Author Interview: Emile Bojesen
Dr Emile Bojesen is Reader in Education at the University of Winchester, UK. In this interview he discusses his recent book, Forms of Education: Rethinking Educational Experience Against and Outside the Humanist Legacy (Routledge, 2020), reviewed here.
Questions: Naomi Hodgson
Why did you decide to write Forms of Education: Rethinking Educational Experience Against and Outside the Humanist Legacy?
I had been developing various avenues of research across a range of journal articles over several years, and I wanted to do some work on how these ideas might be brought together in the context of a single sustained argument. This didn’t work out quite how I had planned, as the longer I worked on it the more the book took on a life of its own. Rather than being a consolidation of earlier work, Forms of Education ended up becoming a near comprehensive reshaping of my thought.
What’s the main aim of the book, and why is it important now?
The book is a deconstruction of the history and philosophy of humanist educational thought and practice, especially in terms of its persistent influence. A feature I have found common in contemporary educational critique is the implicit or explicit desire to ‘step back’ from so called ‘neoliberal’ educational practice to a more humanistically- informed ‘liberal’ education. The book shows how this is a trap, which serves to reproduce – albeit framed with different sets of rhetorical tools – the same forms of imposition, elitism, superficiality, and false sense of depth that critics are attempting to challenge. Based on a more expansive notion of education, the book rethinks educational and social relations as far outside of these strictures as I was able, given the manner in which humanism contaminates even thought that seeks to unclench its grip. To me, these arguments are as relevant today as Ivan Illich’s were in 1970.
And what is it that draws you, personally, to this area of research?
Dismay at the influence limited conceptions of education have on cultures and individuals, as well as excitement at the possibilities educational studies and practices afford when staid conceptions of education are abandoned or give way to a broader range of experiences.
What sort of reaction do you hope the book will get?
I would be very pleased if the book gave academics, other educators, and those working outside education altogether a new or refreshed jumping off point for their own ideas or practices. But if readers begin to see education as a problem rather only as a solution, or as an experience that cannot be avoided, as opposed to something that must be conducted in a particular manner, that would be a good start.
What sort of audience did you have in mind when writing the book?
Academics and students in the humanities and social sciences were the primary audience I had in mind.
What’s your current project? What’s next?
I’m exploring the role prescription plays in theories and practices of ‘unlearning’, with particular reference to pedagogical and compositional processes in 20th century experimental music. Of particular interest to me are John Cage, Black Mountain College, Daphne Oram, the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Pierre Schaeffer, Le Groupe de Recherches Musicales, Henning Christiansen, Fluxus, Karlheinz Stockhausen, the Darmstadt School, and Pauline Oliveros. The project also includes a focus on the development of my own compositional practices as a musician. The first example of this is an album called Scrape which is being released in June on the Los Angeles based label, LINE, run by the sound artist Richard Chartier. I am also writing a book on education and masochism with Ansgar Allen for our Punctum imprint, Risking Education.
What is philosophy of education and why does it matter?
I’m not sure I would define philosophy of education any more specifically than as philosophical reflection on education, sometimes leading to prescriptions. I’m also not sure it does always matter, at least outside of very limited contexts. And it matters to different people for different reasons. I have little doubt that for some philosophers of education my own work matters very little precisely because it doesn’t engage with or imply specific changes to policy in contemporary schooling or higher education. In the same way, work in philosophy of education that doesn’t seriously engage with what education is, in terms of cultural and psychological processes, matters little to the development of the kind of research I conduct.