Education, Assessment, and the Desire for Dissonance

by Yusef Waghid (Author) Nuraan Davids (Author)
©2017 Textbook XX, 166 Pages
Series: Global Studies in Education, Volume 33


Education, Assessment, and the Desire for Dissonance aims to address the contentious practice of assessment in schools and universities within a poststructuralist educational paradigm. Within the theoretical paradigm of Foucault’s (1994) notions of governmentality, subjectification and dissonance, the book examines why, through which and in which ways (how) educational assessment should unfold considering the challenges of globalized and cosmopolitan dimensions of educational change that have beset educational institutions. Waghid and Davids show how conceptual derivatives of Foucauldian governmentality, in particular the notions of power, panopticon and surveillance, dispositive, freedom and resistance—as relational concepts—affect assessment in universities and schools. The authors argue why universities and schools cannot be complacent or non-responsive to current understandings and practices of assessment. In the main, the authors contend that a Foucauldian notion of powerful, subjectified and dissonant assessment can, firstly, be extended to an Agambenian (2011) notion of a profane, denudified and rhythmic form of assessment; and secondly, be enhanced by a Derridian (1997) idea of friendship that bridges a Foucauldian view of governmental assessment with an Agambenian view of ethical assessment. Friendship allows people to act responsibly towards one another—that is, teachers and students acting responsibility towards one another—and resonates with an ongoing pursuit of rhythmic assessment practices. Such a form of assessment opens up an attentiveness to the incalculable and unexpected encounters that bear the responsibility of acting with one another. The authors conclude that an assessment with teaching and learning can transcend the limitations of an assessment of learning and an assessment for learning.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Foreword by Tukumbi Lumumba-Kasongo
  • Preface
  • References
  • Chapter 1. Governmentality and Assessment Practices in Neoliberal South African Educational Institutions
  • Introduction
  • Foucault’s governmentality
  • Making sense of assessment
  • Non-governmental testimonies of assessment at schools in South Africa
  • Continuous assessment and governmentality: Why the disconnection?
  • Summary
  • References
  • Chapter 2. Educational Assessment and Power
  • Introduction
  • Foucault’s power and knowledge
  • Negotiating assessment: on the relationality of power
  • Freedom, ethics, and assessment
  • Assessment and resistance
  • Summary
  • References
  • Chapter 3. Panopticism and Assessment
  • Introduction
  • The panopticon and panopticism
  • Panopticism in assessment
  • Beyond panopticism in assessment
  • Summary
  • References
  • Chapter 4. Towards Foucauldian Agonism in Assessment
  • Introduction
  • Power, resistance, and agonism
  • Agonistic power relationships in assessment
  • Pedagogical labor, work and action, and its implications for assessment
  • Summary
  • References
  • Chapter 5. Against Metrics and Measurement: A Foucauldian Perspective
  • Introduction
  • Against learning for assessment
  • Toward a Foucauldian take against measurement
  • Assessment in disparate contexts: A South African background
  • Summary
  • References
  • Chapter 6. Foucault and Discourse Analysis
  • Introduction
  • On the orderliness of discourse
  • An analysis of discourse
  • Assessment practices in a multimodal postgraduate program
  • Summary
  • References
  • Chapter 7. Dissonance and Educational Assessment
  • Introduction
  • On detaching from the power of truth
  • Foucault on dissonance
  • Summary
  • References
  • Chapter 8. Educational Assessment and Dissonance: Invoking Rhythm, Profanations, and Denudation
  • Introduction
  • Educational assessment and rhythm
  • Educational assessment and profanation
  • Educational assessment and denudation
  • Educational assessment and dissonance
  • Summary
  • References
  • Chapter 9. Bridging Foucault and Agamben: Towards a Derridian Approach of Assessment
  • Introduction
  • Foucault on friendship
  • Derrida on friendship
  • Friendship revisited: Implications for assessment as a practice of a community without community
  • Summary
  • References
  • Chapter 10. Teaching and Learning Without Assessment
  • Introduction
  • “A community without community” in/about assessment
  • Teaching and learning without assessment
  • Assessment and subjectification revisited
  • Summary
  • References
  • Coda on the Ethical Dimensions of Assessment within Teaching and Learning
  • Introduction
  • Ethics and pedagogy
  • Assessment as underscored by phronesis
  • Assessment as an ethically guided democratic practice
  • Assessment within teaching and learning as an ethical virtue of dissonance
  • Toward a conclusion
  • References
  • Index
  • Series Index

← viii | ix →


We would like to extend our sincere gratitude and appreciation to: Stellenbosch University, for providing the space conducive to academic flourishing.

The National Research Foundation (NRF) for its financial support, which ensures the fruition of projects, such as these.

To all our students, who offer endless sources of debate, stimulation, and renewed thinking.

We also acknowledge the peer reviewers and editorial team of Palgrave- Macmillan for their unfledgling support in preparing the manuscript for production.

“I have learned silence from the talkative, tolerance from the intolerant and kindness from the unkind” Khalil Gibran. ← ix | x →

← x | xi →


Foreword by Tukumbi Lumumba-Kasongo

Yusef Waghid and Nuraan Davids’s book entitled: “Education, Assessment, and the Desire for Dissonance” is a monumental contribution towards the understanding of what formal education is, how its outcome/performance can be assessed and how we can make things better in the learning process in South Africa.

The intent of this foreword is not an attempt to answer all the questions I have posed in this commentary, but rather to reflect on them in their totality or structurally, in order to understand the nature of the issues raised in this fabulous book, and how to change them for the benefit of the whole.

What does it mean to intellectually and philosophically go beyond structuralism in examining education and assessment in schools and universities? What are the new paradigmatic contributions that can explain an educational assessment process and its complexity effectively? What are the policy implications?

The foundation of the arguments and claims advanced about assessment, its theoretical and practical validity, its relevancy and irrelevancy, its consistency and inconsistency in all ten chapters are mostly philosophically shaped and rooted around Foucault’s works and a few of his supporters and colleagues. The analyses and claims clarify and interrogate historical experiences of South Africa. ← xi | xii →

The book addresses assessment practices in schools and universities within a poststrucralist educational paradigm, which is a major research agenda that deals broadly with the question of the role and the place of formal education. In this regard, the authors draw on South African experiences, in the context of globalization, substantive technologi­cal changes and practices and values of liberal democracy.

Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida, who form the foundational thoughts of poststructuralism, “have consciously abandoned structuralism” and have put a new emphasis on inseparability of culture from the meaning. But cultural meaning is highly contextualized and is in itself individually problematic. Like power, as Foucault defines it, the meaning is a relational concept.

Using the philosophical and theoretical framework of Michel Foucault, especially his notions of governmentality, subjectification, and dissonance, Yusef Waghid and Nuraan Davids ask: Why and how educational assessment should be addressed taking into account the globalized and cosmopolitan dimensions of educational change? Other derivative relationship concepts include power, panopticism, surveillance, freedom, and resistance, all which affect, at various degrees, assessment at institutions of higher learning.

I should raise some general issues about this topic and pose some related questions, which are also alluded into most parts of this book.

Generally, the assessment in schools and universities across the world are about what is being learnt (product); how and what learning is transmitted to the learners; who the transmitters are, and what the agenda might be. The discourse on assessment implies the existence of a given curriculum in a given institution and in a given country at a given period. These contexts are essentially political.

Assessment is periodically administered through specific metrics and measurements, upon which the agents involved have either agreed upon or accepted. In general, they are considered relevant and usable in their specific contexts in learning processes. The exigency of such metrics or measurements may originate from the imperatives of the state, economics, and society, or those of technologies as these metrics and their choices are influenced by the dynamics of historical and cultural specificities. However, as societal, market, and governmental imperatives intersect, change, as well as the demands of social classes, the metrics are opened to either internal or external critiques or improvement depending on the dynamics of state-society-community relations. ← xii | xiii →

A number of questions are necessary to be posed in order to intellectually and philosophically frame the discourse and dig into the issue about the assessment practices in schools and universities, theoretically and historically. Assessment of what? Assessment for whom? The assessment in schools and universities are generally founded on the philosophical, political, and social elements about the forms and substance of the institutions of learning, what their objectives and means ought to be; how their agencies and agents perform their tasks; and the issues of the outcome or the product. What methods and strategies are used or instrumentalized to make assessment “intelligible,” usable, and socially and politically relevant? What has been achieved? Who are the beneficiaries of the assessment? Finally, who controls the mechanisms and instruments of assessment?

We are in the terrains of philosophy of sciences and philosophy of education where we must ask epistemological and scientific questions related to the issues of “efficiency,” “objectivity,” “truthfulness,” and “empiricism” as well as ethical issues such as equality, autonomy and freedom in the learning process.

By and large, we must raise the issue of normative quality of relationships between what is learnt, the environment in which the learning takes place, factors of learning, social, political, and technological determining and intervening variables in the learning process, and more importantly the power of controlling what is being learnt.

Knowledge production is an important factor in the assessment process. Whose knowledge is hierarchically considered more valued in the assessment process and in the governability?

Thus, in my view, the input-output model of assessment scheme, although still relevant within neo-functionalist approaches in education, is not any longer a sufficient instrument both analytically and philosophically, as it puts more emphasis on the learners/behaviors/individuals and the result or the product.

In this book, the limits of assessment both philosophically and practically are identified. The possibilities of transcending them are clearly articulated and recommended.

Universities should not be the mirrors of governability of the existing power system. They are the arenas of critical learning where ethical and scientific principles form the foundation of learning. They are corrective places where critical theories should flourish. Assessment should not be the apparatus of surveillance and control, as is the case. Assessment should not promote or maintain domination either from the teacher’s or the government’s perspective. Managerial neo-liberals who control education and assessment in South Africa, for instance, are not sufficiently addressing ethical values in ← xiii | xiv → the learning process. Thus, as Yusef Waghid and Nuraan Davids state: “we argue why universities and schools cannot be complacent or non-responsive to current understandings and practices.”

Assessment should be done within the relationship between teacher and student on the assumption that both can learn from one another. This process can emancipate both. Truth and learning come with emancipation, for instance, freedom.

Assessment should not be imposed onto the students or the institutions of higher learning. They should be engendered from within the dialectics of state-societal positive relations on the principle of a collective beneficial base (win-win theory). Pedagogic autonomy and students’ participation should positively change the nature of teacher and learning relations.

Assessment either for learning or assessment of learning requires activism of qualified teachers/faculty, sufficient, appropriate and relevant resources, committed administrative, societal supports, and maintenance of professional standards.

Paulo Freire’s seminal Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970), with his dialogical perspective is still relevant in asking core questions of education, for whom and what kind of education should be socially and culturally relevant, politically autonomous, and economically productive in South Africa and the rest of Africa.

In my view, one of the most important contributions of Yusef Waghid and Nuraan Davids in this book is that “education, assessment, and a desire of dissonance” is not examined as a single-issue proposition from a single-issue approach. Clearly, the book promotes multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary perspectives that are needed to examine the nature of relationships between education, power, and society holistically.

In the long run, no one can learn creatively, effectively, and innovatively from the conditions and institutions of alienation, subjugation, and poverty. A book that deals with educational assessment comprehensively is a “must” for all the enlightened Africans and Africanists. It teaches us how to reconceptualize power relations in the classroom, in the state-society arenas, and in parameters of liberal globalization. The first step in the emancipation of these relations is mental and political decolonization.


XX, 166
ISBN (Softcover)
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2017 (May)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2017. XX, 166 pp.

Biographical notes

Yusef Waghid (Author) Nuraan Davids (Author)

Yusef Waghid is Distinguished Professor of Philosophy of Education at Stellenbosch University in South Africa. He is the author of African Philosophy of Education Reconsidered on Being Human (2014) and co-author (with Nuraan Davids) of Ethical Dimensions of Muslim Education (2016). Nuraan Davids is Senior Lecturer of Philosophy of Education at Stellenbosch University in South Africa. She is the author of Women, Cosmopolitanism, and Islamic Education: On the Virtues of Education and Belonging (Peter Lang, 2013) and co-author (with Yusef Waghid) of Ethical Dimensions of Muslim Education (2016).


Title: Education, Assessment, and the Desire for Dissonance
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