Posts Tagged uncanny

A really exciting and thought-provoking paper from Sian. A manifesto for this course? Maybe, though I’d say  it was more philosophical blueprint (the spectre of Sian’s argument haunting the dispersed spaces of our own reflections?).


In the Skype chat session Sian asked if we thought it was over-theorised. For me I think it was. Sorry Sian – I did enjoy it though ;-) and would welcome your replies.

The appropriation of Freud’s theory of das Unheimliche – I’ve always liked the French translation:  l’inquiétante étrangété, worrying strangeness – was interesting and raised a smile (the spectre of Sian’s literary theory past?)

However, I wondered how different Sian’s use of it was from many educationalists’ conviction that  learning is about coming out of – or being taken out of – one’s comfort zones?

In other words, what’s gained or added to in terms of complexity in employing a psychoanalytical concept instead of other terms? For example, I might use terms like displacement, deracination or disorientation to describe some of the effects in which learning – in its most far-reaching form (what Sian calls “a
 education”) – has on students. Alternatively, I might describe learning as unsettling sedimented modes of thought, behaviour, belief, speech and, ultimately, identity.

I like Land and Meyer on liminality and troublesome knowledge and Barnett on awkward spaces and strangeness. For me though, they pointed to other related, albeit with their own differences, conceptualisations of pedagogy as making strange or unfamiliar. Uncanny pedagogy then doesn’t have a monopoly on the idea of intellectual uncertainty as core to learning.

Similarly, I wasn’t sure where the ‘haunting’ metaphor took us; isn’t it just a way of saying that in HE, like the little boy in The Sixth Sense, we “hear dead people”, our texts, spaces and practices informed by the past (call it ‘tradition’ if you like). I also wondered just how unfamiliar the temporal disjunctions of technology-mediated communication now is to say, those in the 18-25 age group. I suspect they deal with the “chaotic
 tapestry” of synchronous, asynchronous and inbetween-chronous (Twitter but also possibly Google Wave) rather comfortably.

Just before reading Sian’s article, I read a piece in The Observer called Inside Broken Britain. The author, Robert Yates, a working-class boy made good from Liverpool, is writing about Liverpool’s economic problems – as viewed through this home neighbourhood of Walton and a highly personal perspective. Towards the  end of the article, he describes a visit to a school, Alsop, which had recently received massive investment and a conversation with its head, Mr Jamieson:

Should not a school like Alsop – the largest in Liverpool, one of our great cities – be producing a host of regular candidates for Oxbridge, say? There hadn’t been any in recent years, said Mr Jamieson. On a previous trip, as we walked around the school, we came to a board listing recent school leavers who had gone on to university – mostly local, I noted, quite a few to the “new” universities.
The handful of us who went to university when I was at the school would never have dreamed of staying at home, I said; leaving was part of the adventure. Economic reasons, Jamieson figured, a reluctance to incur too much debt – you had a grant, he reminded me.

At first Yates’ argument irritated me: Liverpool’s bright working-class kids were going to the local ex-poly instead of aiming (’higher’) for Oxbridge. However, the key issue for Yates was the staying at home and not leaving home bit; this was the key part of the HE “adventure”, leaving friends and family, becoming a fish out of water, having to reinvent oneself. I like the word ‘adventure’ here and its suggestion of engagement with the strange and unfamilar, taking risks, exposing oneself to danger. And, of course, coming out of the adventure changed. Generations of people – the first ever in their families – are going to university and yet are not experiencing the same intensity of upheaval – necessary upheaval – as a part of their higher education learning experience that is occasioned by the leaving home part of ‘going to uni’.

I wonder, to end on an optimistic and more consensual note, if digital spaces can compensate in some way for this loss (and I think of it as a real loss)?


Bayne, S. (forthcoming, March 2010). Academetron, automaton, phantom: uncanny digital pedagogies. London Review of Education. [revised version uploaded 10 November 09]