Tim Ingold sets out to explore and argue for a different view of both anthropology and education from what has become the ‘norm’. He develops an argument which contrasts what is characterised as the mainstream, of teach to, of the transfer of knowledge, and of examination-driven endpoints, and an alternative, which he builds an argument for, which sees both education and anthropology as opportunities for attention and the opening up of the learning process to allow for discovery. This naturally leads to consideration of how we study, what the role of the teacher is, how central freedom becomes to the enterprise, and ultimately the role universities need to take in an increasingly complex and fractured world.
Many of the philosophers and theorists on which Tim Ingold rests his argument are already well known and have been used to build the foundations for a different educational imaginary. Across the four chapters, Ingold uses a number of different concepts, such as transmission, communication, reason, major and minor approaches (based on Deleuze and Guattari), and freedom, etc to construct an argument centred on identifying contrasting approaches to education. The first is the ‘major’ approach, the dominant process of education at present, one focused on transmission and the doing of education to students. They are passive and receive the knowledge their ‘betters’ believe is most important for them. But through this, they may not truly attend to their learning, merely memorising and regurgitating. However, the ‘minor’ approach is characterised by the teacher and students becoming intertwined, the teacher not leading but helping, encouraging and supporting. This rests on the notion that all in the process learn, not merely the students. And this also opens the door to the idea that learning is not finite and does not have an end point such as an exam, it can continue endlessly for as long as those involved are gaining from the experience.
The role of teacher and learner is considered in depth, and use is made of the work of both Ranciere and Biesta to outline the very different relationships and foci of a minor approach which emerges from this. I find one of the most interesting aspects here the role of attention. Ingold splits attention into two types, volition and habit. Volition is the interruption to check, to check the developing knowledge of the individual, but seen here as disruptive and negative. Habit is the flowing attention given to something we are focused on, it is positive and enabling of our interest. And it is in habit that Ingold argues we can find a true element of freedom, that encouraging attention which focuses on the flow of experience and learning (which is similar to Whitehead’s theory of education) is more conducive for a good education.
The final chapter of the book uses the ideas which Ingold explores to call for a different type of anthropology and a different approach to university education. These again follow the argues he builds in the first three chapters, emphasising democratic, emancipatory and person-centred approaches. He critiques the current systems in both these fields and makes clear and reasoned suggestions as to how they need to change based on the theoretical work he has structured leading up to this point in the book.
This is a relatively short book (94 pages) but is theoretically dense and develops a number of strands of argument. This is done very well, and puts forward a well-conceived argument for a different approach to education. The outline of this alternative view, in practical terms, is perhaps not that new, but how he gets there, and its explicit links to anthropology make this an interesting and original read.
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Some reflections on things I'm reading