“MOM, watch me, I´m doing the impossible” part II

Analyzing a Visual Image[1]. Critical Feminist view.

white man hunting

The photo is taken at a conference held in a nice hotel. You can see an elderly white male professor introducing his work in the field. He shows himself doing field studies in Africa in order to collect data for his research. It looks like many years ago he was there. He has displayed his books on the stage so that the audience can see that he has been publishing a lot ever since. The books look prominent.

At the center of the attention is a white Western man dancing with a large group of African people. You can see the locals wearing guns and old dirty clothing. They have their backs towards the filmmaker or just out of focus. The white man dancing is clearly in the center, everyone else is unrecognizable, somehow unimportant and you might even say, secondary. They are just providing a background for him to come forward and present himself.

The old professor looking up towards his young self on the screen, looks tired and one can see how his figure now resembles the African villagers. It is an interesting double scene we can witness here. The man has grown old. He is getting bold and stooped. He looks like a shadow of the young, hopeful and powerful man he once was. Even though he is not young anymore, he is probably wealthy. In a way it looks as if his life must have been a great success but on the other hand one might also question that. The shiny stand with the name of the hotel lets us know that it is not just another place but it is a very fancy hotel in Norway we are located in. But the old man looks so very tired.

This picture presents us with a sentimental stage of expertise in educational research. As I am the one who took the picture just a few days ago, I know that the audience mainly consisted of women. It is a typical picture of educational conferences held in Europe. An old man talking about his work, talking about something that has been done a long time ago and having a lot of women carefully listening and making notes. This is a picture of expertise in the field of education, where most of the people occupied with the work are women but the know-how still belongs to men. I would argue that the expert in my area of study often looks like an old white Western male presenting himself, having only very little to do with the actual field of the research. The gap between educational theory and practice is therefore profound.

The resemblance between Daniel Coyle[2] and the professor is striking. It is clear that Coyle is making his way towards traditional Western academia by creating field trips to various locations in the world, meeting “the Grand Old Men” in his area of study and collecting cases etc. Coyle is interested in talent (a special interest area in education), so he goes and travels the world! His family calls his journeys “treasure hunting”, he himself likes the word pair “Great Expedition” (ibid. p.12). Sounds wonderful! But actually how many women working in the schools or kindergartens could do that? Why is it so important in the first place?

While reading Coyle´s arguments about talent in the chapter one of his book, the professional eye immediately depicts many weaknesses[3]. Despite of the fact that he obviously lacks basic knowledge about prominent theories in the field of his study, he was able to find funding for his travels, he even found a publisher for his book (which is a bestseller by now, if to believe the information on the books homepage http://www.thetalentcode.com) and he is clearly making his way in to academic circles already. What kind of talent is needed to achieve a status as an expert in the field? What does it tell us about the meaning of expert knowledge in our times and about the experts we have? All I have is the questions.

Coyle, D. (?). The Talent Code. Greatness isn´t born. It´s grown. Here is how. http://thetalentcode.com/excerpt/ [retrieved 24.04.2013]

[1] Photo is taken 19th of April 2013 in Trondheim at an annual meeting of Norwegian kindergarten teachers. There were about 340 women listening the professor. In the whole audience there were perhaps 3% to 5% men. All the people doing presentations or having workshops during the three days conference were elderly white Western males.

[2] Based on the reading of the first chapter of Daniel Coyle´s book “ The Talent Code” available online http://thetalentcode.com/excerpt/.

[3] Daniel Coyle is ignoring many studies carried out about talented people as well as prominent theory of Lev Vygotsky called Zone of Proximal Development. See for example http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zone_of_proximal_development.


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