Pedagogies of Disaster

I’ll be contributing to the Pedagogies of Disaster conference in Tirana in June. Here’s the abstract for my talk and more details about the conference below:

Refunctioning Pedagogy: Walter Benjamin and the Inhumanities
Matthew Charles, University of Westminster

Critical reflection upon academia and the humanities must include historical contextualisation of the emergence of a specific “pedagogical turn,” predicated upon the ideological waning of the “cultural turn” and the emergence of and subsequent neoliberal capitalist attack upon mass education within late capitalist societies. In this context, Education has become the ideologically fetishized locus of contemporary ideology, increasingly separated from its previous relation to Religion and Culture and called upon as a secularized but miraculous sociological force in its own right. Across the political spectrum Education has become, in Barthes’ sense, a myth. In a demythologizing vein, this paper proposes to develop a critical theory of Mass Education that draws upon the work of kleeangelusWalter Benjamin to attend to the moments of emancipatory potential opened up by the contradictions inherent to the crisis of education today.

Informed by the Angel of History’s vision of catastrophic disaster, but developed beyond Benjamin’s own work (which pursues its political themes within the twentieth-century crisis of art and culture), such a “pedagogical materialism” provides critical insight for rethinking educational issues in the context of the comparable transformation of the humanities in the twenty-first century, with regard to the interplay between technology and humanity, discipline and disciplinarity, but in particular the bourgeois pedagogical goals of citizenship and character formation. Invoking Benjamin’s concept of the Unmensch or Inhuman – understood as a Brechtian inversion of Nietzsche’s own pedagogically informed ideal of the Übermensch – this paper suggests that a critical theory of Mass Education must involve the “refunctioning” (Umfunktionierung) of pedagogy, if it is to overcome the shared limitations of the neo-liberal attack upon and neo-classical defence of the humanities. The consequences of such “refunctioning” are to be polemically postulated as a development of the “Inhumanities”, whose contours in relation to the contemporary University will be traced out in the paper’s conclusion in contradistinction to the Kantian vision proposed in The Conflict of the Faculties.

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Pedagogies of Disaster is initiated and organized by Open Access academic journal continent. and the Department of Eagles.

Pedagogies of Disaster is organized to address the fate of relation and the future of pedagogical practice in the University, and especially as it concerns the humanities. We seek to address the infrastructural or interpersonal changes in the modes of production as it relates to current academia. Through this conference we aim to examine the elements and spaces of the rifts opening up in the polis of the University—its students, professors and administrators. Through two general, though not mutually exclusive, topics—Teaching and Being Taught—we desire to address the pedagogical horizon at a critical limit. We ask for whom or for what are we teaching and we ask from whom or from what are we learning?

The organizers have chosen to forgo parallel sessions in order to promote a shared experience to develop sustained intellectual exchange as expressed by the conference program. Opening and closing lectures will be given by Italian autonomist philosopher and media activist Franco Berardi and French poetry scholar Judith Balso, respectively. The proceedings of the conference will be published by Open Access publishing house punctum books (Brooklyn NY, USA), including photographic documentation from Italian photographer Marco Mazzi (

The conference Pedagogies of Disaster will be held in the National Historical Museum in Tirana. Built during the communist period and finished in 1981, the building hosts a collection of artifacts from Albanian history, still seemingly frozen in the timeframe of their first exhibition.

continent. seeks to map a topology of unstable confluences and ranges across new thinking, traversing interstices and alternate directions in culture, theory, biopolitics and art. We seek to engage the paradigm of academic journals, informing—as well as criticizing—existing standards through active engagement with art, politics and philosophy, while also remaining “media agnostic” and cross-pollinated. To this end we have gathered a number of contributing editors and distinguished advisors from around the world  to produce a quarterly publication of significance and meaning. continent. is a quarterly, peer-reviewed, open access, online trans-academic journal published (roughly) in January, March, July and December. In addition, we support an active blog featuring original content from around the world, drawing on movements and events in politics, thinking, art and literature from Singapore to Tirana, Copenhagen to New York.

The Department of Eagles was established in Tirana, Albania — the “Country of Eagles” — in 2011 as a weekly reading group bringing together students and scholars from diverse regions such as law, anthropology, computer science, and international relations. The Department of Eagles aims to create a conceptual space in which it becomes possible to think what the humanities in general and philosophy in particular may mean in an age of globalization, where thought itself remains nevertheless divided across continental rifts. The Department of Eagles has recently co-organized several events in Tirana, such as the exhibitions “Pyramids: Monument for Late Capitalism” and “Kukafshehti” (together with Aleanca LGBT).

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