Nov 11

“Note to Self:” A Genealogy of the internal dialogue from Aurelius to Vygotsky

mac1Referencing Foucault’s notion of “technologies of the self,” this paper/chapter traces the notion of the self-reflective, self-directed dialogue from the practices of the late Ancients (e.g. Aurelius) through Vygotsky to today’s digital tools of self-management and self examination.

Here’s a link to the full text:
Note to Self

Here’s the abstract:

This paper provides an overview of the history of the “internal dialog” as a pedagogical technique whose variations can be traced through material media forms over a number of centuries. Two important precursors for this specific “technology of the self,” as Foucault suggests, go back to the Middle Ages and antiquity, particularly with the emergence of writing and the Christian confessional as means of self-reflection and -examination. Similar technologies of the self are enacted and studied today under rubrics such as “self-regulation” and “self-explanation,” which are seen as being supported and tracked through online media or technology. However, between ancient and modern practices, many variations intervene: They occur through reading rather than writing, or in the form of group recitation rather than individual extemporization. The chapter plots the oscillation of this “technology” between a fully ritualized external performance and fully internalized examination, from the catechism of Luther to the internal speech of Vygotsky and today’s cognitive science –concluding with a brief discussion of new possibilities offered by many-to-many Internet communication.

Oct 10

Faculty ProD Keynote: Simulation, Stimulation & Silence – Learning Online and Off

I gave this keynote at an excellent professional development event at my alma mater, the University of Alberta in August.


Here’s the abstract: Almost 20 years after the popular adoption of the Internet, we are still finding out about the nature of online places and spaces. Whether these locations are used for interpersonal communication or naturalistic simulation, they offer characteristics which may be ideally suited to some types of pedagogical activities and less appropriate for others. This often depends on a deeper understanding of the nature of these activities and experiences. In this presentation Norm Friesen of Boise State University will undertake a careful examination of a couple of practical examples. He will use these examples explore the nature of both pedagogy and the technology, in terms of their suitability for online, face-to-face and also blended contexts.

I also received some wonderful feedback from those in attendance:

The final keynote is very interesting.  I enjoy phenomenological work.

The keynote speaker was interesting and insightful.


I found the keynote speaker’s topic to be very interesting. It really got me thinking about the experiential aspect of learning with technology,  especially as it relates to simulations. It brought that needed theoretical and philosophical basis for the work that underlies pedagogy and instructional design/techniques using technology. It was a fantastic talk. – Faculty Member, Rehabilitation Medicine

Oct 09

“On beyond Ong:” the bases of a revised theory of orality and literacy

51XKNF2K9JL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_J. Coleman’s Public reading and the reading public is excellent book that goes way beyond its ostensible medieval specialization, and offers a comprehensive critique of the antiquated ethnocentrism of the Ong / Goody approach to orality and literacy. This approach, which has been called the thesis of the “great divide” [Finnegan] and the “literalist civilization-theory” [Boehme]), is also reproduced in McLuhan at various points. (But McLuhan was careful not to have his thinking bifurcated so overtly.)

Coleman’s book also provides and operationalizes a set of terms and taxonomies that can be used in the place of the grand Ong/Goody theory or meta-narrative. All of this is discussed in the context of Coleman’s introduction of an “ethnography” of media practices which has broad (and yet untapped) potential.

Here’s a bit of Coleman’s critique of Ong:

There is no question that, over the course of Western history, literacy rose and its technologies improved, nor is there any question that these events had many important consequences or that excellent histories can be and have been written tracing these developments. There are, however, serious problems with histories that adopt the distorting premises of “strong” orality/literacy theory. With primary value and focus always on the end-product – what Kenneth George calls the “inscribed modern” (1990: 19) – such histories become a teleological progression from less to ever more desirable intellectual states.

For more of this critique, see:

For more on new terminology/methodology, see (for example) the glossary:

Sep 06

Bernhard Waldenfels: Responsivity and Tele-absence

Two things regarding the contemporary German phenomenologist, Bernhard Waldenfels (pictured, right, with his wife Christine on his way to a Merleau-Ponty seminar in 1961):

  1. I’ve tracked down a hard-to-find piece by Waldenfels in which he explains one of the main points of his phenomenology, a change in focus “from Intentionality to responsivity” (also the title of the article):
  2. A wonderful paragraph discussing “tele-absence” from Waldenfels’ 2009 book, Displacements of place and time: Modes of embodied experience (Ortsverscheibungen, Zeitverscheibungen: Modi leibhafter Erfahrung). I recently came across this passage and felt I had to translate it:

What would a medium capable of mediating the immediate look like? …The problem, actually, does not lie in telepresence, which elevates our own possibilities to the level where distance is abolished; but in tele-absence, which withdraws from its own access. The withdrawal of the alien, which is also entrenched in our perception, strikes me with more force than the resistance of the alien, which is something I can defend myself against. With the latter, it is only a question of possessing greater or lesser force. But this is not the case for withdrawal, which is like a shadow that cannot be grasped. Every attempt at access dispels it rather than bringing it closer, just as Orpheus forces Eurydice into renewed death and absence through the power of his glance. Resistance can awaken its own energies, but withdrawal exceeds my own possibilities in that it transforms them into lived impossibilities… All technical artifice runs up against an inner border: If the alien were there, it would not be what it is. Even a video camera, which not only registers our voice and breathing, but even the lifting of the eyelids or the creasing in one’s  brow, would fail when it comes to the glance that is more than something that is seen [or recorded], or to the voice that is more than something that is heard [or taped] –because voice and glance disrupt, incite, interrupt. Here technical media run up against the limit of representability, without being able to represent this limit themselves … (pp. 110-111)


Aug 23

“Problems with Identity” – Chapter from Forgotten Connections

In the final chapter on identity, Mollenhauer embarks on what I believe is a tour-de-force conclusion to his book Forgotten Connections. Building on Sartre and others, Mollenhauer defines identity as our often challenging relationship with ourselves, and illustrates the characteristics of this relationship through a final cultural, historical sequence – this time of self-portraits, creations through which artists have recorded and interpreted themselves, and thus given expression to their varying self-relations over time. Again, this sequence of illustrations does not progress along an upward narrative arc, from confusion to clarity; instead, the sequence shows how the risk involved in engaging with our identity, of working on being other than who we are, has increased, rather than decreased, with time.

A version of the chapter is available here [PDF].

Aug 01

Education, Media and the End of the Book –a view from German media theory

Just finished a draft of this paper with Rainer Leschke. It incorporates a number of concepts and references familiar in German media studies (Medienwissenschaften), including notions of a Leitmedium, of Medienvergessenheit and media-systems. But these aren’t all necessarily German. One of these is Pierre Bourdieu’s study of Distinction or taste, which includes the diagram cropped below (and maps out the axial significance of Petula Clark).

Here’s an overview of the paper:

The paper begins by considering the generally negative response of those in education to new media forms by developing the notion of the gradual and often conflicted integration or “enculturation” of new technologies into the social order. Like the musical Leitmotif, a Leitmedium serves as a repeating and guiding example for such a process. It acts as a standard to determine what is valuable and desirable in cultural contexts offering multiple, competing media or within complex “media-systems.” The medium of the book has historically served as precisely such a Leitmedium in educational (and other) contexts, but its dominance as a medium, together with associated practices of reading and the traditional authority of the author, is clearly in decline. What is taking their place is not so much the characteristics of a new Leitmedium as a radically new and distinctly digital way of organizing media and media-systems. By relentlessly reducing all media contents to ones and zeros, digitization brings conventional media forms (e.g., music, film, text) into new interrelationships, effectively erasing their material characteristics as separate media, and foregrounding their individual formal qualities as aesthetic conventions. The paper concludes by exploring how the symbolic competencies which once constituted the core of all education (reading, writing, ‘rithmatic) are increasingly at odds with performative and stylistic abilities integral to these new media forms.

Download the paper as a .pdf.

Jul 01

Educational Change & the Longue Durée: An Analysis of the Anatomy Lecture

Proof of a paper, co-authored with Wolff-Michael Roth, soon to appear in Educational Philosophy and Technology. Here’s the abstract:

Although there are many points of continuity, there are also a number of changes in the pedagogical form of the anatomy lecture over the longue dure´e, over centuries of epistemic change, rather than over years or decades. The article begins with an analysis of the physical and technical arrangements of the early modern anatomy lecture, showing how these present a general underlying similarity compared to those in place today. It then goes on to consider examples of elements of speech and presentation, description and illustration that are used in the biology lecture from the early modern (sixteenth to seventeenth centuries) and late modern (or contemporary) eras. The anatomy lecture thus demonstrates a basic physical and technical continuity in the classroom or theater, whereas the larger epistemic functions in which it is embedded have changed: from a descriptive, discursive function, focusing on individual organs and their physicality, to one that is more integrative, systemic and also performative in both form and content.

Download Friesen & Roth.pdf here.

Jun 30

“Note to Self”: The Genealogy of Internal Dialog in Educational Material & Practice

An abstract and short paper I’ve been working on as a conference proposal:

This presentation provides an overview of the history of the “internal dialog” as a pedagogical form whose variations have played a key role in educational materials and practices over a number of centuries. This internalized “practice of the self” has its roots, in pedagogical terms, in externalized dialogue and recitation –enacted through canonical texts, catechisms and other types of classroom scripting. Through the influence of thinkers such as Shaftesbury, the notion of the student engaging with textual questions via internalized responses was introduced into educational textbooks by Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi; and thanks to the work of Mead, Vygotsky and subsequent socio-cognitivist theorists, a similar form and practice is enacted and studied today under rubrics such as “self-regulation” and “self-explanation.”

Read the short paper here (.pdf).

Jun 29

Klaus Mollenhauer’s Hermeneutics

… and his refusal of descriptive phenomenology

Audio/slides for a presentation I recently gave at a conference on education and phenomenology at the Humboldt University, Berliln.

Here’s the full text.

In this presentation, I undertake an informal reconstruction of Klaus Mollenhauer’s hermeneutics and also in a sense, of what could be called his “phenomenology.” This reconstruction is based on Mollenhauer’s late work and particularly on Forgotten Connections: On Culture and Upbringing. Especially in Forgotten Connections, Mollenhauer explicitly speaks of hermeneutics as it relates to the subject. He also enacts a kind of historical and cultural hermeneutics in this text. Through this working-out of hermeneutics as both subjectivity and method, Mollenhauer sketches out, often by what he does not say, a kind of refusal of descriptive phenomenology as the study of lived experience, particularly as it might relate to children. Mollenhauer points out the limits of intersubjective description and recognition by emphasizing the mutual exclusivity of subjectivity on the one hand, and intersubjective communication and description on the other.

Jun 02

Wandering Star: The Image of the Constellation in Benjamin, Giedion & McLuhan

Did Walter Benjamin’s powerful metaphor of the “constellation” wind up becoming the titular figure in Marshall McLuhan’s Gutenberg Galaxy? Benjamin and McLuhan actually have something in common besides a shared interest in recent material histories. This commonality is a personal relationship and great admiration for historian Sigfried Giedion, who coined the term “anonymous history,” who Benjamin met in Paris while working on his Arcades Project, and who McLuhan came to know early in his own career.

EXCERPT: “The purpose of this presentation is to trace the metaphor of the constellation in the materialist modernism of Benjamin and Giedion to the more conservative theoretical constructions of McLuhan, viewing it as a kind of “travelling concept,” as Mieke Bal has described: an elastic idea or metaphor, offering “a site of debate, awareness and tentative exchange.” As Martin Jay points out, this metaphor of the constellation also travelled from Benjamin via Theodore Adorno to America and back to Europe, to re-emerge in Adorno’s postwar writings while at he was the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research. As Jay explains, in the context of this exchange, the term constellation signified “a juxtaposed rather than integrated cluster of changing elements that resist reduction to a common denominator, essential core, or generative first principle” (1984, pp. 14-15). These characteristics also generally apply to the term “constellation” as I consider it here. In the instance of travel that is my principle focus, Giedion serves as an indispensable conduit between Benjamin and McLuhan.”

UPDATED: A draft paper based on this talk is available here.

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