“Pedagogies of Happiness” Presentation at ‘Capacious: Affect Inquiry / Making Space’

Want to learn more about “Pedagogies of Happiness”?

Grab your coffee & come to the 2.02: Educating Affects panel (Bring Futures into Being: Situated Affects and Pedagogical Troubles”) at Capacious: Affect Inquiry / Making Space in the Atrium on Friday, August 10, 2018, 8:20am-10:00am.

*My full abstract, “Pedagogies of Happiness,” is below (the second part–which gives a clearer sense of the presentation focus–was left out of the abstracts listed in the conference program), and you can learn about the larger project here, if you’re interested. Hope to see you there for a good discussion!

graphic representation of happiness talk

Image Credit: Personal Photo of Artwork by Graphic Facilitator Pen Mendonça (http://www.penmendonca.com/); Graphic Recording of Jill Belli’s Happiness & Utopia Workshop, Utopographies: Evaluation, Consensus, and Location (Chelsea College of Art & Design, London, UK, 28 March, 2014)

This presentation explores the institutionalized affective pedagogies of positive psychology, “the science of happiness,” and its attempts to cultivate individual well-being and inform political, socio-economic, and educational policies. Grounded in positive psychology, positive education advocates teaching well-being, and is being deployed to shape learning outcomes in a variety of educational contexts. I analyze these movements’ ideological commitments through utopian studies, complicating their version of the happy individual and good society, and highlighting their impact on educating students and the more ambiguous, consequential affective work of “educating desire,” to use Miguel Abensour’s term.

Imagining and desiring otherwise, practices at the heart of utopianism, are rhetorical, pedagogical, radical, and affective acts, rooted in the belief that the world can be remade for the better and arguing for, designing, and enacting this vision of the good life. I argue we must shift affective education from focusing on happiness, optimism, positive thinking, and resiliency to critical pedagogy, radical hope, and humanization. The utopian function of hope informs a pedagogy based on nurturing (in Ernst Bloch’s words) the “Not-Yet-Become,” which stands in stark contrast to self-help, positive psychology, and positive education. While these movements exploit the rhetoric of utopia, this masks their conservative pedagogies, which build from what already is, nurtures the neoliberal affective goals of individual improvement and responsibility, and reifies the status quo. Using hope rather than happiness as pedagogical strategy directs education towards substantive change and a more just society. I also introduce ethical and political dimensions to contemporary debates about positive education by contrasting it with critical pedagogy, which allows for a fuller account of human flourishing, one attentive to inequality, social reform, and the material conditions of students’ existence.

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