Education from a Clinical Perspective – The Opening of a Conversation Field

Listening of Production: Part 2 of 3


I’m going to introduce myself like this: I am Hermeto Pascoal and I’m playing here with the frogs, making some music here by the lake. […] I really felt the frog saying: you can go, you can play. And I played, and played. And suddenly, he would say: for, that me to continue. And I would stop. But for all this there has to be a preparation, to say to them also: look, I arrived, for them to say to me: look, but the owner of the party here is I, I am in the lake, the lake is mine, you are here and to play you have to get into our thing. Then when it gets really hot, you have to be careful, because there are times that I get beaten by them, that they take from me. In terms of mental speed I lose even to the toad. I’m trying and bam … and I can’t, you know. And then suddenly I do something, and he waits. When he waits for me to do something, he challenges me.[1]


After this return to the clinical field, I feel invited to share some effects of clinical listening as described above in the educational realm. It is worth saying that these effects are part of a chart in process – a mapping of impressions, results, small and not-so-small pieces of more than ten years working with students and educators in  the public school system in Brazil. I analysed this multiplicity of material precisely in the last four years, during my Phd research.

I would like to highlight a general but important aspect of this work. Clinical listening can contribute to education when understood as a form of listening to what is alive. This listening to what is alive is potential in all educational processes, despite its absence in traditional modes of education focused in a specific content program.  Put another way, when the practice of listening is activated in an educational context it is possible to affirm and to consider that these spaces are spaces of life.

If we understand educational spaces as spaces of life, it is important to think how life can be accompanied by an educational perspective. Clinical listening, when practiced in educational contexts, is a way to do this. It is a simple practice despite the complexity of its unfolding. The complexity is related to the procedural aspect it requires. In other words, clinical listening in an educational context is a process without a known end. Besides that, it is a process involving learning that cannot be calculated or evaluated because of its existential nature. How can we calculate an existence?

Though we cannot calculate an existence, we can certainly follow it. Clinical Listening is a radical but simple attitude that requires no contents, plans or subjects – the traditional issues of education – but rather, the mobilization of a certain kind of perception. In order to describe, detail and experiment with this mode of perception I propose a shift of  clinical listening into the educational context: what if we could listen to gestures, behaviors, happenings (and also to the unexpected) as something that can produce collective sense and subjectivation rather than something to be punished, avoided or a subject that cannot be discussed?

Previously I said listening is a radical but simple attitude. Let’s follow some words from Deleuze in order to better detail this affirmation:

If the protests of children were heard in kindergarten, if their questions were attended to, it would be enough to explode the entire educational system. There is no denying that our social system is totally without tolerance; this accounts for its extreme fragility in all its aspects and also its need for a global form of repression. [2]

These few words can sound optimistic, but what would happen if we would truly listen to children’s questions, and gave them  consequences? We can pick up very common issues in students’ claims as the permission to go to the toilet, to use smartphones during classes, or the frequent complaint about the hours spent seated on a chair. What can these simple questions do to the planning of classes, collective rules and to the frame of teacher/student relations? If we take them seriously and understand their complexity instead of giving simple answers in order to keep everything working properly to achieve preformulated learning goals, we could rethink the whole learning system.

All of these questions were collected in several listening groups that I participated in with students during  the past years. It is important to say that listening to these questions does not mean resolving all of them or immediately meeting the demands implicit in them. It is very common to confuse listening to someone or something with the imperative to solve or answer what is heard. However, the practice of clinical listening does not mean an exact response, it means considering the questions instead of being subjugated to them. In other words, listening to children does not mean they will have control and impose their own interests on the teacher and classroom, but they will affect the educational process.

An attitude of listening does not hierarchize or pre-determine what will be heard. By not knowing in advance what the possible meetings and conversations will be, the importance of a constant listening that is not vigilant is affirmed – a state of listening and attention to the deviations, noises and timbres of what is alive, in spite of the institutional crystallization. The idea of a constant attitude does not mean that there are no pauses, mismatches or arrhythmias – the impossibility of total silence indicates variations and qualities of silences that can be followed or merely experienced.

Though listening does not always mean answering questions we could, on the other hand, specify attitudes that can make listening possible. This could include creating and sustaining a relaxed and informal atmosphere that is open to playfulness, confronting difficult questions, that does not punish conduct, that considers everything that is said including silences and gestures. In a general sense we do not only listen to words, we listen to worlds.

Listening is operated, therefore, as diplomacy, both in the sense of a negotiation or translation of worlds, and as an attitude that considers difference and produces possibilities from singular encounters, both in the sense of recognizing the disciplining aspects that regulate school life through evaluations as well as categorizations that, as they spread, have effects on non-school life. This means to not ignore such lines and to stand before them in a singular way. It is, therefore, a diplomacy in favor of  lines of force activated by the others’ thought, by interpellations from the outside, by deviations – since such lines are thought propellers and holders of another’s power—deregulations and transformations. This is a diplomacy that recognizes schools not as places of harmony, but those of conflict, noise, difference, life – a place of collective subjectification that opens  the possibility for a pedagogical-clinical elaboration of questions related to school life and that resonate beyond it.

It is important to say that, as a mode of diplomacy, this attitude is not disinterested: it seeks to make perceptible the movements that are buried by institutional functioning, the effect of which is subjection. To talk about Education is to consider institutional functioning—the institutional rules and operations that regulate the existence of the institution itself. It requires a negotiation between life in its multiple expressions and the institutional forms. A dialogue that activates a field that is not restricted to understanding and does not oppose or seek a response, other than a conversation capable, therefore, of sustaining what is to come, thus having “nothing to understand, nothing to interpret” (DELEUZE, 1996, p.14).


Listening is positioning yourself.

Clinical-educational listening is, above all, an attitude that permeates encounters that regard the other as a producer or trigger of thought. In this sense, it allows the establishment of a conversation field, and requires positioning and unfolding. What is done with what is heard matters so that the power of listening is not lost as an intercessor of vital possibilities, at the risk of making it harmless, an instrument of control or mere rambling. The conversation that listening engenders, since it is a meeting between differences, demands not to subjugate or be subjugated by the other, but to affect and be affected by it – being in conversation. It implies accepting incompleteness and openness and affirming the encounter as the producer of difference. Thus, listening to students, teachers or administrators is to produce conversations with the school in order to affect their functioning from the desired positions they affirm, which does not mean accepting everything one hears, giving up to pedagogical gambles and school experience, but creating openings in a system that regulates, evaluates and distributes paths and behaviors.

An attitude of listening becomes potent in this type of approach, since it is not known in advance which investments unfold in affirmative claims and which others can engender repressive or moralizing operations. Guattari speaks of a “constant listening” to that which can be a desiring position or to that which can announce singular possibilities of life. Often this position appears out of place or off topic, being quickly suppressed to ensure the normality of things. This point is important for thinking about listening practices in schools or educational settings. To listen to teachers, for example, is to sustain a field of conversation in which what emerges does not refer to the subject, but to a field of forces[3]. Having this clarity is fundamental so that the comments do not receive blame, prohibiting listening.It is very common for initiatives of conversation and participation to result in the persecution of one or another person. At this point, a differentiation is necessary, because when this happens, listening functions as control and discipline, and the idea of constant listening is reversed in permanent vigilance and in a consequent restriction of the vital field.

Because the school is an essentially political enterprise that involves a collective and arranges several functions in the same place, they must  create collective spaces for pedagogical elaboration. An effectively educational work requires the institutional and collective problematization of these functions, that is, the pedagogical elaboration of the workings, impasses and desires that cross the school daily. It implies the constitution and pedagogical-clinical (and not moral) support of a field of conversation in which these questions may appear, disturb, and/or force the invention of other formats, change some functions, reaffirm others. A systematic meeting space to elaborate, from the pedagogical point of view, what appears as a question, without the need to find the guilty – shifting the accusatory question of who did it? to how did this happen?, how does it happen?, how to revert this situation? A conversation where one can pose the questions that can not be forgotten and listen to others, negotiate and take over the present impasses in the complex process involved in proposing to educate anyone.

To characterize this space of listening, however, is to demarcate a non-space or a space between, because listening in the institution does not always take place in a single, designated space, but moves through boundaries. This is why it is important to affirm the power of a state of listening or of an extended attitude of attention to the various symptoms that continue to be placed in schools’ routine, and to the constitution of a space that can unfold these questions and produce collective meanings for the school process.


Education from a clinical perspective

Out of the clinical interferences in educational contexts, the practice of listening can be thought as a line that stresses these two fields, in the sense of acting precisely at the border between the clinical practice and an educational doing that considers the production of subjectivity to be part of its process.

Thus, education, when crossed by listening as a constant practice accompanying life – impasses, questions, possibilities that present themselves in multiple ways – can offer a vital registration space for the pedagogical process. It offers the possibility of a conversation in which the other occupies the position of subject and is not objectified in generalizations or fixed places, resulting instead in mobile and singular processes. This accompaniment may offer  pedagogical-clinical unfolding, if understood in its procedural character, serving for the collective elaboration of singular educational proposals and functioning to extend the vital field of the people affected by the school. Placing yourself to listen to the people involved in the educational process implies giving up hegemonic forms of perception and encountering multiple timbres, tones, rhythms, and styles that characterize a student, a teacher, a classroom, a certain school. It concerns discovering both institutional and subjective functioning by capturing noises that indicate possibilities for encounter, learning or conflict. It relates to the ability to live up to what is happening in school, understood as a place of life. In this sense, listening is presented as a device of attention to life, understood as an ethical practice that opens to a process of subjectification and not subjection.

Education, from a clinical perspective, can affirm desirable positions and consider them in the educational proposition when listening to what happens in school. It can constitute formalized spaces for listening, but without losing sight of the fact that not everything that appears in it needs a pedagogical-clinical unfolding, as well as much of what is needed in this kind of elaboration appears in cracks, bathroom doors, daily gestures, intervals, corners – any kind of encounter. More importantly: in order for such spaces to be configured as a listening space it is necessary above all that they are open to diverse questions, the main one being: how and for what purpose does this space function?

If you listen to students, welcomes deviations, follow extravagant lines, offer the possibility for school administrators to position themselves in face of the impossibility of educating, certainly you do not completely reverse the type of established school functioning. However it is possible to testify (and, hopefully, to sustain) to the expansion of a power, at times minimal, at others deafening, made to be noticed when unbalancing the game, forcing the coexistence of differences. Who knows, this testimony may open the way for a possible change in the rules of the game and, even momentarily, raise rules guided by life, its expansion and its multiplication.

Education, thought from a clinical perspective, as an encounter between multiple worlds, can help affirm a polyphony while refining collective points of encounter and subjectification. Such encounters can produce surfaces of contact as long as it does not react to an interpellation as a fatal threat, but as a possibility of affirming differences and practicing radical diplomacy. For this, it is imperative not to steal voices, but rather to sustain and lend words that help to give shape to the current experience, which has ties to the past while producing futures.

 ~Paula Chieffi 


You can read part 1 here and part 3 here. 


[1] Excerpt from the documentary Hermeto, Campeão by Thomas Farkas, 1981. Available at:  <>.


[3] The term field of forces is employed in research according to the Deleuzian study of Nietzsche (Nietzsche and Philosophy) and considers the experience of thought as a set of forces, in other words, as an intensive encounter with the Outside that has as one of its effects the production of subjectivity.



BARTHES, Roland. 1990. O óbvio e o obtuso.  Rio de Janeiro: Editora Nova Fronteira. Translated by Léa Novaes.

DELEUZE, Gilles (with Claire Parnet) 1996 From A to Z.  US: The MIT Press. Translated by Charles J. Stivale.

DELEUZE, Gilles and GUATTARI, Félix. 2009 Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Penguin Books Ltd.: Penguin Classics. Translated by Robert Hurley.

GUATTARI, Félix. 2015 Psychoanalysis and Transversality. Texts and Interviews 1955–1971. US: The MIT Press. Translated by Ames Hodges.

NANCY, Jean-Luc. 2007 Listening. New York: Fordham University Press. Translated by Charlotte Mandell.

ROLNIK, Suely and GUATTARI, Félix. 2007. Molecular Revolution in Brazil. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e). Translated by Karel Clapshow and Brian Holmes.


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