An Awkward Encounter – Larossa’s Thoughts on Experience & Knowledge


Jorge Larossa

I have been taken aback by an article I have recently read by a Spanish Philosopher of Education called Jorge Larossa Bondía. In his Notas sobre a Experiência e o Saber de Experiência (Notes on Experience and the Knowledge of Experience) he proposes that we think education in terms of experience/meaning, as opposed to either science/technique or theory/practice, which respectively represent mainstream pedagogical paradigms whose proponents fall under the category of either advocates of education as an applied science or advocates of education as political praxis. Larossa explores a set of words, for words are full of meaning, beginning with the word ‘experience’. He says that experience is becoming increasingly more rare. He establishes a difference between information and experience, saying that the contemporary obsession with information, as well as information overload, is actually a counter-experience, in that it has caused a shift from quality to quantity, from existential depth to fast processing. We have access to an endless universe of information, yet nothing really happens to us anymore. Nothing really touches us or moves us anymore. Larossa argues that in the so-called “information society” we have become fast consumers and processors of information, taking it all in and promptly emitting opinions about all things, as if learning, or at least the deep kind of learning, were actually taking place in that process.

Larossa quotes Heidegger’s definition of experience:



…to have an experience with something means that something happens to us, reaches us; that it takes over us, throws us down and transforms us. When we talk about  ‘having’ an experience, it doesn’t mean precisely that we make it happen, ‘doing’ here means to suffer, to hurt, to accept that which reaches us, to the extent that we subject ourselves to something. To do an experiment means, therefore, to allow ourselves to be approached by that which calls upon us, penetrating and subjecting us to it. We can be transformed by such experiences, from one day to the next or over time.

Larossa, in exploring Heidegger’s choice of verbs, explains that one needs to be vulnerable and exposed to be able to experience. Experience is likened to passion by Larossa. His description of passion as being a tension between freedom and captivity, in the sense that what the individual really wants is to remain inprisoned, depending on the object of his passion, does bear resemblance to the kind of intellectual and existential suffering that one might experience while mulling over something. It reminds me of the type of discomfort and awkwardness that precede an insight, or the darkest moments of the night before the sunrise.

It might be that what Larossa is trying to say is also that education has lost its enchantment. We have been consumed whole by a homogenized discourse of pedagogy, throwing about words like ‘critical’ and ‘autonomy’ and ‘deep learning’ without really contemplating the experience that learning needs in order to become knowledge. Information is not synonym to knowledge. Knowledge takes passion, takes suffering, takes vulnerability and being open to risk, to danger – of being changed by it, of ‘dying’, so to speak. I believe Larossa’s critique of technology and its wonders is that we should not let it technologize us in our humanity. Instead, we must humanize technology, somehow subjecting it to our necessity of going through experiences. (Rhizo14, anybody?)