Of  slumdogs  and  schoolmasters:     Jacocot,  Rancière  and  Mitra  on  self-­‐organised  learning  


Richard  Stamp  

      Abstract:         This  article  examines  the  potentially  productive  parallels  between  Jacques   Rancière’s  account  (in  The  Ignorant  Schoolmaster  (1987/1991))  of  the   experiments  in  ‘universal  teaching’  of  19th  century  French  pedagogue  Joseph   Jacotot  and  the  more  recent  yet  equally  radical  ‘Hole-­‐in-­‐the-­‐Wall’  experiments   (1999–)  led  by  education  technologist,  Sugata  Mitra.  The  fact  that  Mitra’s  work  is   cited  as  one  of  the  inspirations  for  Vikas  Swarup’s  popular  novel,  Q  &  A  (2005),   and  thus  also  for  its  adaptation  into  the  film,  Slumdog  Millionaire  (2008),   provides  a  way  of  linking  the  practical  concerns  of  Mitra’s  research  (such  as  the   shortage  of  good  qualified  teachers  in  poorer  rural  locations)  with  the  political   and  philosophical  implications  of  equality,  intelligence  and  emancipation  that   Rancière  draws  from  his  19th  century  predecessor.  Both  philosopher  and   technologist  arrive  at  a  strikingly  similar  conclusion:  that  education  is  most   effective  –  which,  for  Rancière,  also  mean  emancipatory  –  when  it  happens   without  pedagogical  instruction  or  explication.           ‘What  the  hell  can  a  slumdog  possibly  know?’     Released   with   impeccable   timing   for   the   2009   Academy   Awards   nominations,   Slumdog   Millionaire   (dir.   Danny   Boyle   &   Loveleen   Tandan,   UK,   2008)   was   heralded  by  a  flurry  of  media  attention  that  seemed  to  make  its  eventual  Oscar-­‐ winning  success  a  foregone  conclusion.  Part  of  the  success  of  the  story  of  Jamal   Malik   (Dev   Patel),   an   uneducated   call   centre   chai   wallah   whose   often   horrific   ‘adventures’  furnish  him  with  the  knowledge  to  answer  almost  every  one  of  the   questions  on  the  TV  quiz  show,  Who  Wants  to  be  a  Millionaire,  might  have  to  do   with   the   film’s   ‘timeliness’:   it’s   confirmation   of   the   global   success   of   the   Millionaire  TV  brand  (owned  by  the  same  company,  Celador,  who  co-­‐financed  the   film)   and   a   chance   to   revisit   the   scandal   caused   by   the   conviction   of   one   participant,  a  retired  British  army  officer,  for  cheating  on  the  British  version  of   the   show;   it’s   testimony   to   the   dramatic   growth   of   the   Indian   economy,  



particularly   in   technology   and   communications   sectors,   contrasted   both   with   India’s   own   deepening   social-­‐economic   inequalities   and   with   more   ‘domestic’   British   concerns   over   increasing   ‘outsourcing’   of   certain   tertiary   industries;   it’s   exemplification  of  a  growing  cross-­‐fertilisation  between  Western  and  Asian  film   industries   and   cultures;   and   the   more   particular   ‘human   interest’   stories   of   the   young   actors,   picked   from   the   Dharavi   slum   to   play   the   main   characters   in   childhood,   and   whose   earnings   from   the   film,   it   was   said,   offered   a   chance   of   escape  and  the  risk  of  exploitation.1       More  unusually,  perhaps,  the  film  also  drew  attention  to  an  otherwise  invisible   (in   mainstream   media   coverage,   at   least)   piece   of   academic   research   begun   in   the   slums   of   New   Delhi   in   1999.   The   ‘Hole-­‐in-­‐the-­‐Wall’   experiment,   carried   out   by  a  team  from  NIIT  led  by  Sugata  Mitra,  had  originally  consisted  in  placing  an   internet-­‐connected  computer  in  the  wall  of  the  Kalkaji  slum  that  adjoined  their   office   in   New   Delhi.   The   team   remotely   monitored   the   slum   children’s   uninstructed   interactions   with   the   computer   and   recorded   the   speed   with   which   individuals   not   only   acquired   computer   literacy   skills   –   from   the   most   basic   operations   such   as   clicking   icons   and   creating   folders   to   navigating   web   pages,   sending   email   and   operating   different   applications   –   but   most   importantly   shared   this   new   knowledge   with   each   other   (see   Mitra   &   Rana   2001).   These   supposedly  illiterate  children  had  taught  themselves  and  each  other  how  to  use  a   computer   that   operated   in   a   language   (English)   they   did   not   know.2   They   demonstrated   that   they   were   ‘able   to   self-­‐instruct   and   to   obtain   help   from   the   environment   when   required’,   without   explanation   of   what   to   do:   in   the   words   of   one  researcher’s  diary,  ‘“NO  INSTRUCTION”  was  the  key  instruction  to  us’  (Mitra   &   Rana   2001:   230,   226).   In   other   words,   these   illiterate   children   appeared   to   learn  without  being  taught.       Mitra’s  ongoing  pedagogical  research  received  attention  in  The  Guardian  (Tobin   2009)  and  on  Radio  4’s  topical  sociology  programme,  Thinking  Allowed  (Taylor   2009),   largely   thanks   to   its   link   with   the   novel,   Q   &   A   (2005)   by   Vikas   Swarup,   upon   which   Simon   Beaufoy   had   based   his   Slumdog   screenplay.   Swarup   was   on   record   as   identifying   two   ‘inspirations’   for   his   debut   novel:   first,   he   cites   the   fact  



that  the  UK  cheat  on  Millionaire  was  a  ‘well  educated’  former  British  Army  officer   as   the   reason   why   he   chose   to   focus   on   a   contestant   ‘who   would   definitely   be   accused   of   cheating’;   and   then   adds   (‘incidentally’)   that   he   had   also   ‘come   across   a   news   report   of   how   street   children   in   an   Indian   slum   had   begun   using   a   free   mobile  internet  facility  entirely  on  their  own.’  (2006:  369)  (The  report,  of  course,   was   about   Mitra’s   ‘Hole-­‐in-­‐the-­‐Wall’   experiments.)   The   resulting   impetus   for   the   novel  is  thus  described  as  a  juxtaposition  of  two  themes:  ‘a  gameshow  [sic.]  and   […]   a   contestant   who   has   no   formal   education,   who   has   “street”   knowledge   as   opposed   to   “book”   knowledge.’   (2006:   369)   By   recasting   the   ‘Hole-­‐in-­‐the-­‐Wall’   research   as   a   demonstration   of   ‘“street”’   rather   than   ‘“book”’   knowledge,   Swarup’s   use   of   a   familiar   distinction   potentially   acknowledges   the   (equal)   worth  of  different  ‘kinds’  of  knowledge,  but  at  the  same  time  fixes  them  within   an   already   existing   hierarchical   division   of   ‘street’   and   ‘school’.   But   does   this   matter   and   is   it   at   all   consequential?   What   happens   in   this   transition   from   academic  research  project  to  popular  fiction  and  cinema?       According  to  Tobin  (2009),  Mitra’s  sole  complaint  to  Swarup  about  the  eventual   title   of   the   film   did   not   lie   with   the   use   of   the   word   ‘slumdog’   –   which   drew   comment  from  other  quarters  (see  note  1,  above)  –  but  with  ‘millionaire.’  Mitra   would  have  preferred  ‘Slumdog  Nobel  Laureate,’  which  indeed  captures  the  way   in   which   he   sees   his   research   project   as   promoting   social   change   rather   than   the   desire  for  wealth.  Arguably  the  aim  of  these  experiments  is  to  contest  the  rigid   division  of  ‘knowledge’  by  attempting  to  demonstrate  the  equal  capability  of  so-­‐ called   ‘street   kids’   to   exhibit   ‘book   learning’.   It   is   in   this   respect   that   neither   Jamal   Malik   nor   Ram   Mohammad   Thomas   (the   first-­‐person   narrator   in   Q   &   A)   identify   wholly   with   the   position   of   ignorance   attributed   to   them   by   the   authorities:   ‘What   the   hell   can   a   slumdog   possibly   know?’   the   police   captain   asks   his   subordinate   –   ‘The   answers,’   replies   Jamal.   In   fact,   the   captain’s   question   is   adapted   from   a   far   subtler   one   asked   at   the   beginning   of   Ram’s   first-­‐person   narrative,  as  he  waits  for  certain  arrest  under  suspicion  of  cheating:     There   are   those   who   will   say   that   I   brought   this   upon   myself.   By   dabbling   in  that  quiz  show.  They  will  wag  a  finger  at  me  and  remind  me  of  what  the   elders  in  Dharavi  say  about  never  crossing  the  dividing  line  that  separates  




the   rich   from   the   poor.   After   all,   what   business   did   a   penniless   waiter   have  to  be  participating  in  a  brain  quiz?  The  brain  is  not  an  organ  we  are   authorized   to   use.   We   are   supposed   to   use   only   our   hands   and   legs.   (Swarup  2005:  12)  

The  ontological  assumption  within  the  police  captain’s  question  –  that  a  certain   kind  of  being  can  only  possess  a  certain  level  of  intellectual  capability  –  is  here   elaborated  more  fully.  In  the  novel,  Ram  emphasises  the  operation  of  social  and   economic   institutions,   the   ‘dividing   line[s]’   between   the   Dharavi’s   poor   and   the   rich   of   Mumbai   that   ‘authorize’   not   only   who   can   live   where,   but   also   who   can   use   which   ‘organ’   and   for   what   ‘business’.   The   attributes   of   ‘stupidity’   and   ‘ignorance’   are   themselves   effects   of   a   particular   distribution   of   the   body,   its   organs,  their  faculties  and  the  social  roles  they  are  made  to  fit.  In  so  doing,  the   narrative  might  appear  to  undermine  Swarup’s  own  distinction  between  ‘street’   and  ‘book’  knowledge,  by  opening  onto  another  way  of  describing  the  relations   between  education,  intelligence  and  authority.     Against  explication     In  this  respect,  Ram’s  reflection  on  his  elders’  advice  is  a  compact  illustration  of   what  Jacques  Rancière  analyses  in  terms  of  the  ‘distribution  of  the  sensible’  [‘le   partage   du   sensible’],   which   he   uses   describe   the   many   procedures   by   which   forms   of   experience   –   broadly   understood   as   the   domains   of   what   can   be   thought,   said,   felt   or   perceived   –   are   divided   up   and   shared   out   between   legitimate   and   illegitimate   persons   and   forms   of   activity.   To   borrow   Peter   Hallward’s  succinct  summary  of  Rancière’s  ‘most  basic  assumption’,  the  equality   of  intelligence:  ‘everyone  thinks,  everyone  speaks  […],  but  the  prevailing  division   of   labour   and   configuration   of   society   ensures   that   only   certain   classes   of   people   are   authorized   to   think.’   (2005:   26)   The   brain   –   as   synecdochic   figure   for   intelligence  –  is  not  an  organ  that  slum  dwellers  like  Ram  are  ‘authorized  to  use.’     The   import   of   the   ‘distribution   of   the   sensible,’   then,   is   that   it   allows   us   to   recognise   that   forms   of   knowledge   are   always   necessarily   ‘double’:   on   the   one   hand,   a   form   of   knowledge   [un   savoir]   ‘is   an   ensemble   of   modes   of   knowing   [connaissances]’;  and  on  the  other,  it  is  also  ‘an  organised  distribution  [partage]     4  

of  positions.’  (Rancière  2006:  3,  translation  modified)  It  is  from  within  just  such   a   distribution   of   forms   of   knowledge,   practice   and   social   positions   that   Ram   is   ‘supposed’  to  know  his  place.  The  means  by  which  individuals  come  to  know  their   place  is  a  recurrent  theme  of  Rancière’s  The  Philosopher  and  his  Poor  (1983  [tr.   2004]),  which  traces  the  roots  of  dominant  forms  of  progressive  social  thought   (including   Marx,   Sartre   and   Bourdieu)   to   their   philosophical   source   in   Plato’s   theory  of  justice.  In  the  manner  of  the  allegory  of  the  three  metals  in  the  Laws  –   by   which   Socrates   explains   the   three   orders   of   artisan,   warrior   and   ruler   –   the   sayings  of  the  elders  assign   Ram’s  body,  actions  and  will  a  place  according  to  the   social  distribution  of  nature  and  function.  Like  Plato’s  shoemaker,  his  ‘business’   is  that  which  defines  not  only  his  place,  but  also  what  he  can  do  there:  ‘All  that   remains  for  us  to  identify  the  worker  is  his  work  alone.  Not  his  production  […],   but  the  fact  that  he  is  not  to  do  anything  else  than  his  trade.’  (Rancière  2004:  28)   On   Rancière’s   reading,   Plato   secures   the   divisions   of   the   social   order   of   the  polis,   which  is  the  order  of  the  just  city,  through  a  ‘double  lie’  of  nature  and  function:   first,  the  shoemaker  cannot  be  a  thinker  because  his  occupation  leaves  no  time   for  philosophical  thought  (in  other  words,  his  nature  allows  him  only  to  do  one   thing  at  a  time);  second,  there  can  be  no  imitation,  no  mixing  between  different   orders   (in   other   words,   although   a   shoemaker   might   well   turn   his   artisan’s   hand   to   carpentry,   for   they   are   equivalent,   ‘there   can   be   no   exchange   of   place   and   function’  between  either  artisan  and  warrior  or  warrior  and  ruler  (2004:  29)).3       Rancière’s   political   analysis   of   the   distribution   of   the   sensible   (or   ‘theatocracy,’   in  the  terminology  of  that  book)  in  Plato’s  account  of  the  just  state  exploits  two   central   concerns   in   his   earlier   archival   study   of   workers’   cultural   activities   and   education   in   19th   century   France:   the   subversive   possibilities   of   emulation   that   accompany   a   (real   or   imagined)   movement   across   social   borders;   and   the   self-­‐ organised   learning   of   those   not   authorised   to   think   or   speak.   His   extensive   archival  work  on  workers’  cultural  activities  in  France  at  the  end  of  the  second   Empire,  published  in  Proletarian  Nights  (1981  [tr.  1989])  and  a  series  of  essays   (see,  for  example,  Rancière  1988),  provoked  furious  reactions  from  some  social   historians   when   he   observed   that   these   activities   focused   less   on   articulating   some  authentic  form  of  working  class  cultural  expression  and  more  on  emulating  



the   ostensibly   bourgeois   culture   they   encountered   in   cabaret   and   elsewhere.   If   the   workers   in   their   workshops   dreamed   of   success,   rather   than   attending   to   their   labour,   it   was   not   in   order   to   protest   their   material   subjugation;   instead,   they  used  their  breaks  ‘to  teach  themselves  or  each  other  the  rudiments  of  music   and   versification,   so   that   in   the   end   some   of   them   could   express   themselves   better   in   verse   than   in   prose.’   (Rancière   1988:   50)   In   other   words,   as   they   began   to   ‘move   around   within   the   space   of   the   bourgeoisie’   (1988:   47),   workers   taught   themselves  by  first  imitating  and  then  improvising  upon  what  does  not,  strictly   speaking  (in  Marxist  terms),  belong  to  them.       A  worker  who  had  never  learned  how  to  write  and  yet  tried  to  compose   verses  to  suit  the  taste  of  his  times  was  perhaps  more  of  a  danger  to  the   prevailing  ideological  order  than  a  worker  who  performed  revolutionary   songs.  (Rancière  1988:  50)  


But   if   it   is   a   question   neither   of   radical   cultural   innovation   nor   ‘specific   working-­‐ class   culture’,   then   what   is   happening   here?   In   short:   a   cultural   order   is   in   the   process   of   being   ‘dis-­‐ordered’.   What   Rancière   calls   these   ‘singular   apprenticeships  in  a  common  culture’  attest  to  ‘an  uncivilized  relationship  with   culture,’   a   ‘culture   in   disorder’   (1988:   50)   rather   than   an   uncivilized   one.   The   orderly   allocation   of   capacities,   places   and   functions   is   disturbed   by   ‘the   migrants   who   move   at   the   borders   between   classes,   individuals   and   groups   who   develop  capacities  within  themselves  which  are  useless  for  the  improvement  of   their   material   lives’   (1988:   50),   thereby   effecting   a   redistribution   of   what   particular   kinds   of   bodies   and   subjects   can   do,   think,   write   or   compose.   Still   couched   here   in   an   analysis   of   social   class,   Rancière’s   description   of   these   activities  as  a  ‘cooperative  school  of  worker-­‐poets’  (1988:  50)  prefigures  one  of   the   central   concerns   of   his   subsequent   work   on   education:   the   potential   for   ‘universal  teaching’  to  allow  uneducated  and  even  illiterate  individuals  to  teach   one  another  what  they  do  not  know.     The   potentially   emancipating   experience   of   these   ‘uncivilised’   relationships   with   culture   is   most   fully   and   explosively   explored   in   The   Ignorant   Schoolmaster   (1987   [trans.   1991]),   which   tells   the   story   of   a   ‘chance   revolution’   (2)   experienced   by   maverick   French   pedagogue,   Joseph   Jacotot,   in   1818.   Finding     6  

himself   in   Louvain,   speaking   no   Flemish   yet   charged   with   teaching   students   who   spoke   no   French,   Jacotot   stumbled   upon   a   paradoxical   pedagogical   ‘method.’   Asking   his   students   (through   an   interpreter)   to   learn   a   French   text   –   Fénelon’s   Les  Aventures  de  Télémaque  (1699)  –  by  reading  it  in  a  bilingual  French-­‐Flemish   edition,   and   then   to   write   what   they   thought   about   it   in   French,   Jacotot   was   surprised   to   find   that   in   the   process   they   had   learned   how   to   construct   French   sentences   by   themselves,   without   instruction   or   explanation   in   grammar   or   vocabulary.   Only   one   conclusion   could   be   drawn:   ‘they   had   learned   by   themselves,  without  a  master  explicator.’  (Rancière  1991:  11)  Now,  up  until  this   point  Jacotot  had  been  a  good  and  faithful  adherent  to  the  progressive  methods   for  teaching,  believing  without  question  that  to  teach  meant  ‘to  transmit  learning   and  form  minds  simultaneously,  by  leading  those  minds,  according  to  an  ordered   progression,  from  the  most  simple  to  the  most  complex.’  (Rancière  1991:  3)  But   this   chance   experiment   began   a   new   line   of   questioning:   if   it   was   possible   to   learn   perfectly   well   without   being   instructed,   what   was   the   purpose   of   instruction   and   explication?   Was   it   possible   that   anyone   was   capable   of   understanding  any  product  of  the  intelligence  of  any  other  human  being?  What   would   be   the   consequences   of   supposing   the   equality   of   intelligence   and   affirming   that   ‘the   same   intelligence   is   at   work   in   all   acts   of   the   human   mind’   (1991:  16)?     Such   questions   entail   further   experiments   in   suspending   the   very   mastery   customarily   assumed   as   the   sine   qua   non   of   all   pedagogy.   Jacotot   repeated   his   chance  experiment  by  teaching  subjects  about  which  he  knew  nothing:  painting,   music   –   and   so   on.   What   he   had   stumbled   upon   was   the   circular   power   of   emancipation:       one  can  teach  what  one  doesn’t  know  if  the  student  is  emancipated,  that  is   to  say,  if  he  is  obliged  to  use  his  own  intelligence.  […]  The  ignorant  person   will   learn   by   himself   what   the   master   doesn’t   know   if   the   master   believes   he  can  and  obliges  him  to  realise  his  capacity.’  (Rancière  1991:  15)    


Such   a   ‘method’   runs   counter   to   all   good   pedagogical   sense,   including   those   progressive   methods   that   aim   to   nurture   the   intelligence   of   the   student   by   proposing  equality  as  something  ‘to  come’,  in  an  ‘ordered  progression’  guided  by     7  

those   with   appropriate   expertise.   As   Charles   Bingham   and   Gert   Biesta   (2010)   note  in  their  Rancière-­‐inspired  study  of  emancipatory  education,  even  the  most   progressive,   reformist   and   apparently   ‘critical’   approaches   to   pedagogy   remain   methods  of  explication  (or  explanation,  the  term  they  prefer).  So  it  is  not  a  matter   of   choosing   a   better   over   a   worse   method,   a   more   progressive   or   a   more   conservative   pedagogy:   ‘The   confrontation   of   methods   presupposes   a   minimal   agreement  on  the  goals  of  the  pedagogical  act:  the  transmission  of  the  master’s   knowledge   to   the   students.’   (Rancière   1991:   13-­‐14)   If   the   ‘essential   act   of   the   master   was   to   explicate’   (1991:   3)   it   is   because   explication   –   this   ‘myth   of   pedagogy’  –  is  also  the  social  logic  by  which  a  world  is  divided  up  into  ‘knowing   minds   and   ignorant   ones,   ripe   minds   and   immature   ones,   the   capable   and   the   incapable,   the   intelligent   and   the   stupid’   (1991:   6).   Explication   thus   names   a   particular  distribution  of  the  sensible,  which  Rancière  describes  in  terms  of  ‘the   very   workings   of   the   social   world,   hidden   in   the   evident   difference   between   ignorance   and   science.’   (1991:   16)   For   Jacotot,   all   explication   –   even   the   most   liberal   and   progressive   –   works   to   preserve   the   gap   between   the   master’s   knowledge  and  the  student’s  ignorance,  thereby  reproducing  the  very  inequality   it   pretended   to   diminish:   equality   is   indefinitely   postponed   through   the   superiority  of  the  master’s  science.  In  asking  his  own  students  to  read  and  then   write   about   a   text   in   a   language   they   did   not   know   and   he   did   not   explain   to   them,   Jacotot   had   ‘dissociated’   the   two   faculties   at   play:   his   intelligence   (in   his   knowledge  of  French)  and  his  will  (in  his  position  as  master).  Without  a  common   language   of   instruction,   the   book   became   the   common   element   (the   intelligence)   with   which   the   students’   intelligence   could   engage.   The   master’s   domination   consisted   merely   in   obliging   his   students   to   exercise   their   intelligence   –   and   in   verifying  that  they  had  done  so  diligently.       According   to   Rancière,   this   is   the   fundamental   distinction   of   Jacotot’s   method   from   Socrates,’   in   spite   of   their   superficial   resemblance:   Socratic   instruction   through  anamnesis  is  ‘as  much  the  demonstration  of  [the  pupil’s]  powerlessness’   as   it   is   that   of   learning   (1991:   29).   In   contrast,   Jacotot’s   ignorant   master   interrogates   ‘in   order   to   be   instructed,   not   to   instruct’   (1991:   29).   In   other   words,   the   only   way   to   practice   equality   is   to   know   no   more   than   the   student,   to  



be   an   ‘ignorant   master’:   ‘To   teach   what   one   doesn’t   know   is   simply   to   ask   questions  about  what  one  doesn’t  know.’  (1991:  30)  That  anyone  can  teach  what   they   do   not   know,   that   it   is   possible   for   everyone   can   teach   anyone   anything   –   such   is   the   radically   egalitarian   disorder   that   Jacotot   discovers:   ‘a   rupture   with   the  logic  of  all  pedagogies’  (Rancière  1991:  13).     Thus,   for   Rancière,   it   is   not   that   Jacotot’s   is   a   ‘better   method’   of   teaching   than   others.   It   is   rather   a   question   of   juxtaposing   two   very   different   conceptions   of   intelligence:   one   that   stultifies   (the   belief   that   there   are   differences   in   intelligence);   and   one   that   emancipates   (the   opinion   that   there   is   only   one   intelligence).   It   is   not   even   a   question   of   proving   that   all   intelligence   is   equal,   since   intelligence   cannot   be   measured   in   isolation   from   what   it   produces   –   its   acts  and  effects.       There  aren’t  two  sorts  of  minds.  There  is  inequality  in  the  manifestations   of   intelligence   by   the   will   for   discovering   and   combining   new   relations;   but   there   is   no   hierarchy   of   intellectual   capacity.   Emancipation   is   becoming   conscious   of   this   equality   of   nature.   This   is   what   opens   the   way   to  all  adventure  in  the  land  of  knowledge.  (Rancière  1991:  26-­‐7)     If  we  can  only  know  intelligence  by  its  effects,  its  different  manifestations,  then   the   task   of   the   researcher   is   ‘reduced   to   multiplying   the   experiments   inspired   by   that  opinion’  in  order  to  see  ‘what  can  be  done  under  that  supposition’  (Rancière   1991:   46).   It   is   an   opinion,   not   a   fact.   The   equality   of   intelligence,   as   Rancière   variously   repeats,   is   only   the   ‘point   of   departure,   a   supposition   to   maintain   in   every   circumstance,’   to   be   demonstrated   and   verified   ‘always   and   everywhere’   (1991:   138).   (By   the   same   token,   of   course,   the   inegalitarian   belief   in   the   inherent  differences  between  intelligences  –  in  spite  of  the  considerable  efforts   of   phrenologists,   legislators   and   social   psychologists   –   remains   an   opinion   measurable   only   in   its   (stultifying)   effects.)   The   ignorant   are   not   to   be   defined   through   lack   of   knowledge,   but   through   their   enforced   ‘stultification’   by   which   they   are   made   to   believe   their   own   inferiority.   According   to   Jacotot/Rancière,   children  are  not  stultified  by  this  or  that  procedure,  but  by  an  explicatory  order   that   tells   them   that   they   can’t   do   it   by   themselves   –   and   that   the   master   is   the   required   condition   of   their   learning.   For   if   what  emancipates   is   the   supposition  



that  ‘the  same  intelligence  is  at  work  in  all  the  acts  of  the  human  mind’  and  that   everyone   is   already   ‘virtually   capable’   understanding   what   another   intelligence   has   produced,   what   stultifies   is   ‘not   the   lack   of   instruction,   but   the   belief   in   the   inferiority  of  their  intelligence.’  (Rancière  1991:  16,  39)  It  is  for  this  reason  that   Rancière   consistently   argues   that   there   is   no   difference   or   hierarchy   in   intellectual   capacity,   merely   differences   in   its   manifestation:   a   task   performed   with   greater   or   lesser   attention,   in   this   or   that   context,   and   so   on.   But   there   is   nothing  novel  in  this  most  familiar  of  all  ‘methods.’  Indeed,  as  Rancière  quickly   points   out,   it   is   the   one   ‘practiced   by   necessity   by   everyone,’   every   time   we   have   to   learn   something   without   instruction   (a   native   language,   for   example):   the   ‘difficult  leap’  occasioned  by  Jacotot’s  universal  teaching  is  simply  the  methodical   repetition   of   this   ‘method   of   chance’   or   ‘nature’   (1991:   16).   It   is   the   will   with   which  one  applies  an  intelligence  that  makes  the  difference.     To  return  to  our  example,  the  narrative  circuit  of  the  film  (and  the  novel,  in  spite   of  differences  in  character  and  location)  rests  on  the  replay-­‐and-­‐pause  of  a  video   recording  of  the  TV  show,  which  consists  of  repeated  attempts  to  verify  Jamal’s   intelligence   –   the   very   capacity   that   a   ‘slumdog’   like   him   is   not   ‘authorized   to   use.’  The  circuit  opens  with  the  intertitle  that  run  through  the  opening  intercut   shots   of   Slumdog   Millionaire,   mimicking   the   multiple   choice   question   format   of   the  quiz  show:       Mumbai,  2006     Jamal  Malik  is  one  question  away  from  winning  20  million  rupees.       How  did  he  do  it?       A:  He  cheated     B:  He’s  lucky     C:  He’s  a  genius     D:  It  is  written    


As   the   videotape   replay   triggers   Jamal’s   own   memory   of   the   happenstance   events  that  have  furnished  him  with  the  answers  to  precisely  these  questions,  it   becomes   demonstrably   clear   that   he   is   neither   cheat   nor   genius,   nor   particularly   lucky   (at   least   no   more   or   less   than   anyone   else).   Nothing   differentiates   him     10  

other   than   a   determined   will   to   be   reunited   with   Latika   (Freida   Pinto),   which   opens   onto   the   familiar   narrative   territory   where   chance   and   fate   are   indistinguishable.  This  looping  narrative  circuit  is  finally  closed  when  the  police   captain,   forced   to   admit   the   ‘bizarre’   plausibility   of   Jamal’s   story   and   to   verify   that   although   most   ‘slumdog   chai   wallahs’   are   liars   Jamal   is   ‘too   truthful,’   releases   him   from   custody   to   return   to   the   television   studio   and   face   his   final   question.       The  ‘will  to  figure  out’       So   just   who   is   the   ‘ignorant   master’?   In   the   first   instance,   this   title   refers   to   Joseph   Jacotot,   as   ‘the   Founder’   of   this   peculiar   non-­‐method   that   he   calls   ‘universal   teaching’.   But   the   immediate   consequence   of   this   method   is   that   anyone  can  do  it;  in  fact,  everyone  has  already  practiced  it  insofar  as  they  have   learned  something  without  being  instructed.  Anyone  can  be  an  ignorant  master.   To  practice  universal  teaching,  it  suffices  merely  ‘to  learn  something  and  to  relate   it   to   all   the   rest   by   this   principle:   all   men   have   equal   intelligence.’   (Rancière   1991:   18)   In   other   words:   to   become   emancipated   by   recognizing   that   the   same   intelligence   is   at   work   in   everything.   The   task   for   Jacotot   is   not   to   raise   up   the   ignorant  by  imparting  knowledge  –  in  other  words,  it  is  not  to  educate  the  poor  –   but   rather   to   emancipate   by   obliging   an   intelligence   to   manifest   itself.   In   other   words,   the   paramount   problem   is   ‘to   reveal   an   intelligence   to   itself'   so   that   an   ignorant   person   can   ‘believe   himself   capable   of   learning   by   himself’   (Rancière   1991:  27,  16).     This  is  why  the  relation  of  will  and  intelligence  is  so  central  for  Jacotot.  If  ‘man  is   a   will   served   by   an   intelligence’,   it   is   because   there   is   no   meaning   without   the   effort   of   will   (1991:   54).   Rancière   recounts   the   three   stages   by   which   Jacotot   defines  an  act  of  intelligence:  first,  ‘to  see  and  compare  what  has  been  seen’  (as  a   result   of   chance);   then,   ‘to   repeat,   to   create   the   conditions   to   re-­‐see   what   has   been   seen’;   and   finally   to   ‘form   words,   sentences,   and   figures,   in   order   to   tell   others   what   has   been   seen’   (1991:   55).   The   work   of   exercising   intelligence   is   thus  carried  out  through  the  repetition  commanded  by  a  will  –  and  repetition,  he  



reminds   us,   is   boring.   The   demonstration   of   equality   thus   requires   an   infinite   vigilance,   whose   vertiginous   demand   can   just   as   easily   give   way   to   ‘laziness’   of   inequality,   ‘where   each   person   receives   a   superiority   in   exchange   for   the   inferiority  he  confesses  to.’  (1991:  80)  In  other  words,  as  Jacotot  himself  puts  it   in  1838:  ‘Idiocy  is  not  a  faculty;  it  is  the  absence  or  the  slumber  or  the  relaxation   of  [intelligence]’  (cited  Rancière  1991:  55).       One   might   suspect   Jacotot   (and   Rancière)   of   sliding   towards   a   form   of   voluntarism  at  this  point,  yet  there  is  nothing  expedient  about  his  method.  The   scene   he   describes   is   less   the   assertion   of   power   than   it   is   the   process   of   self-­‐ reflection   by   which   one   ‘reasonable   being’   comes   to   know   himself   in   assuming   his  equality  with  everyone  else.  If  Jacotot  allocates  the  source  of  error  to  the  lack   of  will  rather  than  to  its  presence  (pace  Descartes)  it  is  because  what  lies  at  the   heart   of   universal   teaching   is   a   ‘situation   of   communication   between   two   reasonable  beings’  (Rancière  1991:  63).   Since  it  is  language  that  is  arbitrary  and   not  the  will,  the  thought  of  one  person  is  always  told  and  translated  ‘for  someone   else,’  who  must  in  turn  retell  and  retranslate  it,  not  in  order  to  ‘unveil’  the  truth   of  the  thing  but  to  ‘figure  out’  the  will  of  the  other:  ‘the  will  to  communicate,  the   will  to  figure  out  [la  volonté  de  deviner]  what  the  other  is  thinking,  […]  under  no   guarantee  beyond  his  narration,  no  universal  dictionary  to  dictate  what  must  be   understood.’  (1991:  62)  In  other  words,  each  will  figures  out  the  other  through  a   process   of   translation   and   counter-­‐translation   between   thought   and   language   that   recalls   Jacotot’s   very   first   ‘chance’   experiment,   whereby   the   ‘relation   between   two   ignorant   people   confronting   the   book   they   don’t   know   how   to   read   is  simply  a  radical  form  of  the  effort  one  brings  every  minute  to  translating  and   counter-­‐translating   thoughts   into   words   and   words   into   thoughts.’   (Rancière   1991:  63)  Another  way  of  affirming  that  it  is  the  same  intelligence  at  work  in  all   acts  of  human  intelligence.       But   is   positing   this   will   to   figure   out   sufficient   to   account   for   the   acquisition   of   complex   or   even   contested   forms   of   knowledge?   This   is   a   question   put   forcefully   by   Peter   Hallward   when   he   asks   whether   Rancière’s   radical   critique   of   explication  risks  over-­‐simplification  insofar  as  it  relies  upon  Jacotot’s  insistence  



that   all   learning   is   ‘merely   a   question   (in   human   societies)   of   understanding   and   speaking  a  language’  (cited  Rancière  1991:  37):  ‘To  what  extent  is  it  possible  to   avoid  recourse  to  the  economy  of  explanation  in  fields  of  knowledge  that  are  less   accessible,   less   “ready-­‐to-­‐hand”   than   those   of   natural   languages   –   fields   like   quantum  physics  or  neurology,  for  instance?’  (Hallward  2005:  41)  He  is  certainly   justified  in  questioning  the  reliance  on  language  learning  as  the  presumed  model   for   all   learning.   Is   the   explicatory   model   of   pedagogy   so   easily   separable   from   more   abstract,   theoretical   subjects?   Furthermore,   behind   his   question   lies   another:   to   what   extent   might   the   egalitarianism   of   ‘learning   on   your   own’   be   simply   confined   to   an   individual’s   imagination,   rather   than   focused   and   organised  into  a  social  movement?  In  other  words:  if  the  act  of  the  teacher  has   nothing   to   do   with   the   content   of   his   knowledge,   what   hope   is   there   for   communicating  better  the  forms  of  expertise  involved  in  more  complex  bodies  of   knowledge,  perhaps  even  emancipatory  (political)  ones?     Concealed   within   these   critical   questions   is   a   scepticism   that   ‘universal   teaching’   might   suit   elementary   forms   of   education   (language   acquisition,   literacy   and   numeracy  skills,  tool-­‐based  learning)  and  those  for  whom  such  education  would   be   ‘required’   –   the   very   young,   the   illiterate,   and   so   on   –   but   is   ill-­‐suited   to   the   demands   of   more   complex,   ‘higher-­‐level’   learning.   These   are   the   very   same   questions   faced   by   Jacotot   in   his   own   lifetime   and   Rancière’s   response   to   them   returns   us   to   the   axis   of   stultification   and   emancipation.   It   is   not,   he   argues,   a   question   of   refusing   to   make   own   hard-­‐won   knowledge   and   valuable   expertise   available  to  others:     We   can   certainly   use   our   status   as   legitimate   ‘transmitters’   to   put   our   knowledge   at   others’   disposal.   I’m   constantly   doing   it.   But   what   is   ‘stultifying’  from  a  Jacotist  perspective  is  the  will  to  anticipate  the  way  in   which  they  will  grasp  what  we  put  at  their  disposal.  (2011:  245)  


To   be   emancipatory   requires   a   master   to   rigorously   dissociate   his   or   her   knowledge  from  a  position  of  mastery,  understood  as  ‘the  effect  his  will  can  have   upon   the   actions   of   his   pupil’   (2011:   244).   Jacotot   and   Rancière   say   this   same   thing  many  times  and  in  many  ways:  the  teacher  can  either  transmit  knowledge   or  emancipate  –  the  two  functions  are  incompatible.       13  

  But  perhaps  the  more  concrete  way  of  answering  Hallward’s  question  is  to  turn   to   the   increasingly   Rancièrean   parallels   in   most   recent   of   Mitra’s   experiments   with   self-­‐organised   learning   systems.   The   theoretical   background   to   the   first   ‘Hole-­‐in-­‐the-­‐Wall’  experiments  (1999-­‐2004)  was  always  explicitly  constructivist,   focusing  on  aspects  of  play  and  exploration  as  forms  of  ‘self-­‐structured  and  self-­‐ motivated   processes   of   learning’   (Mitra   &   Rana   2001:   224).   They   describe   the   approach   at   this   early   stage   in   quasi-­‐surgical   terms   as   ‘minimally   invasive   education’  (Mitra  &  Rana  2001:  221),  by  which  they  indicate  that  –  like  Jacotot’s   experiments   in   universal   teaching   –   no   explanation   or   instruction   was   offered:   ‘None   of   the   questions   [asked   by   the   children]   were   answered   with   any   instructional   sentence.’   (2001:   226)   In   all   of   the   documented   experiments,   the   children   are   never   given   explanations   of   how   to   do   something;   they   are   simply   asked  what  they  think  of  something,  or  in  some  instances  given  factual  questions   (‘Who   was   Pythagoras?’)   to   research   using   internet-­‐based   resources   (Mitra   2010).  Yet  just  as  important  is  an  emphasis  on  collaborative  learning,  which  the   children   demonstrate   that   they   are   not   only   ‘able   to   self-­‐instruct’   as   a   group,   but   also   to   ‘obtain   help   from   the   environment   when   required’   (which   included   making   use   of   available   expertise   in   the   slum,   such   as   a   youth   with   some   knowledge  of  computer  software).     The  most  notable  development  after  the  original  ‘Hole-­‐in-­‐the-­‐Wall’  experiments   that   inspired   Q   &   A   and   Slumdog   Millionaire   has   been   an   interrogation   of   the   limits   of   the   kinds   of   self-­‐organising   learning   systems   exhibited   in   that   earlier   research.   As   detailed   by   Mitra   and   Dangwal   (2010),   their   research   questions   have  shifted  the  territory  from  testing  the  acquisition  of  computer  literacy  skills   (tool   learning)   to   more   abstract   and   less   ‘ready-­‐to-­‐hand’   (see   Hallward   2005)   fields   of   knowledge.   In   an   echo   of   Jacotot’s   first   experiments,   Mitra’s   team   in   2007   asked   a   group   of   Tamil-­‐speaking   children   from   a   remote   south   Indian   village   (Kalikuppam)   ‘to   learn   basic   molecular   biology   in   English   on   their   own’   using  a  version  of  the  familiar  Hole-­‐in-­‐the-­‐Wall  device   (Mitra  &  Dangwal  2010:   673).   The   explicit   objective   of   the   Kalikuppam   experiment   was   to   set   the   children   an   ‘impossible   target’:   to   give   them   access   to   ‘difficult’   material   on  



molecular   biology,   in   a   language   they   did   not   speak   (English)   and   ask   them   what   they   made   of   it.   Left   on   their   own   for   two   months,   without   external   help   or   instruction,   the   researchers   felt   that   surely   this   task   would   demonstrate   that   ‘yes,  we  need  teachers  for  certain  things’  (Mitra  2010).  Indeed,  after  two  months,   when   Mitra   asked   them   what   they   understood   of   molecular   biology,   the   children   confirmed  that  they  understood  nothing.  What  gets  the  biggest  laugh  at  Mitra’s   numerous   talks,   however,   is   the   response   of   one   girl   from   the   group,   who   explained:   ‘Apart   from   the   fact   that   improper   replication   of   the   DNA   molecule   causes   genetic   disease,   we   understood   nothing   else.’   (2010)   Nevertheless,   the   group  scored  30%  on  the  paper  (Mitra  &  Dangwal  2010).  This  result  is  below  a   pass,   but   still   remarkable:   indeed,   according   to   one   reviewer   of   the   cited   research   paper   when   it   was   first   submitted   for   publication,   these   scores   were   ‘too  good  to  be  true’  (Mitra  2010).  But  instead  of  concluding  that  only  a  qualified   teacher,  or  expert,  could  improve  this  result,  they  posed  a  further,  most  Jacotot-­‐ resonant  research  question:  ‘Could  a  friendly  mediator  with  no  knowledge  of  the   subject   improve   the   performance   of   these   village   children?’   (Mitra   &   Dangwal   2010:  674)     In   a   remote   region,   where   the   absence   of   good,   qualified   teachers   was   one   of   the   factors  prompting  the  ‘Hole-­‐in-­‐the-­‐Wall’  project,  the  role  of  ‘friendly  mediators’   might   be   filled   by   parents,   grandparents   or   other   trusted   adults.   The   role   consists   of   praising   and   encouraging,   rather   than   instructing:   what   the   authors   call   ‘a   “grandparent”   model   of   encouragement,   using   phrases   such   as   “I   wish   I   could   do   that!”,   “how   on   earth   did   you   figure   that   out?”’   (Mitra   &   Dangwal   2010:   680).  Whoever  they  are,  according  to  Mitra  and  Dangwal,  they  are  ‘not  likely  to   be  trained  to  teach,  nor  are  they  likely  to  have  any  specific  subject  knowledge…   they  may  even  be  illiterate.’  (2010:  674)  They  would  be,  in  other  words,  ignorant   masters!  In  this  instance,  a  young  woman  in  Kalikuppam,  who  was  liked  by  the   children   and   nervous   of   her   own   lack   of   subject   knowledge,   was   recruited   to   encourage  and  urge  on  the  group.  Once  again  in  parallel  with  the  role  of  Jacotot’s   ignorant   master,   whose   purpose   is   solely   to   verify   that   the   students   exercised   their   ‘will   to   figure   out’   what   the   master   does   not   know,   the   result   is   that   ‘the   children   taught   her.’   (Mitra   &   Dangwal   2010:   674)   After   another   two   months  



working  in  groups  under  the  encouragement  of  their  ‘ignorant  mediator,’  the  test   scores   rose   to   51%   (comparable   to   peers   in   New   Delhi’s   privileged   private   schools).   The   demonstrable   impact   of   Mitra’s   ‘friendly,   but   not   knowledgeable,   mediator’  (2010:  683)  thus  returns  us  to  the  question  of  what  it  is,  exactly,  that   an  ignorant  master  does?  First,  she  teaches  what  he  does  not  know;  but  also  (and   perhaps  more  importantly)  she  dissociates  two  functions  (and  faculties)  that  are   bound   up   in   all   forms   of   pedagogy   –   her   knowledge   (intelligence)   and   her   mastery  (will).       For  Mitra,  the  results  of  these  experiments  verify  his  thesis  that  a  ‘self-­‐organising   system   of   learning’   might   not   only   alleviate   the   considerable   pressures   upon   limited  educational  resources  in  a  rapidly  developing  and  massively  inequitable   society  (2010:  683).  But  they  also  require  us  to  revisit  Jacotot’s  own  experiments   in   emancipatory   education   under   the   presupposition   of   the   equality   of   intelligence,   which,   as   Rancière   never   ceases   to   point   out,   only   ever   ‘point   of   departure,  a  supposition  to  maintain  in  every  circumstance,’  whose  implications   can   only   be   demonstrated   and   verified   in   always   specific   practical   experiments.4     This   urgency   of   emancipation   is   why   it   might   matter,   to   us   all   and   not   just   to   Mitra   or   Rancière,   that   an   Oscar-­‐winning   film   could   not   have   been   called   Slumdog  Nobel  Laureate.       Bibliography     Bingham,  Charles  &  Gert  Biesta  (2010),  Jacques  Rancière:  Education,  Truth,   Emancipation.  London  &  New  York:  Continuum.     Citton,  Yves  (2010),  ‘“The  ignorant  schoolmaster:”  knowledge  and  authority,’   Jacques  Rancière:  Key  Concepts,  ed.  J.-­‐P.  Deranty.  Durham:  Acumen,  25-­‐37.     Dangwal,  Ritu,  Swati  Jha  &  Preeti  Kapur  (2006),  ‘Impact  of  Minimally  Invasive   Education  on  children:  an  Indian  perspective,’  British  Journal  of  Educational   Technology,  37(2):  295-­‐298.       Hallward,  Peter  (2005),  ‘Jacques  Rancière  and  the  Subversion  of  Mastery,’   Paragraph  28(1):  26-­‐45.     Juluri,  Vamsee  (2010),  ‘Indophobia:  The  Real  Elephant  in  the  Living  Room’     16  

[online],  Huffington  Post,  8  January  2010.  Available  at:   http://www.huffingtonpost.com/vamsee-­‐juluri/indophobia-­‐the-­‐real-­‐ eleph_b_415237.html     Kinetz,  Erika  (2009),  ‘Mumbai  residents  object  to  “Slumdog”  title’  [online],  USA   Today  (Associated  Press),  22  January.  Available  at:     http://www.usatoday.com/life/movies/news/2009-­‐01-­‐22-­‐slugdog-­‐mumbai-­‐ protest_N.htm     Mitra,  Sugata  (2007),  ‘Can  kids  teach  themselves?’  LIFT  Conference,  Geneva.   Video  recording.  Available  at:  http://www.ted.com/talks/podtv/id/175     -­‐-­‐  (2010),  ‘The  child-­‐driven  education’,  TED  Talks,  7  September.  Video  recording.   Available  at:  http://www.ted.com/talks/podtv/id/949     Mitra,  Sugata  &  Ritu  Dangwal  (2010),  ‘Limits  to  self-­‐organising  systems  of   learning  –  the  Kalikuppam  experiment,’  British  Journal  of  Educational   Technology,  41(5):  672–688.     Mitra,  Sugata  &  Vivek  Rana  (2001),  ‘Children  and  the  Internet:  Experiments  with   minimally  invasive  education  in  India’,  British  Journal  of  Educational  Technology,   32(2):  221-­‐232.       Power,  Nina  (2009),  ‘Axiomatic  equality:  Rancière  and  the  politics  of   contemporary  education’  [online],  Polygraph  21.  Available  at:   www.eurozine.com         Rancière,  Jacques  (1988),  ‘Good  times  or  pleasure  at  the  barriers,’  Voices  of  the   People:  The  Social  Life  of  ‘La  Sociale’  at  the  End  of  the  Second  Empire,  ed.  A.  Rifkin   &  R.  Thomas,  trans.  J.  Moore.  London  &  New  York:  Routledge  &  Kegan  Paul,  45-­‐ 94.     -­‐-­‐  (1989  [1981]),  The  Nights  of  Labor:  The  Workers’  Dream  in  Nineteenth-­‐Century   France.  Trans.  J.  Drury.  Philadelphia:  Temple  UP.       -­‐-­‐  (1991  [1987]),  The  Ignorant  Schoolmaster.  Five  Lessons  in  Intellectual   Emancipation.  Trans.  K.  Ross.  Stanford,  CA:  Stanford  University  Press.     -­‐-­‐  (2004  [1983]),  The  Philosopher  and  His  Poor.  Durham  &  London:  Duke   University  Press.     -­‐-­‐  (2006),  ‘Thinking  between  disciplines:  An  aesthetics  of  knowledge’  [online],   Parrhesia  1:  1-­‐12.  Available  at:   http://www.parrhesiajournal.org/parrhesia01/parrhesia01_ranciere.pdf     -­‐-­‐  (2010),  ‘On  Ignorant  Schoolmasters,’  in  Bingham,  Charles  &  Gert  Biesta,   Jacques  Rancière:  Education,  Truth,  Emancipation.  London  &  New  York:   Continuum,  1-­‐16.    



-­‐-­‐  (2011),  ‘Against  an  Ebbing  Tide:  An  Interview  with  Jacques  Rancière,’  Reading   Rancière:  Critical  Dissensus,  ed.  P.  Bowman  &  R.  Stamp.  London  &  New  York:   Continuum,  238-­‐251.     Rancière,  Jacques  &  Nina  Power  (2010),  ‘Interview  with  Jacques  Rancière’   [online],  Ephemera:  theory  &  politics  in  organization, 10(1):  77-­‐81.       Rifkin,  Adrian  (2005),  ‘Il  y  a  des  mots  qu’on  souhaiterait  ne  plus  lire,’  Paragraph   28(1):  96-­‐109.     Ross,  Kristin  (1991),  ‘Rancière  and  the  Practice  of  Equality,’  Social  Text  29.     Sellars,  John  (2003),  ‘Simon  the  Shoemaker  and  the  problem  of  Socrates,’   Classical  Philology  98:  207-­‐16.     Swarup,  Vikas  (2006),  Q  &  A.  London:  Black  Swan.     Taylor,  Laurie  (2009),  Thinking  Allowed.  BBC  Radio  4,  transmitted  21  January.       Tobin,  Lucy  (2009),  ‘Slumdog  professor,’  The  Guardian,  Tuesday  3  March.   Available  at:  http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2009/mar/03/professor-­‐ sugata-­‐mitra     Zakaria,  Fareed  (2009),  ‘Slum  Voyeurism?’  [online],  Newsweek,  29  January.   Available  at:  http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2009/01/29/slum-­‐ voyeurism.html       Filmography     Slumdog  Millionaire  (2008).  Directed  by  Danny  Boyle  &  Loveleen  Tandan,  UK,   FilmFour/Celador  Films.       Endnotes                                                                                                                   1    The  film  provoked  a  range  of  critical  responses  both  from  within  India  and  the   Indian  diaspora  that  its  representations  of  slum  life  and  Indian  society  more   widely  rested  upon  Western  stereotypes,  or  even  'Indophobia'  (see  Juluri  2010).   In  addition  to  Indian  tourist  board  complaints  that  the  familiar  (even   ‘Dickensian’)  ‘rags  to  riches’  narrative  peddled  ‘poverty  porn,’  or  that  its  barely   partial  glimpses  of  the  religious  complexity  of  Indian  society  offended  some   conservative  Hindu  groups,  the  most  widespread  complaint  concerned  what   some  saw  as  the  defamatory  use  of  the  word  ‘slumdog.’  According  to  an  AP/USA   Today  report,  protests  by  Dharavi  community  groups  against  the  film’s  screening   in  Indian  cinemas  were  accompanied  by  placards  proclaiming:  ‘I  am  not  a   Slumdog.  I  am  the  Future  of  India.’  (USA  Today  2009  –  see  also  Boyle’s  response   to  this  claim  in  Zakaria  2009)  That  this  protest  takes  place  over  the  name  



                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            ‘slumdog’  underlines  the  importance  of  the  film’s  social  and  historical  (colonial-­‐ postcolonial)  contexts,  as  Juluri  (2010)  points  out:  ‘Why  does  Slumdog   Millionaire,  one  of  the  most  exhilarating  movies  of  our  time,  depict  the  majority   of  Indian  characters  in  it  as  irredeemably  cruel  and  barbaric  (not  the  nice  Indian   hero  with  the  British  accent  though,  of  course  not)?  Why  did  the  fictional  slur   "slumdog"  and  the  image  of  poverty  reportedly  figure  so  often  in  the  Australian   attacks?’  The  complex  processes  of  postcolonial  subjectification  (Rancière’s   term)  at  work  between  novel,  film  and  audiences  –  including  those  of  the  film’s   first  UK  terrestrial  screening  on  Channel  4,  which  was  accompanied  by  a  range  of   linked  programming,  such  as  Kevin  McCloud:  Slumming  It  (2  episodes,  broadcast   14-­‐15  January  2010)  and  Slumdog  Secret  Millionaire  (broadcast  18  January   2010)  –  would  entail  quite  another  paper!  (All  sources  cited  here  are  taken  an   excellent  overview  of  these  issues  on  the  Wikipedia  entry,  ‘Controversial  issues   surrounding  Slumdog  Millionaire,’  available  at:   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Controversial_issues_surrounding_Slumdog_Millio naire.)     2  In  a  public  talk  on  his  work  archived  on  TED,  Mitra  (2009)  reports  that  when   they  were  asked  how  they  had  managed  to  use  resources  on  a  computer  in  a   language  they  did  not  know,  the  children  in  one  such  experiment  replied:  ‘You   left  a  machine  that  only  speaks  English.  So  we  had  to  learn  English.’       3  Socrates  returns  as  the  central  figure  against  which  Rancière  defines  Jacotot’s   ignorant  mastery.  In  this  respect,  it  is  worth  noting,  with  Nina  Power,  that   ‘[p]erhaps  Rancière  is  a  little  harsh  on  Socrates’  (2009:  2).  Her  caution  is  given   weight  in  John  Sellars  argument  that  the  Cynics  considered  the  historical  person   of  Simon  the  shoemaker  ‘the  most  authentic  Socratic’  (2003:  215)  for  his   exemplification  of  self-­‐sufficiency  and  freedom  of  speech.  As  ever,  there  is  more   than  one  Socrates…     4  In  a  recent  interview  with  Nina  Power  (2010:  3),  Rancière  offers  a  brief  sketch   of  his  own  view  of  the  egalitarian  effects  of  the  internet,  which  he  describes  as  ‘a   living  refutation  of  a  pedagogical  model  of  “the  good  way,”’  citing  the  ease  with   which  users  can  pass  from  one  link  to  another  and  from  the  superficial  to  the   complex,  in  parallel  with  Mitra’s  conclusions  from  his  continuing  experiments  in   ‘self-­‐organised  learning’.      



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