Post-formalism, Pedagogy Lives

As Inspired by Joe L. Kincheloe

by Hans Jansen (Volume editor) Hugo Letiche (Volume editor)
©2017 Edited Collection XVI, 206 Pages


Joe L. Kincheloe (1950–2008) was one of North America’s leading critical pedagogy scholars. He defined post-formalist thought in terms of deconstruction, affectivity, and non-linearity. His deconstruction focused on the context of ideas, ideologies, and teaching. It was a form of sociological deconstruction, and as such, inspired by Derrida, but different from him as well. In effect, Kincheloe was trying to marry Derrida to Foucault by making deconstruction see power in thought, relationships, and the world. Kincheloe’s ‘turn to affect’ was inspired by feminism and radical pedagogy. It was ‘affect’ focused on (in)justice and the social practices of repression. His ‘self-other’ construct was inherently politicized by his identification of ‘unfreedom’ with capitalism and the assumption that this link determines affect. Kincheloe assumed that linear rationality was inadequate to understanding human needs and hopes. Freedom as dynamism was seen to be inherently non-linear. The prison of rationality (it can only repeat the same, over and over again) was the crux of his critique of Newtonian-Cartesian linearity. Kincheloe attempted to construct a concept of ‘place’—such as the classroom. But it was a particular, concrete classroom and not an abstract or theoretical one. Here, the three concepts could come together. ‘Place’ is context, and to understand it, deconstruction is needed. ‘Place’ exists as it is felt and requires affectivity; it is eventful, alive, and dynamic. It requires non-linearity to be understood. Post-formalism, Pedagogy Lives (in memory of Kincheloe’s contribution) encompasses each of the basic principles of Kincheloe’s post-formal thought.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise for Post-formalism, Pedagogy Lives
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Figures
  • Preface
  • Introductions to Joe (L. Kincheloe)
  • Chapter One: Freire’s Presence in Post-formalism Pedagogy, a Foreword (Donaldo Macedo)
  • Chapter Two: Doing Post-formalism with Joe’s Help (Ana Cruz)
  • Chapter Three: Radical Love (Shirley R. Steinberg)
  • Chapter Four: The Blue(s) Road of Knowledge (Vincent Pieterse)
  • Chapter Five: Introduction to Post-formalism as a Way of Life (Hans Jansen)
  • Right Now: Critical Pedagogy and Post-formalism
  • Chapter Six: Critical Pedagogy, Equality, and the Future of Schooling (Gert Biesta)
  • Chapter Seven: Critical Pedagogy in the 21st Century (Peter McLaren)
  • Chapter Eight: Crises of Pedagogy in McUniversity: A Pragmatist-Storytelling Contribution to Joe L. Kincheloe’s Critical Ontology (David M. Boje)
  • Chapter Nine: Legitimation of Post-formalism with Living Theories (Jack Whitehead)
  • Post-formalism: Next Steps in the Methodology
  • Chapter Ten: From Post-formalism to Complexity or from Kincheloe to Simondon (Hugo Letiche)
  • Chapter Eleven: Hole in the Fence: Losing, Saving, and Protecting Non-Linear Knowing (Albert Cath)
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter Twelve: Being (Becoming) Post-formal (Hans Jansen / Hugo Letiche)
  • Contributors
  • Index

← vi | vii →




Figure 8.1:The Ontological Side of Antenarrative: Before, Bets, Between, and Beneath (drawing by Boje)
Figure 9.1:Living Theory Theses
Figure 10.1:The Semiotic Square
Figure 10.2:Simondon’s Semiotic Square
Figure 10.3:Simondon; Semiotic Square of Social Activity
Figure 11.1:Triangular Relationships
Figure 11.2:The Tetragram Order-Disorder-Interaction-Organization
Figure 11.3:Placing Narrative in the Semiotic Square ← vii | viii →

← viii | ix →




The year 2008 remains a watershed in contemporary history; it is the date that the most fundamental social-economic crisis since the 1930s was unleashed. At first, the crisis seemed solely to be a product of financial capitalism and the scandals of subprime mortgage lending and speculation in derivatives. But with time, it has become clear that the crisis is a much more profound product of economic globalization, the deindustrialization of the USA and much of Europe, and the shifting ecology of our planet. Critical pedagogy 2000 to 2008 fared poorly in the hands of neo-conservative hegemony. The academic elite in education had bought into the ‘knowledge society’ and ‘never again a crisis’ story. Education for them existed to prepare future generations of rich, successful, skilled, and entrepreneurial employees for the post-industrial success story. Impact of educational research was defined in terms of designing the training tools needed to produce future generations of knowledge workers. Conflicts grounded in differences of interests between employers and employees supposedly belonged to the past. Education’s role was to contribute to the development of the skills and attitudes needed to further the ‘free market’ success story. It was a bleak moment for critical pedagogy, which was based on two assumptions: (1) social justice requires attention to the marginalized and socially excluded; and (2) social studies have to be normative in service of fairness, social justice, and human flourishing. The unbridled success of the consumer society had redefined education as a service provider/client relationship, without ← ix | x → any purchase on a critical social conscience. For committed critical thinkers, it was a very difficult period. Universities had redefined themselves as ‘entrepreneurial’, selling themselves as innovation incubators for business. Managerialism dominated. The goal of educational research was to learn to manage the careers of future generations so they would contribute successfully to economic growth. Managing the professional socialization of financial management’s success, of course, was not what critical pedagogy saw as its goal.

Producing a technically skilled, placid and well-adapted capitalist workforce did not inspire scholars like Joe L. Kincheloe. Kincheloe’s work centered on two themes: (1) schooling with inspirational goals focused on the needs of all pupils and especially the socially sidelined; and (2) (re-)defining a pedagogy/educational studies that was self-reflexively normative. Joe L. Kincheloe died totally unexpectedly in 2008. Thus at the moment that the social-economic crisis was revealing itself, while education as a field of study was for the most part hostile to playing a critical role and was unprepared to redefine itself in the light of the needs of the 21st century. This book opens with a description of and tribute to Joe L. Kincheloe’s practical engagement with education and educators. He was the ‘beat poet’ of education; an approachable, amiable, and supporting figure in a cold, technocratic desert. In this book, the radical 1970s of critical pedagogy, where education seemed to have a glorious future grounded in political radicalism, is touched upon. And then the difficult bridge to facing up to the society of neo-liberal hegemony gets addressed. Kincheloe during the last years of his life was on the defensive—trying to protect socially engaged thought within academe. To do so, he had opted for a sort of self-imposed exile; working out of McGill University in Canada.

In the neo-liberal political landscape of the 21st century, new theory is necessary. Kincheloe’s key concept of ‘post-formalism’ needs expanding and redefining. He had developed post-formalism as a critique of non-normative, ethically blind positivist research. For Kincheloe: WHY we educated and WHAT we educated for had to precede the development of techniques and methods. But critical pedagogy’s grounding in the pursuit of social justice, accompanied by a critique of capitalism, had fewer and fewer hearers. Since 2008, the economic and social challenges of globalized capitalism have hit harder and harder. But there has not been a turn to critical thought to address this. The political horizon seems dominated more by populist anger and frustration than by informed critique and creative solutions. In his last work, Joe L. Kincheloe had begun to expand and retool post- formalism to meet the challenges of our times.

To borrow a phrase of Timothy Morton (2013), we now have to address a world of hyperobjects. Pre-2008, we could think separately of schools and universities, factories and banks, R&D and marketing, et cetera. We could thus think ← x | xi → of the world in terms of separate functions that were interrelated but still separable. The part/whole analyses of systems thinking, with different aggregation levels, subsystems, and categories, seemed inclusive enough. But since 2008, we have been confronted with the effects of a global economy and know that we live in an anthropogenic world that we cannot oversee or control. As Morton argues, contemporary hyperobjects are viscous (they stick to us, make us uneasy, and will not leave us alone), non-local (they are everywhere and nowhere, we cannot localize our problems, challenges, or the possible solutions), they are Gaussian (refuse simple time/space emplacement, are everywhere and nowhere, visible and invisible, present and spookily absent), and they manifest themselves interobjectively. Ours is not a world just of human consciousness or ‘corrolationism’ (objects only exist in our minds) but one where all sorts of objects, from worms to people, ideas to ideologies, organizations to institutions, play themselves out. Morton insists that the effects of hyperobjects on our understanding have been radical and disastrous. Thought is currently typified by hypocrisy (we pretend to understand and to be in control when we are not), weakness (our observations or phenomenal awareness just does not measure up to what is ‘there’) and lameness (our societies, cultures and economies seem out of control and are unable to sustain themselves). One can argue that ecopedagogy (Kahn 2010) is the newest, post-2008, radical kid on the block. But its rejection of humanism as an anthropocentric perspective that is inherently exploitive of all other life-forms, is in conflict with critical pedagogy’s commitment to the ‘humanization of experience’. The Freierian approach, with which Kincheloe has always been identified, grounds education and learning in addressing real social issues faced by the communities involved. Fundamental social problem solving, directed to achieving fairness and social justice, is the key motivator. The refusal to learn is grounded in the political irrelevance of what is offered to learn. Relevant learning will be self-sustaining. Ecopedagogy has positioned itself as a political protest movement that makes use of education to further its goals. Freire’s agenda was much more enlightenment driven; it championed awareness and knowledge of real-life problems as the key motivator to learning. Learning and schools are not a political tool, but a fundamental space for developing situational and ethical consciousness. Humanity, aware of itself and its condition, is able to undertake liberator action. Without that self-awareness, politics remains manipulative, with a political elite making use of its followers for its own purposes. Emancipation follows awareness; it does not precede it.

Joe L. Kincheloe was a pedagogical activist, but he was also an academic researcher. Post-formalism has two rather different meanings. On the one hand, it points to schooling that is not protocoled to death. Neo-liberalism’s demand for accountability has destroyed freedom in the classroom. Mastering basic cognitive ← xi | xii → capacities will not produce democratic attitudes, social commitment, or empathetic warmth. Thus what comes after, and is beyond playing it by the rules, or what transcends the formalisms, is what is really crucial. But for Joe L. Kincheloe, post-formalism had a second meaning. In pedagogical research, the definition of knowledge is often counterproductive. Carefully tested conclusions that fit prior hypotheses most often produce circular reasoning and tautology. And the “manipulation of things, concepts or symbols for the purpose of generalizing” (Slesinger & Stephenson, 1930) all too often remains the hermetic ‘manipulation of things, concepts, and symbols’. Too often, ‘research’ is merely the determining of the frequency with which something occurs, with no real addition to knowledge actually attempted. And ‘hypothesis-testing’ does not investigate variables of any practical interest to practice. Not to mention all the epistemological issues. What a ‘classroom’, ‘learning’, ‘motivation’, ‘achievement’, ‘pupil’, ‘teacher’, ‘school’, et cetera are, is very often very unclear. The one ‘classroom’ (et cetera) is just not the other. And the one researcher’s labels are often incomparable with how the other makes use of the same terms. There are post-formal forms of research that are embedded in practice and are at least locally grounded and experientially sound. Case studies, auto- reflective descriptions of practice, and grounded co-research can all be post-formal. Kincheloe forcefully defended the constructivist epistemological position, calling for embedded dialogic investigation. But such projects need critical insights and themes to remain relevant. Their examination of practice is socially and collectively driven, but it is also theory driven. Kincheloe’s post-formalism was meant to defend research embedded in radical practice—that is, in practice aware of life-affirming themes and human flourishing, and to open up new vistas of affirmative action and emancipatory transformation. While Freire’s pedagogy and critical theory’s political-sociological critique had served him well, Kincheloe in the last years of his life was exploring new paths. Both Freire’s political humanism and neo-Marxism’s politics had been overwhelmed by neo-liberal individualism and rabid consumerism. Research as an ethical form of constructivism was marginalized. Knowledge was increasingly a tool of managerialism—i.e., the production of facts to be used to administer teachers, pupils, and schools. Knowledge was merely a tool of governance—i.e., of control and hierarchy. Constructivism had championed polyphony, difference, and dialogue as crucial to research. But fewer and fewer researchers or professionals were willing to take part. Constructivism is participatory—but what do you do if the stakeholders refuse to play along? Increasingly, the workers were voting neo-fascist (see Belgium, Austria, and France) and the educators seemed to be indifferent to equal developmental opportunities for all. Thus, Kincheloe in the last phase of his work, was exploring social complexity theory as a way of addressing the changed conditions. Social complexity theory emphasizes that ← xii | xiii → specific individual actions can be game changers and that emergence will always destabilize every bastion of control. Since 2008, the latter seems clear enough. The pre-2008 assurance that capitalist-driven economic growth is here to stay has obviously been shattered. However, the claim that unique actions can destabilize hegemony, and bring liberatory processes into action, remains questionable. But Kincheloe was not willing to retreat into naïve realism or positivism. Post humanist and ecopedagogy both base their claims on positivist research. They claim, in effect, to scientifically know that the ecological crisis demands radical change if the extinguishment of life is to be avoided. That they still represent a minority position is very unfortunate in their eyes, but it has no effect on the truth quality of their message. But for a constructivist position, what the field thinks is crucial. If one’s research is dialogical, then what the Others think is decisive. Kincheloe was trying to preserve his socially open, democratic and dialogic epistemology while dealing with his minority and even threatened position. How social complexity theory played into his thinking in that effort will be explored in the last two chapters of this book.

Thus, this book presents the living-thought of a scholar who died far too soon.

Hans Jansen
Hugo Letiche


Kahn, R. (2010). Critical pedagogy, ecoliteracy, & planetary crisis: The ecopedagogy movement. New York, NY: Peter Lang.

Morton, T. (2013). Hyperobjects. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Slesinger, D., & Stephenson, M. (1930). ‘Research’: The encyclopedia of social sciences (Vol. IX). New York, NY: Macmillan. ← xiii | xiv →


XVI, 206
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (February)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2017. XIV, 206 pp., 8 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Hans Jansen (Volume editor) Hugo Letiche (Volume editor)

Hans Jansen is Emeritus Professor of Pedagogical Innovation and Ethics at the University of the West of England. His Drs. is from the University of Amsterdam and his Ph.D. from the Universiteit voor Humanistiek. Hugo Letiche is Professor of Organization and Complexity at the University of Leicester and Visiting Professor at École de Mines: TEM Paris. His Drs. is from Leiden University and his Ph.D. from the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.


Title: Post-formalism, Pedagogy Lives
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