related to these questions are musings about this developing theory of education and other explorations

From Portia Sabin - when is education?:

PS: "When is içnteraction NOT education?"  I personally don't  really have a problem suggesting that all interaction is education,  or at least educative, but it would be worth it to have that  discussion. 


HV: I am sure we do not want to be caught sorting out interactional chunks and identifying some as "educative" and some as "not." We are thus we (at least) two arguments to make, one that might produce what I don't want but is still worth making for pedagogical reasons when explaining our position, and possibly as guide for research. The second is more principled but may be critized as overly general.

  1. There is a difference between someone saying to a child "Please" and someone saying to the same child "Say Please." Saying "Please" may get the child to imitate without any deliberation and to say "please" in his turn. Such situations must be what all enculturation (and many versions of learning) theories model. Saying "Say Please"--which is a form of metapragmatic speech about the pragmatics of interaction--since, as a command to change one's behavior, analyzing the statement in its situation opens all the major questions about authority, power, hegemony, resistance, and thus "effort" and "deliberation" by all involved. Part of our research agenda is to look for such moments not only in themselves, but also in the longer sequences within which the actual sequence is embedded. Arguably, saying "say please" is the product of an analysis which must itself be educational. In ethnomedological vocabulary, one would say that instructional sequences are always available. In our sense education is something that remains continually activated.
  2. This can take us to the general sense. Our focus on education is an approach to social interaction that takes seriously the culturing of humanity. This justifies our refusal to identify certain interactions as educational and some not, for the same reason that we would not want to distinguish what is cultural and what is not cultural in humanity. But, arguably, most theories of culture did not provice a clear mechanism for, precisely, the culturing of the biological, ecological, social, roots of all behavior: where does arbitrariness in speech, customs, etc., comes from? Why is it that established patterns never reproduce themselves for long? Most theories of culture change emphasize external inputs. We are exploring the possibility that culture change is an inevitable product of culture in so far as what culture produces never fully makes sense. It has always to trigger questioning both by the oldtimers and the new timers and thus mutual efforts both to maintain, including the maintenance of particular forms of change (e.g. the smooth transition into positions of greater authority), and to transform what was. In Bourdieu's terms, transformed, the arbitrary imposition of a cultural arbitrary must produce new forms of cultural arbitrariness that are themselves arbitrary to the logic of the earlier arbitrary. As historical linguists have know for a long time, any particular linguistic pattern, even when defended by the strongest institutions, will lead to unpredictable new patterns. Just ask the Academie Française! Thus education as the doomed effort to maintain, and the probably equally doomed effor radically to transform!


From Portia Sabin - and what about "accumulated knowledge"?:

PS: The question I am concerned with is the one that came up  in my discussion with R. S.: he thinks that what  ethnomethodologists perpetually ignore is, basically, "accumulated  knowledge", or what people "know" from doing something before.  My  own reaction to this is that because every new time someone performs  an action -- even as simple as a greeting, just as they've done a  thousand times before -- there is still the potential for trouble,  and thus each instance must be seen as an instance of education or  instruction about the particular social situation.  However, this  doesn't appear to wash with him, and he insists that a surgeon  performing heart surgery must be relying mainly on what he or she  "knows" about performing heart surgery in order to successfully  accomplish the task.  Anyway, I was hoping you'd have some words of  wisdom about this issue, as I see that I'm going to have to deal with  it.


HV: I find this relatively easy. There is no reason to deny the reality of "accumulated knowledge," and the location of this knowledge in the heads (bodies) of biological entities (including individual human beings). There is no reason to challenge either the field of cognitive studies, or the field of psychological anthropology narrowly defined, as dealing with something real. Our point is that the relevance of any personal knowledge to the unfolding of a situation is not something that the person, however powerful, can control. We are concerned with the production of new knowledge and the making obsolete of older forms of knowledge. We are concerned with the interactional, political, thus educational, processes that control knowledge, the moments of its relevance--as well of course with all the processes that erase knowledge, etc. Thus we are concerned with the production of heart surgery as a field of knowledge, the organization of the schools of medicine where heart surgeons are trained, the familial and peer processes that make it more or less difficult for certain persons to become surgeons, as well as the multiple processes that establish the legitimacy of heart surgery as a way of dealing with various uncertainties in the working of the heart (after all surgery is only one of the way of dealing with heart disease). Given the complexity of these processes, and the multiplicity of the people involved, we can be sure that noone knows everything that needs to be known for an actual surgical act to be performed. Heart surgery is a team effort best approached in the terms of "distributed cognition" which brings us back not only to social interaction, but also to the arbitrariness that requires a theory of culture and thus a theory of education.


A conversation with Maureen Matarese

Professor Varenne, Hi there. I have a quick question for you. In class you said that "the poor should be given their consciousess"--that Culture of Poverty arguments (like Freire) make the claim that the poor are in some way without the necessary skills, consciousness, awareness that would allow them to fully participate--have increased social mobility, etc. How do you resolve this with the "ignorance" theory that you use in your later work? I understand that everyone is in some way ignorant, but then wouldn't this mean that some people are ignorant in ways that others are not--which means that some could be taught to be aware of what they take for granted (conscientization)--like meta-awareness? If so--then how is this different from what Freire did?


> "the poor should be given their consciousess"

Of course, this is not the way to write it: it should go something like
"it should always be assumed that the poor are conscious" (consciousness
cannot be "given")

> "wouldn't this mean that some people are ignorant in ways that others are not"

This is plausible.

> "which means that some could be taught to be aware of what they take for granted"

this does not follow.  The danger for social scientists is that they take for granted that which they need to know about the poor.  The difficulty is to translate the forms of consciousness in use among the poor into our own language so that we can learn something we did not know.  This may or may not be what Freire wanted to do.  My problem is that so many of those who quote him forget how difficult it is actually to learn from the poor (or even from oneself when not wearing the scientific mask).  I suspect it is particularly difficult to do if one has set up the institution within which one is meeting the poor.

Thus of course the need for extremely careful ethnography...

Question: but so how can one both assume that the poor (or anyone) are always conscious and at also always ignorant?

These are two separate, though linked, postulates ("statements accepted as true for the purposes of scientific investigation") that I find more useful in guiding anthropological research than the alternate postulates (that the poor are always unconscious [of the conditions of their lives], and that they are always knowledgeable [of "their" culture]).

The first postulate leads to notice what probably classifies as everyday  "metapragmatic" speech (e.g. Garfinkel's Helen saying "Stay away from my kitchen!")

The second postulate leads to notice the everyday seeking or discovering activity of people dealing with an accountable ignorance (absence) (e.g. Tracy Johnson's Hmong girls wondering "how to say 'I' in Thai).

It has to be the case that I do not know most of what there is to know (which is actually not a closed set).  I probably do not know much of what someone who claims he knows what I should know (but obviously, to him, I do not know) does know.  But what difference does it make that I do not know that?  None whatsoever -- unless this person is placed in the position to evaluate me in the terms he knows I should know but do not know.  This is Ranciere's argument against Plato (and all schooling and such programs).  The trick for me as anthropologist is to notice what someone knows that I do not know, and indeed that I did not know was knowable.  It gets even trickier to get to know what I did not know was knowable when the forms of knowledge are not the ones that I may use.