Pedagogy 1.3 (2001) 554-559
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Classroom Spaces and the Corporate University
Editor's Note: The following roundtable review replies to and continues a discussion of this text that began in Pedagogy 1:2.
Passing and Pedagogy: The Dynamics of Responsibility. By Pamela L. Caughie. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999.
Dennis D. Moore (2001: 418) is right to identify Pamela L. Caughie's most important claim that pedagogy must be seen "not as a method but as an event." For Caughie, the goal of teaching is to create a "performative classroom" (109). She explains her deliberate political approach to the dilemmas of teaching in and after postmodernism: "The double bind created by the discrepancy between what we profess and how we are positioned, between the demands of a critical pedagogy and the constraints of postmodern culture, cannot be resolved only in the register of theory but must also be confronted performatively in literature and composition classrooms" (199). This pedagogical "double bind" leads Caughie to develop the notion that "passing" is the major performance we "enact" in the classroom (94, 104): as teachers, we may profess one thing (say, a political commitment to multiculturalism) while positioning ourselves as another (for instance, as the authoritative expert on others or othering).
Speaking for or speaking as the other conflicts with the very middle-class profession of teaching literature. Caughie argues that we must use this slippage responsibly, employing the double bind to debate ethics and values in our classes. This teaching "event" or opportunity occurs each time a professor enters a classroom, eliciting "deep anxieties" from students and teachers alike. In fact, this is an anxious book, and its uneasiness manifests itself early when Caughie observes that, in writing "this book over the past six years, I have been continually aware of the risks of employing the figure of [End Page 554] passing. . . . I wanted to write about ethics without sounding morally superior. My worry was that I could not always tell the difference between the practices I was engaged in and those that I critiqued" (8). Throughout Passing and Pedagogy Caughie examines a teacher's intentions--sometimes her own--against the effects of that teaching. 1
But something is missing, perhaps because of this book's uneasiness about method and prescriptiveness: Caughie argues for the ethical outcome of "passing" without providing a means to get there. Her project is a "descriptive theory" of passing's dynamics (39). Her "ironic pedagogy" works only when teachers and students alike "get" the discrepancy between what one is and what one professes. This pedagogy displaces "the teacher's authority, making it impossible for students to identify with any one position" (113). Caughie offers complexity and ambivalence as her ethics at the expense of transgressive, or even oppositional, stances (254). To be honest, I want my students to identify with something, however utopian this might seem.
I also expected (and wanted) a more pragmatic reading of pedagogy, of the kind that Caughie lauds in Jane Gallop's reading of Lacan. Caughie abjures the possibility of making pragmatic suggestions about teaching, since one cannot stage the event of/in the classroom. Rather, the event must unfold between professor and students, either as the dynamics of call-and-response or as transference, or even as (in)difference. Caughie insists that pedagogy cannot be "controlled as a politics or methodology" (198). But if the point is "to provide our students with strategies and occasions for working through rather than taking up--in the sense of taking a stand on--certain subject positions" (198), then it is incumbent on Caughie to propose how "working through" can be accomplished. So much of Caughie's argument is based on psychoanalysis and performance that she is loath to suggest how we arrive at the moment of a "healthy" classroom: Can the classroom work on a therapeutic model? Can the classroom be cured, or is this pedagogical analysis interminable?
Caughie's answer is "passing," and she describes it "as the possibility of pedagogy" in a cultural studies classroom (67). She means that teaching (as an...