Through the looking - glass, and what I found there
This paper proposes the theoretical lens of governmentality (Barry, Osborne, & Rose, 1996; Burchell, Gordon, & Miller, 1991; Dean, 1999; Foucault, 1991; Rose, 1999) for making sense of the historical, political and ethical constitution of the learning advisor in Australian higher education. To begin, the paper draws on Lewis Carroll's Through the looking glass, and what Alice found there as a narrative tactic to demonstrate how the space of learning advising can be understood as a most curious place to dwell. Rather than stepping into the looking glass to discover this world of strangeness, I suggest that we must step out of the looking glass to turn and see - clearly, darkly - how strangeness is already part of our professional lifeworld with its spatial contortions, its temporal reversals, and its illogical diversions. I then suggest that if we venture to examine ourselves through the lens of governmentality we can begin to see how learning advising is merely a figment of the liberal imagination - an effect of the dynamic interaction of power, knowledge and ethics in liberal society. Through this lens, learning advising can be understood as a discursively complex, relational, polysemic and contested space in the academy that is ontologically vulnerable to political thought and action, and epistemologically and axiomatically vulnerable to its ebb and flow. To elaborate, I suggest that learning advising is a relational space because its intelligibility is an effect of the convergence of historical circumstance, political reasoning, and perceived social and economic crises that reconfigure the university as an apparatus of government, and reconstitute the higher education student as the object of government. I argue that it is in this three way moral relationship with the university and the student that the learning advisor is politically and ethically constituted. I go on to suggest that the historical proliferation of these configurations and constitutions have layered and folded through this space multiple truths that intersect (polysemic) and compete (contested) for domination causing its inhabitants speak with an ontological stammering (Lather, 2003). The final part of the paper suggests that agency in this space is not simply a matter of attempting to ground one's identity, politics and agency in the notion of a foundational subject or teleological notions of progress, but to learn to dwell ethically and tactically in the complexity of the space willed to us by history (de Certeau, 1988; Readings, 1997). Dwelling, I suggest, requires us to live poetically, with a 'commitment to thought' (Foucault, 1997; Readings, 1997) and a healthy skepticism for all things that resemble reification (Fendler, 1999), as a provocation to ever more critical and creative practice (Gitlin, 2008).