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Conversation in Education  

Emile Bojesen

Conversation is a topic of burgeoning interest in the context of educational theory and as a prospective means for conducting empirical research. As a nonformal educational experience, as well as within the classroom, or as a means to researching various aspects of educational practice and institutions, research on or through conversation in education draws on a range of theoretical resources, often understanding conversation as analogous to dialogue or dialectic. Although only brought into this research context in the early 21st century, the philosopher who has engaged most extensively with conversation is Maurice Blanchot (1907–2003). His text, The Infinite Conversation, originally published in French as L’Entretien infini in 1969, responded to and took forward many elements of what would go on to be described as poststructuralist or deconstructive thought. Blanchot’s notion of conversation (in French, “entretien”) is distinct from those reliant upon philosophical conceptions of dialogue or dialectic. Itself the subject of philosophical research, Blanchotian conversation has been interpreted variously as either not sufficiently taking into account the ethics of Emmanuel Levinas, or else expanding beyond its more limited scope. Some of these interpretations stress the ethical and political implications of conversation; however, none engage specifically with its educational implications. Blanchotian conversation allows for contradicting and contrasting thoughts to be voiced without being brought to shared consensus or internal resolution. Its “lesson” is not only in the thought that it produces but also in the ethical relation of sincerity, openness, and non-imposition that it develops. Unlike some recent applications of conversation to educational context, Blanchotian conversation does not re-entrench the subject to be educated but rather deprioritizes the subject in favor of the movement of thought and the ethical “between” of conversation itself. This notion of conversation has corollaries in political thought, notably with Jacques Rancière’s understanding of “dissensus” and Karl Hess’s thought of an “anarchism without hyphens,” as well as the politically informed educational ideas of Elizabeth Ellsworth and the educational practice and research of Camilla Stanger.