Firstly, why Oedipus – why start this brief discussion with the notion of an old historical and mythological figure. Well, most if not all people are familiar with the elements of the Oedipus myth: an infant, born in to a prophecy that predicts that he will kill his father and marry his mother. Despite all efforts by the parents to ensure that that Oedipus avoids or circumvents his ‘fate’, Oedipus ultimately fulfils the Prophecy and succumbs to his fate. Much has been written about the Oedipus Myth, relating to its themes of Fate, agency, and of course Freud and Sexuality; but for the purposes of this discussion, I want to focus on the meaning of the name of the main character: that of OEDIPUS. Oedipus actually means or translates as “swollen foot”, and refers to an event in Oedipus’s infancy, where, to prevent him from crawling, and walking (and thereby thwarting his destiny), his birth parents pierced and bound his ankles together.
In this sense, the prophecy as prediction, becomes a powerful influence over Oedipus’s life. The prophecy – as PREDICTION – represents the speaking in to being of a future outcome. Karl Popper has some interesting things to say about Oedipus, and what he defines as the “Oedipus Effect”. Oedipus, and the Oedipus Effect, are powerful metaphors for control, ultimately leading to self-fulfilling prophecy. One of my arguments here, in relation to most – if not all – types of formal education, is that through the rigid binding, controlling and measurement of knowledge, we bind the ankles of learners subjected to these systems and frameworks. We produce and reinforce mechanisms that stifle and constrict knowledge and control the activities (and thought processes) of those subjected to them.
Sphinx: The Riddle of Discovery
In the various interpretations of the Oedipus myth, Oedipus, on his journey to recover and understand his heritage – and authentic identity – he is confronted by a Sphinx. As his journey is halted, Oedipus has to solve a riddle posed by the Sphinx, to get past the Sphinx, or, be killed. Thwarting all expectation, Oedipus solves the riddle, and defeats the Sphinx; therefore, Oedipus can continue is journey of discovery – of detection – to locate and understand exactly who he is. The Sphinx is a Chimera – a figure that is an amalgamation of various, strange and unrelated body parts. Mythologically, the Sphinx is often portrayed as a double headed beast. The notion of EDUCATION is also Chimerical in this sense. Education as a word, and a practice, is an amalgamation of two (often contradictory) foundational principles. ‘Education’ derives from two related though quite different terms; in one sense it is derived from the Latin word educare, which means to train or to mould; and, in another, to that of educere, which refers to the leading out of inner knowledge and creativity. As Craft states:
The former, in the tradition of Hobbes and Durkheim, have stressed social conformity, the reproduction of the type, and a curriculum emphasising instruction, obedience and the acquisition of knowledge. The latter, who represent the child-centred tradition, following Rousseau or Froebel, have preferred self-expression, individual curiosity and creativity, and a curriculum embodying choice. (Craft 1984, p. 9)
Bass and Good (2004) corroborate Crafts position and note that educare embodies an educational position that preserves and passes down knowledge, where youths are shaped, ‘in the image of their parents’. Whereas educere promotes alternative forms of educational practice, that set out to recognise and prepare new generations, ‘for the changes that are to come—readying them to create solutions to problems yet unknown. One calls for rote memorization and becoming good workers. The other requires questioning, thinking, and creating’ (Bass and Good 2004, p. 162).
It is the area of educere that I am interested in exploring in relation to pedagogy; essential I would like to explore some practical tactics, that allow us to explore and experiment with different ways of teaching and engaging learners.
In relation to the notion of ‘tactics’ here, Michel de Certeau’s work The Practice of Everyday Life (1984), is useful. De Certeau articulates the meaning of tactic by firstly establishing a counter definition for the notion of ‘strategy’. For de Certeau, strategy encompasses a set of processes and activities that enable those who rule and administer the parameters of a particular space to influence and, through the legislative power of policy, dominate it. Through mechanisms of regulation and governance a legally identified body (such as the university) establishes and promotes the types of actions and behaviour expected within that space. As de Certeau notes:
I call a strategy the calculation (or manipulation) of power relationships that becomes possible as soon as [an entity] with will and power (a business, an army, a city, a scientific institution) can be isolated. It postulates a place that can be delimited as its own and serve as the base from which relations with an exteriority composed of targets or threats (customers or competitors, enemies, the country surrounding the city, objectives and objects of research, etc.) can be managed. (de Certeau 1984, pp. 35–36)
In contrast, for de Certeau, the definition and subversive purpose of the tactic is quite different; it poses a direct challenge and micro political contradiction to strategy, and any associated expectations as penned and distributed by corporate strategists. As de Certeau notes:
The space of a tactic is the space of the other. Thus it must play on and with a terrain imposed on it and organized by the law of a foreign power. It does not have the means to keep to itself, at a distance, in a position of withdrawal, foresight, and self-collection: it is a manoeuvre “within the enemy’s field of vision,” … It operates in isolated actions, blow by blow. It takes advantage of “opportunities” and depends on them … In short, a tactic is an art of the weak. (de Certeau 1984, p. 37).
In sum, whilst individuals (both students and practitioners) are expected to conform to the flows and webs of strategic prescription, we can explore tactics that enable us to thwart structural and strategic pressures in their entirety. At the level of the individual, anti-conformist tactics can be conceived and creatively invoked so that performative expectations, determined by the policies and rules of the organisation can be implemented in manipulated ways. As such, recognising possibilities to ‘un-bine’ ankles, (and minds, and thoughts, and imaginations).
Bass, R. V., & Good, J. W. (2004). Educare and Educere: Is a Balance Possible in the Educational System? The Educational Forum, 68, 161-168.
Craft, M. (1984). Education for Diversity. In M. Craft (Ed.), Education and Cultural Pluralism (pp. 5-25). London: The Falmer Press.
de Certeau, M. (1984). The Practice of Everyday Life. (S. Randall, Trans.) Berkeley: University of California Press.
Hammond, C. A. (2017, April 28). Creativity, Organisational Democracy & Alternative Futures. Retrieved May 9, 2017, from http://www.esat-smythconsulting.co.uk/486-2/
Hammond, C. A. (2017). Machiavelli, Tactics and Utopia. In M. Daley, K. Orr, & J. Petrie (Eds.), The Principal: Power and Professionalism in FE. London: Trentham.
Craig A. Hammond is Programme Leader for Education Studies at Liverpool John Moores University; prior to moving to LJMU, Craig taught across further education and college based higher education (CBHE) for 18 years. From 2015 to 2017 Craig was the Research and Scholarship Leader at University Centre Blackburn College. In addition to writing and publishing, he teaches across a range of undergraduate and postgraduate programmes. Gaining is PhD in Sociology from Lancaster University in 2012, he gained recognition as a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (SFHEA) in 2015 for his college-based work on research and scholarship. His recent publications Hope, Utopia and Creativity in Higher Education: Pedagogical Tactics for Alternative Futures (Bloomsbury, 2018), and ‘Folds, Fractals and Bricolages for Hope: Some Conceptual and Pedagogical Tactics for a Creative Higher Education’ (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019), address and develop concepts and practices associated with democratic learning and radical creativity.
In addition to being one of the co-convenors of the BERA ‘Higher Education’ Special Interest Group, he is Deputy Editor for the education journal PRISM, an editor and event organiser with the Cultural Difference and Social Solidarity Network (CDSS), and Vice-Chair of the LJMU Centre for Educational Research Centre, along with coordinating the Critical Pedagogies research theme.
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