Student activity exploring relation view of power

Background

On #rhizo14 today, @teachnorthern asked for permission (not actually needed) to use the post http://francesbell.wordpress.com/2014/01/26/dimensions-of-power-knowledge-and-rhizomatic-thinking/  with teacher training students.  I agreed and offered her a student activity that I had used over several years with Masters students who were starting to look at theories of power and how they might be applied in practice.

I offered to share this with her so thought I would publish it here.  If you want to use this sheet (feel free to adapt) , you may wish to remove the text in square brackets []

In-class exercise –Power Lecture

  1. Vote on statements – agree or disagree
  • Students have power over teachers
  • Teachers have power over students

[I asked them for examples after a short period to discuss amongst themselves .  They could think of lots of examples of the second (many relating to Turnitin) but the first one was more challenging.]

2. Read extract below.

3. Discuss with your neighbour

  • Value of relational view of power in understanding scenario below
  • ONE good example of relational nature of power

4. Be prepared to share with class

Example from Frances Bell’s Blog

What I meant by seeing power as relational was that:

  • rather than describing power relations between A and B (I was thinking people here) as A has power over B
  • we could describe these relations by saying how each of A and B affect and are affected by the (power) relations between them

(Health warning; although I was once a secondary school Maths teacher, my experience is a little out of date)

So for example with students and teachers in a hypothetical class

T(eacher) instructs students that Pi = 3.142 when teaching a class on finding the area of a circle.
S(tudent )1 accepts that and uses that value in his calculation. He accepts the knowledge of Pi from the teacher without question
S2 spends a little time researching Pi and discovers that 3.142 is an approximation. In her homework answers, she explains why she has chosen to use a value of Pi to 10 decimal places, whilst still recognising that her answer is still an approximation, but a better one than she would have achieved by using 3.142.

Scenario A
T gives slightly higher mark to S1 than S2. S1 and S2 compare notes, and both decide that T has missed an opportunity to share something interesting with the class. T goes down in estimation of S1 and S2, who are getting confirmed in their view that school maths is pretty boring. S2 thinks that she won’t bother to research around the subject in future but use her internet skills for learning about stuff within her control.

Scenario B
T gives top marks to S1 and S2, and uses the opportunity to highlight S2’s research to the class, going on to talk about the provisional nature of knowledge, the value of estimation (depending on context of problem) and the opportunity for students to challenge working assumptions. All students have opportunity to extend on basic knowledge from instruction, they see resourceful behaviour being recognised, and S2’s work is validate by T, as well as being enjoyable in its own right. T is seen (by some students at least) as someone who recognises that knowledge is open to question, and is not threatened by challenges from students.

A relational view of power would go beyond the question:
In which scenario does T have more power over the students?
The question wouldn’t really make sense. A better question might be:
In which scenario do students have more effective agency? If student goals were passing standard tests, the answer might be Scenario A. If student goals were learning and having fun, then maybe B.
It’s pretty complicated thinking about knowledge, power, agency and context, and for these scenarios the important power relations may go way beyond the classroom context – institution, parents, government, etc.

[We would finish with a discussion of whether the scenarios resonated with them and what difference this might make to their learning]

Resources

http://francesbell.wordpress.com/2014/01/26/dimensions-of-power-knowledge-and-rhizomatic-thinking/

 

http://stevenlukes.net/

 

http://stevenlukes.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/2-power-for-encyclopedia.pdf

 

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Frances Bell’s Blog by Frances Bell is licensed under aCreative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at www.francesbell.wordpress.com.


Dimensions of power, knowledge and rhizomatic thinking

My first thought when I hear the word power is of an individual exerting power over another – getting them to do something or stop doing something (possibly by raising a physical or verbal fist). But I am guessing that’s not going to be enough in rhizomatic thinking where we are thinking about the connections and the rhizome.  My reading of De Leuze and Guattari has not so far rendered me able to use only their ideas so I have turned to some other ideas of power that I found useful in the past.  Masters students who were studying the implementation of information systems would get stuck in solely technological explanations of why an information system was deemed to have succeeded. Looking at Lukes’ different dimensions of power helped them and me explore the politics and human relations in ‘success’ and ‘failure’. I have linked to Lukes writing at the end if you are interested to read it and correct my interpretation.  There are four but I am too tired to look at Foucault.

A one-dimensional view of power is when one agent (an individual or an institution) prevails over another.  This may be through the rules of the game, for example where a teacher sets rules for a piece of assessed work. Alternatively the agent may prevail through threats or rewards, for example the disciplining of students who plagiarise, or the award of a prize.  This view of power shows us teachers and students potentially in conflict with each other but it can be a good starting point to challenge that view, as Dave encouraged us in Week 1. As Jollyroger says “playing with subversion in this manner seems a very interesting way of dismantling limiting structures of power that condition learning”.

A two-dimensional view of power sees power as exercised not through observable conflict but rather through control of the agenda.  Teachers can do this by being prescriptive about what is or is not to be discussed within the course. I have a memory from primary school (K-12) of the teacher saying to a very bright student – “Not another red herring”. So in the rhizomatic learning that is the subject of our MOOC, we could be influenced by what Dave puts in the P2PU space or by agents who promote or suppress topics. This has significant implications for the ‘community is the curriculum’ – the curriculum can become a site of struggle within the community.  I would find it too clumsy to draw on specific examples here from #rhizo14 but would be interested if you could recognise this in your own practice here. In my case, I have been bleating all over the place about not restricting our considerations to formal educational settings but to also think about informal learning.

A three-dimensional view of power demonstrates that the conflict may remain covert or as a potential.  An agent may prevail over another because the second agent (possibly unconsciously) is influenced by the will of the first.  My understanding of this view of power expanded rapidly during #rhizo14 in Week 2.  I had shared my wish to use the experience of this MOOC to enhance my understanding of De Leuze and Guattari’s theory, and Cath Ellis had posted an excellent post with a plea to engage with rhizomatic theory and some eminently practical advice on how to do that. And then… in the Facebook group Maddie posted a heartfelt message about how all this stuff about theory felt to her, and she describes it here. This was quite a turning point on #rhizo14 for me.  I responded in an attempt (that probably failed) to be more inclusive and thought very carefully about my contributions, previously and subsequently. Once I resisted the idea “well she can’t mean me – I don’t want to tell anyone they have to study theory” I began to move forward and realise that, regardless of my intention, I might have influenced others about what this MOOC was about by what I had said.  Of course it’s not as simple as that and agency works both ways in a three-dimensional view of power.  I have found Emily Purser’s posts on FB and her blog to be very revealing in helping me understand a bit more about the messy rhizome that is #rhizo14.  She said on FB ” I just keep telling myself that meaning is never in the text, it’s in the reading – and that’s something we actually do have enormous power over, if we see it that way.. that seems to be what I’ve got from a couple of decades reading ‘theory’ in conversation with good people, and I find that perspective a real gift in those frequent times of uncomfortable confrontation with power that I feel on the underside of”. So the reader and the writer have power and responsibility, and I think they are being exercised with good will and humanity on #rhizo14 but we have no room for complacency – it’s hard work.

It’s not pragmatists 1 – theorists 0 – it’s game on.  As Jenny Mackness said today,

screen-shot-2014-01-26-at-18-40-37

Lastly, what I am dimly grasping about rhizomatic thinking is that it encourages connections between people with different ‘knowledge’.  This paper includes an explanation of a project in post-apartheid South Africa that tries to effect learning in people with different ‘knowledges’ “. Service-learning in South Africa can crucially contribute to the deconstruction of Western thought and the transformation of both indigenous knowledge and western knowledge.”

Can we accommodate different ‘knowledges’ on #rhizo14?

Postscript

If you want read the original writing about dimesnions of power http://stevenlukes.net/ is a good place to start and especially

http://stevenlukes.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/2-power-for-encyclopedia.pdf

A political joke from Steven Lukes


Five citizens of the Reich were sitting in a railway waiting room.  One of them sighed, another clasped his head in his hands, the third one groaned loudly and the fourth sat with tears streaming down his face.

The fifth one looked at them, and shook his head.

‘Be careful , gentlemen.  It’s not wise to discuss politics in public.’

Lukes, Steven; Galnoor, Itzhak; illustrations by Michael Heath. (1986) pdf_iconNo Laughing Matter: A Collection of Political Jokes. Routledge Kegan & Paul.

In our ALT-C 2011 symposium last week I referred to Lukes’ 1,2 and 3 dimensional views of power and whilst reading more by him, came across his wonderful gift of a book of political jokes (see link in caption above).  This joke (that I told in our session) neatly demonstrates “the third dimension of such power, where the power consists, not in prevailing over the opposition of others, nor in imposing an agenda on them, but in influencing their desires, beliefs and judgments in ways that work against their interests.” (Steven Lukes with Clarissa Hayward) ‘Nobody to shoot? Power, structure, and agency: A dialogue‘ Journal of Power, Vol. 1, No. 1, April 2008, pp. 5–20

My contention in my contribution to our symposium was that it’s really important to keep asking the awkward and uncomfortable questions, resisting the third dimension of power. In my Twitter stream I have come across Jennifer Jones’ fascinating narrative of her engagement with seminars about the Olympics, see her blog post and Twitter stream.  To me, this is a classic case of resistance to the third dimension of power.  This blog post, and more importantly the joke above, are offered in your honour Jennifer.

Let’s all keep asking the questions.

What can’t we say? What don’t we say?

Year Two, Day 52: Some secrets are worth keeping
At our ALT-C 2011 Symposium tomorrow The Paradox of Openness: The High Costs of Giving Josie Fraser, Helen Keegan Richard Hall and I will speak briefly about different aspects of openness and online in relation to education and learning, in order to open up discussion amongst participants.  We are also keen to extend dialogue beyond the conference and over time.

One of my interests in being involved in this symposium is that I suspect that there are questions that are not being asked about openness online.  I am keen to explore what openness means and what we can’t or don’t ask about online sharing and communicating.  18 years ago, when I first started thinking about processes of enquiry in relation to information technology, I came across the idea that surfacing assumptions could be useful.  I was intrigued by the idea that  what we thought and talked about could be constrained by things that we took for granted to the extent that we were neither aware of them or discussed them.

Today, I was at pre-ALTC 2011 Conference workshop that was timed to coincide with the launch of Technology Outlook: UK Tertiary Education 2011-2016the first report in a new series of NMC Horizon Report Regional Analyses.  One thing I will carry from that workshop to our symposium was part of the definition of ‘open content’ as something that embraces not only the sharing of information, but also the sharing of pedagogies and experiences.

Tomorrow, I’ll be using some ideas from Steven Lukes well-established work on 1,2 and 3 dimensional views of power to help think about examples of the exercise of power in online ‘openness’. I’ll report back on the outcome and continue the discussion here.