The Cockpit’s Empty Chair: Education through Appropriating Alienation at a Chicago Technology Museum
by Anne Lorimer - 2007
Background/Context: In the United States, the percentage of schoolchildren planning to become high-status professionals is grossly disproportionate to the percentage of such jobs comprising our division of labor. As in a game of musical chairs, it is not structurally possible for everyone to remain a contender.
Focus of Study: Various adults who did not grow up to be pilots educate others (including the researcher) about how they visually experienced a pilot’s workplace, and the lessons they drew from this experience.
Setting: Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry.
Research Design: Long-term ethnographic fieldwork, and a close analysis of interactions among twenty randomly sampled groups of visitors.
Findings/Results: What visitors have achieved directs our attention to a different kind of pedagogy possible in technology centers: a pedagogy in which, rather than appropriating technological knowledge, one appropriates one’s own alienation from this knowledge. Although it might seem perverse to suggest building it in, this is after all a crucial aspect of the larger world of technology: its incomprehensibility, its alienness, its requirement of training. The cockpit gives visitors a partial perspective on a totality, and when you look into the totality, the totality also looks into you: the experience compels people to account for their own positioning.
Conclusions/Recommendations: If we take seriously the idea that education is a collective project, then studying education means studying not only how people are transformed from one status to another, but how as part of this process people construct accounts rationalizing what has happened to them. As it happens, such accounts are not merely post hoc rationalizations; they also permit a forward impetus, as people draw on these accounts in seeking to attain transformative agency, to make things happen differently next time.
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