The Pedagogical Possibilities of Witnessing and Testimonies

Det omöjliga vittnandet, in English

During 2020 Det omöjliga vittnandet will be published by Palgrave Macmillan in an English version, with the (prel.) title The Pedagogical Possibilities of Witnessing and Testimonies – Through the Lens of Agamben.

About:

There is great interest in testimonies, both in society at large and as a theoretical concept. Within educational research testimony is used to understand and develop epistemological, political or ethical thinking. In this book I investigate what testimonies andthe act of witnessing can do in relation to education. More specifically, I investigate what kind of pedagogical possibilities there are in witnessing and testimony, in relation to teaching as well as outside schools. Focusing on three different aspects (of these phenomena), namely representation, subjectivity and emotion I discuss different examples of testimonies. These are Collateral Murder, The Living History Forum’s book Tell Ye Your Children…Gruva by Sara Lidman and Odd Uhrbom, and pictures with Alan Kurdi from 2015 taken by Nilüfer Demir.

I examine the pedagogical possibilities of testimony and witnessing based on the idea that such possibilities are situated in human imperfection and lack of ability, where the knowledge is placed in the impossibility, in our not-knowing. This dialectical understanding, drawing on Giorgio Agamben, implies a different formulation than previous research, by highlighting the impossibility of witnessing and of testimony, for example by how the testimony does not stand outside the political, and in Western society more specifically, the capitalist system. Through the analyses of the different aspects (representation, subjectivity, emotions) I show how testimonies can serve as a way to control the students’ emotions and perceptions (drawing on Sara Ahmed), and influence the perception of the society in which the students live. I have also shown how the act of witnessing can be done at the witness’ own expense (by drawing on The Latina Feminist Group). It can mean that testimonies work as a way to reproduce various stereotypes of different people’s suffering and thus consolidate existing power structures and identities. The conditions surrounding witnessing and testimonies make witnessing an act that can be perceived as a poetic testimony, as well as an exploitation or expropriation of already vulnerable people. With this said, I also argue for the value of bringing into teaching testimonies that testify of suffering.

Testimonies stand between the past and the future and have important things to speak of. If testimonies are not heard in teaching, there is a possibility of silencing and forgetting the wounds in history. It is in teaching where the repetitive work of a literary reading (Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak) can take place. A literary reading that emphasizes the difficulties in testimonies and one’s own part of and relation to it. It is the effort of the repetitive work in teaching that can lead to pedagogical possibility, and through that, enter the future.