‘Under certain circumstances failing, losing, forgetting, unmaking, undoing, unbecoming, not knowing may in fact offer more creative, more cooperative, more surprising ways of being in the world’. 1
Transdisciplinary education at its most counter-hegemonic, deconstructs what James C. Scott terms ‘legibility’. Scott defines legibility as being the disciplinary specific need for standardisation and uniformity masked as a natural and obvious processes of development 2. The deconstruction of disciplinary boundaries, however, requires a translation of methodology, epistemology and knowledge into shared languages, rubrics, and matrices of meaning; a process that inevitably produces what Nelly Richard’s writing on Judith Butler terms ‘friction’. 3
Writing on queer theory, Jack Halberstam, like Richards, identifies failure as a site that offers ‘the opportunity to use these negative affects to poke holes in the toxic positivity of contemporary life’. 4
Bringing together the Modern need for disciplinary legibility and state capitalism, Halberstam argues that failure-as-liberation offers a counter-hegemonic tool, capable of disrupting naturalised capitalist ambitions of productivity and individualism. By staying with the failure, we reveal the damaging axioms of what defines success for a heteronormative, patriarchal, capitalist society.
Transdisciplinary education takes note of the frictions produced at the artificial borders between disciplines and use these failures as sites to uncover the axioms of ‘legible’ disciplinary success and its interwovenness with state Capitalism. ‘Subjugated knowledges’, defined by Foucault as knowledges that have been disqualified, may thus be understood in terms of failure. By focussing on the local, the personal, the marginalised, the illegible, these knowledges failed to form the universal theories coveted by Modernism. Using this failure as a means of identifying a creative set of knowledges may permit a radical transdisciplinary set of methodologies that identify ‘refusal(s) of mastery’. 5 If hegemony as defined by Gramsci is the set of interlocking ideas that so sufficiently persuade people of their rightness that it becomes common-sense, failure may be understood as an incoherence with hegemony.
Failure, therefore, constitutes both a productive friction because of transdisciplinary research and a tool for the location of sites of knowledges that disrupt and challenge hegemonic institutions, common sense. To quote Foucault, ‘disciplines will define not a code of law, but a code of normalisation’. 6
- Halberstam, Jack. The Queer Art of Failure. Durham: Duke University Press, 2011, 2-3.
- Scott, James C. Seeing Like a State:How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. London: Yale University Press, 1999, 9.
- “Desajustar el marco del feminismo: una lectura de Judith Butler desde el Sur,” in Representations 158 (Spring 2022): “Proximities: Reading with Judith Butler”.
- Halberstam, The Queer Art of Failure, 3.
- Ibid, 11.
- Foucault, Michel. Society Must Be Defended: Lectures at the College de France 1975-1976. New York: Macmillan Publishers, 2003.