Zoomin' in on Luhmann


In Susanne Luhmann's "Queering/Querying Pedagogy? Or, Pedagogy Is a Pretty Queer Thing", the author attempts to imagine a queer pedagogy, along with its goals and limitations. Technically, her article is set up rather nicely. To start off, she asks her audience questions like: What might a queer pedagogy look like? Who is it for/ about? What are its goals? Is it a platform for queer theory and content? Is it simply a queer form of pedagogy? This is really a lot to tackle in one relatively short text, but Luhmann's approach is rather graceful.

Right off the bat, Luhmann interrogates both "queer theory" and "pedagogy", both as related and separate terms. For Luhmann, the two share a like history, both being regularly oversimplified and used for insult and injury. However, both terms have been reclaimed in a sense by marginalized communities. While this is interesting, it is not necessarily the meat of Luhmann's argument here. She goes on to talk about queer theory and its rejection of gender binaries, which in turn renders sexual orientation useless. In other words, if gender is not central to a subject's identity, there is no non-normative sexual practice.

While I found this part to be especially interesting, I should note that Luhmann's queer theory and pedagogy are specifically concerned with gender and sexuality. Rather, queering is an interrogation of ways of knowing normalcy in general, how it is produced and how it functions to render subjects intelligible. That is why queer theory lends itself so well as an approach to pedagogy. Queer pedagogy, in this piece, attempts to disrupt traditional educational models, even "progressive" ones, that are focused merely on instructing.

Luhmann's assertions that the goals of a queer pedagogy would not necessarily be to worry about the transmission of knowledges with expected outcomes is particularly intriguing. Instead she asks us to think of queer pedagogy as the "question", rather than the "answer" (pg 7), an environment in which the process of knowledge production and transmission is deeply interrogated. For me, this evokes images of an educational model in which the goals and knowledges one is supposed to/ going to achieve are not decided beforehand, but discovered throughout the process of questioning how such knowledges are produced and passed along, and why certain knowledges and goals are deemed important.

Queer pedagogy is concerned with the relationships of the student to the teacher/text. What does that relationship look like? What can be transferred back and forth between parties? There is a wonderful section of this text in which Luhmann explores the concept of ignorance. She states, "Ignorance is not the opposite to knowledge but an opposition to knowing"(pg 7). This is not the standard definition one is used to, but it is representative of the strength of queer pedagogy. With a queer pedagogy, the recurring "problems" which occur with the practice of traditional educational models can be approached in such a way that each subject involved is communicated with at their particular vantage point or location. I will not address the language learning analogy too deeply because we had a good go at it in class, but I believe this is what Luhmann is referring to, an educational model that presupposes differences amongst students rather than their equal (identical) capacities to engage with material presented to them.
For Luhmann, queer pedagogy may not be entirely tangible, but that is why it is so useful as a mechanism for disruption and interrogation.

Near the end of the text she writes, "Such queer pedagogy does not hold the promise of a successful remedy against homophobia, nor is it a cure for the lack of self-esteem" (pg 11), implying that queer pedagogy is not only less firmly positioned as a resistance-based tactic, but it is also not solely for and about an already "queer" community. This educational model, rather, is about questioning normalcy within academia, both its content and methods, as well as its aims.

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