Usually during academic conferences and seminars, the form of the one-to-one exchange, between ‘presenter’ and ‘participants’, reproduces a certain politics of the academic conversation: one does not know, and so asks questions. The other does know, and so answers these questions. This double unidimensional relationship to questions and answers impoverishes not only the quality and quantity of the questions and answers (and of the whole enquiry) but also, mainly, the relationship each of the participants inhabits with truth, knowledge and thinking, with themselves and with the others. It is a dispositive of exercising the power of being together in an educational environment that fixes positions of knowledge-power and contributes to an educational subjectivation under categories such as ‘the experts’, ‘deep’, ‘the banal’, ‘immature’ or ‘superficial’.
Philosophy for Children (P4C) helps to question this knowledge-power dispositive in a Foucauldian sense (Foucault, 1983). Questioning requires not only an affirmation of not knowing. Answering requires not only an affirmation of knowing. Teaching is not only, nor mainly, about answering. Learning is not only, nor mainly, about questioning. Both are about thinking together in horizontal, multidirectional and open ways, while occupying more open and variable epistemological positions. All people have the right to question and answer. It is not about who questions and who answers, but about how we relate to our questions and answers and those of others. It is about thinking with others, with the otherness of the human beings and the nonhuman taking part in the conversations. The hierarchical Q&A setting leads to a more horizontal exercise of the power of teaching and learning.
‘All people have the right to question and answer. It is not about who questions and who answers, but about how we relate to our questions and answers and those of others.’
We are scholars/philosophers/teachers/learners/visitors in the community of philosophical enquiry (CoE), the pedagogy of Philosophy for Children. In P4C, not only in school classrooms but also in teaching and research in higher education, seminars, workshops, conferences and so forth, we tend to be inspired by the ethos of the CoE. Resisting the normalised, individualised one-to-one exchanges after someone has presented at a conference, in communities of philosophical enquiry making sense of a presented text is a shared doing of enquiry that puts collaborative questioning at the heart of its theory and practice (Murris, 2016).
It is June 2017 and we are at a research seminar organised by Karin Murris at Monkey Valley Resort in Cape Town, South Africa. Visiting scholar Karen Barad performs their paper, ‘Troubling Time/s and Ecologies of Nothingness: On the Im/Possibilities of Living and Dying in the Void’ (Barad, 2017). Instead of going straight into a Question & Answer (Q&A) session, Walter Kohan invites everyone to move from the more traditional seminar horse-shoe-shaped formation of tables and chairs where we have just listened to the paper being presented, and instead encourages us to form a circle, with chairs but without tables, on the other side of the room. The creation of this circle serves to disrupt the map of the formation of tables and chairs and makes possible a different kind of movement. The circle may not be a literal circle. In fact, it looks more like an incomplete square. And maybe the idea of an incomplete figure is even more interesting than a circle. But the point (to use another geometrical image) is that this occupation of space enables another kind of interaction than the more common classroom arrangement, whether in schools or universities, usually in rows. This movement into a less-hierarchical space challenges the place and origin of questions and answers. Now there are possibilities for multiplying the sources of knowledge in these changing pedagogical interactions. The engrained Q&A model routinely used and ‘normalised’ in all forms of teaching and learning settings is disrupted. The risk of accommodation is high and requires continuous resistance not to naturalise what has been turned into something ‘obvious’. It also requires continuous unlearning of what has been learned in the process of ‘growing up’, of becoming more ‘mature’, and with it the kind of logic that ‘we’ (adults) have made our ‘own’ is undertaken.
Does questioning all positions in relation to questions and answers create paths to question all relationships to knowing and thinking together? Does it open the possibility of new relationships among ourselves and with the world? Might it give new air to breathing in community? Maybe it is not a bad sign to end this blog with questions.
Barad, K. (2017). Troubling time/s and ecologies of nothingness: On the im/possibilities of living and dying in the void. New Formations: A Journal of Culture/Theory/Politics, (92), 56–88. https://doi.org/10.3898/NEWF:92.05.2017
Foucault, M. (1983). The subject and the power. In H. Dreyfus & P. Rabinow (Eds.), Michel Foucault. Beyond estructuralism and hermeneutics (pp. 208–26). University of Chicago Press.
Murris, K. (2016). The posthuman child: Educational transformation through philosophy with picturebooks. Routledge.