Conference Papers

Somewhere Over the Rainbow: Power, Pleasure and Subject Positions Associated with the Student Journey.

In an attempt to differentiate themselves in an increasingly competitive market, many universities emphasise the importance of attending to the student ‘experience’ and the student ‘journey’. But how do educators understand these concepts, both of which are assumed to be fundamental to engagement and retention? Previous work has gone a long way, but arguably not far enough, to delineate the key features of the student journey, whether expressed as a series of ‘turning points’ or using the metaphor of an ‘emotional roller coaster’. One helpful proposal comes from Beard, Humberstone & Clayton (2014) who suggest the ‘emotion transition framework’ can catalyse student transformational change. They argue that higher education might proactively craft pedagogic spaces so as to unite what they call the ‘feeling discourse’, the ‘thinking discourse’ and the wider ‘life-self discourse’. Drawing on this work, and on T.R. Johnson’s (2014) Lacanian pedagogical theory, I articulate a more uneven vision of how student engagement and development might be understood in terms of the subject positions associated with the diverse forms of power relations flowing through the university. Instead of conceptualising the student journey as an inevitable onwards march towards the Emerald City of enlightenment, one that necessarily and naturally engenders self-actualisation and intellectual fulfilment, a Lacanian pedagogy accounts for students’ actual lived experiences, abounding in false starts, potholes, detours, and breakdowns. It is precisely these apparently sterile gaps, aimless meanderings and frustrated reversals that make intellectual development possible. The implications of this analysis are: a) that the student journey cannot be articulated as an essentially untroubled march towards enlightenment; b) that universities must retain a variety of modes of instruction and delivery to foster engagement; and c) that educators can profit from recognising the multiple ways students become enmeshed in power struggles, the negotiation of which have significant consequences for learning and intellectual development.

Bunn, G. (2017) 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow: Power, Pleasure and Subject Positions Associated with the Student Journey.', paper presented to The 13th Annual Conference of the British Education Studies Association (BESA), 29–30 June, viewed 08 August 2020, <>