May 30

Heidegger’s Anti-Semitic Theory of Technology & Modernity

heidegger-heil-hitler.1202854281.thumbnailI’ve been working  on a text discussing (briefly) the latest Heidegger “scandal” (one of many in recent years). One strange thing is that some of his more outrageous remarks that link his anti-semitic racism with the core concepts of his theory of modernity and technology (or his entire Seinsgeschichte) do not seem to have appeared in English coverage. Here’s some of the characteristics or terms he ascribes to “World Jewery” (his term):

  • Weltlosigkeit literally “worldlessness,” something that Heidegger (and his student Gadamer) attribute elsewhere to animals
  • Machenschaft, variously translated as “machination” or “manipulative domination” (Guardian)
  • die zähe Geschicklichkeit des Rechnens und Schiebens; something like  “tenacious destiny of calculation and writing”
  • Machtsteigerung, an expansion of power, that…
  • in turn is connected to a Sichbreitmachen einer sonst leeren Rationalität und Rechenfähigkeit: a proliferation of an otherwise empty rationality and calculability.
  • And finally, a Bodenlosigkeit [die] alles sich dienstbar macht, a groundlessness or soil-lessness that instrumentalizes or “puts” everything “into its service.”

The text discussing this is available as a .pdf:



May 08

Translating arte Documentary on the Frankfurt School

I’ve been working on subtitles for translating this fantastic documentary on the Frankfurt School from the French/German cultural channel, ARTE. Saw it originally in Zurich;I think this copy is from YouTube.

So far, I’m 1/2 way done, with the rough results below (audio synching and some subtitles still need finessing).  The original title of the documentary is “Wer denkt is nicht Wuetend” (Whoever who thinks is not enraged), a shortened quote from Adorno:

What once was thought cogently must be thought elsewhere, by others: this confidence accompanies even the most solitary and powerless thought. Whoever thinks is not enraged in all his critique: thinking has sublimated the rage.


The Frankfurt School: “Whoever thinks is not enraged” from Norm Friesen on Vimeo.

Apr 28

How Luther went Viral


A 2011 article from the Economist (listen to audio, above) compares Martin Luther’s use of the then new medium of print in the Reformation, and the use of Facebook in the so-called “Arab Spring.”

In looking at Luther’s use of new media forms and practices from an educational perspective, however, one thing that stands out is his use of print in a rather different way. One startling example is his repurposing of the ancient medium and practice of the catechism. Luther’s Smaller Catechism was also a viral cultural phenomenon. The point was not to convert or persuade but to teach, re-form or indoctrinate:

the Lutheran experiment in mass indoctrination [was] a conscious, systematic, and vigorous effort… to change the human personality through pedagogical conditioning. The chief instrument of this process was the catechism. (Strauss, 1978, p. 175)

How did the catechism accomplish this exactly? And what’s the relationship of this pedagogical technique or technology to education today (or even before Luther, for that matter)? Find out in a short paper I presented recently at AERA (and that interprets Luther and others in the light of some Foucauldian categories and constructions).

See: Catechism and the Self-Dialog as Technologies of the Self (.pdf)

Apr 19

Response Chapter: Is Education the New Philosophy?

companionThis chapter has recently appeared in the Companion to Educational Research from Springer. It articulates response to recent and ambitious attempts to present education or “learning” as some kind of unified “science.” Specifically, it presents a critique of Mary Kalantzis and William Cope’s chapter “Education is the New Philosophy.”

Kalantzis and Cope set for themselves an ambitious and (in part) commendable task in “Education is the New Philosophy:” to re-think the disciplinary underpinnings of education, and to elevate it from an applied sub-discipline to an undertaking on par with “big science.” This chapter explains why a re-thinking of education and its disciplinary positioning is valuable, but it also takes issue with the unqualified reach of Kalantzis and Cope’s argument. To aver that education is an originary science and science for all sciences, is to take the current move to the “sciences” in educational discourse (learning sciences, brain sciences, et cetera) to a level not known in the Western tradition since the optimism of the enlightenment of the eighteenth century. My response concludes by making the case that education is less of a “positive,” unifying metadisciplinary enterprise than it is an engagement with negativity, in its dialectical sense – with that which is not, not yet and not known.

Apr 05

The story of the Textbook as a Foucauldian Genealogy

This is a recording of a presentation I recently gave at the Katholieke University of Leuven in Belgium, thanks to an invitation by Jan Masschelein.

Apr 02

Klaus Mollenhauer and Forgotten Connections – for AERA

Klaus Mollenhauer & Forgotten Connections from Norm Friesen on Vimeo.

I put together this video to introduce Mollenhauer and his book: Forgotten Connections: On Culture and Upbringing from Routledge.

I’m presenting this together with presentations on Mollenhauer by Stefan Hopmann and Gert Biesta at AERA 2014

Here’s the handout and text for my presentation.

Feb 13

Waldenfels’ Responsive Phenomenology

091118_Waldenfels_03Bernhard Waldenfels has been taking phenomenology in a new direction –one that has implications for phenomenologies of technology. Instead of focusing on intentionality and the relationship between self and other, he has, over more than a dozen books, articulated a philosophy of the “alien” and its relationship to “ownness.” Unlike the other, the alien is not simply opposed to or the obverse of the “self;” the alien is instead that which is excluded in the very constitution of the order of the self. However, the alien never simply “goes away.” Instead, its periodic “sting” and its general resistance is felt in a variety of ways, perhaps most evidently in our own bodies, which resist any reduction to functionalist, aesthetic, objectivist or other terms. Technical forms of reproduction and representation do not fully reflect this irreducibility. Or as Waldenfels says (and as I’ve noted here earlier), the question is not so much one of telepresence, but rather, of tele-absence.

In this introductory article, I use all the three short books currently available from Waldenfels in English to piece together an overview of the main themes of his responsive phenomenology.

Feb 08

The eTextbook: A Paradigm Shift?

The e-Textbook: A Paradigm Shift for Learning? from Norm Friesen on Vimeo.

Will the e-textbook, with its multimedia potential and flexibility, bring a paradigm shift to education?

In this video presentation, prepared for a keynote in Montreal in March, I try to answer this question by looking specifically at what the inventor of the “paradigm shift” has to say.

In describing paradigms and their shift, Kuhn had a very specific idea about the role of the textbook in the circulation and stabilization of knowledge, and I explore this view here.

Also, because it’s on video, it features a couple of clips –one with the incomparable Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall– talking about (of all things) textbooks!

Dec 09

Learning theory & MOOCs

Just got back from East China Normal University in Shanghai, where I gave this presentation. It frames the possible success of MOOCs (their demise is not yet a fait accompli) in terms of what I describe as “institutional learning.” In developing this notion, I refer to “pedagogical” or “school knowledge” that occurs in educational institutions, and which is articulated by the early Jerome Bruner, by the late Klaus Mollenhauer, and currently, also by Daniel Troehler.

Nov 18

Paradigm shifts and Educational Forms: A Textbook Case

paradigm-shift2This article just appeared in “Online First” for AERA’s Educational Researcher.

It is intended as a kind of ‘sequel” to my study of the “transmedial history”of the lecture, which was published in the same journal in 2011.

Both articles look at these familiar and often disregarded educational forms, not from the perspective of their inevitable obsolescence, but of their remarkable longevity, persistence and adaptability.

Here’s formal title and abstract:

The Past and Likely Future of an Educational Form: A Textbook Case

At a time when it is seen as increasingly “obsolete,” this article analyzes the textbook as an evolving pedagogical form, as a changing medium comprised of smaller media components. These components include images, diagrams and also oral prompts, which have changed not so much through technical innovation as in synchrony with larger cultural and epistemological developments. This article investigates the increasingly sophisticated structuring of this textual and visual content, and the gradually sublimated “oral” interaction simulated through cues and interrogatives. These components have become highly conventionalized and elaborate, characteristics generally ignored to the detriment of publically-funded “open” e-textbook projects. Following Thomas Kuhn’s famous analyses of knowledge “paradigms,” this article concludes that the textbook’s features provide an indispensable animating didactic function.

This version should be publicly available (as a .pdf).

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