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Education, Assessment, and the Desire for Dissonance


Yusef Waghid and Nuraan Davids

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.

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Chapter 4. Towards Foucauldian Agonism in Assessment


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In exploring the interrelated concepts of power, resistance, and agonism, this chapter makes the case for Foucauldian resistance as a positive concept in cultivating deliberative assessment encounters, in particular showing how assessment should embrace nondomination, difference and nonmastery of pedagogic knowledge. More specifically, we shall address the Foucauldian idea of agonism as a way of resisting abusive power relationships in pedagogical assessments.

Power, resistance, and agonism

As discussed in Chapter 2, Foucault (1982, p. 778) is emphatic that it is not power, which is the general theme of his research; it is the subject. It is true, he confesses, that he became quite involved with the question of power. However, he continues, “It soon appeared to me that, while the human subject is placed in relations of production and of signification, he [she] is equally placed in power relations which are very complex” (1982, p. 778). To Foucault, the subject is self-aware, and has the capacity to choose to do this or that. As such, the subject is not fixed or locked in specific identities. As a self-aware entity, which has the capacity of choice, the subject is free. The exercise of power, ← 53 | 54 → says Foucault (1982, p. 788), is not simply a relationship between subjects, partners, individual or collective; “it is a way in which certain actions modify others.” In this sense, the idea that power somehow...

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