Notes on: Zembylas, M. (2007)' The specters of bodies and affects in the classroom: a rhizo-ethological approach'. Pedagogy, Culture and Society 15(1): 19--35

Dave Harris

We need to redefine bodies as intensities and energies, and discuss the role of affects.  Then go and apply this to emotional intelligence and emotion management. Bodies are sometimes seen as visible and at other times as specters [a bit of Derrida creeps in here?].  Affects include 'desire, pleasure, joy and even anger'(19) [the conventional emotions in other words]

Bodies and affects tend to be ignored in education in favour of the pursuit of knowledge.  Bodies are hidden or contained.  However, knowledge itself 'is always felt and responded to emotionally and corporeally' (20).  There have been lots of critiques on the tendency to ignore bodies and affects, and Cartesian dualism is often blamed.  Bodies have to be regulated so that teachers should not touched unions, eye contact should be maintained, anger should not be expressed.  Any affective connections between teachers and students is a matter for discomfort, and teachers have to control themselves. Bodies and affects are not simply elements of discourse.  Merleau-Ponty among others, has insisted that the self is integral, and includes a material body.  Jameson has argued for a waning of affect.  However, 'post structuralism is directly concerned with affects and bodies'.

Merleau-Ponty suggests that life should be seen as meaningful, sensuous, engaged human praxis, necessarily intersubjective.  Emotions are simply 'specific modes of meaningful behaviour', something embodied and shared.  Consciousness operates 'in and through our bodies', so the body is '"a natural self, and, as it were, the subject of perception"'.  There is no boundary between inside and outside.  Emotions are part of our existence, connected to the world because embodiment is integral to our understanding, emotions are manifest in communication [a lot of references here to Crossley].  The subject ceases to be something individualised or exclusively rational.  However, emotional responses are managed and regulated as well.  Postmodernism, which includes Foucault here, talk about the importance of discourses to the experience of the body, so that the body itself is a discursive construction.  Descriptions of bodies or affects are themselves discursive in this sense.  Foucault describes how the body is disciplined, how external regulation become self regulation.  Events are inscribed on the surface of the body, leading to Butler on performativity as a process of constructing identity from a 'multiplicity of performances' (22), as with gender identities [a rather external reading here, where performativity is inscribed].

Similarly, affects are carefully regulated and controlled by specific discourses and knowledges.  However, this has dematerialized the body for critics, omitting corporeal realities.  Nevertheless, not all postmodernist accounts deny the body, although some want to see bodies as a result of connections between forces and energies.  This is what Deleuze gets from Spinoza [according to Rose], leading to the need for specific analyses.  This is what should happen in education, to see what bodies and affects can actually do, and not just in sexual terms.  Deleuze revitalizes the potential of bodies.

The body is seen as 'a dynamic and interconnected whole', constructed by speed and rest.  A body is always in a process of becoming, 'and thus is an endless multiplicity' (24), defined by longitude and latitude, a total of intensive affects and so on, an assemblage of relations of movement and rest and capacities.  An assemblage is a site where discourses relate to material practices [says Crary], and bodily assemblages can be both machinic and enunciating.  The capacity to affect and be affected is crucial [which is how we define what a body can do in Spinozan terms].  Bodily assemblages have various non human dimensions, including the senses, and bodies can either extend or prevent connections.  The concept of rhizome is crucial here, as is the body without organs: 'any organized structure such as the government, a body and the universe [seen as] multiple and as always engaged with other bodies' (24).

This makes possible a politics of becoming, according to Braidotti, and a new conception of the female body for Grosz (see my discussion of Deleuze and feminist politics) , something which is not just regulated and ordered, but 'the sight of free flowing desire and creativity'.  It produces schizophrenic subjects resisting categorization.

Deleuze has borrowed Spinoza to define bodies as intensities and energies, as productive of 'affective and embodied connections'.  Teaching and learning can be seen as 'as a plane for the production of intense affects'.  We see effects in terms of how some taught bodies become visible, and others spectral.  Deleuzian ideas can help suggest 'improbable affective and bodily connections', and how affects lead to 'platforms for social solidarity and the understanding of differences'(21).  [this will require a bit of stretching of Deleuze! We'll have to ignore a lot of the ontology I suspect].

Deleuze [? Via Spinoza] has developed an overall ethology of bodies, their speed and slowness, their capacities for affecting and being affected.  Others [someone called Gatens] have talked about the relations of bodies with assemblages, including their nonhuman elements.  As with Spinoza, relations can bring joy or sadness, but this can't be known in advance.  This raises questions for educators, like why the same material produces different assemblages—the pedagogical body is conceived too simply.  In practice, it is far more complex, with lots of small elements affecting connections' and relations, from facial expressions to body movements.  Many of the connections and assemblages are unexpected.

In his commentaries on Spinozan, two aspects of affect are distinguished by Deleuze—affect and affection.  These do not denote 'a personal feeling' according to Massumi, but relates the ability to affect and be affected, and the status of the affected body respectively.  In particular an affection is an idea, 'an organic impression upon the body', while an affect is the link between states of affairs, both process and product.  The two are not actually separable, but both are different from feeling.  Capacities of bodies are seen in encounters with other bodies.  Here affect becomes 'not just a feeling or an emotion but a force' (26).  New modes of subjectivation can emerge [as usual, these are assumed to be more creative than the standard notions].  Deleuze actually 'rarely speaks of "emotion"', and Massumi insists that affect and emotion followed different logics.  While emotion appears as a conventional insertion of intensity, 'affect can not be captured in semantics — Massumi says it's relatively autonomous, not confined to particular bodies: emotion represents the most intense 'capture' of affect [by language or consciousness].  We can see this as arguing that emotion relates to the mind, but affect to the body, and that the latter produces the former. Massumi also says that emotions are conventional as is subjectivity, while affects can escape through lines of flight, that are unpredictable, and involve becoming.

Boler has discussed this argument, and suggests that 'emotion in practice' breaks this distinction, insisting that emotions are always inscribed in habit, including habitual inattention.  However, we can preserve the idea that affects are open, 'directed outwards' (27) and this explains their potential to produce new assemblages [the actual text says these are radically new assemblages, but this could be a bit misleading if we go back to Spinoza?  The new assemblages are confined to different levels of the spiritual automaton?  The final level of complex interconnections helps us philosophize, not practice radical politics?].

Deleuze also talks about desire as movement, relation and encounters [something deeper than that, surely?].  It does not demonstrate the lack, but a process.  'It is affect...  event...  an autonomous and productive force constitutive of the social field rather than being constituted by it' [lots of arguments rolled together here?  Some missed out too, including desiring machines].  Desire 'implies' rhizomes and BWOs.  It is always productive, and this leads to Deleuze supporting the creation of new assemblages of bodies, a different emphasis from 'the phenomenological search for meaning' [desire is so vague and general, that it underpins all and every kind of meaning?  Desiring machines supply specific meanings through investment].

There is a danger of developing too romantic and idea of becoming and new assemblages, and divert attention from more conventional politics.  Nevertheless we get an outline of possible lines of resistance, and a discussion of the potential freedom 'that someone possesses in becoming active and selecting one's relation with the others'[misleading again, in my view—we do this if we want to be a philosopher].  Affect helps us escape 'confinement in a particular body'.  This makes Deleuze politicized in Massumi's terms [much contested, for example by Badiou or Zizek].

As educational implications, we can see a corporeal basis for 'immanent forces that produce creativity, and novelty and change' (28).  Bodies and affects will be central to pedagogy, not what they are but what they do, what connections they permit [but is this not simply a fancy reworking of the idea that we set up an environment that influences the thought of our students?].  The point is that bodies and affects permit 'passionate educational exploration not yet colonised in the economies of mind' [citing Boler].  The potential raises a 'possibility of transgression', breaking boundaries, challenging attempts to contain corporeality.  Thus 'new assemblages arise in the classroom' [must do?  Will do with a suitable pedagogy?  These will always be constructive creative and educational assemblages?]

Current educational discourses stress the tensions between pleasure and risk, especially in discussions of emotion management or emotional intelligence.  At present, these discourses are conservative, dividing the rational and the emotional and reinforcing existing power hierarchies and stereotypes.  They want to contain emotions.  This in individuals or passive and helpless, that emotions contaminate reason, that bodies breakdown when they encounter the intense emotional experiences.  The whole discourse is about containing risks of expressing emotional behaviour.  Emotional intelligence supports this new morality and is associated with the shift towards measurable skills and efficiency.  It often assumes that moral behaviour is hardwired in the brain, and that the best students simply capitalize on their wiring.  Emotional intelligence 'becomes a  "technology" of schooling', another disciplinary technology (29), so that the emotionally intelligent avoid unacceptable emotional behaviour.  A harmonious and tranquil self is supposed to result, and this lies behind the call for '"emotional literacy skills"': but these usually still imply a binary opposition between rationality and affectivity, and involves self-policing of affects and desire [affect here becomes conventional emotions after all?]

We think of affects and bodies as assemblages, of connections as dynamic, and of bodies as material in their own right, we move beyond just seeing language as primary.  The Deleuzian notion of affect 'goes beyond discourse'.  But at the same time, students' and teachers' stories and narratives can have an important pedagogical role, but only because we can see narratives as '"a bodily reality"' (30) [what a weasel].  Other commentators have agreed, even though they are using phenomenology.  They understand teaching is holistic, and note that 'teachers assume different body positions' which can be described in terms of longitude and latitudes [hardly!].  We can see body positions as assemblages, and 'teaching and learning as an extension of forces and intensities'[so we are choosing to see it this way because we like Deleuze, in this article anyway?].  We want teachers and learners to enact 'passion and desire for new body assemblages'.

We could recognize the potential of affect even though connections 'are not inevitably emancipatory'.  This will help us see possibilities and limitations when we discuss social solidarity and the understanding of differences or injustices.  Affects 'like anger'[!] can be constructive.  Affective connections can lead to demands for respect and recognition and highlight inequalities.  [If all these nice things happen] creating affective connections 'is an act of ethical and political practice'.

Of course, becoming, desires, and their pleasures and risks are unavoidable.  And we need not repress them but to ask in which direction they are leading, to what extent they are anchored in the bourgeois subject, what new possibilities are opened.  The alternative is to have to deny the importance of passion and desire, and to opt for blandness [silly].  Embodied and active pedagogy is both a process and a product.  If teachers generate affects, this can help students realise how affects are grounded in their corporeality, as when teachers or texts produce goose bumps [also mentioned by Olsson].  We can ask students through activities to show how bodily understanding is linked to their identity, developing 'understandings of the bodies such as compassion, caring, listening and feeling together of self and other'[citing Elbaz-Luwisch].  Zembylas uses another strategy, asking students to 'analyse how selective vision and affective/bodily attention constitute particular subjectivities', or by analysing pedagogical bodies and displays, to interrupt them.  We also need to reconsider the curriculum and culture of schools, recognising the role of the body as an agent, bodies that work and transform themselves [he admits that touching and hugging have become seriously problematic].  Emphasising desire, passion and the body facilitate expressive teaching and learning.  The curriculum should put 'the body at the centre of teaching and learning, enhancing opportunities for emotional and body expression'.  [Then a pathetic attempt to return to Deleuze] bodily movement and 'expression of others' affects become part of oneself'.

We have seen from Deleuze that bodies are dynamic, and have capacities to affect and be affected.  We can apply this to classrooms by thinking of bodies as 'a nexus of multiplicities interconnecting with others' (32) [blimey!  A multiplicity of multiplicities!].  This will open new possibilities in 'a Deleuzian rhizo-ethological approach'.  We can analyze bodies, their speeds and slowness, and see practices as nodes.  [Confusing the actualised with the virtual again, unless he means philosophically analyze—the actual quotes suggests we '"watch bodies carefully"', and the text goes on to say that 'the classroom strikingly reveals {empirically?} bodies that engage in different assemblages', including 'the gender assemblage'].

Embodied pedagogies challenge the conventional roles of the body and provide multiple opportunities 'and enact passionate and embodied forms of teaching and learning'.  Researchers should also attend to the body, and consider their methods.  However, the point is to develop 'the idea of a rhizo-ethological approach' [and then stand back].  Not all questions are answered, but we might at least 'begin to invent new connections of bodies and affects in the classroom'.

A note says that he wants to preserve the difference between affects and emotion to share the philosophical meaning developed by Deleuze — but I think the actual discussion shows slippage.

References include a contribution by Boler to a symposium on Deleuze, Perth, December 1996.  The Crossley referred to is an article in Body and Society, 1995, 1(1): 43--66.  Both Deleuze's books on Spinoza are cited, together with the Capitalism and Schizophrenia couple. Elbaz-Luwisch has an article in Curriculum Inquiry (2004), 34: 9-27.  The Massumi is not the introduction to 1000 Plateaus, but an article in Patton's Deleuze's reader.  There is a reference to a forthcoming Zembylas on Deleuze and Guattari in British Educational Research Journal.

back to Zembylas page