NOTES ON: St Pierre, E. (2004) ‘Deleuzian Concepts for Education: The subject undone’, in Educational Philosophy and Theory, 36(3) :283-96.

Deleuze and Guattari say that we should not read books as if they contained simple information or even signifiers. The only question is ‘”does it work, and how does it work? How does it work for you? If it doesn’t work… you try another book… This [is] intensive [reading]… Of flow meeting other flights, one machine among others’ (quoting Negotiations, 283). St Pierre had always read Deleuze in this way, ‘without thinking too much about it’ (284), and for pleasure. Her students often respond in the same way, enjoying the invitation to create new concepts, and taking up Deleuze’s concepts, ‘multiplicity, bodies–without–organs, faciality and insomnia in response to their own problems’ (284). This could be because Deleuze himself writes impersonally, permitting a more dynamic reading without worrying too much about its fidelity to the text [what a peculiar reading! As if the lack of personal stuff is a flaw that has to be remedied, regardless of what the author thinks is the point!]. It is exciting to apply Deleuze and to make the links with other disciplines, just as he does. This will permit new concepts to emerge.

Rajchman explains that Deleuze’s concepts and their coherence shifts between the different readings anyway [although he seems to refer to Thousand Plateaus, which is deliberately written as a series of segments or plateaus].

So there is no one single meaning or real meaning for a concepts like multiplicity, and nor should you search for one. Instead, a real Deleuzian would ask ‘does it work? What new thoughts does it make possible to think? What new emotions does it make possible to feel? What new sensations and perceptions does is open in the body?’ (Quoting Massumi, 285).

Reading Deleuze does make you into a different person, ‘at least that’s what I believe’ (285). We need new concepts to resist commercialisation and business [with reference to the Logic of Sense, which also apparently condemns forms of continuous assessment]. American policy currently wants to introduce random experimental trials as the only basis for research, and the dissemination of research findings in a new database, called ‘What Works Clearinghouse’ (285) [that is what happens when you judge things by what works]. This validates applied research rather than theoretical material, and apparently excludes ‘concepts specific to queer theories, feminist theories, postcolonial theories, and postmodern theories’ (286). New concepts are required to resist, including those that challenge positivist research methods. Deleuze has criticised such approaches in the past, leading to unthinking practice [lots of references to a Deleuze essay on empiricism, possibly based on his work on Hume].

The problem is how to found resistance and organise it. Critical scholarship is the answer, and ‘this essay participates in that resistance’ (287) [the usual fantasy]. Deleuze’s concepts are particularly useful to offer a more open alternative to positivism and conservatism, to try to trace lines of flight.

Apparently, Deleuze’s own students were encouraged to take what they needed from his courses, and St Pierre does the same, ‘searching for smooth spaces in which something different might happen’, even though smooth spaces themselves are not sufficient (with a reference to Thousand Plateaus), (287). Nevertheless, Deleuze offers affirmation and pleasure, and optimism, ‘practical work… making life light and active’ (287).

This led to new thoughts about a research project on women and how they construct their subjectivities. ‘even though I’m sure I didn’t understand his work… Concepts like the fold, the nomad and the rhizome were immediately useful and helped me try to think outside both the over coded qualitative research process and the notions of the subject I had studied’ (288). She needed new thoughts to relocate herself in new places, and as a new subject [she had been changed by the experience of living with the women]. There were also ‘ethical imperatives’ prompting change away from being ‘the present, knowing, coherent individual defined, in large part, by the Enlightenment’ (288), and towards a new kind of subjectivity not individualism. Deleuzian concepts help think this through, by a process of folding and unfolding, freeing oneself from concepts and discourses, and extending the original plane. This will undo ‘State science’ and helped her to rethink the subject—‘for me, the most difficult task of my life’ (288). [What a sheltered life she must have led! This whole section is riddled with male heroics!].

Post structuralist notions of the subject, especially in Foucault, suggests that the subject is dispersed or constituted in discourse, or in practice [?]. This was the conception that was used in the study of women, with particular reference to the care of the self. This conception ‘worked well… [and]… suited the data’ (289). However, the concept of the subject in Deleuze and Guattari disrupted that view [especially the bit in Thousand Plateaus about longitude and latitude, different speeds, and haecceity]. Haecceity is taken to mean an individuating essence in Duns Scotus, but is understood as a rhizome in Deleuze [via a quote from Virginia Woolf about the dog becoming the road. Clear as mud to me, but St Pierre ‘had no difficulty thinking that the dog is the road’ (289)]. She had always worried about binaries, especially the one between humans and non humans, and it helped to think of herself as an assemblage, and of subjectivity as produced by machines. ‘This Deleuzian assemblage made sense to me. I got it, or, rather, I plugged it (however one make sense of it) into my own musings about subjectivity and it worked’ (289).

Haecceity ‘gestured toward a kind of individuation I believed I had always lived… At last [I] had language to describe a problem I had lived but not labelled… I’m sure I didn’t “understand” it, but as Deleuze and Guattari write[Thous Plats] “we will never ask what a book means, as signified or signifier; we will not look for anything to understand in it. We will ask what it functions with, in connection with what other things it does or does not transmit intensities”’ (289 –90) [rather typical elite stance with the usual disdain for effort and pedagogy]. The concept was interpreted as life changing for St Pierre.

Deleuze and Guattari also describe writing together as a form of individuation that is not personal. They do not feel they are persons but haecceities [Logic of Sense]. They are apparently interested in moments of individuating, and not just for human beings. [St Pierre seems to be thrilled by this, and not see it in any way as suggesting that human beings do not require any particular qualitative stances or approaches at all --or maybe she does at the end]. She asks whether this means whether things are real [not even a question for Deleuze], and how we can break from language that suggests the thinking, autonomous subject. She does note that this might also have implications for conventional ethics and identity. How can people take responsibility and form relationships? Deleuze in Logic of Sense seems to refer to ethics as being worthy of what happens.

Deleuze questions the normal notion of subjectivity as ‘a philosophical fiction’, and [in the work on Hume] sees life as ‘an empiricist concept… Impersonal individuation, singularities rather than particularities’ (quoting Rajchman, 291). There are links with the general questioning of the subject in French philosophy.

As a result, references to ‘I’ should be seen as linguistic markers rather than unique expressive subjects. Foucault also denies the equation between the subject of a statement and the author of it. Butler also sees statements about ‘I’ as an invocation, calling a subject into linguistic being. It all stems from Descartes who confused statements with entities when he said ‘I think therefore I am’.

All theories of the subject are therefore a fiction and an illusion, as lots of good post structuralists argued, before anyone read Deleuze. However, in research, she still produced herself as a subject in the classic sense. The problems produced in the field work ‘may or may not be similar to the problems Deleuze encountered’ (292).

However, it is not possible to overturn subjectivity entirely, and this meshes with the caution expressed in Deleuze and Guattari about radical overthrow of everyday concepts. It is acceptable to use experiences of subjectivity, as indeed, did Foucault, in order to launch programmes of resistance to dominant thinking: ‘Theory seldom springs forth from nothing, ...[but]... is most often produced in response to problems of everyday living’ (293).

All education theory is grounded in this conventional notion of the subject. Nevertheless, Deleuze is still popular—‘I have certainly seen my own students in all areas of education produced simply thrilling lines of flight in response to concepts like the rhizome, nomad, bodies without organs, and so forth’ (293). [What sort of argument is this? Did they produce those thrilling lines because they are misunderstood Deleuze? Aren't these concepts also the commonplaces of current ideologies? How much of a Deleuzian talk up was responsible? Did nobody get bored or anxious about assessment?].

The implications for qualitative research are also devastating, since these are grounded in the phenomenological subject. She wrote about this in reference to her study of women. Deleuzian challenges produce strangeness and stuttering, helping to break normal understandings. However, back to Foucault and resistance [which seems to rest on critical analysis and optimism—another way in which concepts can be of use] (293).

Resistance to government policy has begun and will continue, and Deleuze can help us to ‘imagine a time to come in which the struggle may change’ (293). Certainly, up she ‘felt smooth’ when comparing Deleuze and Foucault in her research, and it made her think of a utopian future ‘in which the conditions of thought are such that neither the subject, nor education, nor science, as they are presently configured, are possible. In such a future, education might be more worthy of and might not betray those who come to it with hopes and dreams of splendid transformation’ (294).

[This could be read as a woman who is disappointed that she is so out of kilter both with current policy and with even qualitative research. I must look at the research itself to see what made her so disappointed with it. Utopian dreaming and fantasies seem to be the only way out].


[Lots of very good ones to Foucault]

Goodchild, P. (1996) Deleuze and Guattari: An introduction to the politics of desire, London: Sage

Massumi seems to be the author of the translator’s forward and the translator of Thousand Plateaus, in the American edition, and there is also

Massumi, B. (1992 A Users Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Deviations from Deleuze and Guattari, Cambridge: MIT Press. This is often referenced, and I wonder if it has been the real source?

Rajchman, J. (2001a) The Deleuze Connection, Cambridge: MIT Press
---------------(2001b) Introduction in G Deleuze Pure Immanence: Essays on a Life, NY: Zone Books

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