Friday, June 05, 2015


[§7 here.]

A great deal of pedagogical thinking, it seems to me, derives simply from this embarrassment about “academic” authority. It is almost as though teachers, and the pedagogues who think about what they should be doing, are against the very idea of school. I think that part of the problem lies in our having forgotten that school implies leisure. (”Greek scholastes meant ‘one who lives at ease.’”) Perhaps this is not something we have forgotten, but something we have repressed out of shame. When Bourdieu reminds us of it, he seems to mean it almost like a jab at the serious pretensions of “homo academicus”. Austin, he says,
does not realize that what makes possible this view which is indifferent to context and practical ends, this distant and distinctive relation to words and things, is nothing other than skholè. This time liberated from practical occupations and preoccupations, of which the school organizes a privileged form, studious leisure, is the precondition for scholastic exercises and activities removed from immediate necessity, such as sport, play, the production and contemplation of works of art and all forms of gratuitous speculation with no other end than themselves. (Bourdieu 2000: 13)
But thinking of school as a leisure activity can also be a positive spin on the “disinterestedness” of academic experience. It means merely that school learning occurs under conditions of freedom.

(242 words, including large block quote)
[Note: this post is part of an ongoing project described here. I'll be offering some meta-reflections on this project over at Jonathan Mayhew's blog, Stupid Motivational Tricks.]


Presskorn said...

This paragraph misrepresents the relation between Bourdieu's and Austin's viewpoints. In specific, it is most naturally read as stating that Austin was (or is) the target of Bourdieu's jab at "homo academicus". In fact, Austin is his ally. What Bourdieu points out, in affirming Austin's viewpoint, is that the Austin's skepticism of scholasticism could be supplemented by an account of the specifically social conditions of scholasticism. Here's Austin on skhole:

"I say 'scholastic', but I might just as well have said 'philosophical'; over-simplification, schematization, and constant obsessive repetition of the same small range of jejune 'examples' are not only not peculiar to this case, but far too common to be dismissed as an occasional weakness of philosophers." (Sense and Sensibilia, p. 4)

Thomas said...

Interesting, thanks. When I planned the paragraph I had a vague memory of Bourdieu's point, and the truth is that I was surprised to find that quoting him would require me to mention also Austin. I looks like I need to to put in something like, "Austin, who also took a dim view of the "scholastic" attitude,..."

Andrew Gelman said...


I wonder whether "against the very idea of school" has a political dimension. People on the left can oppose school because much of it involves submitting to authority, and also school (especially higher education) is traditionally for the upper class. People on the right can oppose school because teachers represent a bit of organized leftism (school teachers in the U.S. are organized into powerful labor unions, and university teachers are mostly on the left and supply intellectual firepower for the left) and also because the school curriculum is vaguely liberal (in the U.S. sense) in that it tends to promote liberal values such as tolerance, sharing, environmentalism, etc.

The above paragraph is not so coherent and I'm sure you can find lots of exceptions, but I think there's something there.

Hmm, this one's worth its own blog post...

Thomas said...

I think the anti-school attitudes among educational researchers and composition instructors is mostly aimed at the "authority" side, which your model predicts because, especially in those fields, we're talking about a quite left-leaning population. On the right, the anti-school argument is less about the "the very idea" but more about the "current state" of things. I guess that's always what it means to be "conservative". It's because "the liberals" have "destroyed the university" that schools are no longer places of learning. That said, there are of course libertarians and home-schoolers who would argue that the very idea of a place you go to be told what the truth is is repressive.

Yes, do write that blog post, Andrew!