NotesFAQContact Us
Search Tips
Peer reviewed Peer reviewed
PDF on ERIC Download full text
ERIC Number: EJ1081558
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2006
Pages: 10
Abstractor: ERIC
ISSN: ISSN-1522-7502
Biopower and Pedagogy: Local Spaces and Institutional Technologies
Wittman, John
Composition Forum, v15 Spr 2006
While sitting on a bench outside the university's museum grappling with his own emotional numbness and inability to comprehend the traumatic events of 9-11, John Wittman watched a group of 4 students circling one of the main buildings on campus with an American flag on the back of the roll bar of a truck. Having thought about the flag-waving parade by students many times in the following months, Wittman became convinced that what motivated these students to parade their flag in front of school is something that is deeply imbedded in our cuture, which becomes more obvious in times of extreme emotion. In other words we are already prepared to act out in specific and predefined ways when we are faced with conflict. Wittman explains that the threat of this kind of thinking is that it undermines the kind of critical thought many academics claim they want their students to pursue in higher education. When we struggle for these critical moments in our teaching, Wittman thinks educators too often underestimate the degree to which students and teachers alike have already been prepared through social institutions to either resist them outright or to resort to cliché. In this essay, Wittman incorporates Arendt's term cliche to describe the totalistic impression our cultural and social institutions can have on how we exist and communicate with others in the social sphere. Wittman believes that learning how to undermine cliché thinking is crucial as our culture and institutions evolve and become more complex and intricate. The article also discusses Biopower, which was defined by Francois Ewald, as "the industrial and controlled production and reproduction of the living." Governance of life and its relation to power are institutionally legitimated in new ways incorporating institutions such as family, medicine, psychiatry, education, etc. They create what Foucault calls the "welfare state." It is a state whose primary aim is no longer to protect the freedom of each individual-but rather to assume responsibility for the very manner in which the individual manages his life". Wittman argues that unless this process of biopower is interrupted, people can become so entrenched in institutional logics that those logics and the institutions that support them become invisible. In other words, the threat of biopower is the increasing retreat of analytical thought to cliché forms of thinking. The problem Wittman has described is not that we have values or that these values are constructed through our institutions. The problem Wittman is describing is our comportment toward our values as they are defined by our social institutions. Thinking allows a fluidity rather than a rigidity of thought, and this fluidity liberates "the faculty of judgment . . . the most political of man's mental abilities. It is the faculty to judge particulars without subsuming them under general rules which can be taught and learned until they grow into habits that can be replaced by other habits and rules." This will be quite difficult to do in that it would mean we would have to treat ourselves and our peers as subjects in constant emergence and discursiveness. This could mean that in the end our most valuable asset is not the doctrines we hold dear, but our ability to think without them.
Association of Teachers of Advanced Composition. e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Opinion Papers; Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: N/A
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Grant or Contract Numbers: N/A