Rethinking Schooling in Australia

In light of recent media coverage arguing that Australia’s education system is failing us, and dropping further behind on a global scale, there is reason to re-think our approach to schooling. Our current emphasis on testing is not working and needs to be changed. The politics of schooling need to be seen as just as significant as test results, because schools make people, not just statistics and workers. Deleuze and Guattari’s political philosophy offers us a way to reconceptualize the politics of schooling in Australia.

Significantly, schooling happens in social contexts and national testing ignores this through the significance it places on ‘standardised’ testing. Contexts are not standardised. Deleuze and Guattari partly understand context and the political through mapping out what they call the three ‘great social machines’: the territorial, the despotic and the capitalist. All three machines, or connected systems, articulate across assemblages of schooling. Schools code, over code and decode different capitalist flows. A new analysis of compulsory education needs to read schooling in Australia in the context of its focus of moving towards what Deleuze and Guattari call the molar pole, or an acquiescence to dominant power structures. Children are critical subjects who interpolate this movement in ways that reflect their class, race, gender and sexuality. Schooling is characterised by learning dominant signifying processes, teaching structured lines of integration, and training children to follow the authoritarian reterritorialisation of flows.

Schooling is an act of subjugating a group: namely, children. Yet schooling is also clearly characterised by strong movements towards the molecular pole, articulated by the ongoing processes of deterritorialisation that make up the lived curriculum (or children’s everyday experiences) in schools.

“What complicates everything, it is true, is that the same kind of individuals can participate in both kinds of groups in diverse ways” (Deleuze and Guattari 1988: 349).

Let me begin at the molar pole, as schooling is a process of producing human and machinic capital, of making the child as a commodity. From the molar pole of subjectivity, then, schooling reads the child as a desiring machine that decodes and recodes flows of knowledge across disciplinary and cultural boundaries. On a molar level, schools as desiring machines add surplus value to young subjects through de and recoding policy, curriculum, culture. At a molecular level, or not quite molecular, but within and underneath the stratifications of subjectivity: at the unconscious, visceral level of pedagogy, schooling shows the assembling, the mixing or folding of knowledge in the body. N-sexes: recombinant production. Informal and formal knowledge structures are cross-fertilised; popular culture and popular knowledges de and recode institutionalised and traditional knowledge structures. Curriculum is conjoined with the popular.

Deleuze and Guattari characterise a singular ‘negative’ and double ‘productive’ tasks of schizoanalysis which are joined through the performance of the four ‘thesis’ of schizoanalysis. These can be articulated though a critically constructed concept of schooling assemblages. To map these four theses, they are “that every investment is social, and in any case bears upon a socio-historical field” (Deleuze and Guattari 1983:342), that “within the social investments we will distinguish the unconscious libidinal investment of groups or desire, and the preconscious investment of class or interest”(Deleuze and Guattari 1983: 343–344), that libidinal investments are primarily social and then familial. The subject’s relation to the nonfamilial is always considered as primary; in the form of a sexuality of the field in social production and the nonhuman sex in desiring production. And finally, or fourthly, that there is a distinction of molar and molecular poles of social investment; the molar, paranoiac, reactionary and fascist pole and the molecular, schizoid, revolutionary pole[1]. In other words, schizoanalysis, articulated through the concept of schooling assemblages, show us the simultaneous deterritorialisation and reterritorialisation of libidinal social investments.

Schooling Assemblages

The overcoding of the child mind and the regulation of the child’s temporal routine in part connects the young subject to the flows of the civilised capitalist machine, but also flows into other forms of social organisation: the Urstaat, or state of the school, barbarian or imperial forms of filiation in the schoolyard and, outside school, the social organisation of young subjectivities. In and through schools, the child decodes and recodes flows of desire that articulate through knowledge, commodities, community, and belonging. As fluid as capitalism is, and as seemingly institutionalised as schools are, they are also mobile agents of the civilised capitalist machine — they are an industry based on decoding and recoding various forms of capital through which the child becomes commodified and prepared for the best university, and / or the highest paying, most well respected job, in order to belong to the culture they believe to be most worthy or esteemed. This is only possible, though, to the extent that schools are core parts of a broader, global capitalist economy. Schools, curriculum and education policy feed from the capitalist machine and feed into it.

Thinking through schooling assemblages then, we see that both children and schools are decoding machines, at the same time as they overcode free economies of knowledge by re-inscribing disciplinary boundaries of thought affirmed diachronically. Deleuze and Guattari remind us:

“Decoded desires and desires for decoding have always existed; history is full of them … decoded flows constitute a desire — a desire that instead of just dreaming or lacking it, actually produces a desiring-machine that is at the same time social and technical.” (Deleuze & Guattari, 1998: 224)

Decoded flows are, and always have been, the currency of schooling. They are the State’s imperative to craft a subject of value, the parent’s imperative to place their child in a particular school, the young person who mediates these imperatives in relation to broader social and cultural contexts. They are the unconsciously calculated level of wanting something enough to act.

If decoded flows are the currency and materiality of schooling, virtual and material conjunctions are the methodology through which the institution of schooling operates:

“The capitalist machine, the civilised machine, will first establish itself on the conjunction” (Deleuze & Guattari, 1998: 224)

The civilised capitalist machine articulated through schooling assemblages establishes itself on the conjunction of the child, curriculum, classroom and pedagogy, and on the conjunction of the teacher, policy, curriculum and context. More than this, though, it establishes itself on the conjunction of globalised cultures of schooling, the elite school scapes of colonial knowledge production and the ghettos of localised, feudal forms of relation, graphic representation and independent school voice. Cultures of schooling decode institutionalised curriculum knowledges and recode these knowledges, territorialising them on to popular discourses, located cultural representations of disciplines, iconic texts, the market value of higher education and training, workplace knowledges, the practical know-how required to ‘make it’, both financially and personally, in the flows of the civilised capitalist machine.

To connect this concept of the assemblage of schooling onto the twofold ‘tasks’ of schizoanalysis, we can see that a concept of an assemblage of schooling already embodies the singular ‘negative task[2]’ of schizoanalysis. Namely, it articulates an understanding of the machinic conversion of the primal repression of the unconscious that is constructed by psychoanalysis. If desire is a method of production, and a means through which social fields are organised, then in schools, and everywhere, at all times, psychoanalytic structures of libidinal flows open onto material and virtual lines of flight.

Putting this conceptual frame to work, we also see that one of the core purposes of schooling is what Deleuze and Guattari characterise as the first ‘positive task’ of schizoanalysis, namely to identify and channel the libidinal flows of bodies. Schools undertake this largely in service of the civilised capitalist machine. Schools de and recode flows of different institutionalised knowledges and practices, producing new axiomatics, or values. The second ‘positive task’ of schizoanalysis, to ‘schizophrenise’ the investments of unconscious desire of the social field by making use “only of indices — machinic indices — of sexuality in order to discern, at the level of groups or individuals, the libidinal investments of the social field’ (Deleuze and Guattari, 1988: 350). Libidinal investments of the social field articulate across many conjunctions, some of which are the intersection of the popular and the institutional in schools, the teacher relating to the student, the reproductive labour of learning and making oneself new. For example, think of the folding of the pop song as a commodity into the music technique class, the mobilisation of (or resistance to) the heterosexual matrix in young people’s production of their own bodies, and the teacher’s governance and responses to young people’s processes of subjectivation. All fields are sexual fields; the question is how does sexuality articulate in a field, across assemblages of schooling? (- Not is there sexuality?, rather how does sexuality articulate in schooling?).

The connective synthesis of production, the disjunctive synthesis of recording and the conjunctive synthesis of consumption-consummation undertaken by desiring machines are put to work in particular ways by schooling assemblages. The connective synthesis of production, or “the coupling of machines one to another resulting in the production of partial objects and of the ceaseless flow of desire” (Stivale 1984: 3) is ontological. It is life. Outside or within institutions, the synthesis is life; but the synthesis as the civilised capitalist machine has particular modes of conjunction in schools, which I can only point to here and I discuss this in more detail in my longer form writing. The disjunctive synthesis of recording results from the connections produced as “machines attach, record or inscribe themselves in grids or chains onto the body without organs as so many points of disjunction in relations of difference to one another” (Stivale, 1984: 3). Schools record onto the bodies of children, but also onto the bodies of Despots and States. More than this, and, as I have suggested, they of course produce human surplus value and machinic surplus value. The conjunctive synthesis of consumption-consummation “is brought about by the reconciliation or conjunction of the opposition between the desiring-machines and the body without organs, resulting in the subject being discerned or produced on the recording surface” (Stivale: 1984: p. 3). Students, schools and teachers and systems for valuing knowledges are made by schooling assemblages.

The second task of schizoanalysis is plugging the individual element found in major discourses into the political — the immediate. It is here that schooling assemblages show up the politics of pedagogical labour, curriculum and learning. The second aspect of the positive task of schizoanalysis is to conduct a ‘schizophrenisation’ of investments of social desire in the social field and although this process is void of a political program, to develop teacher education student’s awareness of the already ‘grotesque and disquieting nature’ (1988: 380) of the conjunction of schooling assemblages with the civilised capitalist machine would be an institutional act of pushing the neurotic off the analysts’ couch to walk with the schizophrenic. ‘A breath of fresh air, a relationship with the outside world’ (1988: 2). We need to open out our approach to schooling in Australia to think about the social and cultural politics of schooling, not test scores.

Works cited

Deleuze, G. and F. Guattari (1988). Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press.

Deleuze, G. and F. Guattari (1987). A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press.

Stivale, C. (1984). Schizoanalysis and Literary Discourse, SubStance. 2001.

[1] These poles exist in constant fluctuation:

“For the real truth of the matter — the glaring, sober truth that resides in delirium — is that there is no such thing as relatively independent spheres or circuits: production is immediately consumption and a recording process” (Deleuze and Guattari 1988): 4)

[2]Specifically, Deleuze and Guattari state that “if the essential aspect of the destructive task is to undo the Oedipal trap of repression properly speaking the essential aspect of the first positive task is to ensure the machinic conversion of primal repression” (1988: 339)



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Prof. Anna Hickey-Moody

Prof. Anna Hickey-Moody


Professor of Media and Communication at RMIT Univeristy. Member of the Digital Ethnography Research Centre. ARC Future Fellow. VC Senior Research Fellow.