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Oui!Learn Politics of Pedagogy 2019-02-04T13:03:12+00:00

Oui!Learn, Politics of Friendship and the Politics of Pedagogy

Philia and Paideia: Education, Democracy and Friendship


The contention explored here is whether and how Jacques Derrida’s book, Politics of Friendship [1], can, directly or indirectly, be of value in negotiating and re-negotiating both the ‘ethics of pedagogy’ and the ‘politics of pedagogy’, and, by way of a supplementarily benefit, help us to develop a greater understanding of the relationship between ethics and politics in the context of higher education (in the UK, in Europe, in the West, in the global North, along with the metonymic and antonymic associations these names carry) and, within higher education, of the relationship between ethics and politics in design education (‘design’ broadly conceived, from the design of artefacts, through the design of environments, to the design of communications, although not so broad as to conceive of all academic disciplines as (sub-)disciplines of ‘design’).

This exploration assumes three contexts or horizons:

  1. the politics of design pedagogies specifically, understood as, firstly, the design curriculum within higher education, secondly, the pedagogies which designed artefacts and environments carry with them into the world, thirdly, the higher education institution itself as designed, as well as, fourthly, the torsions that this double sense creates – design education taking place within a designed institution within a designed (and ‘managed’, management itself now understood as a ‘design’ discipline) world, but which yet do not form a ‘totalitarian’ whole;

2. the notion of students as partners (potential co-creators of knowledge), in the context of discussions of the power relationships inherent in pedagogy, including discussions of the adequacy of notions of love and friendship (philia) in the context of the pedagogic relation (paideia) and the pedagogic community and discussions of whether strategies to equalise those relationships lead to what might be called pedagogic justice, in contrast to normalisation to various pedagogic injustices; and

3. the notion of the learning environment as extending beyond the conventionally defined places of learning, such as the classroom, the lecture theatre, the seminar room, the studio and the laboratory, to include the wider world beyond the educational institution, with a special emphasis on the ‘academic library’ and ‘the book’ as hinge for the learner between ‘word’ and ‘world’, between ‘idealisation’ and ‘materialisation’, as modes of ‘realisation’ [2].

Needless, to say, to develop this understanding of the academic library, both ‘library’ and ‘book’ themselves undergo a conceptual and contextual reconfiguration and transformation. For example, both ‘library’ and ‘book’ are conceived under the Derridean notion of ‘writing’, which is irreducible to presence, rather than as a totalising presence: any ‘book’ is always part of a ‘library’, a set or a network of ‘books’ or of written artefacts more generally, the library itself part of a network of libraries, al of which (networks of books in networks of libraries) are themselves part of ‘language’, itself a part of a field of ‘languages’, themselves part of a network of inter-related worlds. [3]

In short, the ‘book’ and the ‘library’ are understood as part of the problem of ‘language’ and especially the problem of the relationship between ‘language’ and ‘world’, a problematic going all the way back to the Greek word logos, which runs through our contemporary language practices. The ‘library’ and the ‘book’ have to be rethought not only as non-phonetic (inscription of spoken language) but also as non-substantive: “If the nonphonetic moment menaces the history and the life of the spirit as self-presence in the breath, it is because it menaces substantiality, that other metaphysical name of presence and of ousia.” (Derrida, 1976: 27)

All three contexts, that is, design pedagogies, pedagogic partnerships and the library/book network as word/world network, through their emphasis on relationality and the constitution of the ‘subject’ in intersubjectivity and intercorporeality, can be enriched, it is contended, by discussions of friendship and democracy, as means of understanding justice and equality, in situations that might otherwise simply be viewed as the expression, transmission and reproduction of unequal power relations.

Such topics, as may be recognised, are at the core of the Oui!Learn approach to pedagogy and (higher) education, understood as a public good rather than as part of a system of elite social reproduction.

To be continued …


[1] This conjunction arose, in part, from Allan (Parsons)’s participation, at the behest of Georgios Tsagdis, in a workshop held at King’s College London on 14 December 2018 on Derrida’s Politics of Friendship; and in part from Allan’s participation in the Students as Co-Creators programme at the University of Westminster, as well as Allan’s interest in design pedagogies, including those of architectural design.

[2] The third dimension takes some of its direction from part two of The Book: a world transformed, edited by E. Portella, which has as its theme for part two ‘Thinking Through Libraries’. Gianni Vattimo’s recalling of the link between liberty and libri in the Romance languages is especially important in his chapter entitled ‘Library/liberty’

[3] For Derrida (1976: 27), in Of Grammatology, Hegel is “the last philosopher of the book and the first thinker of writing”, the book standing for a totalising presence (the presence of the object to the subject, the self-presence of the subject to itself in consciousness, and the self-presence of consciousness to itself in speech), while ‘writing’ is irreducible to presence and such momentary presentations and representations. From this point onwards, the relationship between ‘classroom’, seemingly dominated by ‘sound’ and ‘language’, the speech of teaching (“Natural writing [which] is immediately united to the voice and to breath” Derrida, 1976: 17), and the ‘library’, seemingly dominated by the graphic re-inscription of (such spoken) ‘language’, can be re-considered, undoing the hierarchisation in the process of idealisation – “Hegel demonstrates very clearly the strange privilege of sound in idealization, the production of the concept and the self-presence of the subject.” (Derrida, 1976: 12) – re-placing them in a terrain of ‘language’ as (non-self-present) ‘writing’, wherein lies the emergence of the learner.


Derrida, J. (1976). Of grammatology. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Hanchin, T. (2018). Educating for/in caritas: a pedagogy of friendship for Catholic higher education in our divided time. Horizons, 45, 74–104. Available from [Accessed 16 December 2018].

Portella, E. (ed.) (2001). The Book: a world transformed. Paris, France: UNESCO. Available from [Accessed 15 December 2018].

Vattimo, G. (2001) Library/liberty. In E. Portella, ed. The Book: a world transformed. Paris, France: UNESCO. Available from [Accessed 15 December 2018].


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