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The Real of Education

Postmedia Videolanguaging

In: Video Journal of Education and Pedagogy
Author:
Joff P. N. Bradley Faculty of Foreign Languages, Teikyo University, Tokyo, Japan

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Abstract

In this short piece I am going to reflect on my reaction to a commercial video and advertisement campaign by my university in Tokyo, Japan. The campaign 帝京生のリアル [The daily life of Teikyo students] ran in April 2023 (www.teikyo-u.ac.jp/campus_for_life/photo_project). The following is a translation of the Japanese voiceover from the cm which includes the voice of a concerned parent, the voice of a high school student, who is unsure about which course, which university, and which career to pursue.

FEATURE
FEATURE

Joff Bradley’s article comprises a video, which can be viewed here.

Citation: Video Journal of Education and Pedagogy 2024; 10.1163/23644583-09010002

  1. This article is part of the special topic ‘Postmedia Videolanguaging’ edited by Joff P. N. Bradley, Silvia Grinberg and Masayuki Iwase.

1 Introduction

For this special issue I asked scholars, researchers, and practitioners to explore the intersection of critical postmedia (Bradley 2022a) and the pedagogy of videolanguaging, or, more precisely and concretely, the potential of video narratives to foster a more critical and complex way of thinking about the social, psychical, and media ecologies which function both inside and outside educational institutions. The inspiration for this comes from Felix Guattari’s schizoanalysis (1984) and institutional analysis (Faramelli 2023). And from this, I want to derive from his work a contemporary pedagogy of videolanguaging that does not infantilize or pacify the student population but asks what is the real of education, and what is at stake in asking this question, what precarity is exposed. More than this, I am looking for a technology which allows for the exploration and creation of different modes of subjectivity and offers an alternative mode of subjectivation (Goffey 2022).

The writers of this special issue each in their own unique and expert way examine the intersection of youth voices, video, and education, again in the hope of uncovering often hidden aspects of this dynamic relationship. Collectively we asked several questions: How can we be unreservedly open to hearing the voices of students? Can the school celebrate the voices, contradictions and intersections of “real” life, especially in times when diversity becomes an increasingly normal experience? Or is the “real” synonymous with the simulacrum of educational experience disseminated by the marketing and advertising industries?

For me, in the time of ever-greater media saturation and control, the role of schools in nurturing critical thinking remains paramount. In this respect, I believe the school cannot without criticism be merely the site for the streamlining of one-dimensional subjectivities for those soon to enter the world of work and reason. Rather, how can the school make room for the contradictory, strange or uncanny voices that are found there daily? The university as an institution for example must welcome dissent as its very raison d’être. If video narrative can be a mode of exploration for this task, how can it contribute to the development of alternative perspectives, conversations, and listening skills that pave the way for re-imagining and reconstructing the nature of education and learning?

My stance is philosophical and critical. The postmedia society (Bradley 2022a) is riddled with infantilisation, standardisation and one dimensionality. Bernard Stiegler refers to the “systemic stupidity” (Featherstone 2020; Heaney 2017l) produced by a process of generalised proletarianisation which, as Stiegler says, proceeds from a pharmacological development in which there is a short-circuiting of production, consumption and speculation (Stiegler 2013). For Stiegler this is done by destroying investment, that is, the desiring projection of the imagination (Stiegler in Elliott & Attridge 2011, p. 298). For me, the question is whether video narrative in schools can disrupt the disruption (Bradley & Kennedy 2020) which causes the systematic and systemic loss of desire, that is, the lost desiring production of the imagination. In this regard, I want to examine the plasticity of the university, its expressive creative-destructive capacity. Can video qua plastic medium be creative, non-toxic and curative?

When education, and schooling in particular, remains trapped in toxic, neoliberal logics, when quantifiable data analysis triumphs over qualitative, playful experimentation, and when it seems that literate culture is condemned to withdraw as the consumption of unreflective pictures, cartoons, gif s, photographs and memes gains ascendency, it becomes a key challenge to deploy video literacy in this state of poisonous influence. So again the question is: how do we engineer both disruptive and curative modes? However, while critique of the poisonous state of affairs is undoubtedly indispensable, it also runs the risk of becoming necessarily nay-saying and itself toxic. Immersing ourselves in other modes of video narrative and representation demands that we open up routes and paths for a pedagogy that moves away from the systematic stupidity disseminated by algorithmic calculation and marketing.

2 Modeling Clay

Analysis has everything to gain from enlarging its means of intervention; it can work with words, but just as well with modeling clay (as does Gisela Pankow) or with videos, movies, the theatre, institutional structures, familial interactions, etc., in short, everything that would allow it to sharpen the a-significant facets of the ritornellos it meets and in such a way that it would be in a better position to engage their catalysing functions in the crystallization of new Universes of reference (the function of fractalization).

guattari in genosko 1996, p. 169

When I look at the quotation above from Guattari’s essay on ritornellos and existential affects, I think about video as a possible kind of “modeling clay”. I think about the plasticity of video and the a-signification of the images that we see, create and manipulate. And I think about the repetitions in those videos and of desire as somehow liberated or experimented upon or flowing or counterflowing or at its most perilous desire as stopping or stabilizing or crystallizing, or desiring its own repression, in the Reichian sense (Reich 1933). And I think of video as a media and means to create inaugural Universes of reference (Guattari 2012), to break away from the chains of repetitive signification that curl the self upon itself, into deadly cycles of ipseity (Bradley 2022b). But I also understand the need for caution regarding the often-toxic relationship we have with technology and how it impacts upon our lives as teachers and students.

3 Vignette

In this short piece, I am going to reflect on my reaction to a commercial video and advertisement campaign by my university in Tokyo, Japan. The campaign 帝京生のリアル [The daily life of Teikyo students] ran in April 2023.1 The following is my translation of the Japanese voiceover from the advertisement and commercial (cm) which includes the voices of a concerned parent and of a high school student unsure about which course, university, or career to pursue.

Student voice:I gotta think about university and the future, but I don’t know what I want to do yet.
Parental voice:I am worried about my child’s future.
Student voice:I have something I want to do, but I am still undecided.
Parental voice:OK, I want to encourage my child in this situation. But you must take the first step.
Impersonal University voice:Challenging various things, experiencing various failures, knowing various joys.And gradually finding your own path. The important thing is to try anything, no matter what!Feeling confused, pause to think. There are many opportunities: friends and teachers can help.There’s lots of inspiration at Teikyo University to help you find your way, whether you are a student who knows what you want to do or someone who will discover dreams and goals in university life.Teikyo University welcomes students who haven’t found what they want to do yet.2

帝京生のリアル [The daily life of Teikyo students], campaign ad, my translation

During my regular commute across Tokyo to university, I spend five hours toing and froing on crowded trains and buses. I am bathed in advertisement and commercial demands, by constant refrains and ritornellos on trains and buses and in stores. The journey takes approximately one hour and a half to reach central Tokyo on the Chūō-Sōbu line (中央・総武線), followed by a transfer to the Keio line at the bustling Shinjuku station, renowned as the world’s busiest train station.

My regular refrain or comportment was ingrained long ago. Like most people I suspect, I stand at the same place at my local station, take the same carriage, get off at the same exit, and move quickly to the next part of my journey, standing again in the same place and sitting in the same carriage, often in the same seat, often next to commuters who I have seen numerous times before. All in a state of unconscious delirium. My way home is similarly structured and regimented. I move semi-consciously, hypnotically, in a kind of grazing multitasking state of stupidity (Châtelet 2019). At Shinjuku station, there is a passage between the two lines that I pass through daily, in speedy, mad, machinic repetition. The walls of the passage are typically covered with a potpourri of various advertisements, promoting art galleries, the latest movies, manga, horse racing events and so on. It is often rather pleasurable to encounter such advertisements for a Monet art exhibit, opera event, or natural history exhibition.

However, in 2023, my university commandeered the entire advertising space on both sides of the alleyway, covering both walls with an advertisement which included the faces of students (wearing masks) who were holding video cameras lent to them by the university so they could record their daily university lives. In the advertisement and corresponding commercial, we see body parts, hands, faces, smiles, masks. We see messages, pictures of the university, escalators, cameras, smiley selfies. We get to see the technology and the facilities that the students can use. We get to see them study. We see cafeterias and the other spaces of the university. We get to see students outside of class, with their teachers, doing sports, up to something. Bizarrely, paper gets scrunched up and then scrunched out. We get to see library space, coupons, safety signs, career guidance.

My first reaction to this marketing event has not changed: I was genuinely shocked that the whole passage was transformed into an unsettling advertisement space. I was awoken from my own grazing, unthinking slumber. In some ways, the marketing did a fine job of capturing my attention. It showed me that the university speaks for the students. This is shameful and Deleuze says it best:

[T]he most shameful moment came when computer science, marketing, design, and advertising, all the disciplines of communication, seized hold of the word concept itself and said: “This is our concern, we are the creative ones, we are the ideas men! We are the friends of the concept, we put it in our computers”… Marketing has preserved the idea of a certain relationship between the concept and the event. But here the concept has become the set of product displays (historical, scientific, artistic, sexual, pragmatic), and the event has become the exhibition that sets up various displays and the “exchange of ideas” it is supposed to promote. The only events are exhibitions, and the only concepts are products that can be sold. Philosophy has not remained unaffected by the general movement that replaced Critique with sales promotion. The simulacrum, the simulation of a packet of noodles, has become the true concept; and the one who packages the product, commodity, or work of art has become the philosopher, conceptual persona, or artist.

deleuze and guattari, 1994, p. 10

As will be seen, I felt embarrassed, nay irritated, by the university’s aggressive advertising approach, and my initial reaction was to discuss this with my students. I was upset that my university was targeting high school students with the promise that they will somehow find themselves at university. I felt university must be something more than this. The campaign cannot just appeal to young people who are struggling to decide what to do and say: ‘we understand that you don’t know what you want to do, but we’ll tell you what you want to do’. Upon playing the commercial, some students shared my disapproval, adjudging it a massive failure. However, I noticed that more than a few students had a different perspective, suggesting that many high school students in Japan are uncertain about their future goals and therefore the advertisement in itself wasn’t that deplorable. My own shock and embarrassment aside I understood that viewers and commuters may see the advertisement for what it is, a campaign that encourages students to attend university. On reflection and again after discussions with students, I thought perhaps I was overly hasty in my condemnation.

However, my point is that the video does not give voice to the students’ desires. It is not the direct expression of the students’ desires. Video as a means of exploration must be more than just a tool for promotion. Hence, I asked the students to offer their true feelings. I wanted to let the students speak for themselves and to see what subjectivities manifest. I want student voices to be more than something entirely engineered, re-territorialised by or led by marketing and aggressive advertising. I wanted to offer an alternative to this. From a Deleuzian and Gauttarian perspective (Buchanan 2017), I was thinking about desire as a virtual and actual force or flow actualized in the assemblage. I was thinking about marginalised student voices and the nature of the micropolitical and how the desires of young people are codified, how the desires and uncertainties of the students are exploited (Riddle 2017). I was thinking about the student body as desireless, as entirely given over to information. Do the students know what or how they desire? This led me to consider the idea of both the deterritorialized academic and deterritorialized student (Barone, Zaro, & 2015) and the network of their relationships. For this, I turned to Deleuze and Guattari as they wrote a fully-fledged political philosophy of flows and desire in Anti-Oedipus (1983). Flow is desire. If capital flows are data codes, they too are the very structure of desire.

As mentioned earlier, I decided to explore students’ reactions to the video as a starting point for my research. I thought much about this and concluded that my problem with the advertisement was that the students did not truly speak. How could they when the university initiated the video project in the first place? In Intellectuals and Power, Deleuze says to his friend Foucault: “In my opinion, you were the first to teach us a fundamental lesson, both in your books and in the practical domain: the indignity of speaking for others” (Deleuze, 2004, p. 208). And Deleuze famously writes that if the real voices of young people are heard institutions and systems of representation will collapse: “If the protests of children were heard in kindergarten, if their questions were attended to, it would be enough to explode the entire educational system” (Foucault, 1980, p. 209). As Deleuze condemns the theatre of representation and those who unthinkingly speak for others and consequently, I urged my students to speak in their own preferred language3 as I was trying to account for the often overlooked or repressed linguistic diversity of students at my university.

4 What is Affect?

In a Spinozist sense, I am interested in what affects are generated from within the medium of video. Can the video become an ethology-machine of affects, bodies, events, and relations (Cullen 2020)? Here affect is pre-personal and more-than-individual in the Guattarian sense (Guattari et al. 1990). It is autonomous and beyond human perception, offering an almost inhuman perception. What then is the expressivity of video and how might students be involved in that? The question remains: how do I express my personal, visceral reaction through video pedagogy and think beyond it? The question is, again, what would be the nature of the video that explores the student body suffering the psychical after-effects of the coronavirus pandemic? How would it explore the impersonal affects of loneliness, the emptiness of the university and the emptiness of relationships? How would it detail the sense that both teachers and students are disconnected, alienated from the institution, somehow hovering above and around the campus, somehow invisible, not having a voice? The premise of the university’s commercial and advertising campaign was that it would give students a voice via video representation, but in the end, it seems to me, that there is an alarming and conspicuous absence of creative, critical, and dissensual voices. And it is this that caused me much chagrin.

As I said, I was deeply embarrassed by the commercial and advertising, but in the video my students have made you will hear their views. And you can make up your own mind as I now realize I am just one opinion among many. But what is the alternative? I strongly disagree with the concept of surveying students via questionnaire and the like as if they can provide purely cybernetic feedback or make free, rational decisions when all the options are preordained. Instead, I choose to elicit a more affective response from the students. And this is how video should be used. As I said I requested their affective reactions to the commercial, believing that this approach constitutes genuine research. By doing so, I aimed to challenge the conventional notion of what a questionnaire should achieve. At times, I believe that conducting statistical analyses on students’ views and opinions masks the reality that the research is merely a procedural formality, lacking a genuine interest in provoking any meaningful or profound structural change. After listening to the various comments by the students made in various languages, including Japanese, English, Vietnamese, Bulgarian, Romanian, Chinese, Thai, and more, I concluded that their voices demonstrate the linguistic diversity of the university, which I think the university did not represent or celebrate enough. Again, you can judge for yourself. You can see in the accompanied video that linguistic diversity is present but not reflected, but conspicuously absent in the promotional video.4

Putting my pessimism aside, I was inspired recently by some brilliant pieces of educational philosophy. One is the recent PhD thesis by Biliana Popova entitled The University as a Socio-Material Assemblage: Promotional VideosCodes, Territories, and Globalization (Popova 2023). The other is also another recent PhD by Iwase Masayuki entitled Minor videos and becoming-Japanese: problematizing [co-existence] and envisioning alternative futures of young migrants’ lives in Japan (Iwase 2022). Both of these innovative pieces of scholarship are influenced by Deleuze, and both explore the nature of affect in educational contexts through the use of video. Both authors consider the voice and the nature of affect and how the voice operates in “collective assemblages of enunciation” in the Guattarian sense (Mazzei & Jackson 2019). Another excellent piece of scholarship is by Anais Nony in her Performative Images A Philosophy of Video Art Technology in France (Nony 2023) in which she explores the nature of video and image performance from Deleuzian, Stieglerian and Lazzaratorian points of view.

5 Conclusion

We can say that video can be a form of plastic expression when and where spoken language fails but the question is how to “graft an opening,” on the Outside of the university, as psychoanalyst Giselda Pankow says. How can video create rupturing vacuoles of non-communication (Deleuze, 1995, p. 175), and how can it “hijack speech” (Thoburn 2006)? I suppose this means it is a question of breakdown or breakthroughs, serendipitous events and successes. Video can perhaps be a means to disrupt serialized collective formations and unleash crystallizing new Universes of reference (Lazzarato 2014, 2019). Here I am interested in the transversal practices of the institution (Cole & Bradley 2018), different metamodelizations (Watson 2008) and pedagogical practices. I am interested in the reconfiguration of student/teacher relationships and how video can act as a mediating third to disrupt ossified relations as Celestin Freinet suggests (Bradley 2012; Bradley & Cole 2023). We must think seriously about the “modelling plaster” of the university and how video technology can transform the local milieu where we learn. At present, I am profoundly influenced by Bernard Stiegler’s philosophy (Bradley & Kennedy, 2021; Bradley 2023) because he condemns the toxicity of the university in its current neo-liberal mode. Contra Serres (2014), he discusses the loss of knowledge as young people are given completely over to information and I frankly believe this to be our stark everyday reality. However, Stiegler asks us to apply technology non-toxically, curatively, that is therapeutically and pharmacologically. In this way, I want to think of video as a form of “modelling clay,” as an “institutional object,” that is, a transitional object in Winnicott’s sense, or as “mediating third object” as Guattari and Freinet name it. In this sense it can be a way to experiment with arranging new relations of ideas, affects, bodies, texts, spaces and time. And perhaps a way to listen to and beyond the verbal and linguistic, the voice as such, and to attend to impersonal affects, that is, those affects which escape, rupture, and contest dominant voices and modes of signification. At our most positive we may proclaim that video would become a mode of expressivity that pushes petrified social relations into groups-in-fusion or the subject-in-process (Sartre 2004). Indeed, in The Politics of Voice in Education, Mayes says of the “order word,” understood in the Deleuzian sense (Lecercle 2022), that it is articulated by a body – “directly” – as it “impacts and intervenes in other bodies and shifts the atmosphere, slows down or speeds up affective transformations, and alters the field of relations” (2023, p. 80). Our time is desperate, and we must rethink how to provoke expressive, kinetic disordering words (Blanchot 2010) which can somehow come up against the order words of the institution and society at large (Bradley, Manoj NY & Lee 2023). Video research is and must be a starting point for this.

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3

As I am interested in exploring non-logocentric approach to post-human affects a language-based approach to video does not work. While I acknowledge the potential interest in critiquing or engaging with the linguistic content of video presentations, it deviates somewhat from my primary objective which is to address the nature of impersonal a-subjective affect. Also, my stance on national cultures and languages departs from conventional conceptualizations and leans more towards a more Guattari-inspired post-structural approach to semiotic system analysis.

4

The video was assembled by my fourth-year students at Teikyo University who graduated in 2024: 清水崇仁 (Shimizu Takahito), 篠原唯 (Shinohara Yui), 院京将太郎 (Inkyo Shoutarou), 玉崎綾乃 (Tamazaki Ayano), 小美野隼 (Omino Shun), 横田沙綾 (Yokota Saya), 重城真帆 (Juujo Maho), 板垣太朗 (Itagaki Tarou), 稲川茉莉愛 (Inagawa Maria), 原田明日香 (Harada Asuka), 隝田アンジェラ七色 (Shimada Angela Nile).

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