1947: Week 1 Learning Subjectives – designing for when you don’t know where you’re going

[Dave Cormier introduced the topic with some comments on his blog, supplemented by a short video.]

Welcome to week 1.

Ok friends and neighbours, I have no idea where this is all going to get us, but we’re 1000 tweets in and the course starts right now. Or, if you believe [a veteran participant], I missed the start of the course by two weeks. Please remember, you don’t have to read everything. Start from your work, engage with individuals. You might find two or ten or a hundred people to work with, it just depends on how you like to work. If it’s your first open course, you might find this ‘how to succeed‘ video useful. If you’d like to know how to reach people, check out my practical guide post.

Learning is subjective. Knowledge is abundant. Clean assessment based on objectives is impossible. Right answers belong only in storybooks. Can a structure for discussion help to facilitate? There is already lots going on Twitter, and Facebook, and in personal blogs, so newcomers can connect [the advice was to look through some blogs, tweets or posts, find something interesting and respond] . We might ask about own success as challenge to provoke thought.

I joined the course late, and, as indicated, I tracked some Facebook posts only.  It seemed to me that there was little discussion of this contention, that the participants seemed pretty much in agreement with the proposition that learning was subjective, without bothering to spell out any implications, and not to consider anywhere that I could see the thoughts of Deleuze and Guattari on subjectivity and subjective learning.

There is, of course, much to discuss about possible interpretations of the idea that learning is subjective, depending on what that phrase actually means. The 'subjective' could refer to that which is uniquely human, to an important part of our lives where we experience personal feelings or thoughts, the source of our creativity and so on. Some of these aspects are clearly implied in other topics discussed on Rhizo15, such as whether we can count or measure important aspects of subjectivity, whether we need a teacher to help us realize our subjective goals, and whether communities enhance or limit subjectivity.

 Of course, all learning has to be voluntary and personal in the end, but should it follow the immediate motivations and perceptions  in our conscious minds or is there a role for something initially outside our immediate consciousness? We might even call those things outside our immediate experience 'objective', meaning 'object-like', or at least non-subjective -- produced by other minds without any input from us. Indeed,a sign of learning something is that it does not already exists within us,that we have to make it part of what is within us, often with some difficulty or resistance. This produces what Semetsky refers to as the 'learning paradox', which
takes the form of suggesting that it is logically impossible to learn from experience, since one either knows what is being experienced already, or, if it is really novel, it cannot be grasped at all (discussed in more detail her page 445). This paradox usually appears in the familiar problem for learners and pedagogues -- finding the optimal level of challenge. Semetsky argues that Deleuze is one of those who thinks learning happens when something unfamiliar is encountered,  something embedded in the 'objective structure of an event per se’ (444), which is so unfamiliar that it 'forces us to think'.

The interconnections between the subjective (as immediate experience, personal perceptions and goals) and the objective (something less personal and 'outside') has always generated considerable discussion even within the conventional disciplines of Education, in the eternal struggle between 'traditional' and 'progressive', or formal and informal teaching.  The debate has been energized recently by contributions stressing the need to offer or 'powerful knowledge' which is non subjective, context independent, and connected to various kinds of 'realist' philosophies that offer a direct challenge to the kind of educational 'social constructivist' approaches that might underpin the advocacy of subjective learning (and, indeed, the definitions of rhizomatic education discussed in an earlier section). We can find in  Deleuzian approaches insights into this whole issue (below).

The valorization of the individual human subject also produces problems explaining interactions, social action and so on. Is cooperation something emergent that goes beyond individual subjectivity, or is it just a series combining individual subjectivities? I discuss this in the section on learning communities.

While I am here, are subjective feelings always 'good'? For many educators, subjectivity means creativity, open-endedness, empathy, liberation. What about the nasty side of subjectivity though -- stubbornness, defensiveness, hatred, aggression?

Subjectives versus objectives

Advocacy of subjective learning tended to be associated specifically with micropolitical struggles against 'learning by objectives', or teaching directed at targets or specified outcomes.  Sometimes the struggles obviously engaged personal interests, so that subjective learning might have become a position in which there had been some investment in the past, something that had affected careers, perhaps.  Given that kind of commitment, it is perfectly understandable to see why people might be disinclined to discuss what is actually meant, or to consider any critiques.  To use the terms introduced in the first section, political commitment can therefore be seen as a way of 'managing' some of the extensive critical discussions that have centred on the notion of subjective learning.

As I have indicated before, my own attempt to introduce some critique led to to little success: I had posted a comment suggesting that a 'learning subjective' could easily be translated back into a 'personal learning objective', and therefore would not offer much in the way of opposition to the objectives based approach.  My own struggles against learning by objectives had led to support for design featuring 'knowledge structures', or 'concept maps', but none of the participants mentioned these approaches, resorting to the old binaries instead.

I can even see an immediate connection with Deleuze and Guattari in the notion of a concept map, which would be seen as a far fuller and open account of subject matter than the mere 'tracings' produced by making learners take single, specified routes to a sequence of objectives. Even so, the usual sort of concept map heavily selects among all possible links between concepts, usually for pedagogic reasons,wishing to indicate the conventional routes, the ones that experts have found productive. Deleuzian thinking offers the possibility that those concept maps themselves can be considered as tracings on a map with more dimensions. ATP cites none other than HP Lovecraft as a guide here (ch 10): we can consider a point as an abstraction ('cut')  from a 2-dimensional line, then that line as the edge of a 3-dimensional figure like a cube. The challenge then is to consider the cube as a cut from a 4-dimensional figure,and that figure as a cut from a 5-dimensional one, and so on until we get to n dimensional figures in multiplicities on a plane of consistency with all the possible connections between concepts -- logical, social, historical, political, contingent, personal and so on, which is what is implied in the definition of the rhizome that mentions n dimensions. Some participants in Rhizo15 were exploring these possibilities but through Actor Network Theory, which has a similar approach but with reduced dimensions (but again - -why change vocabularies?) .

Deleuzian critique of learning by objectives could therefore involve not rejecting the approach altogether in the name of some dubious and eternally-opposed subjectivity, but insisting it be considered as offering a model of learning 'cut' from a more complex model. The issue then becomes one of justifying this particular cut (that is usually done in the name of simply managing complexity for learners, but everyone can see 'political' issues as well) and thinking about alternative cuts.  If there are no political constraints, it becomes clear that educationalists can produce several different but adequate and equally plausible targets to be set or objectives to be gained, and all could be seen as different tracings on an agreed underlying map. The pedagogical assumptions can also be challenged, of course.

While I am here,we could see Deweyan approaches equally as tracings to be located on an overall map. Same with connectivism and constructionism, for that matter. The map would be made of the elements in Guattari ( below) -- incorporeal universes, existential territories etc?

If I am not mistaken, this is a method used quite a lot in Deleuze and in Deleuze and Guattari. Summarizing then showing the limits of different approaches is quite often followed by an attempt to see these as tracings to be put back on an underlying map,  specific actualizations of an underlying multiplicity. This method, which fans of Bhaskar in the UK might want to call a 'transcendental deduction' (although D&G do not like the term transcendental and prefer 'immanent') ,
is found in ATP for example at the end of Chapters 4 and 5 on language and regimes of signs, Chapter 8, where  different 'lines' developed in various novellas are seen as illustrating the three  possibilities of an abstract collection of lines in a multiplicity, Chapter 10 on becomings, and Chapter 13 on apparatuses of capture. 

It is also
found in Deleuze's specific treatments of authors.  As brief examples:

Foucault's different arguments about the orders of the visible and the articulable [very simply rendered as the objective and the linguistic] look separate, maybe even contradictory or dualist, but are really combined at a 'deeper' level: ‘Between the visible and the articulable we must maintain all the following aspects of the same time: the heterogeneity of the two forms, the different in nature or anisomorphism [sic]; a mutual presupposition between the two, or a mutual grappling and capture; the well determined primacy of the one over the other’ (Deleuze 1999: 67-68).

Bergson's account of both subjective memory and evolution driven by some life force can be reconciled as two aspects of a multiplicity: 'At the outset we asked: What is the relationship between the three fundamental concepts of Duration, Memory, and the Elan Vital?…  It seems to us that Duration essentially defines a virtual multiplicity (what differs in nature).  Memory than appears as the coexistence of all the degrees of difference in this multiplicity, in this virtuality. The elan vital, finally, designates the actualization of this virtual according to the lines of differentiation that correspond to the degrees—up to this precise line of man where the Elan Vital gains self consciousness'. (Deleuze 1991: 112—3);

Proust's different accounts point to a multiplicity where social and personal worlds  (the world of the Parisian salon, the Army, the seaside hotel, the subterranean worlds of homosexuality and promiscuous courtesans and actresses etc) are plural, yet they will also lead to some unity, particularly in his description of a 'time regained' 'that includes all the others'(Deleuze 2008: 17). A series of love affairs helps the hero transcend mere  experience and reveal 'the transubjective reality'(45).  Proust's hero's efforts to understand various events and utterances as 'signs' leads eventually to an awareness that we will not understand signs by pursuing 'the laws of matter and the categories of mind  ...For there are no mechanical laws between things or voluntary communications between minds.  Everything is implicated, everything is complicated, everything is sign, meaning, essence' (59). In ATP Chapter 7 Proust's character Swann attributes significance to a number of phrases and pieces of music in the course of his love affair with Odette and imagines this as a subjective matter only; his subjective despair, as the affair falters forces him to think again, and  makes him realizes that behind these emotional fragments lies  'a still more intense, asignifying, and asubjective line of pure musicality'

My own view is that the same method sees conventional definition of 'the subject' and 'the object' also as inadequate tracings of a multiplicity that stretches beyond both. This emerges at its most general in the first 'series' in Deleuze 1990. Events assume 'becoming', since they refer to states in the past and the future in a way which ‘eludes the present’.  This is paradoxical but still makes sense if we accept that ideal [or pure]events are singularities [traceable to a multiplicity]:  ‘turning points and points of inflection; bottlenecks, knots, foyers and centres; points of fusion, condensation and boiling; point of tears and joy, sickness and health, hope and anxiety, “sensitive” points.  Such singularities, however, should not be confused either with the personality of the one expressing herself in discourse, or with the individuality of the state of affairs’ .

Unmanaged Deleuzian bits on the subject and subjectivity (again links point to my attempts to grasp or gloss this stuff)

Guattari offers the most accessible discussion in my view, in Chaosmosis.

The first chapter alone fizzes with ideas. We should be thinking of new ways to understand subjectivity as a process not a fixed state, produced by a combination of ‘various semiotic registers’ (1), including collective ones, not just the old opposition between subject and society. We should also be wary of conservative ‘reterritorializations of subjectivity’ (3), including celebrations of capitalist versions [like heroic entrepreneurs etc]. We need a new understanding of a 'more transversalist conception of subjectivity, one which would permit us to understand both its idiosyncratic territorialized couplings (Existential Territories) and its opening on to value systems (Incorporeal Universes) with their social and cultural implications’ (4).  It should examine the effects of the mass media and IT and their ‘semiotic productions’, which affect memory, intelligence, sensibility and ‘unconscious phantasms’, ‘a-signifying semiological dimensions that trigger informational sign machines’ (4). This leads us to chart ‘The ensemble of conditions which render possible the emergence of individual and/or collective instances as self referential existential Territories, adjacent, or in a delimiting relation, to an alterity that is itself subjective’ (9). Our interests extend to ‘incorporeal Universes of reference such as those relative to music and the plastic arts’.  The non human and pre- personal elements are useful, since they can lead to heterogenesis and autonomy.  Instead of Freudian [or Bourdieuvian?] understandings, we need a ‘An Unconscious of Flux and of abstract machines rather than an Unconscious structure of language’ (12).

‘It would be to misjudge Deleuze and Foucault—who emphasized the non human part of subjectivity—to suspect them of taking anti humanist positions!’ (9). Encounters with artworks, like poetry and cinema can produce ‘a non discursive pathic [passsive? tacit?] knowledge which presents itself as a subjectivity that one actively meets…[which is]...given immediately’ (25). The alternative is a blocked and limited notion of subjectivity, one found in pathologies like  neurosis or 'implosions of the personality'. These frozen mental universes are best understood as 'a haecceity freed from discursive time' (17).

Blocks are to be undone in clinical practice by reintroducing discourse.
In one example, a patient suddenly announces a new interest, say in learning to drive, and this must be seen as a sign of a singularity, producing a new refrain [recurrent theme, helpful in stabilizing perceptions and affects -- see ATP chapter 11], and opening up new possibilities, say of contacting old friends.  Such offhand announcements should be taken seriously as ‘potential bearer of new constellations of Universes...nuclei of subjectivation’ (18). Practice aims at  ‘the production of a subjectivity that is auto-enriching its relation to the world in a continuous fashion’ (21). We can use the arts to do this: ‘poetry today might have more to teach us than economic science, the human sciences and psychoanalysis combined’ (21). [but see the discussion later]

At the level of theory, we follow deleuzian lines aiming at grasping
subjectivity not the subject, previously seen as ‘the ultimate essence of individuation’. Subjectivity is to be modelled (actually 'metamodelled') not by generalizing from capitalist notions of subjectivation (which is something which we could level against Dewey)  but by heading towards genuine abstraction, identifying the virtual or 'machinic' components, events and processes including ‘biological codings or organizational forms belonging to the socius’ (24). Identifying these possibilities can lead to practice to open up the existing limited paths.

Even in ATP

Ch 1

Since each of us were several, there was already quite a crowd…  To reach, and not the point where one no longer says I, but the point where it is no longer of any importance' (3)

'The book has neither object nor subject...  [any] book [not just theirs] is an assemblage…  And as such is unattributable' (4)

[Even in experimental writing], 'unity is constantly thwarted and obstructed in the object, while a new type of unity triumphs in the subject...  in an always supplementary dimension to that of its object ...   a book all the more total for being fragmented... [this is limiting, and instead ] We should write at N-1 dimensions.  A system of this kind can be called a rhizome'.  (7)

'There is no ideal speaker-listener [like an authentic human subject], any more than there is a homogenous linguistic community' (8).

[Connections in the rhizome or multiplicity, rendered here as 'fibers'] 'are not tied to the supposed will of an artist or puppeteer…  [they do not originate] 'in the person of the actor…  The actor's nerve fibers in turn form a weave' (9).

'The notion of [subjective or objective] unity...  Appears only when there is a power takeover in a multiplicity by the signifier or a corresponding subjectification proceeding'(9)

'...multiplicities…  are asignifying and asubjective' (10)

'...you may make a rupture, draw a line of flight, yet there is still a danger that you will reencounter...  Attributions that reconstitute a subject...  Groups and individuals contain microfascisms just waiting to crystallize' (10).

[In  Ch 5]

'...  Subjectivity effects an individuation, collective or particular...  The subject of enunciation recoils into the subject of the statement...  [There is a]...doubled subject [seen as] the cause of statements of which, in its other form, it is itself a part...  This is the paradox of the legislator-subject...  The more  you obey the statements of the dominant reality, the more in command you are an object of enunciation and mental reality for in the end you are only obeying your self ' (143).

'Althusser clearly brings out this constitution of social individuals as subjects... there is no subject, only collective assemblages of enunciation.  Subjectification is simply one such assemblage...  Subjectification as a regime of signs or a form of expression is tied to...  An organization of power...  Capital is a point of subjectification par excellence' (144).

In Ch 6

[Normal individual bodies produce limiting stratifications]: ‘ the ones that most directly bind us: the organism, signifiance [roughly, the apparent freedom to find personal significance in things by naming them, without noticing the limits of ordinary language]  and subjectification...you will articulate your body –otherwise you’re just depraved. You will be signifier and signified, interpreter and interpreted – otherwise you’re just a deviant. You will be a subject, nailed down as one, a subject of the enunciation recoiled into a subject of the statement –otherwise you’re just a tramp’ ( 177).

in Ch 7

[particularly obscure this  until you read more of this weird chapter on faciality-- sorry] 'In the literature of the face, Sartre's text on the look and Lacan's on the mirror [the latter especially influential in work on the cinematic gaze etc] make the error of appealing to a form of subjectivity or humanity…  The gaze is but secondary in relation to the gazeless eyes, to the black hole of faciality.  The mirror is but secondary in relation to the white wall of faciality' (190). [The system of eyes and face constitute the 'abstract machine of faciality' -- this is interesting if you think faces are somehow the key to the individual's personality or whatever, as face-to-face advocates often do]

'there is no signifiance without a despotic assemblage, no subjectification without an authoritarian assemblage'.(200)

'In truth, there are only inhumanities' (211)

In Ch 10

'If we imagined the position of a fascinated Self, it was because the multiplicity toward which it leans, stretching to the breaking point, is the continuation of another multiplicity that works it and strains it from the inside. In fact, the self is only a threshold, a door, a becoming between two multiplicities' (275)

[Two writers cited]
appeal to an objective zone of indetermination or uncertainty, 'something shared or indiscernible' a proximity 'that makes it impossible to say  where the boundary between the human and animal lies,' ... it is as though, independent of the evolution carrying them toward adulthood, there were room in the child for other becomings, 'other contemporaneous possibilities' that are not regressions but 'creative involutions bearing witness to an inhumanity immediately experienced in the body as such' (301—2).

I could go on...

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