Curricular praxis: Representation as ʻbuggeryʼ and legitimation for the public good an essay by Tobey Steeves

Curricular praxis: Representation as ʻbuggeryʼ and legitimation for the public good an essay by Tobey Steeves

In launching a dialogue with Apple’s (2004) Ideology and curriculum, I would like to diagram and problematize representational modes of engagement. By adding the voice of Deleuze, I hope to reinforce Apple’s vision of a curricula guided by an eye towards the ‘common good’ (p. xxi). Many educationists have failed to encounter – let alone overcome – the crisis of representation, and are mystified by representational thinking. Representational thinking might be understood as a mode of thought which pre-supposes the possibility of objectifying modes of thought. More concretely, in schools contested representations of ‘reality’ are simplified and reduced as neutral and ‘(il)legitimate’. Implicitly linking the crisis of representation with curricular analysis, Apple confirms the need to critically investigate “what is considered legitimate knowledge” (2004, p. 43). I would affirm Apple and argue that his emphasis on ‘legitimate knowledge’ is critical to any substantive theorization of curricular reform. By that I mean to say that Apple highlights the need to ask who has the power to define ‘legitimate’ modes of representing knowledge. Are ‘legitimate’ forms of knowledge those which can be relayed on a multiple choice test, or – more broadly – those which can be represented or entextualized? If so, how might one paint a whisper, write a cloud, or sculpt a breeze? Common manifestations of representational thinking in schools include report cards, labeling deviance and naturalizing dividing practices, and interpretation. Report cards present the illusion of objectivity, reducing the inexplicable to abstractions like ‘A’ or 3.0, and problematically contribute to the sorting and managing of bodies. It must be remembered that labeling and dividing students according to essentialistic categories circumscribes the process of subjection, and the internalization of labels is a key element in the maintenance of hegemony (Apple, 2004, p. 41). Nevertheless, it may be argued that interpretation is the most pervasive mode of representational thinking in schools: From the ground up, schools are organized around the assumption that ‘legitimate’ knowledge can and should be interpreted and represented in ‘legitimate’ ways. With alarming frequency, students are asked to reproduce or interpret the understandings of others, and penalized for deviance from orthodoxy. In this way, teachers can become complicit in alienating students from the production of ‘legitimate’ knowledge, and schools can provide a reliable means of reproducing and naturalizing hegemony.

As a point of contrast with the emphasis on deference to ‘legitimate’ knowledge, Gilles Deleuze agonized over his representations of philosophers. Referring to his studies of classical philosophers as a “sort of buggery”, Deleuze saw his task as:

taking an author from behind and giving him a child that would be his own offspring, yet monstrous. It was really important for it to be his own child, because the author had to actually say all I had him saying. But the child was bound to be monstrous too, because it resulted from all the shifting, slipping, dislocations and hidden emissions that I really enjoyed (1995, p. 6).

In other words, for Deleuze ‘legitimate’ knowledge resists representation and arises out of a confluence of personal ‘slippages’. An approach to curricula which reterritorialized ‘legitimate’ knowledge to accommodate Deleuze’s “buggery” is unlikely to mistake grades as ‘objective indices’ or reify labels and categories while helping curricularists avoid the allure of interpretation: “Experiment, don’t signify and interpret! Find your own places, territorialities, deterritorializations, regimes, lines of flight!” (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987, p. 153). In this way, discussions on education/curricular reform might modernize and localize Apple’s (2004) problematization of the hegemony of ‘legitimate’ knowledge, and public schooling could more thoroughly affirm education as a common good.

Tobey Steeves is a Masters student at the University of British Columbia, studying in the Centre for Cross Faculty Inquiries in Education. His research conceptualizes critical policy analysis as ‘fieldwork in philosophy’, and focuses on the relationships between education/curricular policies and the lives of teachers.


Apple, M. (2004). Ideology and curriculum  (3rd. ed.). New York, NY: RoutledgeFalmer.

Deleuze, G. (1995). Negotiations. New York, NY: Columbia University Press (Original work published in 1972)

Deleuze, G. & Guattari, F. (1987). A thousand plateaus.Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. (Original work published in 1980)