Review of The Radicalization of Pedagogy

screenshot-2017-01-02-14-50-46At the end of November at the University of Manchester, we launched our book series Transforming Capitalism published by Rowman and Littlefield International and celebrated the publication of the first three books in the series, a trilogy focused on the intersections between anarchism and geography. The three books are The Radicalization of Pedagogy, Theories of Resistance and The Practice of Freedom, edited by Simon Springer, Marcelo Lopes de Souza and Richard J. White. Below is my review of the first book in the series, The Radicalization of Pedagogy, that I presented at the event in Manchester.

The Radicalization of Pedagogy seeks to strengthen the linkages between pedagogy and anarchist geographies, based on the premise that pedagogy is a primary site for resistance within anarchist practices. I have to admit that I came to this book with very limited engagement but some sympathy with anarchist theory and anarchist geographies. The book describes anarchist thought as one of the four foundations of what we might call radical geography, the other three being feminism, Marxism and poststructuralism. Of these four foundations, anarchism is the one that according to the editors deserves a much fuller consideration in geography. But I did come to this book with a very strong interest in radical pedagogies and in particular in the contemporary university as a neoliberal and colonial institution. I’m interested in seeking ways to undermine the rampant neoliberalization and corporatization of the contemporary university and also to find ways to decolonize its faculty, curricula, governance practices and modes of operation. Like many of my friends and colleagues, I’ve personally experienced the destructive dimensions of the neoliberal university, and am alarmed by the collective harm current arrangements inflict on scholarship, learning, and the wellbeing of both students and faculty. As a geographer, I’m also very interested in what is happening to our discipline in the context of these processes and pressures. My geography unit at the University of Edinburgh is part of a very large School of Geosciences, where neoliberalization and geoscientization mutually constitute one another in often quite problematic ways. But I’ve also been inspired by decolonial interventions into the academy that I’ve been exposed to as a result of three main experiences. The first is the scholarly contributions made by Māori intellectuals and activists in Aotearoa New Zealand. I worked at the University of Canterbury there for many years, and witnessed the incompatibility of neoliberalization and the incorporation of Māori worldviews into the westernized university. The second is the work I do in Central America on indigenous rights, where I have a long-established research collaboration with an intercultural grassroots university, URACCAN, on the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua that is attempting to organize higher education quite differently. The third is my interaction with a growing body of literature referred to as the Modernity/Coloniality/ Decoloniality paradigm that I’m trying to incorporate into my teaching as well as my research. In addition, I’m also an avid indeed compulsive reader of scholarly, journalistic and activist work that critiques the neoliberalization of the university and am keen to participate in discussions on how we might do things better. This book makes a very important contribution to those discussions and debates. But it has a much broader remit than that, because it deals with many different kinds of pedagogies – the university is amply present but it also engages with the idea of schools, promoting the idea of unschooling or the destruction of the school, as well as providing detailed accounts of activist pedagogies that exist outside of institutions such as in gangs or on cycling tours. Some of these activist pedagogies provide extremely useful material that could be harnessed within the university, in particular in modes of learning such as fieldtrips that take us outside of the classroom. Ronald Horvarth’s discussion of teaching radical pedagogy in communities in East Detroit in the 1960s and 70s, where the students didn’t need to be taught about racism, because they lived it, but instead developed skills in activist mapmaking as a kind of liberation pedagogy and anti-racist praxis, is particularly interesting. At Edinburgh, we’ve just started running an undergraduate field trip to Cape Town and have been trying to develop the course around working directly with activists in Cape Town, Freirean pedagogies and notions of unlearning privilege, so there’s a lot of material here that’s encouraged me to reflect on field teaching in sites of racialized oppression.

While I enjoyed all of the chapters in the book, there are three that I found particularly inspiring. So I will say a few words about them and then I’ll end with a few words of critique.

Chapter three by Levi Gahman explores how the Zapatistas are implementing autonomous forms of education in the face of harmful neoliberalism and shows how the Zapatista pedagogic model can be useful as our institutions of higher education are transformed into what he refers to “sites of hetero-masculinist oppression, neurotic separation, hierarchical posturing and silent paranoia”. Zapatistas schools teach mutual aid and critical thought, rather than individualism or competition and learning is organized in a non-hierarchical and horizontal way. I have long admired the Zapatistas. I was in Chiapas in 1993 just after the Zapatista guerrilla training camps had been discovered in the Lacandón jungle and just a few months before their mediated rebellion was unleashed and I’ve followed and taught on their struggle ever since. Indeed, I keep their ten principles of good government on my office door as a model of how the university indeed could and should be run. As Gahman notes, if we were to implement Zapatista pedagogies in our universities we would have to eliminate “administrators and all vertically professionalized designations”.

Chapter 5 by Kye Askins and Kelvin Mason’s on public, participatory and activist geographies that they term “fuller geographies” is also very thought provoking and seeks to take us beyond simply defending the public university from the neoliberal onslaught. Their experiences with academic seminar blockades at the Faslane nuclear weapons base on the Clyde near Glasgow dramatized in a theatrical script – the chapter is written in the form of a play – shows how public spaces can be transgressed and transformed by acting in them, but then how these performances can be used as resources for reflection by others to learn about how oppressions can be resisted but also how they tend to reassert themselves. The third chapter that I especially enjoyed was the chapter by Richard McHugh on education in gangs, on what he calls informal informal pedagogy, where he provides a counter-response to the common critique made of Paolo Freire which is that his liberation pedagogy was constrained by its social embeddedness in Christian values. McHugh shows how these constraints don’t really matter as Freire functions as a catalyst for reflection, and engagement with Freire can bring about what he calls an “emancipatory action” and lead to the refusal of the default position that is on offer. He also has a great analysis of the TV drama Homeland that disrupts the dominant ideas of radicalization that are in place in the post-9/11 world US and UK.

I’ll end with a few words of critique. I think the intersections between indigenous and anarchist pedagogies that are highlighted in the book are fascinating but are largely underdeveloped. Many of the indigenous movements I’ve studied, taught on or worked with – Tūhoe in New Zealand, the indigenous inhabitants of El Alto in Bolivia that Raúl Zibechi has written about, the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca in Mexico all see both the state and capital as violent and destructive forces of domination and are finding or maintaining ways to govern themselves. As far as I know, they never refer to their movements as anarchist, but this book has revealed the parallels, points of connection and potentials for solidarity that exist between anarchist movements and decolonial and indigenous social movements. In particular, the refusal to distinguish between ends and means, as well as the concepts of horizontality, reciprocity and mutual aid are all themes that appear quite strongly in this book as they do in much decolonial thought. Therefore it’s a pity that only one chapter in this book dealt with this issue in depth.

For me there’s one other gap in this book. Despite the fact that anarchist praxis should articulate well with feminist praxis, as it does for example in the Zapatista caracoles, and indeed a couple of the chapters refer to the intersections with a feminist ethics of care, reading the book made me feel that anarchism was and is a terribly male endeavour. Indeed, only two of the 15 contributors to this book are female and virtually all of the anarchist geographers and activists on which the book draws its inspiration are male. There’s a chapter by Federico Feretti on the contributions made by early anarchist geographers and educators to libertarian pedagogy and secular public education – it’s a fascinating history that geographers should be exposed to, yet all of the names he mentions – Piotr Kropotkin, Elisée Reclus, Philippe Pelletier, Léon Metchnikoff, Charles Perron, Francisco Ferrer, James Guillaume, Ferninand Buisson, Paul Robin – are male. It wasn’t until the final chapter when Simon Springer briefly refers to the work of Emma Goldman that the contribution of an anarchist feminist gets mentioned. In this chapter, Springer lays out a compelling philosophy on unschooling and refers to himself as an unschooling parent. I agree with him that school is often a site of immense suffering and harmful forms of discipline, although I do think that school is also a site of friendship and fun where we learn not only to be compliant but also to subvert authority. I was a single parent and viewed school in part as childcare, and so I couldn’t help thinking about the gendered dynamics of unschooling and I wondered who cares for his unschooled kids while he’s working as a university professor.

But this book is hugely useful to all of us who are attempting to negotiate the intellectually impoverishing and anxiety inducing dynamics of the contemporary university, the misplaced and misguided focus on “student satisfaction”, “feedback”, “innovation” and “distance learning”, the conversion of students into highly indebted consumers, and the end of consensus decision making. Eric Taje’s chapter discusses school as a statist-capitalist strategy to produce obedient workers and docile citizens and he notes that it failed initially as the first generation of wage labourers were impossible to discipline. It makes me concerned that as those of us with memories of a different kind of university become smaller in number and are replaced by faculty whose entire education was neoliberalized, we’ll have less and less capacity to resist. According to Taje, for many dominated and objectified people, the only way out of oppression is for them to become oppressors themselves, which might explain widespread faculty co-optation and the all too frequent inhabitation of the tyrannical line manager subject position. Furthermore, many of the ideas here would be hugely difficult to implement. We might be co-learners in the classroom, but at the end of the day, I’m tasked with awarding my now anonymized students individual grades so a new kind of instrumental relationship focused on grade maximization and ranking rather than conscientization comes to dominate. The hierarchy “between those who know and those who don’t” that doesn’t exist in Zapatista schools (Gahman 2016: 88) is reasserted. But there are things we can do and this book emphasizes that. A small group of us, inspired in part by the slow scholarship movement, are trying to enact more collaborative, less competitive ways of being together in the academy and in this respect this book contains ideas that can support us in that endeavor. The idea, expressed by Joe Curnow and others, that the processes we use to achieve our goals should embody those ultimate goals are particularly useful. If we want a less destructive, less competitive academy, we start by relating to one another differently and in the words of Gahman (2016: 82) “taking care of each other in oppressive circumstances”.

If you are interested in submitting a book proposal to the Transforming Capitalism series, please contact one of the editors, Ian Bruff, Julie Cupples, Gemma Edwards, Laura Horn, Simon Springer or Jacqui True.




5 responses to “Review of The Radicalization of Pedagogy

  1. Thanks so much for this review Julie! I think it is very generous reading (perhaps too generous!) and I’m so thankful that you’ve taken the time to engage with it in such a meaningful and fulsome way. It was also really great of you to participate in the Manchester event, so I’m super appreciative of everything you’ve put into supporting this project along the way, including having enough faith in it to give it a green light! I did however want to offer a response to some of your questions and critiques.

    I think suggesting that “anarchism was and is a terribly male endeavour” is problematic and unfounded, including within the pages of this book. I know a lot of female and genderqueer anarchists who would likely take exception with this statement. I think this is more a reflection of the general lack of familiarity with anarchism within the discipline geography (some of us are working to change this!) than it is of anarchist scholarship itself. Certainly it is not reflective of anarchism in actual practice. More anarcha-feminist ideas need to be brought into the discipline, and I worry that characterizing anarchism as the domain of males in some ways may hinder that process from occurring. There is a rich and deep tradition to draw from and explore here. If you look at AK Press for example, there are a great many contemporary books exploring the intersections between anarchism and feminism…

    Speaking more to the volume itself, I can appreciate the critique a little more, but I still think it’s inaccurate to say that, “It wasn’t until the final chapter when Simon Springer briefly refers to the work of Emma Goldman that the contribution of an anarchist feminist gets mentioned”. For example, in the introductory chapter alone there are plenty of citations to feminists and anarcha-feminists including Myrna Brietbart, Jenny Pickerill, Rita Blumberg, Rhi Firth, bell hooks, Stephanie Spoto, Emma Goldman, and Judith Suissa. Curnow’s chapter explores feminist theorizations of praxis within geographical scholarship, but notes that there hasn’t been much exploration of pedagogies, which she hopes to rectify. In Gahman’s chapter he relies heavily on feminist authors to make his argument, where we see Liz Bondi, Wendy Brown, Kath Browne, Sarah de Leeuw, Margo Greenwood, Robyn Dowling, Kim England, J.K. Gibson-Graham, Emma Goldman, the Great Lakes Feminist Geography Collective, Sarah Hunt, Cindy Holmes, Hilary Klein, Wendy Larner, Lawson, Minelle Mahtani, Sallie Marston, and Linda Peake all present and accounted for. Granted most of these women do not identify as anarchist, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t inspired anarchist thought.

    I’ll concede that feminist perspectives, and as you note indigenous perspectives, are less well represented in some of the other chapters, but as you know the book is part of a trilogy, and the three volumes are intended to be read together. In particular, the second volume has a very high degree of engagement between indigenous and anarchist perspectives. There is also more discussion of feminism spread across the other two volumes, and more female authors too. That said, focusing on counting the number of female authors is problematic because names can be deceiving (Joe Cunrow for example) and it doesn’t account for the behind the scenes evolution of the trilogy, where we were entirely open to all submissions, did not reject a single proposal that was pitched to us, and instead opted to work hard and closely with authors to ensure they could present the best chapters possible. The fact that a few female authors (and a few males as well) withdrew from the project late in the game and even after deadlines had passed was a real blow. This meant we had to scramble to find replacements, which posed a raft of other problems for us and often meant we couldn’t achieve the gender balance we would have preferred. The bottom line is, we did our best to have representation across the gender spectrum. Getting this right when producing a single edited volume is tricky enough, with a trilogy it was that much harder given all the moving pieces involved in coordinating a project of this scale. We had to find a balance between pressure from the publisher, expectations of the contributors who were waiting, and wanting a wide spectrum of perspectives and positionalities included.

    Also, who cares for my unschooling kids while I work as a university professor is quite a personal question. I’m happy to answer of course, but I think you probably already know the answer. My partner Marni, who is an all around wonderful and amazing individual, and I really couldn’t be more lucky to have her in my life. I asked her if it was ok to mention all this, and she agreed. So, how we came to this division of labour was her autonomous choice. She decided that rather than continuing in a wage labour situation as part of the reproduction of capitalism that was never fulfilling for her, she would be much happier spending her days with our kids. If I were to critique liberal white feminism in general (and not you or your work!), it would be on the basis of the way that capitalocentrism has crept in insofar as the idea that the only emancipatory trajectory for women is through upward mobility via wage labour in a capitalist system is deeply problematic. I’m not being original here by any means, because as you know non-white, non-liberal feminisms have always centered the powerful role of caregiving. Marni recognized that for her, being with our children was the most liberating position she could conceive. There is a certain privilege that comes with this insofar as we can survive on a single income, and I address this in the chapter, but we also know unschooling parents who are single, and other couples where a male partner stays home with the kids. Anyway, I probably could have said more about this in the chapter. In terms of question of capitalism in relation to gender, I know you’re aware of this through your inspiring work in the Global South, but a more critical reading of this relationship is also one of the reasons why anarcha-feminist and indigenous feminist perspectives are so needed. The intersection of these three perspectives is the ideal in my view, and there is important work starting to explore this (see Jacqueline Lasky’s ‘Indigenism, Anarchism, Feminism: An Emerging Framework for Exploring Post-Imperial Futures’).

    One final small point is that you’ve referred to the book as ‘Radicalizing Pedagogy’ instead of ‘The Radicalization of Pedagogy’. In any event, thanks again for such a wonderful and supportive review! So very much appreciated! 🙂

    • Can’t wait to read it, on my 2017 list. Although you say it’s a personal question about childcare, Simon, I for one really appreciate it when academics make clear what enables their intellectual work. So thanks Julie for asking it! My partner is also at home with our kids for similar reasons as Marni, and I think it’s important to acknowledge that my intellectual work is dependent in part on his caring labour. As for unschooling vs schooling, we have managed to find something in between for now at Ao Tawhiti Unlimited — a school where students put together their own learning programme every 5 weeks with the help of a learning advisor and their families.

      • As we know the personal is political… but I still had to check with Marni first to see if she was ok with me mentioning it publicly. But no doubt I’m able to do what I do because of her. We know this already too though, as feminists have long demonstrated the entire capitalist system is built upon the foundation of unpaid domestic labour. But rather than this being a conduit to more capitalism, as my colleague Richard J. White has been arguing, if we re-read the landscape in terms of economic plurality it reveals another indication of where feminism and anarchism can connect and work toward emancipation. It is precisely these non-commodified practices such as mutual aid, reciprocity, cooperation, and care that afford possibilities beyond capitalism. The implication is that Marni’s work is far more important, and far more anarchist than mine! 🙂

  2. Thank you Simon, and apologies about the title, now corrected

  3. Pingback: Review of The Radicalization of Pedagogy – My Academic Mood Board

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