The Pedagogical Relation Past and Present: Experience, Subjectivity and Failure

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The pedagogical relation, the idea of a special relationship between teacher and child, has long been a central theme or ‘problem’ in interpretive studies of education, with the term having been established in English some 25 years ago by Max van Manen. Speaking more broadly, themes of ‘student-teacher relations’ and ‘pedagogies of relation’ are common in both empirical and theoretical literature. The German educationist Herman Nohl (1879–1960) was the first to give the phrase ‘pedagogical relation’ explicit description and definition, and as I show, a steady stream of educationists have followed in his wake. Nohl’s notion has subsequently been revised and criticized by prominent continental scholars, and much from these continental conceptions—particularly the exclusive focus on the child’s experience—has been retained or strengthened in English by van Manen and others. However, in the light of ongoing adult and teacher fallibility this paper argues that the weakness, hesitation and subjectivity of the educator must also be accounted for in any understanding of the pedagogical relation. In tracing the 90-year trajectory of this notion, the paper consequently concludes that moments of ‘interruption’ and ‘hesitation’ must be seen as integral, not accidental, to pedagogy and its relations.