Liber amicorum: A Philosophical Conversation among Friends: A Festschrift for Michael A. Peters.
The notion of an academic friendship implied in "book of friends"--Liber amicorum --suggests a mutual caring about ideas and their representation, an intimacy that differs from the impersonal and bureaucratic relationships that distinguish neoliberal universities, and shared activity in the joint pursuits of conferences, seminars, books and papers implied in co-authorship, in a shared body of literature, in shared perspectives. Academic friendship is built into the notion of philosophy and is not only a shared love of wisdom in the original Greek meaning of the term but an essential relation that is at the basis of being a colleague: it is inherent in the idea of dialogue, communication and the very possibility of conversation.
This Romantic analysis that revolves around academic exchange, mutual acknowledgement, and shared standards of scholarship stands in marked contrast to the knowledge hoarding and privatisation of research that characterises the neoliberal university that imposes its industrial line management psychology to police, monitor and increasingly spy on the performativity of its faculty. In the "university of friends" it is our special responsibility to be critical of one another and to learn to take criticism in a positive sense as the lifeblood of scholarship: criticism without meanness, without rancour, and without nastiness.
What have I learned about Michael, having known him and worked closely with him for such a long period of time? Should anyone ever ask me to provide one word to characterize him, it would probably be this: energy. Michael never seems to stop. He loves to write, to share in conversation, and to initiate new projects. His enthusiasm is infectious. When Michael becomes involved with another group of people, the dynamic of the group changes; no one can stay the same once Michael has entered their lives. These thoughts are intended not merely as idiosyncratic reflections on Michael's personal characteristics (as I see them) but also as stepping stones for the exploration of philosophical and pedagogical questions. In the figure of Michael Peters, we have a distinctive example of how to live as a certain kind of intellectual, friend and teacher.
From Michael we can learn that writing, as a mode of intellectual activity, constitutes both a process of clarification and a means for exploration. Reading and writing are always related to each other: writing becomes the basis for finding out what one does and doesn't know, simultaneously permitting a new 'reading' of not only the texts under examination but the wider contexts--intellectual, political, historical--in which they are embedded. Michael is anything but technocratic in his reading and writing endeavors. He does not follow a linear, step by step method, reading first, taking notes, then writing; consistent with the philosophers he admires, he takes a more "playful," creative approach, mindful nonetheless of the importance of scholarly rigor and argumentation. Writing for Michael is not the end of an investigative process but its beginning--and this work is never complete. There is always another text to be written, just as there are always new ideas, or new ways of thinking about old ideas, to consider.
Through his constant writing, editing, initiating, talking, and thinking, Michael not only produces words, publishes books, and builds relationships with others; he also works on himself--his perception of the world and his place in it. Writing thereby becomes a rereading of reality, not just from without but within. To sustain oneself as an intellectual in this manner demands a degree of openness that is often lacking in the contemporary academic world. It also necessitates a willingness to live with uncertainty; with ephemerality, provisionality and incessant change.
Michael succeeds both with and against the logic of performativity. No university leader concerned with institutional scores in performance-based research funding exercises could fault his productivity. At the same time, were such a leader to read Michael's work, he or she might begin to feel vaguely uncomfortable. The emphasis on "performance" narrowly conceived, as the maximizing of outputs relative to inputs, measured at periodic intervals, in relation to both individuals and groups, is one of the distinguishing features of the neoliberal age--and Michael has been sharply critical of this.
Michael's energy happens to be good for parts of the neoliberal machine, but it also rubs against the grain of our time in ways that any healthy democracy needs. Michael asks awkward questions. In a world where everything must be measured and managed, Michael refuses to be contained. He seldom remains silent for long, and he does not allow himself to be bullied into conformity by bureaucrats. Michael writes because he loves to write; he does not do so merely to tick the right boxes on a performance review form. He could no more cease his activities as a curious, inquiring human being than he could stop breathing. He values breadth of investigation not just for its own sake but because this accords with his intellectual instincts and his natural inclinations as a citizen making his way in a cosmopolitan world. As a teacher, Michael brings ideas to life, mixing reason with passion, affirmation with contestation, optimism with realism. As a writer, he sets few boundaries for himself and encourages others to expand their horizons. As a friend, he is someone I am grateful to have met on my journey, and I hope there will thirty further years of reflection to add to the observations recorded here.
University of Canterbury
In his indefatigable endeavours, Michael Peters has opened a large and complex terrain. Conceptually, it offers an horizon against which large ideas have been explored, including those of globalization, postmodernism, post-postmodernism, governmentality, "knowledge capitalism" (Peters' own term), neoliberalism, education, pedagogy, social policy, economic policy, knowledge, culture and openness. Key theorists and thinkers on whom Peters has drawn have included Nietzsche, Heidegger, Foucault, Lyotard, Readings, Derrida, Rorty, and Deleuze. An oeuvre with such scope lends itself to an almost infinite interrogations, and interpretations.
University of London
For more than two decades, Michael Peters has been engaged in a wide-ranging critique of the neoliberal settlement in education, society and government. His writings, and the classes, seminars, conferences and collaborations in which they have been discussed and elaborated, have created and sustained networks of people working to build a new consensus about the purposes of education and knowledge creation in democratic societies.
Victoria University of Wellington
Professor Michael A. Peters' impressive list of publications includes numerous books and papers. He also edits international book series such as the Educational Philosophy and Theory Special Issues Monograph Series, and Interventions: Education, Philosophy and Culture as well as international journals, including Educational Philosophy and Theory and Policy Futures in Education; and the Studies in Education, Philosophy and Culture Series. The latter is a journal in China, which I think illustrates Professor Peters' ambition to make it possible for people throughout the world to contribute to on-going discussions on issues that concern, inter alia, education in different ways.
Professor Peters' publications cover different topics, issues, and problems that people are facing in our times. He discusses them thoroughly and I think he has an eye for what is going on and needs to be addressed reflectively and critically or--in his terminology--problematized. This emerges, for example, concerning theoretical issues, changed conditions for education and their impact on research on education, policy and the practice of education. Topics here include the knowledge society, knowledge production, the increased demands that people ought to render themselves not merely efficacious, but also creative in order to make themselves employable, movable, and flexible on the job market. Further, Peters has also produced encyclopaedias on the Internet, and given numerous talks throughout the world.
I think it is not unfair to say that Peters with his engagement and insights has both contributed to addressing the present state of affairs in various ways, and also problematized them and their limits so as to enable readers to acknowledge and to talk about them, and think differently. I believe, therefore, that he is a Kantian in spirit.
Peters' scholarly work exemplifies that he uses reason publicly through his many analyses and problematizations of the roles and functions ascribed to people, or which they ascribe to themselves and others in e.g. knowledge-based societies; and the expectations raised of the outcomes of education and the students and teachers within it. Peters' problematizations demonstrate, I think, that we should use reason not merely to identity ourselves with these roles or functions, blindly and foolishly, and try to comply with them. Peters' work not merely reflects that he has used his own understanding, but that he has also demonstrated this in his numerous publications and throughout his academic career. Peters has not merely demonstrated his courage in using his own understanding when, for example, he addresses the present and problematizes it, he has also made it possible for others to express the use of their own understanding actively and autonomously, by publishing their thoughts in some of the many book series and journals he edits. I think the latter reflects a call for a public use of reason, and also and nicely exemplifies Peters' engagement for the use of reason "before the entire public of the world of readers'" By addressing and questioning the limits of a private use of reason, Peters calls for attention to and transformation of its use and the attitude towards it. I think that Peters has shown a "way out" by opening up new possibilities of thinking and, perhaps more importantly, demonstrated the value and importance of using reason critically, publicly and continuously, and not merely privately--in practice--and that he has eloquently and powerfully done so throughout his academic career.
Attributing to Michael Peters a discursive universalism, and doing so in the very title of an essay in a Festschrift, comes as a surprise. It may even have a shock effect. For, any reader, even slightly familiar with Michael's prolific and ongoing interventions in philosophy and in educational theory, will immediately feel that there is something odd in associating with universalism a thinker typically understood as a postmodern and poststructuralist philosopher/educator. Among Michael's inexhaustibly energetic, highly influential, and paradigm-shifting philosophical-educational contributions his thoughtful elaboration on postmodern criticisms of universalist optics surely stands out.
Michael does not only make room for a kind of universalism; he also performs this universalism as an academic author and a public intellectual of his international stature and caliber. To anticipate the rest of the essay and dissipate any misreading of it as supposedly exposing a performative contradiction on Michael's part, let me say already that his is a non-toxic, consistent and valuable universalism, one that has not yet received due attention and has hardly been thematized in philosophy of education. But precisely because of this neglect, the universalism that can be associated with Michael's extremely impressive work has to be: i. textually corroborated, unpacked and differentiated from his avowed commitment to pluralism; and ii. more broadly defended against standard associations of universalism with Eurocentrism. Peters' valuable idealization of plurality is set against the unreflective commitment to a particular form of thinking, that is, against discursive boundaries being policed by a hegemonic particularism. Peters's amazing versatility and erudition enacts the pluralism to which he is theoretically committed.
In detecting and condemning Eurocentrisms, Peters presupposes the universalizable indictment of expansionism in ways that do not affect the psychic discharge that comes about when Western thinkers charge one with Eurocentrism every time one dares to employ a Western idea. The political sensibilities that Peters has introduced in philosophy of education avoid the sweeping character of the received view on Eurocentrism that leads more to self-exculpating, politically correct language than to suggestions of material measures for Western redirection. Against this, instead of passing judgment in a confessional-cultural sense (that is, we, Western people, should confess our guilt and seek expiation from God), Peters performs important criticisms of general Western tendencies.
When Peters urges us not to be hostages to the binarism that privileges spatiality over temporality (as is often the case in the globalized world) but rather to reclaim the educational import of critical historiographies he paves the way for the kinds of practical syllogisms that are required by philosophers/educators as public intellectuals if people are to be mobilized towards concomitant demonstrative acts. Peters' educational philosophy offers neither verbal nor psychological remedies. It presupposes and performs the kind of discursiveness that enlarges thought up to the point of inclusive universality and makes education a preparation of demonstrative acts. what Peters' philosophy combats at a much deeper level seems to me to be the self-exculpating and self-serving Eurocentrism that left the Western, profit seeking self unchallenged, allowed it to use universalism as a pretext, excuse and rationalization of expansion and has by now homogenized universalism enough to turn it into the West's scapegoat.
University of Cyprus
Three aspects of my experience of Michael as an educator, academic and intellectual mentor stand out: his habit of opening of doors, his development of a cosmopolitan outlook, and his pedagogy of letting learn. For Michael Peters, who has worked with diverse writers and educators around the globe, collaboration means to be open to difference and to appreciate that co-production is fundamental (and usually task oriented).
A. Chr. (Tina) Engels-Schwarzpaul,
Auckland University of Technology
Peters' life itself exemplifies a journey which continuously traversed subjects not only in territorial and disciplinary domains but also across paradigmatic boundaries. His transition from majoring in geography in college to philosophy in his graduate work, from analytical philosophy to post-structural philosophy, from New Zealand to Europe and the US, and at the same time establishing his influence on Asia, embodies a unique way of combining philosophy with critical insights through his characteristic warmth and open-mindedness.
Yun-shiuan (Viola) Chen,
National Academy for Educational Research, Taiwan
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|Title Annotation:||OUTSTANDING TITLES|
|Publication:||Economics, Management, and Financial Markets|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2017|
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