Encyclopedia of Educational Philosophy and Theory

2017 Edition
| Editors: Michael A. Peters

Heidegger’s Enframing and the Indigenous Self in Education

Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-287-588-4_135


Aspects of Heidegger’s personal life scream out to be confronted, especially when it is the indigenous writer referring to him and even if his sinister idiosyncrasies in that instance are not the key theme of that writer’s text. The controversy of Heidegger – that he “wrote some really frightful rubbish, some of which explicitly links his philosophy to the most abominable political movement of the modern period” (Bowie 1997, p. 139) – must surely be at stake in any indigenous comparative that seeks to draw on his works. He was, after all, supportive of the extermination of a group of people: such a nasty complicity will not be lost on the indigenous scholar. The recent release of his notorious Black Notebooks only further confirms his involvement. Yet his philosophy on the dark recesses of colonization that force an object to appear in advance as constrained thing is, for indigenous counter-colonial purposes, compelling and amounts to “anything but rubbish” (Bowie 1997, p. 139). Since Plato but gaining momentum in Descartes, Heidegger argues, Western humanity has been predisposed toward an object or even people as if they are this or that in advance, and this primordial engagement has become the hallmark of the Western relationship with the world. Because Heidegger writes so unremittingly and profoundly on that very problem, yet due to his simultaneous personal convictions, he challenges his indigenous reader with a dilemma: he or she must tread carefully with Heidegger and his philosophy.

That seemingly natural and innocuous act of deciding what to do with Heidegger actually reveals a comportment to the world that has its roots in the very problem he discusses. Managing Heidegger – acknowledging the validity of his works and reorganizing parts of his private life so that they do not impede on the indigenous scholar’s work – demonstrates the innateness of enframing: it is simply there, as a template through which Western humanity, and thereby the colonized indigenous self, peers out at the world. Although enframing cannot (and most certainly should not) be confined to a discussion about education, it can nevertheless be thought about in the context of indigenous educational philosophies. This entry incorporates indigenous holistic thought around education with the problem of enframing.

Introducing Enframing

There is no single best place from which to launch a discussion on enframing, for it strangely claims the writer even before his or her attention is brought to it. Enframing, then, is complicit with being because it is a revelation or call to the self to respond. Of course, the writer is not alone in that disclosure, because for Heidegger enframing is an a priori that has immediately incorporated with the modern self. It lies beyond experience, but it dictates how one will act in response to that most primordial orientation. Enframing, or Gestell as Heidegger calls it in The Question Concerning Technology, is characterized by a particular predisposition toward things, where the self is oriented toward an object so that the latter may be captured and used instrumentally thereafter. Heidegger’s abstract use of the term Gestell (which normally refers to a concrete entity) opens the issue up for discussion, away from one revolving around the social use of a thing to one turning on the profound philosophical enactment of the object by the human self and by Western modernity as a whole. In its universality, enframing is therefore something quite different from its symptoms, and Heidegger is clear that to confuse the two is dangerous. Its ubiquity heralds a related warning: that a delusion of modern thought lies in an authoritative, final discussion about enframing that would declare a logical, demarcable beginning and end. Enframing in that incorrect reading becomes something else much closer to its current manifestations which, although needing discussion, should not take priority. Any reversion to the issue as a scientific or even sociological one is a result of Western humanity’s tendency, as Heidegger (1967) notes, to not think about the difference between being and beings. Enframing is a particular disclosure through technē that defies limits, and for Heidegger its fusion with, and subsequent hiddenness within, its instrumental manifestations – such as computers, televisions, and the nuclear bomb – is a natural outcome of the conflation of being and beings.

Enframing constitutes entities and practices, including seemingly straightforward phenomena such as language. Language as Heidegger envisages it is not a phenomenon independent from the world, but when related to enframing, it is seen as sourced in the human self – a thorough outcome of the rational mind. Language is hence one thing in the world among others that is constrained: it can be wielded to assign the world its place and to staticize things themselves. According to Heidegger, humans do assign labels to these objects only because the world has been represented in a Gestell fashion in advance, meaning that humans do have some degree of agency in their reference to objects. This statement on its own may be applicable to a number of language philosophies that link with the metaphysics that enframing typifies; however, the degree to which objects are allowed to manifest their own subjectivism marks a great divergence between empiricism and phenomenology. In enframing, there is a prior determination of how objects are to be viewed in the first instance, and this preconception will show itself up in the label assigned to those things. That is, while humans deceive themselves that language is self-created, Heidegger argues that we give names to objects in the world only because we have already represented the world in a particular way (in this case, as enframed) to begin with. Enframing hence constrains the self in advance and the language the self transfers to those things.

There is one additional, crucial concept of Heidegger’s that deserves brief mention here – that of Bestand, or “standing reserve.” While related to enframing, Bestand refers more to an outcome of that metaphysical orientation, and is characterized by a more obvious activity against the world, involving the stockpiling of the latter’s objects. Here we encounter a pragmatic gesture of enframing, one that is not equivalent with that deepest imprint of the self on the world but instead conjoins with it. In this instance, the indigenous self has consigned things to their rightful place or given them a label that categorizes them in accordance with their usefulness. This is a definitive development for Western humanity, even in the most unlikely areas. Richardson (2003), for example, notes that even the spiritual dimension is inevitably made into an entity relational with the self when he states that “coming to the nineteenth century … [one] find[s] the emphasis placed upon a philosophy of “Life-force,” but the basic pattern is still the same. A being attains status as a being only to the extent that it is absorbed in some way or other into man’s life, sc. becomes a living-experience” (p. 327).

Introducing Indigenous Holism

The ubiquity of metaphysics – the fact that it is an always-already – is iterated in “Building Dwelling Thinking” in Heidegger’s discussion about the fourfold or quadrate, where he explains that one thing is consistently claimed by others. Indigenous peoples may find Heidegger’s works here especially fascinating, as the latter appears to represent a gathering together of four entities (and the given presence of all the others in any one of those) within one. Indigenous thought – as far as it is explained in literature, and in terms of much of its practice – is premised on a strong holism, where things in the world are thoroughly interconnected (Deloria 2001; Mika 2014). In much traditional indigenous educational practice, what was considered to be most important was the transmission of thought about those things such that they were sustainedly kept together. Moreover, the self was one thing among many, and how he or she represented the thing would have repercussions for the self’s well-being (and education for many indigenous groups was seen as an issue of well-being at the same time, for people were educated in accordance with a holistic depiction of the world). Things were also perceived to be vitally active, and, in synchronicity with what Heidegger notes about the fourfold, they were consistently mirrored between each other, so that they were thought of as inseparable.

This persistent activity between them creates constant tension for any one thing in the world (Mika 2014; Plebuch 2010) that is held up for contemplation by the self. Heidegger deliberately obscures the four entities and their ongoing drive against and with each other because their true form and interaction simply cannot be clarified. Although it would be tempting to conceive of that invisible facet as a “backdrop,” such a description sets up obscurity against clarity, to which Heidegger and indigenous groups would undoubtedly be opposed. On the contrary, it may better be thought of as a recessive tendency that nevertheless depicts how a thing is to appear and that has always called for the thinker’s attention. The complex intermesh of all entities necessarily means that a certain amount of humility has to be sustained in the face of them, including in their representation in educational processes.

For indigenous groups, the terms for entities hold special significance. Language – its means of clarifying the backdrop of an object as much as the object itself – displays a culmination of all things. Individuals would be encouraged to think about the proper terminology to use in reference to an object, so that it retained its innate relationship with the world. In that meeting place of the All, to which the concern of the self is drawn, a distinctive humility toward the world could also be found in language. Terms sourced from indigenous languages would be suffused with a depth that could not be approached by their denotative meaning; they resonated with the things they represent and are as much imbued with their own life as more concrete objects. Language from an indigenous perspective still attempts to ensure the oneness of things; in selecting a way of discussing one particular object of many, the indigenous self is not meaning to fragment it from its context but highlight both its obscure context and the entity. Human beings therefore do not so much create language as work alongside it to highlight things’ resonance with each other (Mika 2015). Indeed, language is a phenomenon that originates from without for many indigenous groups, and it can often work in tandem with that exteriority to reveal, if nothing else, the limits of human knowledge. In that process, it merely provides curvature for a thing – it hints at its opacity rather than its solid truth – and hence forecloses against trying to grasp any entity as controllable.

The Influence of Enframing on Indigenous Perception and Education

Heidegger was concerned for the corrosion of Western culture through its metaphysical dedication to enframing, and so it remains for the indigenous thinker to draw from his works to suggest their relevance for his or her communities. For indigenous thought, Heidegger signals that there is at play an entrenched colonization that cannot be simply calculated or resolved by conventional studies and research. After all, enframing is the most primordial definer of the world, including when indigenous peoples retain some practical and philosophical vestiges that resist enframing. Instead of trying to set out to use empirical methods to research enframing, the indigenous thinker is posed with the challenge of burrowing deeply into terms and ideas but to withhold from declaring the “eureka” moment of having discovered the true parameters of enframing. This universality is not necessarily a cause for pessimism, and the fact that the writer is drawn to speculate on enframing is perversely due to enframing itself: here, Heidegger refers to a phrase from Hölderlin’s “Patmos” and reveals the potential of enframing through its “saving power.” What an indigenous reading of Heidegger does identify for the writer, however, is that there is an imperceptible gauze that interposes itself between the self and the world. This membrane is irremovable and orients the self toward the world in advance, and for the self, it is connected to issues of colonization and, perhaps disturbingly, indigenous metaphysics as well.

The unnerving possibility that indigenous metaphysics interrelates somehow with enframing, or that the latter may in its own right have brought our attention to the former through their co-diffusion, deserves some attention. Heidegger (1977) holds that there is in enframing a “destining that gathers together” (p. 31). Although there are important subsequent words in that quote that specifically describe the character of enframing, this initial signal about its activity is interesting on its own account. Its interplay with the self, as with indigenous metaphysics generally, emphasizes a sort of calm “coming to bear” or engulfment that has already taken place. That an entity has always endured, that it has always given itself to the world or arisen from something prior to it (such as, for instance, the Earth Mother – a common discourse among many indigenous peoples), is undoubtedly nothing new to indigenous people. This persistent “beckoning” in its most fundamental sense dictates that all things in the world are completely interrelated, and moreover that each thing reveals itself in its own way, and yet in tandem with its relationship with all other things as well as the prior phenomenon that gives rise to it.

Enframing may hence seem to read from the same page as indigenous metaphysics to the extent that it “endures most primally out of the earliest beginning” (Heidegger 1977, p. 31). Here again, though, some key words have been omitted from the quote, and any similarity between indigenous metaphysics and enframing draws to a close when we include Heidegger’s fuller intent. Enframing, to be sure, “grants permanently” as the rest of that quote highlights, but while we may be tempted to believe that enframing is precisely the same as indigenous metaphysics, we should remember that enframing only reveals its possibilities for humanity despite itself. Instead, what lies within enframing is a challenging forth that is forever attempting to put the world in its preordained place. Heidegger’s reference to its controlled components as Bestand, or “standing reserve,” is notable for its emphasis on orderability and has particular significance for indigenous thought because it indicates a distancing of the self from an object. Where in much indigenous thought the self and object are perceived to be one, or the object of contemplation was always already imbued with all other things in the world, now the object, true to its etymology, is thrown in front of the self. For the self, the object is thoroughly unrelated, even though it formerly shared a genealogy with the self.

It is the notion of totality that is threatened by enframing, but importantly for indigenous peoples, it may be the world as a whole – in a much more material sense – that is put in its place through the proscriptive activity of language or through any metaphysical orientation toward the world that seeks to allocate it its proper realm. In education, the world is made productive (Fitzpatrick 2002), through how the object is already posited in advance as a constrained entity. For Heidegger, as we have seen, enframing limits the full possibility of the world, and for indigenous peoples, the classroom may be a primary site where the All is constantly transmitted as an enframed entity. Indigenous peoples are therefore barred from access to a culturally appropriate, speculative educational practice that attempts to retain things in their totality. Even language – the “house of Being” (Heidegger 1999, p. 239) – is already elided into an enframing attitude so that the self’s openness to an object’s full potential is thoroughly limited well in advance. Enframing, most primordially for education in indigenous contexts, in all its aspects, turns the indigenous self toward the whole so that it can be dealt with in its isolated components, and this colonized notion of the All is then transmitted in nonindigenous educational settings.


Enframing has set the scene for things to be referenced in ways that are most convenient for humanity, but according to Heidegger this highly controlling approach is not to be confused with any sort of equipment. Instead, enframing exists intangibly within the very lens of perception, directing the perceiver to move toward an object such that it is knowable and certain. For the indigenous thinker – him- or herself trained in a mainstream education system – a culturally appropriate access to the world may be predicated on the notion that the world is holistic, but enframing is inherently diffused throughout education so that it conditions things, draws on language that reflects the object as a single phenomenon rather than an interrelated one, and represents the object in an unmysterious fashion. In education, how free one is to perceive the interrelated object may indeed become an issue that is revealed, somewhat paradoxically, through the nature of enframing itself, and it is perhaps here that the indigenous self is called to both consider what their own metaphysics is, its relationship with enframing, and its possible resistance to the latter.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Singapore 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of WaikatoHamiltonNew Zealand