How I work

The idea of approaching education from its outside – and yes, there is something like education that can be addressed from different positions and thus explained according to other ways of perceiving school activity –  arose when proceeding from studying analytical philosophy to undertake studies in philosophy of education. These new surroundings provided my very first real encounter with the assertions of pedagogues.

From my time as a student of analytical philosophy, I was quite accustomed to the strictness and high demand for strong arguments characterizing a tradition always concerned with justified beliefs. So when later entering the field of Pedagogique, where “no questions are asked”, I faced the effects of the environment that brought me to expect this stringency from every scientific discipline. You might say that a “work related injury” made me constantly ask questions to which no answer was ever thought of. Education is good, knowledge is assessable, learning is emancipating and so on… thatand nothing else is the truth.

However, between an education in analytical philosophy and one of philosophy of education a few courses in anthropology and ethnology most fortunately happened to squeeze in. Introducing the concept of ritual as a kind of transformer and stabilizer of social relations, I was inspired to look at our “modern” society as constituted according to the same mechanisms as so called, “primitive” societies.

After my eureka moment at the Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies (ToRS) decided to depart from complete symmetry dismissing the existence of any qualitative difference between how one or the other social collective takes form. Hereafter, neither justified beliefs nor pedagogical assertions were considered by me as matters of truth, they could only be matters of ritual. Basing any approach to a subject – that be knowledge assessment or the development of entrepreneurial spirits – on complete symmetry left little room for anticipating rational or irrational behavior and so on while these categories, like many categories, are produced by ritual and part of the logoipertaining to the performances that occurs with it.

Looking to a principle of symmetry is not every anthropologist business. The principle should therefore not be taken to count for all of anthropological research. For example, it is quite common to find anthropologist escape the principle of symmetry by comparing other collectives to their own, judging their activities to be as rational as the western ones and thereby making everyone modern (presented in the image of us). I think this is the case with much of today’s established anthropology of education. But a more crucial reason for establishing a new branch of anthropology, is the lack of self awareness that causes anthropology to refrain from describing the modern society from the outside, that’s is by same approach as we describe foreign cultures. Anthropologists are all too loyal to the modern norms and values. 

Representing this the ”loyal course of investigation”, someone by the name of Catherine Pélissier (not familiar to me but still an anthropologist out there) closes in on the subject assuming the existence of “flexible individuals capable of teaching and learning”. In her article from 1991 (Annu. Rev. Anthropol. 1991. 20:75-95) Pélissier claims that “Learning and teaching are fundamental, implicitly or explicitly, to human adaptation, socialization, culture change, and, at the broadest level, the production and reproduction of culture and society.” and even that “teaching and learning – the social processes involved in constructing, acquiring, and transforming knowledge – lie at the heart of anthropology.”

If you consider the claims mentioned above, what Pélissier means by “teaching and learning” is not initiation via ritual in any neutral (descriptive) sense. Instead the sentence refers back to the pedagogical myths themselves, holding that education is emancipation through the development of reason and/or of knowledge and this is exactly how teaching and learning are approached (taken for granted) by anthropologists of education. I wish to change that. Instead of solving problems pertaining to the idea of the necessity of schooling (or education), I will investigate how school is constituted and maintained as a modern ritual and dwell on the consequences of our faith in education. What thoughts and actions underlie this institution and makes it endure during the pressure of time. This is the approach I call Anthropology of Education and Research.


Anthropologists sensitive to the principle of symmetry, such as Mary Douglas and Roy Rappaport.

Ethnologues of the kind that philosophers name critics of culture are often approach as leftists, Marxists and other bad things. To me they will be resources of great importance for understanding the place of school in modern our society. These sharp critics, and especially Luc Boltanski and Robert Pfaller, have great insight into the workings of ideology on the body and mind of modern man&woman.

Researchers with an interest in what constitutes the mysterious Social but still not “really” anthropologists, such as Bruno Latour, has noticed the above mentioned lack of self awareness when it comes to own familiar anticipations that takes for granted the existence of smart and stupid, scientific and non-scientific, as according to western measures and as the precondition for welfare (growth).
Other researchers that has touched upon the development of modern dichotomies and their durability, among these Philippe Aries and Theodor Porter and a good deal more, are welcomed resources.

Actual research:
During 2011-2014 I undertook the task of “explaining” what went on when entrepreneurship was transformed and made into pedagogical entrepreneurship, as part of a process of introducing entrepreneurship in the educational system of Sweden.

Using ritual theory as a mean of understanding the process, I followed the concept “entrepreneurship” in its change from being a matter out of place, to being a matter of concern and finally a matter of fact

Though the product of the institutionalized work (performed by the government, The National Agency for Education and research faculties) invested in the transformation was what is known to us as “pedagogical entrepreneurship”, appears as an evident solution to the problem of living in a time of change, a great deal of ambivalence is involved in stabilizing this new concept.

Now it may seem paradoxical that ambivalence is what constitutes pedagogical entrepreneurship, but seen in the light of ritual theory it is only “normal” to reach stability through a process that creates ambivalence. From ambiguity (where it is impossible to straighten out a situation or to categorize a thing), a certain balance can be attained. We are dealing with a form of tension that place us in a performative “limbo”.

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3 kommentarer

  1. Nice quotes from Pélissier 🙂 But is Rappaport really a ”symmetrical” anthropologist? I thought that some violence was needed to push him into that box.

    Regarding entrepreneurship, have you seen the following:
    John Cutris Gowan, The development of the creative invididual (1972)
    Max Werthheimer, Productive Thinking (1945)

    Perhaps useful for understanding the prehistory of this ”paradigm” of the entrepreneurial.

  2. John Cutris Gowan, The development of the creative invididual (1972)
    Max Werthheimer, Productive Thinking (1945) are not these psychologists? I believe that they not represent a pedagogical way of reasoning, but rather one of cognitive science.

    Your are right about Rappaport. He does not hold the position of complete symmetry. Actually his whole critique of modern society is bound by the idea that modern culture has left rituals behind. He seems to be blind to the fact that his concept of ritual fits to describe a lot of modern practices and thus is a brilliant tool for analyzing areas such as school.

  3. Yes they are psychologists. It is Andreas Reckwitz who brings together all this different strands in the emergence of what he calls the ”creativity dispositif” a la Foucault.

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