I am an ex-Academic who is experimenting online with undisciplined—unexpected, improper, resistant, rebellious, outside of traditional fields of study—ways for using my academic training in my storytelling and troublemaking. I experiment to reclaim my passion for engaging with ideas, authors, theories and education that the academy sparked within me and then, over the course of 33 years in school, disciplined out of me (Sara Puotinen, Undisciplined site)

Unlearning bad habits and toxic academic values enabled me to craft a new way to be: Undisciplined. Undisciplined started as my twitter user name, but when I made it the name of my main site in the fall of 2012, it helped me to understand, organize and guide my practices and projects as I figured out how and who to be now that I was no longer an academic educator.

What is Undisciplined?

  • An online identity
  • A dis/location within academic fields of study. With a PhD in Women’s Studies, I have no home discipline, or primary field of study. My work moves between religion, ethics, philosophy, education and new media studies.
  • A method for bringing many disciplines, discourses, methods together in unexpected ways and through unconventional, and sometimes improper, means.
  • A practice of breaking down and breaking free of the disciplinary values that encourage me to be too rigid and limited in my thinking and that privilege knowing over feeling and engaging.
  • Not evidence of laziness, lack of focus or bad scholarship, but of resistance to being disciplined and to perpetuating toxic academic values and bad habits.

Undisciplined and Undisciplining Practices and Projects

  • Communicating in different registers and with different media by creating digital stories, writing haikus, using Pixelmator to craft text + image “posters,” developing interactive story experiments and crafting lots of lists!
  • Reading a wide range of physical books for pleasure, to be inspired and to bear witness to others’ stories. Avoiding academic books and refusing to feel embarrassed by my love for mysteries and young adult fiction. (#undisciplinedreading project)
  • Writing more to document the process of thinking, feeling and engaging, than to produce a product that increases profits

My intent in making a break from the academy, unlearning bad habits and toxic values and being undisciplined is not to reject all of my academic training. Instead, it is to CLAIM my education by rethinking my relationship to it and repurposing the parts of it that are valuable and discarding what is not. To RECLAIM my passion for thinking, engaging and learning that inspired and sustained me during my more than three decades in school. And to STAKE A CLAIM for a new space that exists not inside or outside, but beside (next to) and besides (in addition to) the Academy.

Undisciplined Pedagogy

Reading list on troubling pedagogy
  • Luhmann, Suzanne. “Queering/Querying Pedagogy?”
  • Boler, Megan. “A Pedagogy of Discomfort” in Feeling Power
  • Kumashiro, Kevin. Troubling Education
  • Freire, Paulo. Learning to Question
  • hooks, bell. Teaching to Transgress

At some point, maybe after reading and teaching Luhmann, Boler, Kumashiro, Freire, or bell hooks, I started to rethink my goals for what could happen in my classrooms. Instead of envisioning the semester as involving a logical progression towards Knowing, I began to imagine what a course that took feeling and experiencing and unknowing as its goals might look like.In my classrooms, I wanted students to feel the effects of ideas (Kumashiro), to process how they were implicated in a theory (Luhmann), and to commit to bringing their full, that is, personal, intellectual, spiritual, embodied selves into spaces of engagement (hooks). I wanted them to unlearn their assumptions, about ideas, about how to read, and about even how to be/act in spaces of engagement. And, perhaps most importantly, with my serious love of questions, I wanted them to experience the force of the questions posed by each other, by a reading, an idea, a different perspective, a troubling concept (Freire).

A few years ago, I wrote about “feeling the force” in a blog post on TROUBLE:

I think this passage speaks to some of my key pedagogical aims. It’s from Freire’s Learning to question:

the point of the question is not to turn the question, “What does it mean to ask questions?” into an intellectual game, but to experience the force of the question, experience the challenge it offers, experience curiosity, and demonstrate it to the students.

I want my students to not only learn how to ask questions, but to develop the habit/virtue of asking questions. This development requires not just learning how best to ask questions, but also how best to feel (experience) “the force of the question and the challenge it offers.” To effectively feel the force of the question, one needs to learn more than how to make trouble, but how to stay in that space/moment that trouble creates. My approach to assignments, discussions, readings is frequently motivated by my interest in giving students tools for both creating and inhabiting troubling spaces.


Learning that the very ways in which we think and do things is not only partial but oppressive involves troubling or “unlearning” (Britzman) what we have already learned, and this can be quite an emotionally discomforting process, a form of “crisis” (Felman). In particular, it can lead students into what I call a paradoxical condition of learning and unlearning* in which students are both unstuck (i.e., distanced from the ways they have always thought, no longer so complicit with oppression) and stuck (i.e., intellectually paralyzed and needing to work through their emotions and thoughts before moving on with the more academic part of the lesson). Such a paradoxical, discomforting condition can lead students to resist further learning and unlearning and therefore may be seen by educators as something to avoid. Yet education is not something that involves comfortable repeating what we already learned or affirming what we already know. Rather, education involves learning something that disrupts our commonsense view of the world (63).

being undone from TROUBLE

it’s actually uncomfortably un-knowing ourselves. [laughs] It is this willingness to keep being willing to come undone — to do what we can to understand the world around us and how we operate and what is impacting who we are and how we are, and to allow that to keep coming undone. That’s what I think is really the paradox in what is possible, from a liberatory standpoint, is to recognize, oh, we’re not trying to become something, we’re trying to un-become. We’re trying to undo ourselves.

And that is really what is most challenging for us, because we want to be known to ourselves. We want to be known to others. But the moment we try to do that, we’re actually fixating in a way that traps us, so we feel both safe, but it’s also confining (angel Kyodo Williams).

Judith Butler and coming undone from Living and Grieving Beside Judith

The idea of undergoing a transformation that one cannot know in advance is central for Butler and her vision of social transformation. In Undoing Gender, she discusses the value of unknowingness and of not trying to securely and definitively establish one’s plan of action prior to acting (227). For Butler, grief is central to this experience of unknowingness and the risks that we take to maintain and embrace it. Overwhelmed with sadness and exhaustion and unable to compose ourselves or to deny our vulnerability to loss, we cannot pretend that we have control or that we can always know with certainty how to act or who we are. In risking unknowingness, we are transformed into individuals who don’t know, but who are willing to act anyway.

Unlearning some bad running habits about what it means to be disciplined and why we should run

Unlearning self-control, replacing it with self-care

What is it that I displayed when I was able to overcome my strong desire to run even though I knew I shouldn’t? Many would describe it as “self-control” or discipline, but I dislike these words; they’re too directed towards certain aims, like success!, achievement! and privileging the mind over the body. They’re also too motivated by squelching passion and enthusiasm. About denying your Self and what you want for the sake of your goals.  How could we understand not running as a form of (self) care instead of as discipline or willpower?

An ongoing process, a negotiation between unmaking and remaking

As far as I can tell, achieving undisciplined-ness is impossible. The process of undisciplining oneself–through being curious about things (norms, ideas, institutions), critically interrogating toxic values and unhealthy habits and then breaking them, imagining and then practicing new ways to live otherwise/ be besides–is ongoing.

Un/disciplined and Self-Control

Student Progress Report (2012) is the first digital story I created in which I use my first grade report card to re-image and re-connect with my 7 year old self and to question the purpose of self-discipline.

decomposition of self

In a podcast interview for Between the Covers, Ross Gay discusses the decomposition of the self. He connects it with gardens: healthy gardens have a lot of life that comes from decomposition–what emerges from it is food and flowers and relationships (to all critters). How is undisciplining a breaking down/decomposing of a self-subject that has been made (J Butler-speak, srubjectivated) through certain values/habits/practices?

unlearning and undoing

from Page/ Jane Hirshfield

One by one unspoken, greed’s syllables, grievance’s insult.
One by one unsewn, each insignia’s dividing stitch.
One by one unimagined,
unmanufactured: the bullet, the knife, the colors, the concept.

Reversal commands: undo this directional grammar of subject and object.
Reversal commands: unlearn the alphabet of bludgeon and blindness.
Reversal commands: revise, rephrase, reconsider.

And the ink, malleable, obedient, does what is asked.