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Lecture at the conference "Essentially experimental" at Valand School of Fine Arts, Gothenburg:
"SUMMIT non-aligned initiatives in education culture" was a four day gathering in May 2007. 450 registered delegates were meeting in 82 workshops, sessions, debates and presentations. The open format brought together a wide range of delegates from social, political and cultural organizations: from labor unions to art institutions, from migrant self organizations to free academies, from the loose associations of open source programmers to critically engaged scholars, theorists, artists, curators, architects, filmmakers...
Two weeks before the leaders of the eight richest countries in the world were gathering for their annual "G-8" meeting at the german sea ressort Heiligendamm a wide range of projects, initiatives and protagonists from the fields of art, culture and political activism have used SUMMIT as an open forum for questioning and changing some of the fundamental terms of the debate around education, knowledge production and information society.
SUMMIT was based on observations that beyond the widespread lament about the crisis in education, there are numerous initiatives converging around education. Recognizing that education is equally a platform for cultural actualization and self organization, these initiatives range from free academies and exhibitions as educational modes to ad-hoc initiatives within social, political and cultural organizations. Parallel to these developments, many initiatives are taking place within or at the margins of institutions that work against the grain of their official modes and expand, rather than defy, existing aims.
But what happens as soon as these very diverse initiatives and individuals from both, institutional and non-instituional or not-yet institutional backgrounds meet in one place and spend five days together in consultations, presentations, performances and open debates?
It was the end of a very hot week in Berlin and every afternoon a thunderstorm occured. Just a few days before the protest as usual against the G-8 had finally started, the city was under siege. Huge tensions raised, as police raided the offices of activist groups.
As one of the main organizers of the event, up to now, precisely one year after SUMMIT, i am still overwhelmed by the brute forces as well as the enormous energies that were set free by lightning and thunder inside and outside of the building. The (self-)ironical move to stage the event in the format of a summit in Berlins most celebrated theatre house seemed to add fuel to the fire rather than cooling down the situation.
I must confess that i have never attended let alone organized an event in which i learned more about the real existing fears, ambitions, anger, desires, that are present when it comes to the question of education. And never before i saw in such a clarity all the big problems, tender concepts and thin lines of flight that are emerging out of what is currently coined as "crisis of education".
If i were asked to draw lessons out of that experience i would present two problems: first the problem of the institution, then the problem of de-institutionalization or "ek-stitution"; and last but not least i would problematize the key concept of non-alignment that was underlying the entire endeavor.
The modern educational system is characterized by the emergence of public institutions that were supposed to regulate the movements both of the individual and collective social body in order to produce well-disciplined, coherent subjects. It is a system of spatial control, like any other disciplnary regime.
It was based on a concept of knowledge that for the first time in history “wants to be more than a mere means” (Nietzsche). The bodies of knowledge are called "the disciplines" and from Foucault we have learned, that "there is an inescapably circular relationship between the ways in which power creates and recreates knowledge and the ways in which knowledge creates and recreates power."
The disciplinary institutions organize learning as a process of subjectivation that re-affirms the existing order and distribution of power in an endless loop. But such redundancy became pointless at a certain moment: In the 1980ies in western europe a mass exodus took place, a generation was refusing the higher educational system such as universities, academies etc.
We realized that there was nothing left to learn, and what we wanted to learn was precisely about the disciplinating character of those institutions, the confinement of knowledge and subjectivities, the exclusion of differing and deviant forms of knowledge poduction.
Learning all the sudden could take place anywhere or at any place wherever: In the streets, in bars, in self-organized seminars, fanzines, science shops or "Wissenschaftsläden". At the same time the subject-matters of learning became increasingly popular by adressing everyday practices of resistance such as cultural studies which had to be ignored by the traditional system. There was a plethora of unexpected places where one could learn whatever until the mass-exodus out of the educational institutions found a new destiny: the network.
The crisis of the educational system, with all its subsequent phenomena like privatization and managerialism, has been a result of the refusal to subjugate oneself under the command of Fordism, the fading paradigm of industrial capitalism. There is no point in lamenting about it.
What is usually described as crisis in education relates to the privatization and partly dissolution of the institutional matrix in the modern educational system.
Technology, deregularization and privatization triggered a process of de-institutionalisation: "Lifelong learning" basically means that from now on you are yourself responsible to get yourself an education.
Today, learning is becoming a private affair and the primary goal of such self-education is to perform a permanent availability of the self in real-time rather than just showing discipline in a system of spatial control. "We’re moving toward control societies that no longer operate by confining people but through continuous control and instant communication”
And: "In disciplinary societies you were always starting all over again (as you went from school to barracks, from barracks to factory), while in control societies you never finish anything... school is replaced by continuing education and exams by continuous assessment. It’s the surest way of turning education into a business."
The process Deleuze de- or better circumscribed in a few lines written in the mid 80ies seems to have completed by now. Today we find ourselves in a situation in which we have to deal with the consequences of that process.
The result is a tremendous irritation, an essential confusion about the concept of the "self". There is a problem with the self, the idea of the self is radically in question. The postulate of lifelong learning, in a society of control challenges traditional views of radical, emancipatory pedagogy in both, institutional and non-institutional contexts. What was formerly known as progressive may all the sudden turn out as repressive or the other way around. "Repressive forces don’t stop people expressing themselves but rather force them to express themselves..." (Deleuze)
There is a necessity of continuously performing "selves": the current boom of the educational businesses is based on emerging concepts of "getting yourself an education", as the former art student and now hip-hop star M.I.A. rhymes. Self-education, self-organization are merely pointing to a fundamental confusion about configurations of the "self" or of the person who owns or is subject to property. "Self and ownership have a whole new arithmetic".
What in fact characterizes the society of control is that the effort, the costs and the ressources in order to perform an efficient system of control, is outsourced to the individual. Obviously, this goes very well along with the praise of chivalries such as horizontalism, flat hierarchies, ethics of inclusion, charity and sharing. Teamwork and a flattered notion of "colaboration" have turned out as the key components of a renewed educational managerialism.
Do we, therefore, have to defend the institutions? Again, there is no point in lamenting about their partly dissolution. On the contrary: The necessary revaluation of pedagogical concepts and their faultlines also opens up potentials for new forms of unexpected collaborations between non-aligned initiatives in education, no matter whether they work inside or outside of institutions.
Therefore it is important to revaluate the concepts of both institutions and ekstitutions as i would suggest to name the networked environments, de-institutionalized and de-regulated spaces, such as free universities, night schools or proto-academies.
In-stitutions insist: they basically insist on the inequality between those who know and those who do not know. But they also insist that the unequal who has become equal will himself then drive the system that produces and reproduces inequality by reproducing the process of its reduction.
In-stitutions are based on the concept of limiting the transmission of knowledge, to manage the delay, to postpone equality. Ekstitutions or networked environments do the opposite: they promise to provide instant access to it.
Ek-stitutions exist: they exist based on temporality instead of infinite progress. But they are also based on a tempered ignorance towards inequality. It truly is less of a problem today to instantly get to know what i know that i need to know.
Consequentially the urgent question in ek-stitutions or networked environments seems to be the question of organizing. And the urgent question in institutional contexts that of unorganizing.
What seems increasingly interesting at the very moment is the fact that these two processes, in-stitutionalization and ek-stitutionalization, do not take place independently from each others but rather create dependencies: organizing and unorganizing, learning and unlearning are infiniteley intertwined and unseparately intermingled.
The experimental use of the metaphor of "unaligning" or "unaligned initiatives" during SUMMIT claimed a line of flight out of blockages that have appeared recently. It implies two fundamental challenges: First of all, to understand learning as struggling with inequality that cannot and will not be resolved but is preceded by an equality of intelligences. But also vice versa: to understand struggling as learning to deal with inequalities and differences.
The second challenge relates to the aporetic difficulty of teaching what we do not know as an emancipatory practice and emancipating what we know as a paedagogical practice.
These challenges urge us to rethink, re-inventand redo the relationships between institutions and ekstitutions. The might lead us to an "undoing" of subjectivities: becoming-other, at least something else than a teacher or a student...
For a concept of nonaligned learning it is essential to unlink the categories of knowledge and learning. "Learning is the apropriate name for the subjective acts carried out when one is confronted with the objecticity of a problem (Idea), whereas knowledge designates only the generality of concepts or the calm possession of a rule enabling solutions." Deleuze continues by saying, that learning always takes place in and through the unconscious. Sometimes one does not yet possess the kowledge or truth of a solution, one opens up to truth, producing the true but only to the extent to which one begins "to penetrate the coloured thickness of a problem".
In this respect knowledge circulates within the de-institutionalized and deregulated networks, whereas learning takes place rather independently from that. Learning is the true transcendental structure which unites difference to difference, dissimilarity to dissimilarity, without mediating between them - not in the form of a mythical past or former present, but in the pure form of an empty time in general.
In practical terms and in respect of the title of this symposium "Radically experimental?!" i would like to suggest three fields in which we need to do experiments:
1. Research and creative practices
There are numerous examples for pathbreaking experiments in combining new notions of research with the development of creative practices. Is it possible, on this basis, to formulate an approach that escapes the traditional dualism of theory and practice and suggests a progressive mode of producing knowledge: a mode that is informed by and invested in activist tactics of appropriation, disruption and refusal as well as artistic strategies of revaluation, creation, invention and productive anticipation?
I understand activism as an anticipatory project by considering things before they exist properly in time and by taking up developments that are not yet in place. It allows us to experiment with the possible and, at the same time, produce narrations that resonate in the present. It is anticipation in the most creative or productive sense and it needs to be discerned from reproductive anticipation as pure pre-emptiveness that works on the basis of a predictable and projected reproduction of the same.
From migration to new media, in the last instance the discourse of globalization is driven by imaginative powers which are capable of producing social fiction that shapes the present: the power to anticipate circumstances as if they were already given and hence they obtain their force to actualize what exists as a virtuality.
The ability of illegal bordercrossers to anticipate a world without borders constitutes their real threat to the current border regimes - because it questions the widely propagated idea of migration management – the paradigm of directing, filtering and selecting migratory fluxes in principal and not just on the basis of an individual case or by sheer numbers. Or, the capacity of peer-to-peer or filesharing networks to anticipate free and equal access to the sources of wealth in a knowledge economy which is the real basis of the superiority of peer-to-peer networking over traditional distribution systems.
What concerns me here is the drive to appropriate the right to make changes, the right to transform the protocols by which subjects take part in the culture of politics both locally and globally.
2. Collaboration versus participation
Facing the challenges of digital technologies, global communications, and networking environments, as well as the inherant ignorance of traditional systems towards these, new forms of "working together" have emerged as an unsystematic mode of collective learning processes. Such "collaborations" reach out way beyond what has been coined as "participatory turn": rather than pre-emptive strategies of inclusion it produces structures where knowledge grows exuberantly and proliferates in uncontrollable and unforeseeable ways.
Rather than through the exertion of the alleged generosity of a group made up of individuals in the pursuit of solidarity, collaboration works as a brusque and even ungenerous practice, where individuals rely on one another the more they chase their own interests, their mutual dependence arising through the pursuit of their own agendas. This entails an initial level of differentiation between cooperation and collaboration: in contrast to cooperation, collaboration is driven by complex realities rather than romantic notions of common grounds or commonality. It is an ambivalent process constituted by a set of paradoxical relationships between co-producers who affect one another.
Translating the concept of collaboration back to the context of education also points to a reverse-engineering of the teacher's role. Etymologically, in Greek and Latin "pedagogue" or "educator" means "drawing out" or "pulling out" and refers to an ancient Greek practice: a family slave called "pedagogue" used to walk the child from the private house to a place of learning. Rather than the teacher, who was supposed to have and transmit knowledge, the pedagogue was the person who accompanied the student to the place where the teacher imparted it.
This rather spatial notion of bringing somebody across a specific border evokes striking associations with human trafficking. The escape agent or "coyote" - as it is named at the US-Mexican border - supports undocumented border crossers who want to make it from one nation state to another without the demanded paperwork. Permanently on the move, only temporarily employed, nameless, anonymous and constantly changing faces and sides, the coyote is, in an ironic way, the perfect role-model for both education and collaboration. As a metaphor it serves the purpose of destabalising the idea of 'knowledge in movement' away from its always assumed progressive direction. Instead it allows for a certain degree of illegitimacy inherent in all forms of collaboration and distinguishes it from the always perfectly sanctioned and legitimate nature of cooperation. By extracting a principle of mobility and perceiving the lack of legitimacy as enabling as opposed to criminally inhuman and disabling, the 'coyote' who may or may not be motivated by self gain without ideological committment, produces a possibility whose parameters cannot be gaged.
The "coyote's" motivations remain unclear or, shall we say, do not matter at all. The "coyote" is the postmodern service provider par excellence. The fact that there is no trust whatsoever between those engaging in the transcation, does not actually play any part in the unfolding of its play. Here , we might say, conceptual insecurity overrides the financial aspects of the collaboration and triggers a redundancy of affects and perceptions, feelings and reactions. Those who do not need the coyote's support hunt and demonize it; those who rely on the coyote's secret knowledge and skills appreciate it all the more. The extreme polarities of these responses instantiate the range of the collaborative field and the impossibility of navigating it through moralising vectors.
Ultimately, collaboration with a coyote generates pure potential: ranging from the dream of a better life to the reality of pure living labour power ready to be over-exploited in the informal labour market. In this exchange nothing can be claimed for material existence, let alone possession, but neverthelss something very precious and entirely precarious comes into being: pure imagination, yet potentially powerful beyond measure.
3. Organizing and re-education of the self
Organizing means learning, and learning means organizing. Today it seems increasingly urgent to link the processes of informatization and informalization in knowledge-based economies on one hand, and on the other the constitution of new subjectivities as immaterial or affective labor force.
Organizing has a long tradition in the fight for social rights - and its power lies in the obvious: many can achieve what a single person cannot and the most well-known symbol for that power is the strike or civil disobedience. The power of organizing is based on the application of tactics and strategies that turn individual weakness into collective strength. If many are subject to the same conditions their forces can add up to more than the some of its parts.
But what can be done when those many share hardly any common ground to organize on? What to do when living and working conditions are not shared by a mass of people but start to be very differenciated, scattered and insecure, temporary and permanently changing?
Contemporary labour struggles suggest that even in deregulated environments organizing is an essential means of recognizing and multiplying the forces of those singled out and individuated. Rather than unity it creates multiplicity focusing on specific issues and spaces rather than identities, attacking well directed the weakest part of the chain and moving on while linking up and synergizing movements. We need to build on these experiences, create and promote concepts of organizing that take on deregulation and precarisation while actualizing different instances of social and labour movements, as separate lines in constant interplay with one another.
"Everything that teaches us something emits signs; every act of learning is an interpretation of signs or hieroglyphs. Proust's work is based not on the exposition of memory, but on the apprenticeship to signs." (Deleuze)
That is why it is so difficult to say how someone learns: there is an innate or acquired practical familiarity with signs, which means that there is something amorous - but also something fatal - about all education. We learn nothing from those who say: ‘Do as I do’. Our only teachers are those who tell us to ‘do with me’, and are able to emit signs to be developed in heterogeneity rather than propose gestures for us to reproduce.
In his famous film "Sans soleil" Chris Marker says: "I would have spent my life wondering about the function of memory, which is not the opposite of oblivion, but rather its other side. We remember nothing; we rewrite memory in the same way that we rewrite history"
Is it then possible that learning is not the opposite of ignorance but rather its other site: we learn nothing. We rewrite imagination in the same way that we rewrite future?
Florian Schneider, May 2008
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