Book Chapter

Derrida, Teaching and the Context of Failure


Munday I (2015) Derrida, Teaching and the Context of Failure. In: Smith R (ed.) Philosophy of Education II, Volume 2. Major Themes in Education. London: Routledge.

The aim of this paper is to bring critical attention to the ways in which notions of ‘success’ and ‘failure’ are applied to teaching and learning in schools in England and Wales. The main philosophical text that guides the discussion is Derrida’s ‘Signature event context’, which contains a reading of J.L. Austin’s theory of the performative utterance. Derrida finds much to admire in Austin’s philosophising. However, he argues that Austin’s treatment of context misses something important about how things are done with words. Derrida maintains that, having shown how truth claims are bound up with performative concerns, Austin takes a step backwards by fixating on external contextual factors that must be in place for the performative utterance to be happy—for it to ‘succeed’ in doing what the speaker intends it to do. This ignores the iterability of language and the ways in which words are ultimately bound neither by the intentions of the speaker, nor by any other aspect of the environment in which the utterance takes place. The current thinking in regards to successful teaching and learning invites a comparison with Austin’s treatment of context—for a lesson to be successful, a set of contextual factors must be put in place. In this paper, I argue that treating teaching and learning in these terms represents an overdetermined understanding of ‘success’ and ‘failure’ that sees language as something to be tamed by context. Once we recognise that words cannot always or necessarily be brought under control then this will open the door to creative ways of thinking about teaching and language.

Title of seriesMajor Themes in Education
Publication date31/12/2015
Publisher URL…ok/9780415830096
Place of publicationLondon