Responsive pedagogy and democratic order

The relation between society and culture is somewhat blurred in the above. Cultural theorists such as Fomas (2012) point out that, even though the concepts can be made distinct, there are also interconnections. For Fomas, culture in its most general form is “centred on significations, texts, and genres while the social is centred on relations, institutions and norms” (Fomas, 2012, p. 494). At the same time, the two sides are closely interrelated, says Fomas, in that “processes of significations are interrelated, and require and take place within social relations, which in turn are always embedded in webs of meaning” (p. 494).

For Bauman, who I follow on this, the interrelatedness of society and culture is captured by culture as praxis, as the particularly human ability to imagine different orders, in polycultural society. It is a society in which culture as praxis means ongoing translations as the way-to-be-in-the-world; that is, the multitude of possible social relations, the web of meanings and significations, are all about how-to-go-on in the world together with others who have the right to go on differently. The response in responsive pedagogy then is to respond to difference, to the other who has the right to go on differently.

With Emmanuel Levinas (1994; Todd, 2003; Safstrom, 2003a) one can understand this response to difference ethically, as a responsibility for an other who is other to me, and who will continue to be other than me after my encounter with him or her. That is, ethically speaking, to respond to an other is to be responsible for that other in such a way as to acknowledge that there is no common ground whatsoever from which the relationship can be secured, defined and made meaningful.

No privileged sets of knowledge can give meaning to the ethical relation, no representational truth determining the content of the relation to the other. An ethical response is to give up one’s ego, to burn every secure platform, to appear as an “I” through the response to the other, as always already responsible for the wellbeing of the other. To respond ethically means to acknowledge ethics as the first philosophy.

But also, in following Levinas, it is exactly therefore that a relation to the absolute other can be non-violent. This means to be able to respond without that response becoming reduced to a violent overtaking of the world of the other, by placing him or her in a subordinate relation to a dominant culture or within a cultural diversity of self-sustained units defined by exclusive social nonns, values, relations, materialities, abilities and talents. In other words, a culturally responsive pedagogy always faces the risk of turning itself into a tool for the exercise of a dominant culture in a “heterogeneous” society, and as such becoming only another tool for the current power relations, for the political order and orderings of society.

Therefore, I think it is important to understand a culturally responsive pedagogy politically, which is a break with the dominant culture: “Politics exists simply because no social order is based on nature, no divine law regulates human society” (Ranciere, 1999, p. 16). To explore this aspect further, I will follow Jacques Ranciere’s (1999, 2006) understanding of democracy as breaking into history as a scandal. As Ranciere writes: “The democratic scandal simply consists in revealing this: there will never be, under the name of politics, a single principle of the community, legitimating the acts of governors based on laws inherent to the coming together of human communities” (Ranciere, 2006, p. 51).

Ranciere (2006) claims that the scandal of democracy was that it breaks into any pre-given condition for its exercise; that is, democracy is the shocking insight that there is no other foundation for power in society than power itself, and that for democracy to exist, power is randomly distributed among the population. Education, in this context, is the expression of praxis as democratization, and as was clear for the early Sophists, the randomness of education, that it is for anyone, also means that education cannot be used to legitimize the power of an elite. Education is, for the Sophist, democratic in its very constitution.

It is not the case that a certain class can rule on the grounds of particular skills, abilities and artefacts and, through the power of interpretation of what is significant meaning within the culture of its people, that arete simply would belong to a certain class of people. Such pedagogy would reduce responding to other cultures to the exercise of the power of a dominant culture. It is rather the case that democracy means, following both the Sophists and Ranciere, that those skills, abilities and intelligences distributed among the population through a distributive paradigm of schooling are continuously translated through the pedagogical process in response to polycultural society, therefore making anyone (politically) subjectified to democratic culture.

A culturally responsive pedagogy is, politically speaking, always in itself a reminder of an irreducible polyvalence in which the response is the very exercise of cultural difference. Such pedagogy, therefore, will always be in opposition to, or rather be the very praxis of, democratization of unchangeable social and political orders. A culturally responsive pedagogy is performing the very exercise of imagining different orders from what is currently the case.

Concluding thoughts

Maybe it would be better to not talk about a culturally responsive pedagogy at all, since, and here I quote Bhabha at length,

The enunciation of cultural difference problematizes the binary division of past and present, tradition and modernity, at the level of cultural representation and its authoritative address. It is the problem of how, in signifying the present, something comes to be repeated, relocated and translated in the name of tradition, in the guise of a pastness that is not necessarily a faithful sign of historical memory but a strategy of representing authority in terms of the artifice of the archaic.

(Bhabha, 1994, p. 35)

Instead of representation of authority, in terms of either cultural authority or pedagogical authority, I suggest that we talk about the pedagogy of translation in polycultural society against the backdrop of cultural difference. That is, instead of making a sharp distinction between culture and pedagogy, in this chapter I have suggested that we formulate pedagogy as a praxis of translation in order to emphasize that education is only possible in and across (cultural) difference, only possible beyond the exercise of a dominant uniform culture and as hybridization of the dominance of such culture.

Such pedagogy brings together the ethical and the political in understanding that education and pedagogy' are the very image of a non-exclusive democratic order and the consequent praxis of that order. It is the teaching of anything to anyone in the face of a historical memory representing authority, breaking into that authority as a reminder of polyvalence, and which therefore acts as a scandal to the uniformity of dominant culture.

The scandal is that pedagogy in a democratic culture works not only passively as a response to culture, but as the very act and ability to imagine different orders beyond the dominant order. As such, pedagogy as translation breaks with established relations of power in every moment of its enunciation to imagine new orders as well as their following praxis. Pedagogy as translation, finally, works across cultural difference while acknowledging the ambivalence of cultural authority. It is, therefore, the very force of democratization.

In chapter 7 I will again contextualize my understanding of education and pedagogy in the present time, in which the very idea of future is severely challenged not only by the threatening Anthropocene, but also by the systematic destruction of pedagogy, education, democracy and the political itself. I will therefore talk about teaching without a future as something more than a dystopic realization: as an (urgent) strategy for democratization here and now, for us to tackle a world falling apart.

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