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A pedagogy of the depressed


In chapter 6, I explored pedagogy as an act of democratization, as a process of continuous translation making a plural world that connects over difference, not into a unified whole but as expressions of a variation of what also can be called publics and counter-publics, that is, plural democracy. I was also reading culture in a particular way, insisting with Bauman (1999b) that culture is praxis, how we act in our societies over time, and not a product to be handed over from one generation to the next. A culture, one can say, is in a constant mode of translation, therefore always making the world, or rather worlds anew. A pedagogy of translation, I suggested, is neither exclusive or inclusive, but rather works as a reminder of polyvalence and therefore always interrupts attempts to close down pluralism and change.

Such a pedagogy is therefore always critical, but in ways that do not strive to overcome the plurality of social worlds rather embrace such worlds and cultures. It intervenes in all forms of totalitarianism, and plants ambiguity and doubt into totalitarian discourses. It strives to open the conversation for one more round, for one more language, as Richard Rorty (1980) said, in which hermeneutics is inversed: “the attempt to reinterpret our familiar surroundings in the unfamiliar terms of our new inventions” (p. 360).

In this chapter, I explore the possibility of a critical stance within theory and practice, without falling into the trap of the idea that education equals reproduction, rather exploring education as interruption (Biesta, 2014). Education interrupts any power aiming to establish absoluteness, totality and oneness (for example, as in the people as one).

Since education historically is so closely linked to modern ideas of progress and a time of modernity, it seems as if education and pedagogy will have nothing to contribute within a situation in which the Anthropocene is no longer an abstract conception but a living reality. We live in a time in which the song “No Future” by punk group the Sex Pistols is no longer only about generational angst (if it ever was), but rather seems prophetic for the totality of humanity as such. 1 will therefore critically explore the idea of future and therole such an idea has in educational thought more generally, and particularly critically explore instrumentalism in education since instrumentalism is dependent on a certain understanding of the future (Nordmark, 2015). As a final section, I will discuss teaching without such an understanding of the conception of future.

“No Future”

In responding to a question following my keynote address at the 2017 European Conference on Educational Research in Copenhagen, I suddenly saw that the concept of oppression did not work as an explanation of how teachers were affected by the political strategy of public shaming and blaming (Safstróm, 2018a). That is, I think, because the oppressed can be liberated. There is in such a project an idea of a future better than the one currently lived in. There is hope. However, what if the idea of future is dead (Berardi, 2017); if the future is questionable to its core, not only as a reality defined by capitalistic value production, as Berardi says, but as questionable in its totality if the future is impotent in giving any metaphysical comfort to the powerless?

What if - and this is how I understood situation of the teachers I was referring to — the teachers were not oppressed by the increasing powerlessness they experienced and the loss of professionalism in the eyes of the public as well as in their own eyes? If they did not identify the increasingly harsh pressure of neoliberal education set in motion on a large scale by state powers as oppression, and consequently did not express a hope for a better future? What if what they displayed was only their severely depressed state of mind?

The attack on education, as I called it in my address as well as in my response, was so overbearing, so definitive in its totality, that it seemed to have sucked the air out of any hope for any possible future at all. The teachers I talked to could not be saved, not be liberated, not only because there was no hope, but because it seemed as if hope had no function for them, as if there was no possible future better than the one they were currently living. Hope could not give any consolation for their situation or motivation to act because there was no plain meaning of what that word would entail.

The power of neoliberal hegemony, then, seems to produce depression and impotence, as Berardi (2017) says, on a large scale. Also, for those teachers I talked to, hope seemed to jump over the reality of the everydayness of despair, and in that jump to deny the reality of living life in the now. In Swedish, this is even more clear, since hope (hopp in Swedish) means to jump, and here can be understood as to jump ahead of oneself, which means to lose oneself for a future beyond the present despair. It seemed as if hope, rather than motivating anything, was feeding the instrumentalism of politics: hope in neoliberal society becoming the very sign of an endless deferring end, legitimating whatever means there is to increase the strength of a market logic, but otherwise leaving the present empty'.

Since then, I have been wondering if what we need today is a pedagogy of the depressed, as a response to the neoliberal Uber project. So in the following I will take that seriously and discuss what such a pedagogy could look like, despite repeated claims from colleagues of the need for an affirmative pedagogy — which I have nothing against, but which I find too cheerful for our depressing times (more a matter of taste than a strong argument against). I do agree, though, that we need another language of critique for the current situation of post-politics, as Chantal Mouffe (2005) has named it. And that goes for education as well.

I want to suggest that, even if hope may not function as well as it once did in pedagogy, it may be existentially important, maybe even necessary; but also that the concept of hope in educational theory' is in desperate need of being paired, or contrasted, with commitment. A commitment to the publicness of education and democracy in the present, while hoping for something better to come, may or may not be valuable at the end of the day. At least that is what I will both assume and argue for in the following.

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