2nd Floor, RIBA, 66 Portland Place, London, W1B 1AD

Tuesday 23 February 2016

9.30 am to 4.00 pm

To register for this workshop, go to this Eventbrite page. To obtain the password for this page contact

About the workshop

While thinking about learning futures has often focused on changing the classroom, the teaching role and the text/book, as elements of the institution of higher education (HE), the academic library, and the modes of learning associated with it, are often left out of the frame. Again, while media technologies other than the text/book are often discussed in thinking about learning futures, less effort is spent considering the concomitant adjustments that occur in ways of learning elsewhere than in the classroom and otherwise than through explicit relation to teachers/teaching (as other modes of authoring and authoritisation – by default – enter the overall learning environment).

The proposal behind this workshop/gathering is that higher education professionals as a whole, within the university and in related institutions such museums and galleries, and not just those associated most directly with the academic library, need to respond creatively, co-operatively and collaboratively to the changing horizons in which higher education is operating in England and Wales, and work in alliance to articulate new learning ecologies, interweaving a re-thinking about learning, roles, classrooms, text/books, pedagogies, libraries, learning environments, learning resources, media/technologies, working relationships, and so on.

A major question for HE professionals, then, which the Academic Liaison Librarian team and the HEAT group would like to address, is how to leverage contemporary media and technologies, first, to enable professionals associated directly with the academic library (with its various procedural, cultural and intellectual legacies) to transition from ‘librarian’ roles to more active, creative, educational and curatorial roles within the university (i.e. technology-enabled, new roles); and, second, how to do this in a way that enables more collaboration among different kinds of professional groups employed by universities (and in related institutions) in delivering a technologically-sophisticated, educationally-rich, learning experience to students and also to staff (i.e. technology-enabled, new ensemble roles).

The two keynote speakers will provide stimulating examples of what has already been achieved in response to these questions in order to guide our thinking about future possibilities:

Shaun Hides, of Coventry University’s Media Department and the Centre for Disruptive Media, will explore some of the key fault lines in this changing landscape and offer a series of suggestions as to the kinds of tactics which might be employed to mobilise the new connected media possibilities, tactics that Coventry University Media Department have begun to explore and more recently across the University through the Disruptive Media Learning Lab.

Ad Polle, of Europeana, will focus on the digital1418 project as an example that addresses many of the complexities that a digital horizon brings to the reconfiguration of the notion of a ‘library’ as a form of cultural and educational heritage.

Research Lab 2.0

The next Higher Education and Theory Research Lab, which encourages Westminster staff to reflect on and discuss the ideas underlying their pedagogical practices, will take place on Wednesday 9th December and we’re very lucky to have some fantastic contributors:

Thomas Moore is a Principal Lecturer in International Relations in the Department of Politics and International Relations and also Faculty Director of Learning and Teaching.

Andy Peisley is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Leadership and Professional Development, having previously worked as a consultant in leadership assessment and development and a professional actor. Andy, who is currently undertaking an MA in Higher Education, is going to talk about his use of and research into mask work approaches to pedagogical practices  outside of drama related disciplines.

Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos is Professor of Law and Theory in the Westminster Law School, Director of the Westminster Law and Theory Lab and was the OUP National Law Teacher of the Year in 2011 and subsequently a member of the Judging Panel. Andreas will be applying his interdisciplinary approach to spatial justice (which draws on autopoiesis, Deleuzian studies, feminism, object-oriented ontology and new materialism) to think about the spatiality of learning and teaching.

Please do join us from 2- 4 pm in room 2.06A in the Little Titchfield Street building (4-12 Little Titchfield Street, W1W 7BY).


Teaching Excellence in a “Globalized” World?

Globalization takes place only in capital and data. Everything else is damage control. Therefore we don’t really know what to do with information. Unanalyzed projects comes into existence simply because the information is there. Crowd sourcing takes the place of democracy. Universities become adjuncts to what is called international civil society; the humanities and imaginative social sciences bite the dust.

– Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization, 1

University World News reports that the OECD’s Education Policy Committee is seeking to develop a new project for “benchmarking higher education systems performance [sic]” as a way of providing “more transparency” about the real outcome of courses:

Higher education internationally was operating as a hybrid public-private “quasi market”, [Frans van Vught] told the [“Higher Education Futures”] conference [organised by the OECD and the Singapore Ministry of Education on 14 October 2015], and it was a crucial market failure that clients-students and their families cannot get the information they need.

“They are unable to make rational informed choices. They pay more but they do not know more,” van Vught said. “Students can only judge the quality while they are actually experiencing it.”

It was important, he [Simon Marginson] said, because “we need to give learning outcomes equal status with research”, and to provide a better basis for student choice. It was also necessary to have something more solid than subjective “market-oriented student satisfaction surveys” as a basis for measurement.

This is set to replace the OECD’s discredited Assessment of Higher Education Learning Outcomes project. Although ‘AHELO was intended to measure teaching quality rather than institutions’ past reputation’, it proved difficult to standardize this information internationally because of national differences in HE systems. The new project seems designed to overcome this:

The backbone of our work on higher education will be to try to organise a situation where results of outcomes of learning at higher education institutions are more comparable,” he [OECD Deputy Secretary-General Stefan Kapferer] told the conference.

It is interesting how this anticipates and mirrors much of the emphasis and rhetoric of the UK government’s recent proposals for the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), discussed here. Drawing a relation between the two places consideration of the TEF and its role in the government’s goal of creating and expanding the HE market in the UK within a more international context (including, of course, thinking about the effects on Scottish HE of introducing the TEF and variable fee caps to English and Welsh institutions).

We know expansion of the international market is of fundamental importance to the government’s reforms of HE but also a sticking point because it comes into tension with its position on immigration. There has been a decline in the number of international student starting courses in the UK since 2011, particularly of non-EU students from India (the number of Indian students starting courses in UK universities almost halved between 2011 and 2013) and of those studying STEM subjects (there was a drop of 10% for STEM subjects in the same period). Universities’ responsibility to ‘report’ to the Home Office on Tier 4 international students were tightened in 2011, requiring that they demonstrate such students are ‘attending lessons, lectures, tutorials, seminars or meetings with [their]… personal tutor/supervisor’ and ‘submitting coursework, or, attending tests or examinations’. London Met controversially fell foul of new regulations in 2012 and temporarily lost its sponsorship status (in part for failing to failing to properly monitor students). Institutions also have a cut-off point for the number of student visa applications refused by the Home Office, which was tightened in 2014 from 20% to 10%, and they must also ensure such students have proficiency in English (Glyndŵr University had its highly trusted sponsor status temporarily suspended in 2014 based on concerns over questionable English-language Proficiency tests, as did 57 private colleges). Applying for such a student visa currently costs £322, although new powers passed in the Immigration Act 2014 will increase the scope for the government to raise fees for visas and immigration services.

CNPzrSrWoAAv-eFIt is likely that recent changes to immigration policy, especially to the Tier 4 immigration route in 2013/2014, will continue to have some effect on certain institutions and subjects. The impact of such measures are filtering through to the every day experience of teaching and learning in HE, most notably in the introduction of electronic register systems which reports suggest have suddenly been installed in classrooms across a number of universities in London over the summer (and, presumably, are already present in other institutions). One teacher at Birkbeck has referred to this as ‘The Border in the Classroom‘.

In our recent HEAT reading group on Spivak’s writings on the theory and practice of education, we considered what Spivak praised as ‘learning the double bind – not just learning about it’ (Spivak, 1). Allan Parsons – picking up on the some of the points made in that reading group – has published an excellent post on this blog reflecting on the limitations of Spivak’s privileging of the classroom, which – he points out – is only the site of an ‘everyday struggle’ for the teacher, not for everyone else. Perhaps there is even something of – older, Freudian accounts of – schizophrenia in such claims: the withdrawal of the patient’s reality principle and the regression to a primary narcissism involves fantasies of the end of the world, just as educators frequently talk of a crisis in education as if it were – to quote from a famous speaker I once heard at a conference on HE – the “end of civilization” itself. Without wishing to undermine the serious and problematic implications of such changes, perhaps this also explains why changes to teaching and learning in HE are often experienced by teachers themselves as the elimination of higher education, while they actually involve its expansion.

One specific site of such a double bind – a structure in which we are obliged to react to two conflicting or even contradictory demands, which typically are given at different cognitive levels – is, in Spivak’s ‘Teaching for the Times,’ related to ‘Eurocentric economic migration’ (138):

It is no secret that liberal multiculturalism is determined by the demands of contemporary transnational capitalisms, our place within which we are obliged to disavow …What actually happens in a typical liberal, multicultural classroom “at its best”? On a given day we are reading a text from one national origin. The group in the classroom from that particular national origin in the general polity can identify with the richness of the texture of the “culture” in question …People from other national origins in the classroom… relate sympathetically but superficially, in an aura of same difference. (142)

How, then, might the ‘border in the classroom’ within UK – and specifically English and Welsh, if thinking about the TEF – – Higher Education reflect and reinforce those kinds of double binds: you must attract international students/you must not attract international students, you must treat everyone as equal/you must not treat everyone as equal? And, accepting Allan’s criticism of classroom-focused educators, how might this obligation to monitor and report on classroom attendance as a privileged measure of engagement produce other kinds of double-binds within contemporary education?