Consuelo Béjares, Ph.D. Student, Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge
Becoming a doctoral student at Cambridge University means entering a different world for most Latin Americans. Even if you were privileged enough back home to be able to be accepted in Cambridge and secure funding, the level of privilege, wealth, and intellectual elitism that we confront here was unknown for most of us. This strikes me from the first moment in the form of feeling out of place — not intelligent enough, not well-read enough, not confident enough, not very “Cambridge” in sum. The reactions to my opinions reinforced this feeling because I mostly perceived that my points of views were not validated and dismissed as mere examples or place-based information from a very specific — not universal — context and, as such, not really interesting or valuable for rigorous knowledge production (Olufemi et al., 2019). However, this feeling started to mutate as I realized that this was not an individual problem on my side but rather an institutional problem coming from Eurocentrism and epistemic ignorance at Cambridge. Even when, at least to some extent, I could understand the cultural and intellectual common ground in place, because it has been taught to me as “universal history”, Cambridge, one of the top universities of the world, totally disregard my cultural and historical background and, as a consequence, the starting point from where I was working towards my thesis project was continually misunderstood. I have been lucky enough to start my Ph.D. at a moment when the number of Latin Americans at the Faculty was growing which enables us to set up a support network that for me has been essential to navigate this experience. One of the ongoing discussion we have had is how invisible Latin America is in Cambridge, starting just at the point that Latin American or Latinx (and sub-identifications such as afro-descendant, indigenous, mixed) is an inexistent category in the enrolment forms, forcing ourselves to be classified as “other”, contributing to our own invisibility at the university and the global scenario of Higher Education.
The invisibilization and minimization of other cultures, ways of knowing, and ways of being experienced at Cambridge undermine alternative perspectives in the learning and research processes. Latin American theoretical tradition, for example, is widely unrecognized and overlooked even by people working on the region. This devaluation faced me with the challenge of trying to balance a “global” informed enough thesis to be legitimized at the Cambridge level but, at the same time, not compromising my views and knowledge of the context I was working on as well as respecting its history and value. For me, this has meant avoiding to forcingly fitting theories, however renowned, if they do not make sense in the specific context and, particularly, trying not to fall into a deficitarian perspective that is so common when researching on the Global South from the Global North and especially when working with marginalized populations. Developmentalism and interventionist approaches have already caused so much damage perpetuating pervasive power relations in Latin America that I certainly do not want to contribute to it. Critically questioning research that uses this vantage point and genuinely valuing non-Western perspectives is essential to allow the “pluriverse” at academic spaces, meaning the coexistence of different types of knowledge.
Notably, together with the obvious effort that needs to be made at the institutional level at the Faculty and Higher Education in general, as Southern researchers, we need to critically reflect on our practice since the social and geographical position is not at all automatically attached to a decolonial epistemological position (Grosfoguel, 2007), especially considering the coloniality of power in place in Latin America where Higher Education is heavily under colonization of the imagination (Quijano, 2007) that usually impose Western knowledge as the norm and reproduce the whitening narrative imposed by colonization. Personally, I see this task at the moment in the form of exploring knowledge produced outside academia in Latin America, reflecting on extractivist practices in Higher Education that misappropriate participants’ and grassroots knowledge for its own use, and also start looking at theoretical perspective coming from different southern contexts in order to attempt a South-South dialogue (Moosavi, 2020). Paradoxically, being in Cambridge looking at Latin America from the outside has allowed me to problematize some of the research practices and theoretical assumptions I was embedded in. The challenging material conditions under which research in the education field is done in the Global South usually means prioritizing work that is pragmatic and focuses on solving concrete and urgent problems, relegating theoretical advancement mostly to residuary financial and time resources. In this sense, for researchers from the Global South, conducting research here might be an opportunity to explore innovative streams of research which, in my case, has been immensely supported by the research groups I have been involved in during my Ph.D., especially my supervision group and the CPGJ research group, as spaces for critical discussions within the Faculty.
Related to this last point, however, is the tension between engaging in innovative research and making it relevant and useful for the context we are working on. As Latin Americans inserted in a globally prestigious institution, we hold a power position as potential authority voices in our fields back home. This means a responsibility to produce knowledge that informs and benefits the policy debate in education in essential matters for the region, such as inequality and social justice, which is also attached to acting politically as researchers. During my studies, this realization has been heavily accelerated by political events happening in Chile and around the world, which had prompted interesting debates and actions within the Latin American group at the Faculty. Examining the pertinence and relevance of our research questions as well as our political role as researchers have been a major source of reflection influencing my research. These considerations have been essential in trying to balance the tension between the need to respond to pressing issues affecting educational communities at the same time that developing theoretically informed research that works with “big theories” when, for example, participants taking part in my fieldwork expect concrete results that helps them resolve everyday problems at the school.
As a final reflection, I think our Faculty needs to make further efforts to depart from a Eurocentric and developmentalism perspective, which implies giving up structural power in knowledge hierarchies. Embracing the reality of the existence of multiple types of knowledge would mean allowing a conversation between them in horizontal and non-hierarchical or paternalistic terms, as is so often the case now, and making space in Higher Education for the many times messy and uncertain reality — the non-binary, the mestizo, the ch’ixi (Rivera Cusicanqui, 2018). From this, knowledge-making could work from the “partial connections” (De La Cadena, 2015) that can be established among similarities and differences, acknowledging the relevance of Western theory but also considering that trying to contain everything into Eurocentric understandings is a way of simplifying complex differences, reducing multiple existing worldviews and, overall, perpetuating imperialist views of the world.
This post was originally published by the author at: https://medium.com/the-politics-of-representation/carving-space-for-multiple-knowledges-in-he-ae0f337aafc6
De La Cadena, M. (2015). Earth Beings. Ecologies of Practice Across Andean Worlds. Duke University Press.
Grosfoguel, R. (2007). The Epistemic Decolonial Turn. Cultural Studies, 21(2–3), 211–223.
Moosavi, L. (2020). The decolonial bandwagon and the dangers of intellectual decolonisation. International Review of Sociology, 1–23.
Olufemi, L., Younge, O., Sebatindira, W., & Manzoor-Khan, S. (2019). A Fly Girl’s Guide To University: Being a Woman of Colour at Cambridge and Other Institutions of Elitism and Power. Verve Poetry Press.
Quijano, A. (2007). Coloniality and Modernity/Racionality. Cultural Studies, 21(2–3), 168–178.
Rivera Cusicanqui, S. (2018). Un mundo ch’ixi es posible. Ensayos desde un presente en crisis [A ch’ixi world is possible. Essays from a present in crisis]. Buenos Aires: Tinta Limón.
#8M: Latin American Women in a Conversation on Feminism and Education
According to the UN World’s Women Report (2020), less than 50% of working-age women are in the labor market. A “glass ceiling” still keeps women out of strategic functions in public and private organizations. Only 35% of students in the area of STEM are women. Around one-third of women worldwide have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner. Globally, an estimated 137 women are killed by their intimate partner or a family member every day (UN, 2020).
Today, March-8th 2021, CLAREC hosted the seminar “#8M: A conversation on feminism and education in Latin America“. This contributes to commemorate International Women’s Day by highlighting the relevance of the 8M women’s movement in Latin America, and of course, acknowledging the ongoing struggle for gender equality in our region and worldwide.
Over the past 10 years, Latin America has been in the frontline of social movements, and specifically, feminism has become a strong force. To provide some insight about what is being done in Latin America, our seminar presented four speakers:
- Elisa de Padua from Chile talked about “How a Chilean feminist performance became a global anthem against gender-based violence“, a breathtaking representation of the feelings of women all over the world.
- Dr. Karla Esquerre (firstname.lastname@example.org) from Brazil shared about “Girls in data science: reframing experience through data“. An important project to change structures by engaging more girls to solve social issues through data-driven projects. Follow menina.cientista on Instagram:
- Alejandra Brito and Alejandra Luna from Mexico shared their efforts as part of the “Mujeres Unidas por la Educación (MUxED)” a network of women creating spaces for dialogue and action in education through a gender perspective. www.muxed.mx
To learn more about these initiatives, please watch the video. To join or for more information, don’t hesitate to contact the presenters.
Teacher Craft Knowledge in the Dominican Republic: A building-on-strengths approach to improving teaching and learning in the Hispanophone Caribbean
A key objective of CLAREC’s mission is to forefront local knowledge from Latin America and the Caribbean. As someone committed to research on teacher effectiveness in the region, I am particularly interested in understanding the knowledge that teachers construct through their lived experiences. Research on teacher effectiveness often seeks to impose Western notions of ‘what works’ despite a growing body of literature that recognises that there are no magic bullets to improve teaching and learning. In the 1960s and 1970s research on teacher thinking gained prominence, and scholars began to recognise that the ‘practical knowledge’ teachers hold is based on their own classroom experiences (both as students themselves and while teaching), and that this practical knowledge varies starkly from the more theoretical or conceptual knowledge that they learn in their pre-service training (see Calderhead, 1991, for example).
In my presentation next week, I will present some of my PhD findings which centre the voices of Dominican teachers and students, their personal and professional experiences, and the knowledge that they have constructed through those experiences. Below I present several pieces of literature that have influenced my PhD research over the years. In particular, I look at Donald McIntyre’s work on ‘craft knowledge,’ through his seminal work with Brown and Cooper. Two books, Making Sense of Teaching (Brown & McIntyre, 1993) and Effective Teaching and Learning: Teachers’ and students’ perspectives (Cooper & McIntyre, 1996) were some of the most influential pieces of work around which my thesis was designed.
In these books, the authors describe ‘craft knowledge’ as ‘professional knowledge which teachers acquire primarily through their practical experience in the classroom rather than their formal training, which guides their day-to-day actions in classrooms, which is for the most part not articulated in words and which is brought to bear spontaneously, routinely and sometimes unconsciously on their teaching’ (Brown & McIntyre, 1993: 17). Craft knowledge was later described by Graber (1998: 148) as the ‘context specific, highly pragmatic, and profoundly personal understandings that teachers develop about their students and about workable pedagogical practices’ (emphasis added). Therefore, though craft knowledge is a concept that was born out of the Global North, its unique emphasis on local context and personal experiences validates it as an entry point to examine what effective teaching and learning looks like in countries of the Global South, including the Dominican Republic.
Next, Robin Alexander’s (2000) book Pedagogy and Culture provides an elaborate comparison of what effective teaching and learning look like in England, France, India, Russia and the United States. This cross-cultural comparison indicates that sociocultural patterns, national and subnational policies and contexts all play a role in shaping pedagogy. Alexander argues that “educational ideas do not just migrate, in speaking to different cultural histories and conditions they also change’ (p. 546). The book itself is over 600-pages long, but below I also list some of Alexander’s more accessible work which further argues that a more nuanced and holistic analysis of pedagogy is critical to improving teaching and learning across contexts.
“Border Crossings: Towards a comparative pedagogy” (Alexander, 2001)
“Still no pedagogy? Principle, pragmatism and compliance in primary education” (Alexander, 2004)
Towards a Comparative Pedagogy (Alexander, 2009) – also available open access here
“Teaching and learning for all: The quality imperative revisited” (Alexander, 2015)
Building on the work of Alexander, many researchers have critiqued the growing popularisation of learner-centred pedagogy and its imposition in the Global South. Learner-centred pedagogy, along with its constructivist theories of teaching and learning, have been promoted through competency-based curricular reforms, many of which are funded by international development agencies as a means to promote economic development in these ‘developing’ nations (see Anderson-Levitt, 2007 for example). Yet many researchers continue to problematise this one-size-fits-all approach to improving teaching. For example, Michel Schweisfurth (2011) published an article titled, ‘Learner-centred education in developing country contexts: From solution to problem?’ followed by a book two years later (2013) titled, Learner-centred Education in International Perspective: Whose pedagogy for whose development? These titles summarise the key argument that, although learner-centred pedagogy may effectively lead to learning in some contexts, it continues to be problematic, inadequately implemented, misunderstood or simply inappropriate, unsupported by the strikingly different contextual realities of some Southern contexts (e.g. the lack of teaching and learning materials which is a core characteristic of learner-centred pedagogy).
Therefore, rather than making assumptions about what works in a particular context, I believe, like Cooper and McIntyre (1996: 3) that the starting point of research on teacher effectiveness should be ‘the attempt to understand what people in classrooms are trying to do, and how they go about trying to do it effectively.’ My findings from research conducted in Dominican schools is that learner-centred pedagogy may not be the be-all and end-all of effective teaching and learning. Rather, I argue — as other authors have (Barrett, 2007; Vavrus, 2009; Altinyelken, 2012; Vavrus & Bartlett, 2012) — that a more appropriate approach to teacher effectiveness in the Dominican Republic may require blending pedagogies and adapting to the cultural and contextual realities of Dominican teachers, students, schools and classrooms. As O’Sullivan (2004) argues, certain teaching strategies or methods may not seem learner-centred at first, but this does not mean that they are not learning-centred. By exploring the voices of teachers and students — those most intimately involved in everyday pedagogical practices — we can thus examine how local knowledge and experience shape teaching and learning, ultimately maximising teacher effectiveness.
Youth negotiating exclusion and belonging at the urban periphery in Chile
In our launch event and first open meeting, I will be presenting my work on youth experiences of belonging and democratic participation in marginalized spaces in Santiago, Chile. Here, I recommend some readings and resources that tackle issues at the base of my research questions.
As a more general reading, I want to recommend two old books that I first read as a sociology undergraduate and I have look back at them now that I´m trying to understand/explain Latin American identities from the U.K. They are both written as essays more than in a very academic way and analyze aspects of the Mexican and Chilean identities that are tight to coloniality. The first one is “El Laberinto de la Soledad” [The laberith of solitude] from 1950 by Mexican writer Octavio Paz, Nobel Prize in Literature. Even though is focused on Mexico, there are many aspects that resonate with Latin America as a whole. The second one is “Madres y Huachos” (sadly, no English edition) from 1991 by Chilean anthropologist Sonia Montesinos, which focused on the Chilean case and the figure of women as single mothers.
Something I have struggle with during my PhD research is trying to explain the Latin American context and processes through theories that not always fit. Regarding marginal or peripheral spaces, I found very useful the introduction “Locating marginality in Latin American cities” by Felipe Hernández, in the book “Marginal urbanisms: informal and formal development in cities of Latin America” (2017). It explains how marginality has been part of Latin American cities from colonial times, determining social relations into the present, and also relates marginality in Latin America with conceptual developments based on other contexts, for example, Wacquant´s advanced marginality.
Considering that students’ movements have been the major force leading social change in the post-dictatoship years in Chile, I recommend this chapter by Sofía Donoso “When Social Movements Become a Democratizing Force: The Political Impact of the Student Movement in Chile” in the book “Protest, Social Movements and Global Democracy Since 2011: New Perspectives” (2016). The chapter is very useful to understand the context and possibilities of political participation in Chile and the role of recent students’ social movements in policy reform and democratic change.
Lastly, I invite you to listen the song “El Otro Chile” [The Other Chile] by Chilean rapper Portavoz. Popular culture and arts are always a very interesting way of approaching social problems because they usually embody and shape the direction of social change (way before academia unfold analyses of it). This song is from 2012 and talks about the peripheral Chile that constitutes the majority of the people, expressing many of the demands that led to the Chilean Revolt of October 2019. You can watch the video with English subtitles here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qgq3Qr41wRk