Notes on Zembylas, M.  (2007) 'Risks and pleasures: a Deleuzeo-Guattarian pedagogy of desire in education'.  British Educational Research Journal 33 (3): 331-347.

Dave Harris

A pedagogy of desire will release the creative forces of desire and help students become 'subjects who subvert normalized representations and significations and find access to a radical self'(331) [becoming a subject?  An underlying radical self?]

Joy is immanent to desire, say our heroes, a deep joy that distributes pleasures.  Few pedagogues would deny that desire prompts teaching and learning.  Pedagogies always involve seduction or coercion, meaning that desire is present and invisible.  Risks are involved as well as pleasures, within the normal boundaries.

Desire produces and seduces imaginations, and clearly can become a productive force.  Is not just the old form of desire, that needs to be repressed.  We now know that affect is not the opposite of reason, and that desire pervades pedagogical relations.  Most of this work is drawn from Anti Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus [of course].  We can learn a lot, especially if we abandon the notion that lack is central to desire and the subject.  Seeing desire as immanent helps us see affects as not just feelings but 'immanent becomings' (332), occupying a entire landscape of becoming, where 'surfaces and flows of teachers/students are caught up in a desiring ontology'.  This means that a pedagogy of desire can be a transformative practice.  [So Deleuze and Guattari are being used to ground transformative practice in the usual way]. Pedagogy is to be defined broadly as a whole 'relational encounter'.  These encounters offer risks and pleasures.  A pedagogy of desire should release pleasure and the power of desire, leading to subversive subjects and radical selves as above.  In this way, affect becomes a productive political force creating new assemblages of bodies.

All pedagogical relations are embedded in desire, but not the 'lay understanding of desire as corporeal only' or as about sex.  It invites exploration with both pleasures and risks.  Risks include situations where teachers and students seduce each other and 'capture each other's desire' (333), where desire leads to persuasion as a form of power.  But there is always resistance, and desire to learn does not always mean desiring just what the other person offers: we can desire something omitted by education altogether, or we can limit desires by sticking to 'cherished beliefs'.  However, desire does disturb normality and can challenge events or boundaries, and in the process expose their fragility.  Feminists in particular have worked to reclaim this notion of desire breaking with psychoanalysis or the usual forms of eroticization.  Feminists like Grosz in particular, see that discourses of desire and identity are supported by power relations.  [Yet this is ordinary contingent desire].  This is useful for deconstructing more repressive psychoanalytic and pedagogical models based on lack or longing.  Desire as relational is 'an affirmation of one's everyday practices and relationships'[the old phantasy that every day life is revolutionary as in Dialogues?  It depends whose every day practices we are considering?].  We need to reclaim it as legitimate in the classroom even though we will have 'to affirm the duplicity of pedagogical desire' as involving risk and uncertainty as well as pleasure [defined as the ability to subvert existing notions]. Other writers have seen desire as inviting students to become more complex and to address the improbable.  There might even be  'a praxis of desire as a positive source of transformation'.

Deleuze and Guattari describe desire as a praxis or a power of becoming and this might lead to a pedagogy of desire, extending actual pedagogical relations, interrogating assumptions, creating new 'landscapes of possibility for political resistance and transformation' by breaking with 'repressive discourses' [voluntarism and idealism again.  We will achieve the same results without pedagogy as Deleuze and Guattari achieved after years of philosophical study and political commitment?].

Lacan stressed the importance of the symbolic order in the emergence of the self, with its inevitable otherness, loss or absence as we enter a language.  Desire becomes a drive for completeness, but only through the existing social and linguistic structures.  Even phantasy is 'bound up in the play of language' (335) [relies on some rather simplistic commentaries here].  Deleuze and Guattari go beyond Lacan to conceive of desire not as a drive or a lack.  They criticize conventional notions of desire in particular by saying that desire can only produce objects in '"psychic reality"', denying the materiality of desire.  There analysis is 'socio - political', since desire produces reality as well as phantasy: it produces the real [the quotations also imply that subjects are constructions, dissolved by considering desire adequately].  Desire is productive autonomous and affirmative that shapes the social.  This also 'resists social meanings and ideology' (336) which rejects the Marxist notion that desire belongs to ideology.  Desire flows and 'is always becoming'[it is becoming or it drives it? ]

This means we can analyze social institutions in terms of 'networks of power and circuits of desire'[so we've only added desire to the usual post structuralist account].  Social institutions repress desire and colonize it, and productive desire is necessarily 'at odds' with these realities.  Micro politics of desire arises when 'individuals overcome repressive subjectivities' and want 'to become desiring "nomads" in a constant process of becoming and transformation', an  assemblage of relations of movement and rest, traversed by passions and desires.  The assemblage includes capacities to affect and be affected, which drives the capacity to act, to 'create new modes of subjectivation that escaped the forms of fixed identity'.  People produce their own existence rather than discover it.

There are desiring machines [at last], 'anything in which there is a flow…  that either leaves or enters a structure'.  Machines produce, 'as a process of continuous becoming', and a collection of various machines constitute our bodies.  Desire 'ought to be left alone to realize itself ', say Best and Kellner.  The body without organs refers to 'any organized structure'(337), and, like desiring machines 'denote two different states of the same thing; that is, they are aspects of the production system which controls flows'[bit of a gloss here!].

Some feminists like the idea, including Grosz [who can seem a bit more critical than this —see her, Braidotti and Ahmed and other contributions and debates here and here].  Desire can be seen as a series of practices that produce, including making machines.  It is an act of creation.  The BWO is useful for reconceiving the female body in nondualist terms, and sees the body as 'the site of free flowing desire and creativity close single quote.  Schizophrenic subjects resist categorization and essentialism for Braidotti.

Affect and desire a conceived in terms of 'movements relations and encounters'[drawing on the work on Spinoza], and this produces 'lines of resistance by making an assemblage of bodies upon which desire is experienced'.  This clearly shows the political implications.  Freedom is a power to become active and engage in 'selecting one's relations with others' [highly dubious and elitist -- fair representation of Deleuze's own practice, but not Guattari's? We should make school voluntary? ].  Desire breaks confinement in particular bodies and this will 'constitute the potentiality of the subject to resist'[back to conventional subjects, and presumably conventional forms of resistance as well].  The point would be to 'constitute new assemblages of bodies, risks and pleasures'.

[A summary of the position rounds this off with slightly better terminology - affect is opposed to feeling, we are looking at events not things or persons, fields of immanence are defined by 'intensity, multiplicity and flux'.  This will of course introduce immediately the problem of 'applying' these philosophical terms. We can anticipate -- it will be used critically. As usual, Kantian critique will be allowed to slide into Hegelian critique, to use Buber's terms -- philosophy will be used to show that current conceptualizations are inadequate and ignore the terms of their own emergence, but this will then be turned only against opposing positions ].

Desire is the plane of immanence for pedagogy [but then] 'without desire, there is no pedagogy' (338).  Desire produces pedagogy, so pedagogy is productive.  A pedagogy of desire should be about 'the relation between subject and objects and artefacts' [aimed at the philosophical clarification of virtual reality?].  It is not personal but 'an ontological and epistemological process of becoming'.  Desire does produce 'a surface of learning and teaching events'.  Desire possesses transformative power. 

It would help us see that pedagogy is not based on lack, and nor are the guided pursuit of enlightenment by critical pedagogy, aimed at exposing the arbitrary.  [This has been his position up to now though?].  There are larger forces of production at work, and desire as lack is historically specific, an instance.  All pedagogies [reify] 'unless the process of becoming is really valued'[voluntarism again].  Deleuze and Guattari go beyond Foucault here, not just showing that knowledge is inextricably linked to power, and the pedagogy is necessarily selective, but to try and explain this by referring to 'forces and intensities'.  The intent is not to deconstruct, but to recognise the effects of these forces and intensities and develop knowledge of them, to produce [philosophers] 'radical subjects who deploy pleasures and take risks'.

Tension between pleasure and risk in pedagogy is parent in current educational discourses about knowledge and teachers and students, as in the 'discourses on emotion management and emotional intelligence' (339) [I wondered when we would get to them].  These divide the rational and the emotional, reproduce power hierarchies and stereotypes.  Emotions are simply seen as disruptive and external, and they contaminate judgment and reason.  They lead to breakdown of the self, so they require effective emotion management to control the risks.  The concept of emotional intelligence is used to develop a new morality based on the measurement of new skills and efficiency to deal with affect [or emotions?].  This is increasingly seen as something to do with brains.  It is clearly an application of the disciplinary technology of schooling.  This is what lies behind popular calls to develop emotional literacy skills.

A proper pedagogy of desire would have a completely different 'ontological and ethical basis', aimed at understanding knowledge and desire and their proper connection.  Desire would be seen as a productive force, producing creative imaginative agents.  Naturally, 'dialogue and criticality are vital' (340).  Desire is always movement and becoming.  This will help us resist the forces of commodification as in emotion management, and oppose instrumentalism in favour of 'joy, pleasure, happiness and transgression' aiming to produce 'visionaries, not bureaucrats' [this bloke Pignatelli does a lot of work here].

It would help us contest voyeurism and posturing found in psychoanalytic pedagogies.  We would have to respond to the desires of others in ' a new ethical and political discourse', without being rigid, and while recognizing the complexity of the terrain of desire.  We need to develop 'the cultivation of ethics through aesthetics'[presumably, the ethics of joy again].  We would not be interested in a set of best teaching practices or appropriate skills.  'Such a pedagogy neither privileges the individual nor ignores it' [Deleuze heavily criticized the notion, of course].  It would provide us with different strategies to analyse and work through power relations, no longer 'in a dialectic context' but by exploring various social, aesthetic and political manifestations and connections to others. Certain risks will be unavoidable, and we should respond so as 'not to repress them, but wonder' (341) in what directions they lead, whether desires really are my own, what new assemblages of bodies and pleasures might be possible, how we might connect and synthesise 'functions with other bodies and artefacts'.  [Or we could just decide we wanted to be perfect and lovable nice people, without risking our salaries as educational professional, of course]

Current educational discourses and practices produce strange requirements like the need for 'teachers to love students in new and precise ways' that will still be manageable and produce predictable learning outcomes.  These are really still authoritarian, however, 'because they destroy desire and passion'.  Radical possibilities are raised by understanding pedagogy instead as 'a radical and erotic field of bodies, utterances, spaces and texts'.  The pedagogy of desire would provide for this.  However, generally pedagogy has ignored the body or seen it as the source of problematic behaviours like sexual ones.  Instead we need to recognize the body as an agent producing other bodies which can transform themselves.  We're talking here about 'the expressive aspects of learning'.  One dancer explains that desire for a ballet is connected to eros and the teacher's body, so that pedagogy 'was able to create an erotic encounter between herself and the teacher' (342).  A suitable curriculum would help students develop 'sensory intimacy with their world' [O'Loughlin does a lot of work here] to express desires and emotions of selves and others.

Teachers will engage in enactment.  They will not understand themselves as having a mission to promote resistance or to pursue some particular psychoanalytic stance.  Too often this leads to self congratulation or self righteousness [Ellsworth is cited here, and Giroux is named. Britzman is one of those criticized for privileging a particular psychoanalytic approach which emphasizes the unconscious and the symbolic order].  Instead, there is a need to rehearse and enact erotic attitudes, mobilize the desire to teach and learn, allow 'eros, passion and knowledge' to converge, remembering that eros relates to the 'general overflowing passionate desire that motivates us'.  Teachers should engage, in ways that include 'the mutual pleasure of the gaze', and develop a more ambiguous and complex relationship with students, subverting the usual fixed roles of teacher and student.

A pedagogy of desire does not offer a utopian vision of the future, but recommends actual enactment.  One example from his own teaching involves inviting students to 'leave the familiar stories of learned habits, beliefs and thoughts so that we can begin together to analyze how a selective vision and emotional/bodily attention constitute particular subjectivities'(343), to restore the role of emotion and bodily movements [I bet they love it].  Once we see that conventional relations are not 'absolutely determining', we can provide ourselves with new spaces to reconstitute our relations, including the creation of new nurturing and inspiring pedagogies.  We cannot prescribe anything here, because we know that 'even radical trajectories often become systematised'.  Specific forms need to be constructed in each case, to avoid providing 'another normalising discourse' instead of opting for the new and the inspirational.  Students will soon see the potentials, once they experience the pleasures.

Certain practices might still be identified.  Learning to love critical questions is one; sharing 'the force of wondering in learning'; providing multiple opportunities 'to enact passionate and embodied forms of teaching and learning'.  These are already used in critical pedagogy, but we need to reconceptualize them and understand motivations differently.  This will require effort and perseverance.  Experience suggests that there are many political implications, requiring constant negotiation of resistances and habit - many people are simply 'comfortable with current pedagogical practices'[no doubt as a form of misrecognition].  We must not adopt fixed postures but open spaces.

The theory of desire in Deleuze and Guattari 'is less restrictive than that of other pedagogies '[what a lame conclusion!].  They stressed active flow, a becoming, and the body, they suggest practices that involve connections and the productivity of desire, which, luckily 'creative teachers or students have in abundance'[and the rest of you conservatives and comfort seekers can fuck off].  They point to something that has not come yet, their vision of a full becoming involving animals and plants and indiscernbility, reconfiguring our singular points to embrace the unknown.  Education should nurture this productive desire to produce new kinds of difference, and new desires.  This is endless and challenging.  Deleuze and Guattari can inspire us.  They can ground political analysis away from what is merely oppositional, or the basis of a rival claim for domination.  We need to step outside traditional assumptions 'and strive to create landscapes of becoming' (345), not just deconstructing assumptions, but exploring risk and pleasure, 'learning to modify and be modified by the world'.

A note admires Laclau and Mouffe on the articulation of subjectivity in discourses, which means that subjectivity is always contested.  They also have a similar political project to D&G in rejecting essentialism.

References include:

Best, S and Kellner, D (1991) Postmodern theory: critical interrogations.  New York: Guilford Press.
O'Loughin, M (1998) 'Paying attention to bodies in education: theoretical resources and practical suggestions'.  Educational Philosophy and Theory 30: 275-297
Pignatelli, F (1999) 'Education and the subject of desire'.  Review of Education/Pedagogy/Cultural Studies 20: 337-352.

back to Zembylas page