Classroom flows and intensities

I’m in the Deleuze and Guattari labyrinth, and though it’s dark and tangled and I often feel lost, the  experience of being disoriented, of having familiar bearings disappear, is quite exciting.

And I’m stumbling across interesting stuff in here.

This morning, for example, I came across the following in A Thousand Plateaus (18):

… the issue is never to reduce the unconscious or to interpret it or to make it signify according to a tree model. The issue is to produce the unconscious, and with it new statements, different desires: the rhizome is precisely this production of the unconscious.(18)

The first thing this made me thing of was my thesis, ‘Mating with the world’, an attempt to think through how to respond to a story told me by a student while I was working as a psychotherapist. I started (this was nearly 20 years ago) by asking myself (to use the language that D&G use) ‘what does this story mean?’ and ended up much more interested in the question ‘what does this story do?’. Our therapeutic relationship, in the end, seemed much less to do with interpretation and much more to do with what D&G call ‘the production of the unconscious’. When the student told me his story, and as it produced affects in/on me, and my responses produced affects on him, what seemed to be going on was more to do with ‘new statements, different desires’ than with interpretation and signifying.

Then I thought about classrooms, and my current work as a teacher and researcher. It’s not easy to wriggle free of the notion that my teaching job is to do with skills and knowledge and my research work is to do with interpretation and communication. But what if my work is more to do with production of the unconscious ‘and with it new statements, different desires’? What might this mean?

I like this shift.

It focusses the attention on the lifeworlds of classrooms, on bodily affects. It gets at the central (but boringly explored) notion of motivation from quite a different direction. Instead of the focus being on classroom management models, teacher strategies and the intrapsychic ambitions and limitations of students, an emphasis on ‘the production of the unconscious’ asks us to think about the way classroom lifeworlds are produced as a result of the circulation of affect.

Not just ‘think about’; do. Not just interpret; produce.

The central question becomes: How can we, as teachers and scholars, increase the production of affect, open up flows and intensities of desire in a world (the classroom) of un-pin-down-able multiplicities?

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2 thoughts on “Classroom flows and intensities

  1. Wow Steve, I’ve often been frustrated by nihilistic interpretations of D&G, but this was so far from that and so subtle and sophisticated that I was quite enthralled. I’ve rediscovered a love for them!

    I’m still thinking about what it means for me as an educator but I think it’s your connections to psychology (unconscious & affective domains) and ‘life-worlds’ of classrooms that is just so appealing to me. Especially as someone who’s interested in creative spaces for gaming in education and affect and ethics in science education.

    It also made me think about some work that I have been doing with colleagues lately. We are interested in exploring Carl Jung’s conception of the “Human Shadow” (including sinister, macabre and destructive forces) as a seat of creativity for exploration of socio-scientific
    issues. This is in contrast to the boringly familiar (borrowing your term) and somewhat idealised notion of ‘sense of wonder / curiosity’ in science.

    Our rationale is that research (will have to find the link for you) shows us the first few times students engage with ecological simulations, they attempt to completely destroy a given system, in varying degrees of creative ways. Once they’ve finished setting things on fire and blowing the planet up, they then begin to focus on creating systems that are nurturing, protective and sustainable. I think there is a huge possibility for exploring the impact of a rhizomatic, affective, human shadow in science education classes – and what that means for science teachers (and even curriculum writers).

    Haha I’m just looking up at the length of my response – clearly your post had an impact on me!

  2. Brendan, you remind me of the times many years ago when I played SimCity and Civilisation with students, and how so many of them did exactly as you described: blew things up with relish for a considerable period of time before they were ready to spend time constructively building something. Kids in a sandpit too: bombing their castles long before they’re ready to settle down to more elaborate structures. I’ve noticed that I’m like that when I read a new journal article: I spend the first few pages picking it to bits, venting about its shallowness etc etc, then, once I’ve got that off my chest, I settle-petal and read the thing properly and more constructively and get good things from the reading. This possibility you mention of exlporing the human shadow sounds very interesting.

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