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A pedagogy of disharmony: Subjects, economies, desires

Kenneth Byrne, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation asserts the importance of acknowledging and incorporating lack in the theory and practice of pedagogy. The alternative view, that identity can be fixed, can be understood in Lacanian terms as a fantasy construction. Such fantasies have powerful effects, sedimenting individual and social desires, and blocking potential alternative subjectivities and social practices from emerging. The dissertation therefore aims to challenge fantastic representations of the fixed subject and the fixed social structure prevalent in educational discourse, and to argue further that a differently oriented pedagogy, focused on acknowledging and maintaining the lack or negativity at the heart of identity, may provide the opportunity for these possible subjects and practices to proliferate. This dissertation critiques the fantasies of humanism and of structuralism that are widespread in educational theory and practice, arguing in particular that widespread understandings of the relationship between subjects and economic reality lead to a political impasse. Using Derridean deconstruction, post-structuralist marxian economic theory, and Lacanian psychoanalytical theory, the dissertation then explores discourses of subjectivity and economic reality in the context of the Rethinking Economy project, an interdisciplinary qualitative research project in the Pioneer Valley region of western Massachusetts. A symptomatic reading of the project's texts argues for the powerful presence of fantasy in the economic narratives of individuals, in the mainstream economic development conversation, in progressive educational discourse, and in alternative, marginal, or daily economic discourse. The pedagogical moments of the project are used to illustrate an educational practice that attempts to destabilize fantastical attachments. Based on this reading, I propose a more general model for educational philosophy and pedagogical practice, one which is based neither on an essentialist view of the subject nor on an essentialist view of the social field and yet which is still foregrounded in particular political and ethical commitments.

Subject Area

Educational theory|Economic theory|Psychology

Recommended Citation

Byrne, Kenneth, "A pedagogy of disharmony: Subjects, economies, desires" (2003). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3110472.