A political joke from Steven Lukes


Five citizens of the Reich were sitting in a railway waiting room.  One of them sighed, another clasped his head in his hands, the third one groaned loudly and the fourth sat with tears streaming down his face.

The fifth one looked at them, and shook his head.

‘Be careful , gentlemen.  It’s not wise to discuss politics in public.’

Lukes, Steven; Galnoor, Itzhak; illustrations by Michael Heath. (1986) pdf_iconNo Laughing Matter: A Collection of Political Jokes. Routledge Kegan & Paul.

In our ALT-C 2011 symposium last week I referred to Lukes’ 1,2 and 3 dimensional views of power and whilst reading more by him, came across his wonderful gift of a book of political jokes (see link in caption above).  This joke (that I told in our session) neatly demonstrates “the third dimension of such power, where the power consists, not in prevailing over the opposition of others, nor in imposing an agenda on them, but in influencing their desires, beliefs and judgments in ways that work against their interests.” (Steven Lukes with Clarissa Hayward) ‘Nobody to shoot? Power, structure, and agency: A dialogue‘ Journal of Power, Vol. 1, No. 1, April 2008, pp. 5–20

My contention in my contribution to our symposium was that it’s really important to keep asking the awkward and uncomfortable questions, resisting the third dimension of power. In my Twitter stream I have come across Jennifer Jones’ fascinating narrative of her engagement with seminars about the Olympics, see her blog post and Twitter stream.  To me, this is a classic case of resistance to the third dimension of power.  This blog post, and more importantly the joke above, are offered in your honour Jennifer.

Let’s all keep asking the questions.

What can’t we say? What don’t we say?

Year Two, Day 52: Some secrets are worth keeping
At our ALT-C 2011 Symposium tomorrow The Paradox of Openness: The High Costs of Giving Josie Fraser, Helen Keegan Richard Hall and I will speak briefly about different aspects of openness and online in relation to education and learning, in order to open up discussion amongst participants.  We are also keen to extend dialogue beyond the conference and over time.

One of my interests in being involved in this symposium is that I suspect that there are questions that are not being asked about openness online.  I am keen to explore what openness means and what we can’t or don’t ask about online sharing and communicating.  18 years ago, when I first started thinking about processes of enquiry in relation to information technology, I came across the idea that surfacing assumptions could be useful.  I was intrigued by the idea that  what we thought and talked about could be constrained by things that we took for granted to the extent that we were neither aware of them or discussed them.

Today, I was at pre-ALTC 2011 Conference workshop that was timed to coincide with the launch of Technology Outlook: UK Tertiary Education 2011-2016the first report in a new series of NMC Horizon Report Regional Analyses.  One thing I will carry from that workshop to our symposium was part of the definition of ‘open content’ as something that embraces not only the sharing of information, but also the sharing of pedagogies and experiences.

Tomorrow, I’ll be using some ideas from Steven Lukes well-established work on 1,2 and 3 dimensional views of power to help think about examples of the exercise of power in online ‘openness’. I’ll report back on the outcome and continue the discussion here.