Threshold concepts‚ liminality‚ uncertainty‚ identity …

Threshold - Dingle Peninsula

Threshold – Dingle Peninsula, W. Ireland © Belinda Allen

My thinking about creativity and transformative learning has led me to consideration of all of these, and also led me to the Threshold Concepts Conference 2012 at Trinity College Dublin, June 27-29. My thoughts seemed validated when all of these concepts came up with some regularity throughout the conference. Ray Land’s keynote on liminality, where he flagged the idea that liminal space may be a productive space for creativity (see 7:50 in the recording), made me think he must have read my abstract. This was followed by discussion with Brendan Hall on his thesis about a positive perspective on ‘uncertainty’, then seeing the presentation by Daniel Blackshields and colleagues on creative aspects of thresholds in integrative learning. Finally, my reference to Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland representing a creative experience of liminality was picked up by Patrick Carmichael in his concluding presentation on curriculum and technology. Altogether satisfying as a conference, with a bunch of ideas coming together for me, and several people enthusiastically expressing interest in my work.

Threshold concepts ‘theory’ was proposed in 2003 by Ray Land and Erik Meyer as a way of thinking about ‘troublesome knowledge’, a concept introduced by David Perkins in 1999. This concept has particularly resonated with university teachers across disciplines who find that certain disciplinary concepts seem to be difficult for students to learn. As a relatively new area of research it is also under intense exploration and development, as scholars and practitioners try to use it a tool for thinking about their own teaching and research contexts.

My own presentation (‘Creativity as threshold: learning and teaching in liminal space’) explored ideas around creative being and creative identity, with postmodern notions of ‘self’ in flux relating to ‘being for uncertainty’ (Barnett) and liminality as a creative space, citing Foucault’s concept of the ‘aesthetic self’.

Foucault proposed thearts of existence” as those reflective and voluntary practices by which men … seek to transform themselves, to change themselves in their singular being, and to make of their life into an oeuvre that carries certain aesthetic values and meets certain stylistic criteria” (Foucault, 1992, p. 10-11). He furthermore suggested that life could be conceived as a work of art, in that we are each in the process of creating our ‘self’: “art has become something which is related only to objects and not to individuals, or to life. That art is something which is specialized or which is done by experts who are artists. But couldn’t everyone’s life become a work of art? Why should the lamp or the house be an art object, but not our life?” (Foucault, 1991, p. 350)

(These inspiring quotations sourced from Clare O’Farrell’s Michel Foucault website – a  great place to start exploring his ideas).

  • Carroll, L. (1974). Alice’s adventures in wonderland and Through the looking glass. Cleveland, OH: Collins-World. (Originally published 1872)
  • Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (1987). A thousand plateaus. (B. Massumi, Trans.). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Foucault, M. (1992) [1984]. The Use of Pleasure. The History of Sexuality: Volume Two. Tr. R. Hurley. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin.
  • Foucault, M. (1991) [1984]. ‘On the genealogy of ethics: An overview of work in progress’. In Paul Rabinow, (ed.), The Foucault Reader. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin.
  • Meyer, J., & Land, R. (2003). Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge: Linkages to ways of thinking and practising within the disciplines. Occasional Report, 4.
  • Perkins, D. (1999). The many faces of constructivism. Educational Leadership. 57. 3 (Nov 1999): 6-11.