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.

May 26

Learning Analytics: Where’s it been & where it’s going

Been working on a paper on still-emerging field and technology of learning analytics. Although last year’s Horizon Report gave it a “time-to-adoption horizon” of 2-3 years, it still has a way to go before there are products and findings that are reviewed and available in practice.

Both actual and potential applications of learning analytics can be represented through the diagram below, which maps out both the roles and functions that could be involved.

This paper, available here (pdf), also warns that the modest gains that could actually be made from learning analytics can easily be undermined by overselling it as a panacea for persistent educational challenges. It will not result in systems automatically customizing instruction to individual learning profiles and styles (if such things exist); but it could make blended and distance strategies a bit more response and reliable.

BTW: I would love to see this paper undergo peer review, and –as appropriate– publication for a wider audience!

Apr 30

Talking of “the Self” in Education and Ed. Psych – AERA 2013

I gave this presentation (audio recorded separately) to a packed room at AERA in San Francisco. The panel session was titled “Dewey and the Mind: Exploring Psychological and Neurological Implications of Dewey’s Work”

 Over the past century or more, the language associated with education and pedagogy has changed considerably. I sketch out an overview of these changes, focusing on the field of educational psychology, and beginning with the work of Dewey on the one hand, and Behaviourism on the other. I include the vocabulary of the ‘Learning Sciences’ which sees itself as being centrally informed by the neurosciences. I focus on the notion of ‘the self’ in educational psychology. The term Bildung is central to this psychology, particularly as it is articulated in Dewey’s early textbook titled simply “psychology.” Bildung has been variously translated as edification, formation or growth.

The presentation covers Dewey, Thorndike, Bandura and Klaus Mollenhauer. You can download the text of this presentation here:

Apr 13

CFP: Special issue of Phenomenology & Practice on “Being Online”

Phenomenology & Practice announces a special issue devoted to the phenomenological description and exploration of the experience of being online in educational or pedagogical contexts. The intent of this special issue is to focus particularly on epistemology of practice, on practice as pathic knowledge and/or as tact, unfolding in online contexts. These aspects of practice may be revealed through relations of the self to oneself or to another, and as situated in both virtual and physical worlds –in terms of the existential experience of lived (and extended) body, lived time, lived space, and lived relation. Sensitivity to self and other, and to experience in all of its dimensions requires a shift from commonplace terminology to vocabularies more evocative of experiential nuance. In the case of the often jargon-riddled discourses of online technologies or “environments,” we believe that this is particularly important. Such a shift may even begin with the recognition that these online contexts are not so much “environments” (causal configurations of software, hardware and other factors) as they are “primordially linguistic” worlds: “To have a world means to have an orientation (Verhalten) toward it…. to have a world…is to have language. The concept of world is thus opposed to the concept of environment…” (Gadamer 2004, 440-441).

Developing written accounts of lived experiences in experiential worlds is an integral part of understanding the significance of such experiences. To that end, the editors of this special issue are soliciting scholar-writer-practitioners who wish engage rigorously in descriptive and interpretive phenomenological writing intended to illuminate themes of online pedagogical experience. Is this experience and are these themes similar to or different from those described in face-to-face classrooms (e.g., as described in Phenomenology & Practice 6[2])? How, for example, might one be “called” by the voiceless words of another online? How is appropriate receptivity, passivity or attuned pedagogical action manifest in the asynchronous world of words of the online class discussion? How might a glance of recognition of another be directed via a Webcam? Description and interpretation of these and related questions and experiential moments are strongly encouraged for this special issue.

At the same time, descriptive and reflective phenomenological writing of other orientations (transcendental, existential, experiential, linguistic, hermeneutic, semiotic, ethical) is also welcome. This descriptive inquiry can take as its subject, for example, the experience of “being online” as a teacher or a student, being simultaneously (or alternatingly) in the screen and embodied in a lab, classroom, café or elsewhere, being engaged with an interface in experiences ranging from flow to interruption, or the emergence of personal, formative knowledge online.

Submissions may be sent to and by August 30 2013.


Older posts «

» Newer posts