Nudge for Schools
Dynamics of Recognition (pp.110-115).
Continually, we teachers recognize kids. We walk around and say to ourselves, ‘That one’s a trouble maker. That one is promising; God I thought he would do better than that, what ‘a disappointment’ etc. Indeed Charles Leadbeater (2008) has referred to schools as ‘economies of recognition.’ However we give little thought to how these recognitions are picked up by the recognized or the effect that they are likely to have. Yet we should be conscious of this process because as Hegel pointed out how we are recognized is crucial to our sense of who we are, in other words our identity (William, 2000).
The Politics of Recognition: Differentiating the Other.
Gary has been working with the concept of the Differentiated Other for many years. Ian first encountered the concept at a seminar conducted by Gary in 2005 for Chris Sarra’s Stronger Smarter Institute. Ian was then Principal of the Western Cape College. He was immediately struck by the relevance of the model to his work with Indigenous students. In his talk, Gary read Fig 4.2 from right to left. There are seven major categories from the most negative, Feared/Despised, to Trace, the most positive. The category of the Exotic is subdivided into Fascinating and Erotic.
The Feared/Despised Other is fairly easy to grasp and it is the category intrinsic to racism and the politics of conquest, and societies based on caste or class. It is less explicitly encountered today but in informal settings, as Sarra (2011) demonstrated repeatedly, this is still a major slot for inserting Indigenous Australians into. It is worth re-emphasizing that one of the enduring contributions of Sarra’s (2005) research for his doctorate was to document the continuing power of racism in shaping the imaginary of mainstream Australians. More recent research reveals that students from an Indigenous and other ethnic backgrounds still suffer from racist abuse in schools (Biddle & Priest, 2014).
The category of the Resented Other is a more recent addition (Smallwood, 2011, p. 51). It is meant to convey the process where the Indigenous person is misrecognized and seen as privileged. This is a complex matter treated by Nancy Fraser (Fraser, 1995). There she makes a distinction between affirmative and transformative remedies. She writes
By affirmative remedies for injustice, we mean remedies aimed at correcting inequitable outcomes of social arrangements without disturbing the underlying framework that generates them. By transformative remedies, in contrast, we mean remedies aimed at correcting inequitable outcomes precisely by restructuring the underlying generative framework (Fraser, 1995, p. 82).
For Fraser, the problem is that the affirmative approach can create a group that can be seen as being granted special treatment and privileges. In other words, affirmation can cause the creation of the Resented Other. A good deal of empirical research is needed here (and with the other categories) to quantify the existence of resentment. But for the present, the category is a useful way to understand the kind of statements made in Pauline Hanson’s maiden speech to the Australian parliament (Smallwood, 2011, p. 40), or in the kind of talk back program hosted by Howard Sattler:
Sattler: Let's take a call. Tony's on the line. Hello Tony.
Caller: Hello Howard.
Sattler: Yes Tony.
Caller: I and thousands of other people are sick to death of whingeing Aboriginals ... we're also sick to death of the privileges available to Aboriginals that aren't available to other Australians (Mickler, 1992).
The categories comical, pitiable, and exotic are the sites, we would argue, of considerable self-othering. It is quite obvious, as MacLennan (2010) points out, that the slot of Feared/ Despised Other, and to a lesser extent, Resented Other, are perilous slots to occupy. As Smallwood puts it, ‘The Feared/Despised Other has no rights. They are lynched or murdered or set on fire or bullied endlessly’ (2011, p. 38). As consequence, there is a readily understood motivation to present oneself as pitiable, comical, or exotic.
We will return to the question of self-othering, but, for the moment, let us consider the final two categories – resource and trace. The Other as Resource would appear to be for MacLennan (2010), Sarra (2005, p. 52), and Smallwood (Smallwood, 2011), primarily, an economic category. Here, the Other is seen as of value to capital or, to put this in Marxist terms, as a source of surplus value. We should make it clear that we do not believe that having a job is equivalent to a fate worse than death. We are, for sure, conscious of the need for human worth not to be reduced to a unit on a ledger. Moreover we both come from strong pro-union backgrounds, and Gary once had a teacher, known affectionately as Fred the Red, who made the entire class learn off by heart these lines from Thomas Hood’s 1843 poem, The Song of the Shirt
With fingers weary and worn,
with eyelids heavy and red,
a woman sat in unwomanly rags,
Plying her needle and thread –
Stitch! Stitch! Stitch!
In poverty, hunger, and dirt,
And still with a voice of dolorous pitch
she sang ‘The Song of the Shirt! (Hood, 1843)
But for us, having a job is the beginning of the process of self-emancipation, so the Other as Resource cannot simply be understood in terms of being a resource for the boss. The worker is similarly a resource for herself, her family, and her community.
What, then, of the category of the Other as Trace? Clearly here MacLennan (2010) was intending to incorporate the work of Emmanuel Levinas (1998, 2001). The latter is well known for the rigid demarcation he made between his religious writings and his philosophical work (Critchley, 2002, p. 22), though there would, nevertheless, appear to be at least some slippage between the two domains, especially in the domain of ethics (Zalloua, 2009). The matter is of some importance when it comes to the notion of the Other as Trace, which MacLennan following Levinas defined as the ‘Absolute Other that some call God’ (2010). This was to become the source of some lively dialogue between us. What Ian detected here in Gary’s thinking was an underlying tendency towards religious transcendence, a case, to adapt a remark Raymond Williams made about F. R. Leavis, of the God that dare not speak its name. So Ian outed Gary as a ‘god botherer.’ For Ian the religious element in the category of the Other as Trace, becomes very clear in Sarra’s (2005, pp. 54-58) account of the Other as Trace, where he specifically cites the Bhagavad Gita and Isaiah’s vision of Yahweh in the temple in 741 BCE (2005, p. 57).
For his doctoral research, Ian pointed out that, nowhere, does Gary or those like Sarra (2011) and Smallwood (2011), who have used the model of the Differentiated Other, address satisfactorily the question of how should we treat the Other as Trace. To advance the Levinasian phrase, ‘Après vous, Monsieur,’ as the sum total of the prescribed approach to the Other is to evoke the kind of ridicule to which Colin Davis gives vent. He writes:
If this really is ‘the entirety of [Levinas’s] philosophy,’ it is the intellectual equivalent of alcohol-free lager: it’s perhaps not unpleasant, but what’s the point? Is the Levinasian ethical relation really ‘very nice’ …? If so, it is not surprising that few commentators take the trouble to disagree with it. All we have to do to become ethical subjects is be civil and hold the door open for others more often (2006, p. 98).
For Ian, if one treats the Other as Trace as a moment of ‘pure alterity,’ then, inevitably, one slides, he feels, into the religious. Ian would by contrast rather stress a secular interpretation of the relationship with the Other as Trace (Atteridge as cited in Zalloua, 2009, p. 21). The phrase Ian is wont to use to describe the relationship with the Other as Trace is not Après vous, Monsieur, but rather, In Loco Parentis. For Ian that contains both unconditional love and the refusal to assimilate the Other to oneself. Equally importantly, it indicates that one should treat the Other as Trace in the same manner as a parent would treat a child. Ian acknowledges here that his attitude towards the category of the Other as Trace is partly influenced by Badiou’s engagement with Levinas. Badiou argues that to think in terms of transcendence is to move away from an engagement with the real (Badiou, 2001, pp. 18-29) .
Teaching with the Differentiated Other. We have already indicated that Ian used the Differentiated Other model as a way of addressing the problems of racism and self-othering. How did he do this? Ian put the above diagram, Fig 4.2, on the board and explicitly discussed with the students where they were in relation to the various slots. This turned out to be an exhilarating experience both for himself and the students, due, in part at least, to the fact that, for once, the elephant in the living room had been named. The existential battles that Ian’s students had with racism were explicitly acknowledged and put into a conceptual framework.
For Ian, it was no surprise that the students recognized the concept of the Differentiated Other and readily appreciated the notion of self-othering. Ian then discussed with the students ways in which they could move themselves along the continuum of the Differentiated Other. In other words, he endeavoured to put on the agenda the task of controlling how they were recognized. In part, the discussions around the concept of the Differentiated Other can be seen to belong to the classical rational choice tradition. In addition, Ian’s classes emphasized that when one encounters the Differentiated Other in action, say, when one is being treated as the Feared/Despised Other, one has moved onto the terrain of the irrational and there one needs all the weaponry that Behavioural Economics can supply…
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Biddle, N., & Priest, N. (2014). Indigenous students skipping school to avoid bullying and racism. The Conversation,.
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Sarra, C. (2005). Strong and Smart: Reinforcing Aboriginal Perceptions of being Aboriginal at Cherbourg State School. (PHD), Murdoch University.
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Smallwood, G. (2011). Indigenous Well-being and the Case for Human Rights. (PhD), James Cook University.
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