Lyotard’s ‘mercantilisation’ of knowledge’

My attention was drawn to a statement by Lyotard in the initial section : The Field: Knowledge in Computerised Societies’. …’the mercantilisation of knowledge is bound to effect the privilege the nation-states have enjoyed, and still enjoy, with respect to the production and distribution of learning. The notion that learning falls within the purview of the State … will become more and more outdated’ (page 5 of the Manchester edition’. Well, this is a prediction which we can test, and debate the evidence for and against. But is this notion outdated? I can see the implications as regards ‘digital capitalism’ for instance and the democratisation of knowledge. But I still can’t set up a Facebook site that colleagues in China will be able to access, for instance. Nation-states (or at least institutions within nation-states) are also all very much competing for students internationally. The nation-state still seems to be very much a going concern in the distribution of knowledge.

Re-Reading “The Postmodern Condition”: Backwards into the problematic

There is something strange about Lyotard’s use of the term ‘performativity’ in The Postmodern Condition. One way of trying to state this summarily is to say that he seems to conflate the notion of ‘performativity’ (in an open system) with that of ‘productivity’ (in a closed, or rather controlling or constraining, system, not so much a system that does not interact with its environment as one that seeks to control or dominate its internal and external environments, a system that is ‘blind’ to its environments)…

He begins by discussing the performative in terms of different modes of action in and through language in the context of social interaction. Some of these modes of action are capable of acting upon the processes of contextualization and thereby altering context (open system). However, he quickly shifts register, to discuss performativity as efficient production in an input-output system (‘blind’ system).

All actions within this (‘blind’) system, he seems to suggest, are operatively and productively oriented to optimization of the system itself, which is self-regulating (and, as ‘blind’, incapable of changing or evolving). The system forms a singular (‘blind’) context, which is an unalterable totality. This unalterability, he claims, is a result of adopting a systems theory or cybernetic perspective on society. That perspective, as (constative) language game, has come to dominate all other (performative) language games, as forms of life.

His discussion of performativity, as efficient, operative productivity (‘blind’ system), does not seem to follow from his characterization of language use (open system). Open systems do not permit such control of context as Lyotard suggests has occurred and continues to occur. Such closures as occur require adherence, either through active assent or enforced consent. Without such adherence, contextualisation, as a dynamic relation among knowledge, action and situation, does not lead simply to ‘control’ in the way suggested, if by ‘control’ is meant suppression of all alternative outcomes than the efficiently produced ‘output’, that which is ‘seen’ amidst the general ‘blindness’ of the system to its own diversity and prolificness.

In short, the operation of an attempted closure of an open system, as in the operation of a ‘blind’ system, requires active suppression of the multifarious forms of performative action and interaction that occur in the process of seeking and defining a singular, efficient, operative, productive output, a process that might be described as ‘wasteful’, and whose main ‘products’ are material and environmental ‘waste’ and human and social exclusion and marginalisation.

By characterizing performativity in this way, in terms of the automaticity of input-output in a ‘blind’ system, thereby making it a synonym of productivity, he loses a potentially valuable tool by means of which to try to understand the complex and reflexive dynamics of contextualization and therefore how computerization, as a language game with constative and performative dimensions, might affect society and, his object of study, knowledge in an open system.

Is his characterization of performativity in this way a symptom? Is he demonstrating, performatively, through his text what he is arguing, constatively, is the actual state of affairs of society?

Is his text a set of statements (constative utterances) or a set of acts (performative utterances)? Or both, intermingled?

Read more…

Organizing Meeting

Thank you to all those who attended the organizing meeting on Wednesday 2nd October 2013 and also to those who sent their apologies.

We currently have around twenty members of staff and research students who have registered an interest in the Higher Education and Theory (HEAT) reading group, thirteen of whom were able to attend the organizing meeting, which means we have enough participants to make the group work. Please do spread the word and invite other colleagues who you think may be interested in the group.

Reading-GroupAt the meeting, we discussed and agreed the general focus and aims of the group, as a cross-faculty reading group on theories of education, open to all staff and research students at the University of Westminster. The group supports and supplements the Higher Education Research Centre’s (HERC) general focus on pedagogical research, with particular relevance to its research interests in critical reflection, transdisciplinary knowledge, and the integration of practice and theory. The specific intention of the group is to foster an increased awareness of the contributions of major critical thinkers to pedagogic debate and practice, supplementing the sociological, psychological, and empirical focus of current educational discourse with a broader transdisciplinary emphasis on the importance of other theoretical (philosophical, political, historical, legal…) contributions to educational theory. The idea is that a productive critical perspective will be opened up on contemporary pedagogical practice through such viewpoints, one that will also allow participants to make connections between their research and their own practice as teachers by re-reading theoretical texts pedagogically.

The hope is that the HEAT reading group will stimulate new conversations and connections across the university, encouraging pedagogical reflection but also fostering further research and writing. If the group is successful, we would like to consider the possibility of a workshop with papers from participants and perhaps invited guests at the end of the year.

We agreed there would be a minimum of three reading groups per year, with the aim of meeting at least once a semester (and the possibility of meeting more frequently if time and interest permit).

Jean-Francois_Lyotard_croppedThe consensus of those at the organizing meeting was that the first reading group should meet on Wednesday 13th November 2013 (Week 8), from 1pm – 3pm in the main Regent Street building (room tbc). We agreed we would read Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition, and that those who wished to could contribute to discussions of the text before and after that meeting by posting on this blog (access will be set up for all participants). A suggested reading schedule has been posted here to facilitate online discussions.

Suggestions for texts to read in Semesters 2 and 3 can posted on this blog or can be emailed to the reading group organizers (contact details here). A number of suggestions for possible texts were made in the organizing meeting, including works by Gillian Rose, Chantal Mouffe, Hannah Arendt, Simone de Beauvoir and John Dewey’s ‘Democracy in Education’. Suggestions will be collected and a group decision made at the next reading group meeting on 13th November.