April 2023

Accuracy Talks Straight #7 – The Cultural Corner

Sophie Chassat
Philosopher, Partner at Wemean

Disruptive superstructures

If technical and technological innovations require disruptive infrastructures, society will also need to equip itself with ‘disruptive superstructures’. What is a superstructure? It is the intangible equivalent of infrastructure, that is to say, the ideas of a society, its means of expressing itself (art, philosophy, morality) and its governmental institutions, as well as its cultural and educational institutions.

It was Karl Marx who invented this coupling of concepts to show their deep co-determination: a society’s ideological superstructures depend closely on its tangible and economic infrastructures – and vice versa. For example, the industrial revolution gave rise to developments in both infrastructure (technical innovations, mechanisation, division of labour, etc.) and superstructure (liberalism, rationalism, bourgeois morality, etc.), which reinforced each other.

What disruptive superstructures will we need to support the tangible and economic changes of our time? Though we know nothing for certain, what we do know is that our current superstructures are no longer appropriate. This is the starting point of an excellent TedX by Sir Ken Robinson on our educational systems: the paradigm on which they are based is still that of the industrial age.

Indeed, our educational system was conceived in the 19th century in the economic context of the industrial revolution. Logically, school is therefore organised to prepare pupils for this system of production: bells ringing, separate installations, specialised subjects, and standardised study programmes and tests. This is what Sir Ken Robinson calls ‘the factory model of education’.

The educational system inherited from the industrial age has one fault in particular: it kills creativity and divergent thought. And yet, this is something that our age, one of the most stimulating in history, needs now more than ever! That is why a radical change of paradigm in this area is essential, and it takes place in three steps. First, end the myth that there is a division between the academic and the non-academic, between the theoretical and the concrete; in other words, stop separating education from life.  Second, recognise that most major learning is done collectively – because collaboration is the basis of progression – rather than encourage individual competition between pupils.

Third, change the thought patterns of those who work in the education system, as well as the architecture of the places where they work. The philosopher Michel Foucault already noted profound resonance between the spatial and temporal organisation of factories and schools. Inventive disruptive infrastructures will, in turn, have to match these new disruptive superstructures. What will the schools of tomorrow look like? Where will they be? Some, like Sugata Mitra in India, see them in the cloud; others see them in the middle of nature, like the forest schools that are flourishing in Europe. But why don’t we ask our children and young people what they think? Creativity is after all their area of expertise, no?

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