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Narrative Theory

Life Politics: conversations about education and culture

Mediation is the Message

QUESTION: We are speaking now about the relationship between political action and theoretical activity. And it seems to us that your ideas point the need to reconsider the tradition of certain critical theory and the connection that is made between theory production, political position and conception of power.

IVOR: We can set two difference issues. In terms of the first of those, critical theory. I think some of the comments I’ve just made are in some ways related. If a theory becomes a constant oppositional posture, whatever power is doing, a constant on­going conspiracy theory, then that does not square with my understanding of history. History is a little more variable than that. Its true power is often very corrupt, that’s true, but sometimes less than other times. And I suppose I have a number of problems with it that we talked about before. Although I’m much inclined to think myself in a very independent way. And one of them is what I said that it’s a posture of constant opposition. The second one is that it seems to me to proceed in the wrong sequence towards understanding of the world. It starts with a theoretical pre­supposition very often, not always, generally. Some theories of that sort start with a theory of the world, which then search the world for proof. I prefer to work in the other sequence. You go into the world with a set of obviously theoretical training’s, no doubt, and prejudices and desires. But basically, you come to theory through the battle with data. I believe you saturate yourself with data, you live among data in the world, and you come to theory. Of course you travel from theory to theory, I under­stand that. But none the less, you come to theory in a particular way. My way of working is through a very detailed, hard working analysis of the micro and mezzo activities in the world, to develop some theories about what is actually going on. And that leaves me with a different presupposition about power. As I come to under­stand how power is affecting the way people act and look in the world, I can make distinctions between relatively, shall we say, liberal times, and relatively oppressive times. And I believe that these do have some cyclical kind of (…). So if I was to analyse the world with a theory which I thought would always stand, I would stand against the kind of cyclical understandings of different changes that have happened.
I make a very important distinction, in the first book I wrote in 1982, called “School subjects and curriculum change”, between “domination” and “mediation”. Domina­tion and mediation go this way that there are certain “conjunctures” where dominant interest groups intervene to set up a structure. At the moment a reform is coming down, which will set up certain structural parameters by action. That’s a moment -if you will - of dominant interest groups wishing to restructure in a very systematic way. At that dominant moment, structure is put in place and it includes a pattern of resources and a pattern of aspirations. That’s a moment of, we can say, domination. Once they put that reform in place, a different politics takes place. It’s not daily domination. It follows very quickly with what will be a public long period of media­tion. While that structure is administered and managed and run and activated by other people who will take back from it certain degrees of autonomy space and other strategic politics. In other words, be mediating a structure which was once put in place by domination. That distinction between domination and mediation is naturally the critical point, because it gets the heart of how power works. Power doesn’t work in most places most of the time, by constantly telling you what to do. In my book the phrase which I like the most is: “this is less a story of domination by dominant groups, more a story of solicitous surrender by subordinate groups”. That’s mediation. That is very different to the idea of domination as a founding system. And that’s the root of my different sequence to theory. I read the world differently, I don’t think domination works as systematic pression. I believe it works as mediated surrender by subordinate groups. That’s a very different conception of power.

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  • Date of publication: 01/05/2012
  • Number of pages (as Word doc): 154
  • Publisher: Sense publishers
  • Subject:
    Narrative Theory
  • Available in:
  • Appears in:
    Life Politics: conversations about education and culture
  • Number of editions: 1
  • Paperback
  • Price of book: $39
  • ISBN: 978-94-6091-538-3
  • Buy used and new from: Amazon