‘Why aren’t you taking any notes?’ On note-taking as a collective gesture

Lavinia Marin, Sean Sturm

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


The practice of taking hand-written notes in lectures has been rediscovered recently because of several studies on its learning efficacy in the mainstream media. Students are enjoined to ditch their laptops and return to pen and paper. Such arguments presuppose that notes are taken in order to be revisited after the lecture. Learning is seen to happen only after the event. We argue instead that student’s note-taking is an educational practice worthy in itself as a way to relate to the live event of the lecture. We adopt a phenomenological approach inspired by Vilém Flusser’s phenomenology of gestures, which assumes that a gesture like note-taking is always an event of thinking with media in which a certain freedom is expressed. But Flusser’s description of note-taking focusses on the individual note-taker. What about students’ note-taking in a lecture hall as a collective gesture? Nietzsche considered note-taking ‘mechanical,’ as if students were automatons who mindlessly transcribed a verbal flow, while Benjamin considered it an inaesthetic gesture: at best, boring; at worst, ‘painful to watch.’ In contrast, we argue that the educational potentiality of note-taking—or better, note-making—can be grasped only if we account for its mediaticity (as writing that displaces the voice), together with but distinct from its political potentiality as a collective mediality (as a ‘means without end’). Note-taking enables us to see how collective thinking emerges in the lecture, a kind of thinking that belongs neither to the lecturer nor the student, but emerges in the relation of attention established between the lecturer, students and their object of thought.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages8
JournalEducational Philosophy and Theory
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Agamben
  • Flusser
  • Nietzsche
  • note-making
  • phenomenology of gesture
  • potentiality

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