1956: Week 3 –The Myth of Content

D Cormier's input:

I’ve always been a little confused by the word ‘content.’ There is something lonely and unconnected about the word somehow, when i hear it used with reference to what happens in learning. I imagine a lone student, huddled away in a dorm room, reading sanitized facts in the hopes of passing a multiple choice quiz. The content somehow merging with the learning objective and the assessment to create a world where learning is about acquiring truth from the truth box.

We talked a little this week about how Descartes, ‘thinking alone in his room’ was really carrying on conversations with hundreds of correspondents, and with many other people (also mostly old white men) in the record of their thoughts printed in the books in his library. Even the citation in our research methods is about pointing to the web of people’s thoughts… about preserving the history of the story we are telling.

So what happens when we peek under the word ‘content’ to see what lives there? What does it mean for a course to ‘contain’ information? What choices are being made… what power is being used?

There might be a paradox  between choosing an indivdual route and maintain a collective,  especially when choosing content. What counts? What should be included? What restricts heterogeneity?

These thoughts can be seen as informed by 'connectivist' pedagogy (discussed earlier). As we saw, the argument takes on special force when electronic communication is considered since it facilitates the establishment of a 'learning community' or 'personal learning network'. If these are productive, learners do indeed know where information is offered rather than knowing how themselves: the community regulates and filters the huge amounts of knowledge available. However, as somebody said (I've forgotten who --sorry) once the information has been identified, the lone student huddled away in the dorm room still has to struggle to understand and personalize the information. The situation is not very different from the old context when students entered libraries, not e networks. That is, unless team working is allowed, of course: the problem is that in universities, excessive team work tends to be regarded as plagiarism, and team work generally is unpopular with those who want to be given personal credit.

In some circumstances, the learning community can also become a 'truth box' as we shall see.

Much of the rest of it could be supported by D&G. If we are going to 'peek under the word content', D&G are a crucial part of your learning network. If you want to see how power is expressed in language, or what is mixed in with the explicit 'content', who finer? Descartes was indeed carrying on conversations with others, even when apparently alone in his room wondering if he existed, as do we all. This is why D&G argue for the ubiquity of 'indirect discourse' [which has an important implication for ethnography -- see week 6]. However, as the following series of quotes, direct and indirect, indicate, some different implications follow from this point for D&G. In ATP Chapter 4 :

A single voice contains a number of other voices, 'all discourse is indirect'.  (85)

There is also the  'illocutionary' (86), which can also be seen as 'non discursive presuppositions' [where you assume that someone will act as a response to what you say].  Together, the performative and the illocutionary 'has made it impossible to conceive of language as a code, since ['if' would make more sense]  a code is the condition of possibility for all explanation'. [This is meant to rebuke Chomsky or Levi-Strauss, but any UK fans of Bernstein's work on language codes and pedagogy  might find this a useful kind of critique]

Pedagogic instruction, like all communication, involves giving orders or commands, even if these are not external.  What 'the compulsory education machine' (84) does is to impose semiotic coordinates including organizing binaries [reads bit like Bourdieu here on the dominance of gendered binaries in ordinary language ]. The point is that the 'order word' is implicit even in statements that do not take the imperative case. [A promising critique of some of the specific terms in educational discourse? Helps us get all Foucaldian by looking for implicit 'order words', maybe even in Cormier posts? -- but see the last quote]

[Then we get on to an attack on the usual forms of subjectivism] 'There is no individual enunciation.  There is not even a subject of enunciation', because language is irreducibly social.  What this means is that 'enunciation itself implies collective assemblages', which can produce individuated statements.. Instead of interlocking individual statements together, we should start with a collective assemblage which determine relatively subjectified statements and different subjects of enunciation.(87)

[Extending the idea of assemblages] Collective assemblages can be combined 'in a regime of signs or a semiotic machine'.(92)

[Then we proceed to the main ontological implications]. Linguists have developed  'an abstract machine of language', with apparent linguistic constants acting over time.  However, this is not abstract enough, because it remains linear, and ignores nonlinguistic factors.  If we abstract still further [and this is the D&G method of philosophizing], we can see that the apparent constants of language are better understood as variables of expression 'internal to enunciation itself', which always intermingle with the supposed linguistic constants (100).

[back to anti-individual subjectivism] In this sense, the abstract machine produces singularities, sometimes 'designated by the proper name of a group or individual', but still as the result of collective assemblages: 'there is no primacy of the individual; there is instead an indissolubility of a singular Abstract and a collective Concrete' (111)

[Abstract machines like this also provide creative possibilities, which we discuss later: in this case it is experimental writers] We get creative by subtracting or removing elements and placing them in variation.  This involves sobriety again.  If we do this successfully we pursue 'a becoming-minor of the major language'(116). Free indirect discourse permits this. We should base ourselves 'neither in language A, nor in language B but in "language X, which is none other than language A in the actual process of becoming language B"' [quoting Pasolini] (117)

The problem is not to break with order words [which would be impossible] but with their implications: 'the order word is a death sentence...but the order word is also something else, inseparably connected: it is like a warning cry or a message to flee' (118).

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