Classified and Classifier
Classified and Classifier: Tilting at Windmills.
Part One: Degree of Failure? Part Two: Being and Madness
By Lionel Cliff Jansen
Classified and Classifier: Tilting at Windmills is a two-part book that conceptually links two case studies on classification to form a biograph. The focus is on systems of classification in legal and bureaucratic institutions and the actor’s response.
Part One: Degree of Failure is concerned with the classification of knowledge and persons in English education through the examination system. I challenged the legal bureaucratic structures of the university on the classification of my degree. I appealed to the Visitor of the University. The Privy Council concluded that the Visitor cannot substitute his judgment for that of the University in a matter of academic assessment. There is no appeal to the BA (Hons) Degree.
Part Two: Being and Madness is concerned with the lived experience of the mental health patient and confinement in a mental institution. The Hospital Record is the site of legal and civil action between classified and classifier. The narrative unfolds in real time.
Review by Ann Grace:
Classified and Classifier: Tilting at Windmills. Part One: Degree of Failure? Part Two: Being and Madness by Lionel Cliff Jansen
Our world is classified by those with power; classification is the basis of our understanding of our world. Life and nature are ‘messy’, so the process of classification inevitably creates outliers that threaten the coherence of the classification systems and the power structures that created them. This idea has been extensively explored by writers such as Mary Douglas (Purity and Danger, 1966) to Malcolm Gladwell (Outliers, 2008). To preserve the status quo, the ‘problem’ of the outliers needs to be addressed. Sometimes the neutralization fails and we call this a ‘breakthrough’ or a shattering of the paradigm. Einstein’s theory of relativity emerged while he was excluded from academia and labouring as a clerk in the Swiss Patent office. More often the outlier is pilloried, ignored or shunted into obscurity (Chris Langan, see Outliers, Gladwell, 2008).
Jansen’s book is about what happens when the outlier fights back, showing how the power structures (university and legal system or medical bureaucracy) close ranks to neutralize the threat.
In Part One Jansen describes his arrival at Sussex University which, as an experiment in education, opened its doors to ‘mature students’, accepting applications from a wide array of backgrounds and experience. Jansen arrived at Sussex at age thirty-six, via South Africa and Finland, having read widely and often more deeply than his tutors and proceeded to interpret the field of Social Anthropology through the lens of phenomenology using ideas taken from Lacan, Heidegger, etc. In the early 1970s, this was an heretical idea; social anthropology was positioned as an empirically based social science, and only beginning to grasp the problem that the observer could never be separated from the observed. Jansen’s push against empiricism created a problem for the classifiers, his tutors. Some were enthusiastic and ready to accept the challenge to look beyond standard empiricism (Lloyd, Neal). Others were aggressively dismissive (Pocock, Whitehead).
Jansen’s challenge to the received wisdom of the Social Anthropology faculty resulted in most of his finals papers being referred to the ‘Outside Examiner’ (Note: Jansen was never able to get his component marks released, but dispersion of views among the academic assessors is the usual cause for referral to the Outside Examiner). The final outcome applied to Jansen appears to be an average of high and low marks, resulting in a 2:2 degree, which is usually applied to worthy but not intellectually outstanding students. One is reminded of the aphorism applied to statisticians, ‘I have one foot in a bucket of boiling water, and one foot in a bucket of freezing water, so on average I feel fine.’ Jansen’s work did not naturally fit within the classification of 2:2, but this result upended his academic hopes, leaving him ineligible for funding for further studies. He tried to challenge this classification, and found that there was no right to an appeal, even though appeals were then possible for O-levels, A-levels and postgraduate degrees. An appeal against this anomaly to the Privy Council (the University Visitor) resulted in further bulwarking of the power of the university: the university makes its own classifications, the lack of an appeal is common to all universities at undergraduate level, therefore it is acceptable and no exception could be made for Sussex University.
The outlier was thus neutralized, and safely excluded from further interaction with formal academia.
Part Two is a complex and Kafkaesque story of how the power of medical ‘records’ can be used to deny liberty to an individual based on an unproven hearsay report, even when its purported author, the police, denies its existence. Once a fiction is entered into a person’s medical record, it cannot be challenged or erased, even when no source can be found for it. This is a classic example of how one cannot prove a negative.
Overall, Jansen raises important issues about the nature of knowledge and truth. In the world of 2021 which is rife with untruths posing as fact, with conspiracy theories being exchanged as common currency, and old power structures denying reality in order to maintain their grip, this is an area that needs to be examined and better understood.