Zembylas Collection

Work by M Zembylas (sometimes with others)  on emotions in education, critical pedagogy, and postructuralist big hitters.

Zembylas' work is summarized below.  For me, there are two major themes with some subdivisions.

First, there is a sustained discussion on the role of emotions and their place in classroom pedagogy.  The discussion in fact is dominated by a concern for critical pedagogy, an approach informed by post structuralism which attempts to make students aware of the structuring effects of power relations and discourses on what seemed to be ordinary and every day definitions and practices.  So-called 'natural' or 'normal' terms and definitions, like those of bodies, feelings, suitable forms of interaction, the role for teachers, what counts as instruction and so on are in fact the product of networks of power and discourse, acting both in the past and in the present.  The critical pedagogue leads his students towards an awareness of these effects, with the aim of opening more emancipatory and liberating ways of thinking and acting.

The emotions play their part in such critical pedagogy, because they too have been structured by relations of power and discourses about suitable behaviour, in classrooms and more widely.  The emotional dimensions of human action have been ignored, for example, and replaced by an over-emphasis on neoliberal and individualized rationality.  Any emotions that still intrude have been managed, seen as irrelevant, as a barrier to rational thought and sound judgement, as characterizing various inferior groups, including ethnic minorities and women.  More cunningly, a convenient kind of emotionality has also been encouraged.  Zembylas describes this variously as 'sentimentality', a personal feeling often involving a kind of politically neutral pity for victims, or, borrowing terms from Boler, as 'passive empathy', generalized and unfocused sentimentality, again based on individual feelings and the illusions that we can feel the pain of others—without having to do anything about it.  Student reactions to having this sort of stuff imposed on them include denial, guilt, resentment and desensitization [I personally think these are equally likely with imposed critical radical pedagogy too]. Zembylas agrees that those sorts of emotions are widespread in everyday life and in the mass media, so it is going to be difficult for critical pedagogy is to deal with them. I think most of the work is actually pretty pessimistic, usefully critical, but with radical alternatives held out only as an ideal or a hope.

We need to redefine emotions [typical academic response], and this clearly overlaps with the second theme, discussed below, which is to read a number of critical commentators, including Dewey, Raymond Williams, Foucault, Deleuze, some feminist writers including Ahmed,  Butler and Grosz, and other contemporary commentators, including Tronto.  Those people are read in order to justify a different conception of emotions.  Emotions are not just personal feelings, for example, but are social and can be shared, in Williams's 'structures of feeling', or Foucault's discourses.  Emotions are closely tied to action and practice, in a whole complex: Zembylas seems to draw on Deleuze and Spinoza specifically here, reviving the 17th century concept of 'affect', to refer to the internal impact of external events on individual and seemingly subjective thoughts and motivations.  Zembylas uses this argument to make a more fashionable point -- emotions are embodied. We can also see the critical implications of these arguments, in that social shared discourses or motivations can clearly be shaped and interpreted by dominant groups as above.  However, a critical potential remains if we can show that dominant shapings and interpretations are only one alternative, and if affect and embodiment are ultimately uncontrollable.

It is almost inevitable that classroom realities will bite this approach firmly on the bum. Zembylas (2012b) finally seems to notice that some emotions are nasty ones, and that the whole approach can encounter difficulties once students are allowed to unload their emotion in ,say, anti-racist courses. Suddenly he grasps the complexities and has to do some rethinking.Some of this involves softening his critical language to make it more counsellor-like and soothingly therapeutic. He even reassesses the role of empathy and the psychology of wounding, despite criticism in Zembylas (2003) and Zembylas (2008). He has encountered students with voices of their own!

The second theme therefore takes up the more technical and academic issue of trying to link a critical radical pedagogy to the work of some modern or currently fashionable theorists.  The intention is to provide a suitable well justified ground for alternative conceptions.  Inevitably, this is going to involve a selective reading of these theorists, however, since none of them specifically and explicitly draw implications for critical radical pedagogy.  For me, it is easier to see this in the commentary on Deleuze and Deleuze/Foucault below.  As my detailed notes suggest, Zembylas has to read key terms and discussions in such a way that can fit his project.  Perhaps the clearest example, one which Zembylas himself draws our attention to, concerns the discussion of affect.  As suggested, this is a term with a definite 17th century context, and it is not exactly the same as the modern term 'emotions', which implies something personal and subjective again — although Zembylas gets close to equating the terms in the course of his discussion.  This looks like a philosophical quibble, but there are implications, in that Spinoza, and possibly Deleuze, were using the term to fill out their own project, which was, roughly, to explain how material forces get experienced by and expressed in individuals: it is a thoroughly materialist ontology, possibly even more tightly determinist than things like marxism, quite different from the sort of politicized constructivism associated with educational poststructuralism.  One difference, for example, is that for Spinoza, learning was guided by an automatic process of extending individual perceptions and thoughts as others were encountered—the 'spiritual automaton' (good discussion in Bogue) .  Learning was guided by whether ordinary people felt joy or despair (a pretty limited range of emotions) in their bodies, and they obviously sought to maximize nice feelings, in an 'ethic of joy'.  This is clearly pretty conformist and utilitarian, and, at the final level, the philosopher him or herself had to intervene to try and address the adequacy of ideas and get more creative.  Deciding what counts as joy or despair itself is not easy, even for the individuals concerned, as Spinoza admits. Certainly it is not going to be easy for pedagogues to observe joy in this specific sense, something arising from extending knowledge (as opposed to finding a lost pencil, remembering it is your birthday, or getting a smile back from your girlfriend)  Finally Deleuze actually discusses affects and percepts mostly in his work on art, (see Deleuze & Guattari) which is not considered, and there are other philosophical projects, including an attempt to make a connection with Nietzsche.  I'm not saying that Zembylas is wrong to impose this selective reading — there is a great deal of debate among Deleuzians about how to read the work, and, indeed, whether there is or should be a dominant reading — but it behoves a poststructuralist especially to point out that their reading is a selection!

The same goes for the piece on Bourdieu, which gets close to asset-stripping. It uses the term emotional capital to criticize conventional understandings which lead to emotional regulation and human capital stuff (he includes Goleman in this critique), but there is little else from Bourdieu. Bourdieu is seen as permitting counter-hegemonic pedagogic action but only because he shows that emotional norms are not natural but historicized. There is no recognition that Bourdieu says they are an imposed cultural arbitrary, and no discussion of how Bourdieu shows how they get imposed in respectable pedagogy (and in leisure). Would Zembylas see his own impeccably cool and rational academic work as complicit in any way? As usual, Bourdieu's case for pessimism is not examined -- we overcome it with optimism of the will, no doubt. There is not even any examination of the tensions within the overall reproduction of capital in Bourdieu --just voluntaristic opting for change and hope for pedagogy.

Lanas & Zembylas (2014) might just as well be standard Christianity with its emphases on love -- not even any liberation theology although Freire's 'armed love' is mentioned. There is also a strange view that the Revolution is all but accomplished and now all we need to do is make sure there is enough love in the new manifesto!

As the publications increase, the second theme gets more prominent. The first theme is pretty well exhausted in the articles on Bourdieu, Deleuze and Tronto. The others look like a rather desperate search for confirmation, perhaps as responses to criticisms,  and/or the normal pursuit of the professional academic who has to maximize his own capital [I am not saying there is any thing wrong with that!] .

Zembylas, M. (2002) '"Structures of feeling" in curriculum and teaching: theorizing the emotional rules'. Educational Theory 52(2): 187-208. [R Williams compared with Foucault to outline the basics about emotions as implicated in power relations]

Zembylas, M.  (2003) 'Caring for teacher emotion: Reflections on teachers self - development'.  Studies in Philosophy and Education 22: 103-25. [Sets out the stall for postructuralist accounts of the emotions. Discusses emotional rules. Masses of other work summarized and referenced, including Boler]

Boler, M. and Zembylas, M. (2003) ‘Discomforting Truths: The Emotional Terrain of Understanding Difference’.  In P Trifonas (ed) Pedagogies of Difference: Rethinking Education for Social Justice, 110--36, . New York: RoutledgeFalmer [Argues for discomforting pedagogy as ethical, despite possible costs and risks, and celebratory of difference] 

Zembylas, M and Michaelides, P. (2004) 'The sound of silence in pedagogy'.  Educational Theory, 54 (2): 193 -210. [Classic philosophy really -- pushes issues to extreme conclusions in order to be critical - -then finds it all becomes wackily irrelevant and idealist {via discussions of western mysticism and Buddhism} except that -- it shows we need to do philosophy!]

Zembylas, M. (2007a) 'A Politics of Passion in Education: The Foucaldian Legacy'.  Educational Philosophy and Theory.  Doi: 10.1111/j.1469-5812.2007.00300.x [Self-evident really. A Deleuzian bit as well and some connections made with Spinoza and the ethic of joy]

Zembylas, M. (2007b) 'The specters of bodies and affects in the classroom: a rhizo-ethological approach'. Pedagogy, Culture and Society 15(1): 19--35 ['Progressive' reading of Deleuze on Spinoza and the usual 60s stuff  bolted on to stuff about embodied pedagogies]

Zembylas, M. (2007c) 'Emotional capital and education: Theoretical insights from Bourdieu'. British Journal of Educational Studies 55(4): 443--63. DOI 10/1111/j.1467-8527.2007.00390.x  [Asset strips Bourdieu. as in my commentary above]

Zembylas, M.  (2007d) 'Risks and pleasures: a Deleuzeo-Guattarian pedagogy of desire in education'.  British Educational Research Journal 33 (3): 331-347. [Much better summary technically of the 60s stuff, but inevitable sliding towards normal terminology when 'applying' -- becomes educational postructuralism plus desire]

Zembylas, M. (2008) 'Trauma, justice and the politics of emotion: the violence of sentimentality in education'.  Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 29 (1): 1-17 [Against sentimental, individualist or universalist trauma narratives, and warning of desensitizing reactions. Usual critical pedagogy alternatives]

Zembylas M and McGlynne, C. (2012a) 'Discomforting pedagogies: emotional tensions, ethical dilemmas and transformative possibilities'.  British Educational Research Journal 38 (1): 41-59. [Nice case study of a N Ireland school using the 'blue-eyed brown-eyed' exercise to explore reactions to perceived discrimination -- with mixed results]

Zembylas, M.  (2012b) 'Pedagogies of strategic empathy: navigating through the emotional complexities of anti-racism in higher education'.  Teaching in Higher Education, 17 (2): 113-25. [The complexities are as in Ellsworth's critique. Second thoughts on empathy -- OK if used strategically. Bits of critical discussion of critical pedagogy. General realization of complexity and not before time]

Zembylas M, Bozalak, V and Shefer. T. (2014) 'Tronto's notion of privileged irresponsibility and the reconceptualisation of care: implications for critical pedagogies of emotion in higher education'. Gender and Education 26(3):200--214. DOI: 10.1080/0954025.2014.901718. [Familiar argument by now -- emotions and caring need to be understood in a critical pedagogy framework, as implicated in power relations]

Lanas, M. & Zembylas, M. (2014) [Christianity and tautology defining love]

Zembylas and Boler discuss pedagogies of discomfort online (with some interesting subsequent comments)

See also: Schertz, M. (2007)  'Avoiding "passive empathy" with Philosophy for Children'.  Journal of Moral Education, 36 (2): 185-98. [Picks up on Boler and Zembylas on passive empathy as bad, and investigates PWC's 'Community of Inquiry' discussion technique. Personal claims for its success.]

Also see
Ellsworth, E. (1989) 'Why Doesn't This Feel Empowering?  Working Through the Repressive Myths of Critical Pedagogy'.  Harvard Educational Review 59 (3): 297 -324 for an excellent critique focused on teaching anti-racism. Brookfield is also good on the problems of 'transformative learning'

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