Notes on: Lambert, Cath (2012) 'Redistributing the sensory: the critical pedagogy of Jacques Ranciere'.  Critical Studies in Education 53 (2): 212--27. DOI: 10.1080/17508487.2012.672328

Dave Harris

Ranciere presents difficulties because of his unusual approach and broadranging work, but it is worth it, because the work reenergises critical approaches.  Critical pedagogy is defended as political in the sense that pedagogy has a role in 'constituting the social'(211), and this becomes even more important in the current state of financial deficit and neoliberal reform.  These have produced 'cynicism, anger and despair'.  There is a new urgency to debates about politics, knowledge power and authority, and the 'aesthetic organization of the social order'.  He sets out to criticize the pedagogic social and political status quo, especially in terms of its institutionalisation of ignorance.

His work is based on a critique of politics of explication, and the explicating intellectual or teacher.  This 'is bound up with Ranciere's biography as a student of Louis Althusser' (212). His Lesson and the subsequent journal Revoltes Logiques link theory and politics, pedagogy and power relations.  Althusser believed that knowledgeable masters should be the ones who make sense of the 1968 Revolts, and Ranciere saw this as denial.  R went on to criticize other thinkers like Sartre and Bourdieu, and to support Jacotot  instead.

His antagonism can be difficult, but it is generative and committed to dissensus.  This seems to display suitable 'tropes of struggle, diversity and ruin' to grasp current educational experience, and to go further than conceptual thinking.  In particular, 'ruin is utilized not as a site of loss and despair but as the locus for critique and regeneration'.  He can be used to support radical pedagogies in the Reinvention Centre for Undergraduate Research which set out to disturb hierarchical knowledge relations in the university and generate alternative discourses and practices.  In particular, undergraduates are encouraged to become research active collaborators.  The notion of the 'Student as Producer of knowledge'replaces the officially sanctioned passivity of the consumer.  In particular, two pedagogic installations, 'Sociologists Talking…  and The Idea of the University'are explored for their potential to open up equality and aesthetics.

[The work on Jacotot is summarized 213 - 14, with emphasis on becoming conscious as an intellectual subject.  The aim is to think through the implications of equal intelligence rather than to demonstrate it, and this is illustrated as well by the historical work, as 'workers reconfigure the aesthetic territory of the social order'(214)].  Progressive pedagogy is critiqued [in the sense of sequential?].  Current progressivism [different kind] has allied itself with neoliberal educational discourses and policy, producing support for [incorporated] flexible work, innovative pedagogy, and enhancing the student experience.

R leads to critiques of certain models of critical pedagogy, but also 'resonates in important ways' (215) with Dewey, Freire, Giroux, and even Canaan and Shumar [according to Bingham and Biesta].  These approaches 'share a faith in the capacity of people to construct and produce knowledges' based on some 'preemptive view of equality'.  The same ideas underlying the notion of Student as Producer.  They sometimes operate in a spirit 'based on disruption rather than transformation', but not to the extent of deferring liberation as in progressive pedagogy.  They are more challenging and risky.  They place R's aesthetics at the core.

Rancière sees the aesthetic as a distribution of the visible and invisible and '"Politics revolves around what is seen and what can be said about it"' (216, quoting R 2004) this characterizes the struggles by worker intellectuals in the 1830s.  Such troubles are rare compared to the effects of the police order which 'distributes and legitimates the roles and subject positions that people occupy'.  It is 'contingent and arbitrary', which makes it open to radical disordering.  Critical educators are already in the business of critiquing methods which name and count people and knowledges, and some have attempted to create alternative 'space-times'.  In her case, this led to 'the curation and production of research - based pedagogic art exhibitions'.  The intention was to resist explication and open a space of communication for others to make their own meaning, and new intellectual adventure in line with R, assuming equal intelligence and desire to share thoughts and ideas.

[details follow on Sociologists Talking, 217--20].  Interviews with 23 sociologists were anonymized and rerecorded as audio podcasts.  People talked about academic identity, teaching for complexity, change in HE, pedagogic relations and research.  Participants and spectators were invited to engage in a space that looked like a gallery, and audio podcasts 'called for unfamiliar sensory involvement'[unfamiliar?].  It was also possible to read material, projected on various surfaces, including Back on sociology as listening.  The material was 'not dissimilar to those we might have made to coauthor a traditional academic article, but the experience was apparently different: the direction of narrative was not imposed by linear text, 'but depended on the visitors movements around the room'. Movement was possible in multiple directions, changing the ambience into a more social and cultural space.  Explanations were not made immediately available, but varied according to participants willingness to engage [and their 'abilities to engage'(218)] this meant the authors have much less control over preferred meanings, while visitors all participants could read the material in very different even contradictory ways.  As an art exhibition, more people attended and would be reading a journal article or paper. 

Back himself wrote supportive paper [which also notes that lecturers have 'no choice but to play the game and establish standing {SIC} that can be quantitatively recognized' but we should also maintain a commitment to wider communications.  He also noticed an incongruity between the posh setting and subversive sentiments, again because 'we are not able to step outside of our complex locations within the hierarchies and structures of higher education' (219).  The most sophisticated analysis still means a commitment to the very conditions being critiqued, but [the tension might be exploited] by this exhibition form.  It can be described as offering a heterotopia not a utopia.

[Details follow of the subsequent The Idea of a University, 220f] this followed collaborative research with students on how the conventional architecture of universities emerged, and what its effects might be, at the University of Warwick.  The installation was shared with 'the radical artist collective Fierce!', and was mounted in an actual gallery, not a modified classroom.  The large space was filled with still images from archives, interview data in audio and text, documentary film, a slide show, a reading room.  Discussions on particular themes were introduced as a series of events.  The space itself emphasized 'disjuncture, dissensus and contradiction', which emerged from the data.  Visitors were made aware of the structure of the space and encountered 'surprise discoveries and dead ends'(220).  This permitted 'multiple possible journeys' (222).

The idea was to explore what would happen if we assumed equal intellectual capacity to make something of the materials.  There was no clear explication, although there were 'preferred readings' and guides towards interpretation 'that reflected the intellectual and political opinions of the researchers and curators'.  However, multiple experts were on hand, not just intellectuals.  Assuming equal intelligence in fact made people aware that they were 'very differently unequal', unlike the formal equality of the classroom.  There were new challenges especially to people unfamiliar with modern art.  R himself acknowledges this uncertainty and unintended effects.  [Did anybody walk out disgusted?].

The approach did require active interpreting and translating compared to traditional methods of dissemination.  Some participants were students, offering them real empowerment as opposed to consumerist versions of the student voice, and offering them a real output for their research [within someone else's design] .  Overall, the boundaries between art, teaching and research were challenged, provoking new thoughts about pedagogy and the role of art.

The intention is not just to replace pedagogy with art, or to make art explicative.  The idea instead is to encourage multiple engagements with material and ideas in a new space - time.  We assumed active spectatorship.  We agreed that teaching is a work of art.

R's philosophy, his emphasis on equality as a starting point, and his arguments for the centrality of aesthetic redistributions 'may offer resources'(223) in producing challenges to the existing educational experience, as these examples show.  They called upon active spectatorship, and they explored R's concept of equal intelligence.  They set out to challenge the usual aesthetic regimes in education, if only to 'draw critical attention to the ways in which teaching and learning both support hegemonic modes of sense perception and have potential'.  No empirical claims of affects are possible however [why not?] since this would 'require further research drawing on (as yet underdeveloped) sensory methods' (224).  Ellsworth (2010) has also suggested the need for a new way of thinking aesthetically about pedagogy and its links with space, time movement and so on, illustrating how pedagogy is expressed through design rather than just language.  Subsequent experiments have tried to explore this, and there are connections with the sociology of emotion and the need to address 'the haptic and experiential dimension of social relations'. Work on visual research methods is also relevant [citing Pink].

This will be required 'to push some of R's somewhat tentative or underdeveloped ideas in productive ways'.  Nevertheless, these installations began the process of a refusal admired by R, and challenged boundaries between research and teaching, knowing and doing, aesthetics and politics.  The undermined the certainties of the role of researcher lecturers student and so on, and aimed to cross disciplinary boundaries.  There is a need to generate 'counter hegemonic discourses and practices', and R 'provides valuable resources for exploring (and possibly realizing) the capacities of individuals, communities and events to bring about social and political disruption and re/distribution'.

Elsworth, E (2005) Places of learning: Media, architecture, pedagogy.  London: Routledge

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