The 5th Annual Bergen Educational Conversation: Self, Identity, Subject: Reconsidering the ‘who’ of Education
Foredragssalen ved Kunst- og designhøgskolen i Bergen/ Bergen Academy of Art and Design, "glassbygget i Marken", 23.–24. September 2013
Education has always been understood as a populated event. All social, political, ethical, aesthetic, and other transactional or relational notions of education cannot be accounted for without a subject. While the terms vary and their usages are even more diverse, this “population” is the face reserved for this investigation. The subject is the subject of this year’s educational conversation. Each presenter accounts for the on-going inquiries into this face of education in their own way, bringing unique perspective on the matter.
What is most important is that these presentations are aware of the contemporary state of the question they seek to ask, individually and collectively. The educational conversation will contest sites that are perhaps too comfortably established, describe contributions that are perhaps too silent or absent, and contextualize challenges within educational events and encounters.
Monday, September 23.
184.108.40.206 Herner Saeverot: Transcendental education.
13.30-14.30 John Baldacchino: Subjective forms and undidactic mediation: Art, experience and subjectivity in Lukács and Dewey.
16.30-17.00 Summing up
Tuesday, September 24.
9.00-10.00 Samuel Rocha: A personalist quartet, in two movements.
10.15-11.15 Roni Aviram: In defense of the autonomous self.
11.30-12.30 Paul Otto Brunstad: The prudent practitioner in times of insecurity.
13.30-14.30 Gert Biesta: Teaching, but no learning: Opening up existential possibilities in the educational relationship.
16.00-16.30 Summing up
University of Bergen, Norway
According to the German educationalist Klaus Mollenhauer science can only bring attention to the mystery of Bildsamkeit, i.e., the ability and willingness to be educated. For that reason, he points to forgotten elements of culture, such as poetry, as poetry can imply what Bildsamkeit and its mystery may concern. As such he extends the educational sphere, but the drawback of his educational theory is that the education should solely be based on reason. That is why I would like to draw attention to the forgotten connections between religion and education, through Søren Kierkegaard’s Christian concept of ‘primitiveness.’ One thesis of this paper is that Kierkegaard, by way of his concept of primitiveness, may enrich the reflection about Bildsamkeit. However, the problem is that Kierkegaard’s understanding of Christianity can be seen as a form of onto-theology, where the access to God is more or less direct. Due to this onto-theology the reflection on the concept of Bildsamkeit will be reduced. Therefore, I turn to Emmanuel Levinas’s transcendental perspective on ‘God.’ The final argument indicates that the encounter with this God, through the face of the other, can awaken reason, hence helping reason to be more than what it basically is.
Subjective forms and undidactic mediation: Art, experience and subjectivity in Lukács and Dewey
University of Dundee, Scotland UK
This paper looks at the dynamic nature of subjectivism in the works of Georg Lukács and John Dewey. Given Dewey’s and Lukács’s common Hegelian lineage, this paper will look at whether they retain elements of commonality on subjectivity and subjectivism, particularly in terms of the arts and whether a subjectivist aesthetics may (or may not) need to be mediated by experience, and whether subjectivism as a form of mediation could avoid becoming didactic. To explore these questions, I will revisit the Hegelian take on subjectivity in two forms: (a) as a form of mediation and (b) as immediate experience. While immediate subjectivity is critiqued by Lukács as being open to a fragmentation of reality that leads to forms of oppression, the Deweyan perspective is proposed as a way out of the cycle that traps subjectivism between didactic and fragmentary forms of being. Can the subject mediate without proposing a form of learning that presumes reality as a fixed ground? And could we predicate subjectivist immediacy by what Dewey calls “the recognition of ‘subjects’ as centres of experience” that are, in effect, “equivalent to the emergence of agencies equipped with special powers of observation and experiment”? The binding horizon for both questions will be that of art and the dilemmas it creates when contextualized within education.
A personalist quartet, in two movements
University of North Dakota, USA
The post-human turn has, among many other things, brought the subject more than into question generically speaking. More radically, this post-human questionable subject casts ontological doubt upon the anthropological and existential status of the subject as such. This assumes, however, that the question has a generic and genetic basis upon which its very existence can be questioned. My paper offers an expository reading of selected, existential descriptions of the human person, loosely tied together by confessional Catholicism. The essay will be meta-descriptive: a description of descriptions. The aim, however, is to perform a single, educational description: one that is not merely related to education, but rather, is in and of itself educational. The fact that the thinkers inhabit other disciplines and fields is irrelevant to the educational nature of their thought, at least in this regard.
In defense of the autonomous self
Aharon (Roni) Aviram
Ben Gurion University, Israel
I will discuss tentative thoughts on the need and possibility in our era for a renaissance of the early Romantic ontic and developmental view of the individual. I think it can be beneficial for the sake of “saving” the basic concepts of humanism: individual, self, autonomy, dignity, respect, rights, duties, self-fulfillment, self-direction, self knowledge. Most of these concepts have been under heavy attacks at various points in the modern era, and certainly in the last decades, for relying on an “atomic” or “un-embedded”, macho-oriented, hegemonic (over other humans, creatures, and nature), and castrating (for their users) conceptions of the modern individual. Recently I gained a deeper understanding of the early Romantic concepts of the self and autonomy, which can supply a very productive way to accord some of these concepts with a new meaning that would, among else, allow their current use without most of the negative implications they have been accused of. Hence, in this paper I would like to attempt to claim that:
1. Most past and present critiques have related to Enlightenment (Cartesian-Kantian-Smithian-Benthamian…) conceptions of the self and autonomy.
2. Most of the evils they have been accused as creating disappear once these traditional foundations of the concepts of “individual”, “self” and “autonomy” are replaced with the meanings developed by the early Romantics.
3. This is not a shear chance – the project of the early Romantics stemmed from their own objection to similar Enlightenment evils and conceptions of the self and autonomy, as well as insistence to hold on to modernity (and not return to pietism or other dominant forms of religiosity). (They shared this desire with the Idealist philosophers, but the latter were much closer to the pietistic view and less individualistic than the early Romantics.)
Such an understanding allows speaking of universal dignity and respect (extended to all sentient beings) and universal rights for self-determination without adopting the damaging assumptions that have been associated with this language.
The prudent practitioner in times of insecurity
Paul Otto Brunstad
NLA University College, Norway
What kind of ‘who’ should education seek to promote and foster if we want to give uncertainty a place rather than to drive it out of our educational efforts? Our contemporary society tries to achieve control and almost a full mastery of the world and events. But given these goals the exact opposite seems to have happened: the unexpected fulfilled itself as the predominant feature of the 21st century. This is also due to the paradox that new knowledge and technology developed basically within the framework of higher education create the potential for even greater insecurity. The problem seems to be that our attempts to fix or seal off the risk of life in the long run can make us more inhuman, more selfish, more egocentric and less sensitive for the uniqueness and fragility of life. Even when we intervene with the best intentions to ward of insecurity the result might be that we aggravate the insecurity and evils we claim to cure. More control, surveillance, documentation, evaluation seems to be propelled means to the problem of the feeling of increasing insecurity.
“Security is mortals’ chiefest enemy” says Shakespeare in Macbeth and brings us to the main problem dealt with in this paper: How can we deal with the pervasive or even obsessive demand for safety and security in times of insecurity from a pedagogical perspective? How do we help the next generation of practitioners to pursue and preserve happiness and wellbeing in a way that is resilient and robust amidst insecure situations and crises? How can we encourage and motivate new generations to start anew confronted with all kind of setbacks, failures and disappointments? How can the student's will to start anew be preserved, celebrated and extended in a way that makes them able to thrive and survive in times of insecurity? To secure human freedom in times of insecurity my pedagogical contribution will
be to scrutinize the concept of practical wisdom or phronesis and its implications for higher education. In this concept I find an important openness for human participation, situational judgment and moral awareness necessary to both preserve and develop a sustainable humanity for a new and insecure future.
Teaching, but no learning: Opening up existential possibilities in the educational relationship
University of Luxembourg, Luxembourg
It is generally assumed that teaching should in some result in learning on the side of students. In this presentation I wish to explore whether it is possible and desirable to disconnect teaching from learning. As for the desirability I will refer to what in previous work I have called the ‘politics of learning.’ The politics of learning expresses itself in the demand to be a learner. While some see the learner identity as a natural identity – an idea expressed in the suggestion that we are learning all the time, that learning is something natural, and that we cannot not learn – I start from the assumption that to learn and to be a learner is not only a very specific but in a sense also a very limited possibility to be and exist. While there may be a place for it, I will suggest that we limit the potential of education if we only provide one possible identity for our students, namely that of a learner. In order to open up different existential possibilities within educational relationships there is therefore the question whether it is possible  for students to exist differently in educational relationships and  for teaching to be envisaged and enacted in such a way that it opens up different existential possibilities for the student. In my paper I will discuss a course I recently taught in which I did not ask students to learn anything but rather to engage in an act of adoption – and this particular case I asked them to adopt a concept. I will, on the one hand, discuss in more detail the reasons behind this particular task and will, on the other, reflect on the way in which this task changed the existential possibilities for students during the course – and potentially also beyond.