Our next PhD workshop approaches and this time as well as sharing some of our own writings, outlines of our studies and other readings we will be having a go at Derrida. I was almost looking forward to this one, since I did a bit of dabbling with deconstruction in the latter stages of my undergraduate degree, but that was a long time ago. It was very current at the time though (late 80s). I took a trip to Paris in my final year to meet with the poet I was investigating as the subject of my dissertation. I got a flight for £19 and stayed free of charge in the famous Shakespeare and Company bookshop. I also went to a Derrida talk – it was somewhere near Les Halles, and disappointingly I can’t remember much about it except for his wild hair and lots of enthusiastic fawning students, with whom he engaged very openly, a bit like the students in this documentary.


Deconstruction rejects the certainties of critical theories (binaries and hierarchies like class structure, gender etc) and offers an undefined “other” ontology. The other; L’autre, or l’avenant as Derrida has sometimes referenced disrupts our experience of how language constructs and gives meanings to reality, by opening up spaces beyond traditional understandings. There is a strong focus on discourses and texts in deconstruction, but Derrida would claim that discourses are never mere linguistic entities, they organize our ways of thinking so that they become ways of acting in the world. This interplay between concepts and texts is mentioned in Merceica (2011) as “being both inseparable and mutually contaminating for each other.” (p 201) In 12 lecons de Philosophie, Derrida exemplifies this in his essay “le langage” by (de)constructing the essay around the telephone conversation he has with the commissioning editor inviting his contribution. The effect is challenging and readable and it left me with a feeling that the philosophy I was trying to understand was embedded, or internal to the text, not conceptually represented by it or external to it, if that makes any sense.

We are reading the three Derrida chapters in Murphy (2013), which offer practical and theoretical interpretations of Derrida.  Irwin (2013) attempts to make connections between Marxism and deconstruction in educational research. I’m not massively convinced about this, but that is probably more a reflection of my own limited understanding of this philosophy. Although there is a radical dimension to his work I haven’t been struck by any overtly political references in Derrida, whether that might be class structures or calls to arms. I’m looking forward to hearing what the others have to say on this.

There is also a commonality running across at least 3 of the readings, and that is that Derrida is being used as a response to some sort of constraint, and in doing this, new knowledge is allowed to develop. I wonder how this connects to the justice/social justice dimensions of research, and I think this might be why the connection with feminist analytical approaches might be so clear (if it is clear!).

The other readings deal with more practical examples: a deconstructivist approach to a new geography curriculum in NE England, and a piece on using Derrida with student teachers in reflective writing  Winter (2013) gave a really helpful practical example of “praxis” – the reciprocity of theory and practice which had been discussed in Irwin (2013) as she described the process she and colleagues went through to deconstruct their traditional (constrained) understanding of the geography curriculum and open up a new space  for this work – they created an “other. ” This was not a new version of a known script, it was something different altogether, with new epistemologies of geography and new understandings of school policy, practice, structures and culture.  It’s been claimed that deconstruction is not a process or a theory to be overlaid on some project – Winter shows in this study how the lived experience of deconstruction (what I understand as the “metaphysics of deconstruction” (Winter 2013, p197)) gives rise to “the other.” I’m not sure that the personification of the other is altogether helpful. Would it be easier to understand as a state of being – otherness, for example, rather than a being itself?

Other (!) readings to be re-visited will include Ian Munday (2013) on Derrida, Teaching and the Context of Failure, some more on methods of writing and our own critical shared writing with colleagues, as well as an outline of our individual studies. The pace of things is beginning to change, I’m hoping I’ll be in a position to start moving ahead with my study very soon, All this philosophy is great fun but I need to be getting on!

Derrida, J 1985: Douze leçons de philosophie. La découverte/Le Monde, Paris

Irwin, J, 2013: Derrida and educational research: an introduction in In Murphy, M (ed) Social Theory and Educational Research, Routledge, Abingdon 2013 p 171 -183.

Merceica, D, 2013: Engaging with student teachers on reflective writing: reclaiming writing: in In Murphy, M (ed) Social Theory and Educational Research, Routledge, Abingdon 2013,  p 200 -211.

Munday, I 2011: Derrida, teaching and the context of failure, Oxford Review of Education, 37:3 403-419

Winter, C, 2013: Derrida meets Dracula in the geography classroom.  In Murphy, M (ed) Social Theory and Educational Research, Routledge, Abingdon 2013 p 184-199.


About catrionao

I'm a lecturer at UWS and a PhD student at Stirling University, studying a school based practice of teacher professional learning.
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