Education, Expectation and the Unexpected

Amanda Fulford

    Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


    In this paper I consider the concept of expectation in Higher Education. To focus the discussion I begin by sketching out some examples of how this notion pervades a number of practices in the university, and how in particular, expectation drives the way that the university tutorial operates between tutors and students. In relating this to the tendency towards what has been identified as the marketization and consumerism of higher education, I draw on the distinction that Paul Standish identifies between and ‘economy of exchange’ and an ‘economy of excess’, and suggest how expectation and responsibility figure in these economies. In moving to think beyond narrow conceptions of expectation and responsibility, and beyond the literature on policy and management in higher education, I turn to the work of the Jewish philosophers, Martin Buber and Emmanuel Levinas to show how they have both given attention to richer ideas of relationship, responsibility and the other. I initially outline Buber’s central work on the distinction between I-It and I-Thou modes of relationship, and how the latter is characterised by a dialogic intersubjectivity. I contrast this with the work of Emmanuel Levinas and draw out the distinction between the mutuality at the heart of Buber’s work, and the relationship of asymmetry that mark’s Levinas’ conception of our responsibility to the other, which is ethics. Having drawn the distinction, I then show how there are lines of connection in their respective philosophical projects, specifically how speech or dialogue is central to the relationship with the other in both thinkers. I find in both Buber and Levinas that speech cannot be thought of solely as communication. This has significant implications for education: speech is not simply the communication of (curricular) content between tutor and student. Given this, teaching can be thought of as a space for encounter with the other through language. This has further implications for thinking about the place of the tutorial in a university education. At this point I return to the scene of the university tutorial and suggest that, rather than seeing it as a place only for the meeting of expectations (which would suggest a closed economy of exchange), it might be envisioned as a space for encounter with the unexpected. In considering the nature of the encounter in relation to an example from the film adaptation of Alan Bennett’s The History Boys, I argue that the tutorial opens up the possibility for a mutual encounter with otherness. This positions the tutorial as a space of educational otherness, - a Foucauldian heterotopia which rejects the expectation-bound economy of exchange, and which offers instead the possibility of an education marked instead by an economy of excess.

    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusUnpublished - Aug 2014
    EventInternational Network of Philosophers of Education Conference 2014 - Cosenza, Italy
    Duration: 20 Aug 201423 Aug 2014

    Academic conference

    Academic conferenceInternational Network of Philosophers of Education Conference 2014


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