Thursday 24 September 2015

Boaventura de Sousa Santos, counter-hegemonic globalizations and cognitive justice - implications for teaching and learning

In the SOTL@UJ: Towards a Socially Just Pedagogy discussions we have considered many perspectives on social justice, critical theory and appropriate research methods, and have spent time - but possibly not enough - on the question of knowledge: whose knowledge, how do we approach knowledge for social justice, and what are the implications for teaching and learning? I recently came across the work of Bonaventura de Sousa Santos, who is Professor of Sociology at the University of Coimbra and Distinguished Legal Scholar at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. (Thanks to Sioux McKenna for a reference to his work.) His principal thesis is that western critical theory is 'tired', and that it has nothing new to offer. This clearly means we need to look elsewhere for inspiration - for example the global South, which rather than the geographic South, is a metaphor for wherever the disposessed live. The work of latin American writers who can show us the way forward are summed up in the concept of "nuestra America". de Sousa refers to the hegemonic globalization of western theories and knowledge as a form of 'epistemicide': in the academy and the capitalist knowledge economy we are destroying local and indigenous knowledges. It is worth listening to his talks, at:

An article I found which had lots of ramifications for social justice in higher education is:

Boaventura de Sousa Santos (2001) Nuestra America: Reinventing a subaltern paradigm of recognition and redistribution. Theory, Culture and Society, 18 (2-3) 185-217. (I have saved it in the project dropbox folder under "general readings: cognitive justice". )

The points that are particularly relevant for social justice in the higher education classroom are threefold:

The sociology of absences - rather than to continuously see the marginal classes as ignorant and dangerous, we have to be reflexively on the lookout for those silences and gaps imposed by the dominant knowledge practices. To me this has major implications for how we approach teaching and learning, and what we frequently talk about as 'epistemological access' - the knowledges to which our students do not enjoy access, and in whose thrall they are seen as ignorant.

The theory of translation - here one wants to see the mutual intelligibility between different concepts and struggles and oppressed groups, without homogenizing all struggles, or subsuming some under others.

The third step is manifesto practices,  or the principles of action that bring about alliances between different struggles. Significant here is the idea that there can be no recognition (achieved via a politics of difference) without redistribution (achieved via a struggle for equality). In the SOTL@UJ seminars last year we discussed the relationship of recognition and redistribution with reference to the writing of Nancy Fraser. This is a good point to bear in mind presently in South Africa, where on some campuses a struggle for recognition is more salient (e.g. Rhodes must fall) whereas at others, protests about access, fees and residence condition are more about a struggle for redistribution. There is a nice section in the article:

.. the notion of a fundamental meta-right: the right to have rights. We have the right to be equal whenever difference diminishes us; we have the right to be different whenever equality decharacterizes us (p. 193). 

This is a useful complementary view to that of the role of indigenous knowledge systems. We would need to think deeply of how we were to achieve this kind of listening, translating and recognizing of other worldview in our classes. Granted, our classrooms are not the same as the international arenas in which the struggles of the landless or oppressed are fought, but as the current tensions in South Africa that are playing themselves out at some of our universities are showing, our classrooms are by no means totally separated out from these broader societal struggles. If this is the case, how do we teach and research our teaching differently?

Thursday 3 September 2015

SoTL and socially just pedagogies in the graphic arts

On Thursday 27th August three presenters: Elmarie Costandius, Mocke J van Veuren and Brenden Gray shared their reflections on socially just pedagogies in the graphic arts discipline. Elmarie Costandius, who coordinates the MA in Visual Arts (Art Education) at Stellenbosch University, presented a paper titled “Socially just pedagogy and community interaction: A reflection on practice”.  

Elmarie Costandius

Elmarie explored how community interaction served to unpack the silences around painful historical experiences. The module provided powerful learning opportunities for students to critically engage with difficult knowledge and dialogues. She shared students’ experiences of mental and bodily discomfort when dealing with sensitive issues, such as forced removals, and other painful historical narratives. Evidence from her study suggests that discomfort is potentially a catalyst for initiating critical self-reflection and change. What was valuable about this presentation was that it highlighted issues of difficult knowledge and dialogues and how these are often suppressed.  What also emerged was the need to grapple productively with the narratives of difficult knowledge even when these are inconclusive, incomplete and still emerging. Another important insight is that while no single or simple answer to complex experiences exist, teachers need to carefully create safe spaces in which students can explore their assumptions without necessarily coming to one specific or common conclusion. Teachers themselves also need to be open to interrogate their own difficult knowledge and practices.

Mocke J van Veuren
Mocke J van Veuren, an independent artist, experimental filmmaker, researcher and educator based in Johannesburg reported on “The Angry Youth Workshop: Exercising a politics of space through critical arts pedagogy”. In this presentation, he interrogated the forces and structures that govern or ‘police’ our sense of belonging or alienation and action in everyday spaces which are sometimes clearly visible, but could be hidden in plain sight. Drawing on Jacques Rancière’s notion of “policing” (the invisible rules of structures that govern) and “politics” as the act of making visible these structures and forces, Mocke was able to show that despite  the perceived freedom of movement post-1994, there is still a form of invisible “policing” of space and place that is less often examined and contested. Through the use of visual, associative and performative methodologies as tools for reflection and active intervention, students took pictures of assumed public spaces that had policing elements, serving to foster discomfort. In so doing, students become more aware of the link between their personal values and narratives linked to histories of space and place and how these potentially serve to constrain. One example of such was the photograph of the student praying outside the church surrounded by barbed wire.

Brenden Gray
Brenden Gray is an artist, graphic design educator, art critic and researcher at UJ. Brenden shared his specific approach to social justice education through working with undergraduate modules in the BA Communication design course. Framed by a discussion of social justice pedagogy, he related knowing and knowledge in dynamic and dialectical ways as he unpacked and critically interrogated his own practice. Providing students with conceptual tools informed by the work of Bourdieu and other critical theorists, he encouraged students to explore, critique and widen their socio-political reasoning within the disciplinary context of arts education. For example, students were encouraged to theorize and problematize issues such as taste, status and artistic self-representation. Valuable in this exploration was that it encouraged students to draw from their lived experience and link it to social class theory. This afforded them the space to engage critically with disciplinary knowledge and share their personal creative artefacts in response to specific social justice themes.

Respondent, Michael Cross
While quite different from each other, each presentation highlighted a number of issues for us to grapple with in the domain of the scholarship of teaching and learning in higher education. Each raises important issues for interrogating disciplinary knowledge and the pedagogy used in higher education to advance multiple and nuanced notions of social justice. In one form or another, they encourage us to explore not only what we teach, but also how we teach, and perhaps as importantly why we teach.  The highly contested, embodied and emotional investment in the transformation of the self and broader society through education argued in these presentations, extended and refined our understanding of, and work towards issues of distribution, recognition and transformation as argued by Fraser (1998). The presentations also provoked an exploration of how, as teachers, we teach in more ethical and responsible ways, especially when working with discomfort: our own, as well as our students’. Furthermore, it highlighted the necessity to become increasingly aware of the silences (and gaps) in our knowledge, curricula, and pedagogies as we seek to transform teaching and learning in
Blog authors: Ness Merckel and Bongani Mashaba
higher education. Unique in these presentations are that they begin to move social justice debates away from the strictly normative domains towards the often neglected analytical domains. This provide opportunities for challenging hegemonies and ultimately serves to foster a greater theorising of our practices in a more socially just manner, as called for by the respondent, Michael Cross.