CLAREC – The new Cambridge Latin American Research in Education Collective

This post was originally published at Faculty of Education webpage.

Just a few months after its official formation, Cambridge’s new Latin American Research in Education Collective (CLAREC) is attracting widespread interest and engagement – and not just from within Cambridge. Through a thriving programme of talks, research seminars and a reading group, the collective aims to increase the visibility of Latin American knowledge and perspectives in education research – one of many academic fields which has too often focused more heavily on European and North American knowledge systems. CLAREC also began life as a friendship group, however, and in keeping with those roots, its ambitions are built around a philosophy of openness, engagement and mutual support. Here, three of its members explain how it began, why the collective matters, and the difference they hope it will make.

Interview with: Javiera Marfan (originally from Chile); Ana Laura Trigo Clapés (Mexico); and Alexandre da Trindade e Oliveira(Brazil). All three are PhD students at the Faculty of Education.

L-R: Ana Laura Trigo Clapés, Alexandre da Trindade e Oliveira, Javiera Marfan

The origins of CLAREC are a social group which formed back in 2017/18

Javiera: When we started as PhD students we found – both at the Faculty and in Cambridge in general – a very welcoming and supportive environment, but it was easy to feel out of place because of the language and cultural differences. I often felt that everyone else knew how to participate in things like lectures in a way that I didn’t. The dynamics were different and I often worried about whether what I was saying – or the way I was saying it – was acceptable in an English-speaking setting. 

Ana: Many of us Latin American students who come to Cambridge aren’t used to speaking English so regularly, even though we all read it quite often. At the start of my postgraduate studies, I was very careful during academic discussions to provide enough context so that colleagues would understand my point of view, but it took considerable effort to get that right. It was a great relief to meet other people from Latin America who were going through a similar experience.

Javiera: As Latin American students we started asking each other for different forms of moral and practical support and began to become close friends. The whole thing really started as a space for friendship, mutual understanding and peer-support.

There was a sort of realisation that we could enrich wider research because of the different knowledge and perspectives we can contribute. 


The research dimension grew over time, as we started to realise that our shared identity as Latin American students also applied to our work

Javiera: The Faculty does a lot of research on the Global South, but it often focuses on other parts of the world. Latin America felt quite under-represented at times.

Ana: Partly in response to this, we started to find that we were all representing Latin American experiences and points of view more and more in our research groups. There was a sort of realisation that we could enrich wider research because of the different knowledge and perspectives we can contribute. It has been really valuable to have a group of Latin American friends and, as the time passed and we got to know each other, we began to notice that this support group could also help us to advance and enrich our research.

Alexandre: My own work is partly about how universities contribute to ‘human flourishing’ but joining the group and discussing with other members allowed me to reflect what terms like that mean in a Latin American context, where there has always been a real struggle for social justice. Meeting and discussing that with other Latin American researchers really helped me to get those ideas across more clearly; it gave me the confidence and the ability to draw and express links between my own experiences and the theory that I was assessing in my work.

Inspired by various social justice movements, we came to see what we were doing as a responsibility

Javiera: During 2019 and 2020, many of us became involved with various causes and movements: marches against gender violence, calls for action on climate change, or protests in solidarity with the social revolt in Chile or with Black Lives Matter. I think that the experience of encountering each other, once more, in those spaces, showed us that we have not only our research in common, but that we all are trying to have a positive impact on wider society through our research. We have a responsibility to add our voices to academic conversations not just on behalf of the participants in our research projects, but for the populations they represent, whose voices are often heard less.

Alexandre: I think the sense of responsibility varies for all of us. For me, I came to this having had a previous career in telecommunications in marketing and I feel very strongly that what I am doing now has the potential to achieve more significant contributions to society. What we all share is a belief that education is a means for transforming things for the better, and that by collaborating and sharing ideas we can challenge and improve established ways of thinking. 

Javiera: We organised a formal meeting in February 2020, which led to the definition of our group as a collective. Our launch event finally happened in November last year – later than planned because of COVID, but with fantastic support, and we have been running a programme of events ever since.

Part of CLAREC’s aim is to make Latin American knowledge production more visible in education research

Ana: Few of the other Latin American groups at Cambridge include education in their main topics of discussion, so CLAREC is an important space through which we can build awareness of research, and researchers, from the region. It has definitely encouraged me to reflect on my identity as a researcher and I hope that it will help to promote a wider inclusion of work produced in Latin American contexts in the field of education.

Javiera: Within the Faculty, the leadership team, the academics, our supervisors – everyone has been very supportive. It’s important to say that we are not here to complain about our own experiences. But in academia in general, the fact is that authors writing in English are quoted more widely and Latin American researchers are incentivised to publish in English. We have this impression that, when research comes from European or US contexts it is more easily accepted as ‘shared knowledge’; whereas Latin American research is often characterised as ‘a case’ that is interesting only to the extent that it is aligned with those models. There is definitely a need to make the contributions of Latin American research more visible.

I have been actively encouraged to learn about the context in which I am researching, but I didn’t necessarily have a space in which to discuss it and test my ideas. CLAREC has given me that. 


It is also about creating a space for the Latin American context in research, so that it is heard, rather than overlooked

Ana: As someone from Mexico who is studying how to support the participation of autistic students in primary education in the UK, I obviously had to become familiar with British education to be able to conduct my research. However, at the same time, I have found that I can contribute based on my experiences of earlier research projects in Mexico. This includes on in which an amazing system for coding classroom dialogue was produced. Similarly, I have a friend who has experience of an inclusion project in Mexico and is showing how this could be useful in other parts of the world, once adjusted to a different context and culture. I think that one thing we show through CLAREC, by giving research from Latin America a platform, is what it adds to wider scholarship.

Javiera: It can be much more simple than trying to just ‘break the dominance’ of US or European theoretical approaches. To give you one small example: I was conducting research on a part of Santiago; you could refer to it as a neighbourhood but the term we use for it is población, and that doesn’t translate perfectly into any English term, it has its own meaning. As it happened, I mentioned this to another member of CLAREC who was also researching in a población, and we realised that instead of translating it and losing the meaning and context, we should just use the Chilean term. So now you have two researchers using that term, and hopefully others will read that work and understand its usage, with the intended meaning, in the literature. Thus, it is about rescuing the perspectives, meanings and data coming from Latin American contexts, as well as highlighting the theoretical contributions that can arise from there.

Alexandre: I spent the first year of my PhD working in Cambridge, learning more about my research topic and reviewing the literature, which was necessary, but the content was mainly Eurocentric. Now that I am carrying out the empirical study in Brazil, observing how universities get involved with the communities in that context, the gaps in the literature become clearer. All along, I have been actively encouraged to learn about the context in which I am researching, but I didn’t necessarily have a space in which to discuss it and test my ideas. CLAREC has given me that.

We want the collective to be as inclusive as possible

Ana: We have had people from other universities getting involved in some of our sessions – not only from elsewhere in the UK, but also countries like Denmark and Finland. We have also been contacted by a group in the University Library that is working on decolonising the curriculum; they have offered their support in providing materials for our discussions. 

Javiera: CLAREC has British researchers working in Latin America, Latin American researchers working in Europe and Latin American researchers working in the region. It’s an open collective. The more perspectives we can bring together, the more we all benefit from it.

Ana: Quite a few of us work on dialogic interactions and trying to create spaces where people with different views can engage productively. We bring that thinking to the collective. We don’t assume that one voice is better than the other, or has more value that the other; we believe that there is an advantage in bringing different voices together to discuss things – even issues that are sensitive.

The more perspectives we can bring together, the more we all benefit from it. 


CLAREC is a work in progress, but one that we hope will have a lasting impact

Javiera: We are really still just getting started. It’s gone from being a social exercise to a more academic exercise, although there is still a strong social aspect. We are constantly reflecting on how we could introduce other research themes.

Ana: We now have people joining us who are just beginning their PhD and we really want to try to involve alumni from the Faculty as well. Our hope is that this will grow into a lasting network of researchers in education involving Latin American contexts. We started as a group of friends in the Faculty, but now we are branching out further than we imagined because of the wider interest the collective has got.

Alexandre: There are three main strands to what we are currently doing – the research seminars, events with guest speakers, and a reading group. None of these things is radical, but each is just providing that important space for discussing issues and exchanging ideas. Hopefully, that space will be a legacy that we can pass on to future Latin American students at the Faculty, so that they can build on it and add to it, in whatever way they feel they should.

Read about CLAREC’s events, reading groups and the work of its researchers at: https://clarec.org/

You can also find CLAREC on Facebook and Twitter, and members of the group blog regularly on Latin American research in education here.

Paulo Freire’s 100th Birthday: Celebrating his legacy in education

by Paula Teixeira de Castro and Sebastián Ansaldo

Paulo Freire is currently being celebrated for his 100th Anniversary, and the Pedagogy of the Oppressed has now more than fifty years since its original release. Considering that half a century has passed, his theory and concepts still retain a profound influence and global impact. In 2016, an analysis of social science works available on Google Scholar identified Pedagogy of the Oppressed as the third most-cited such text in the world – ahead of landmark texts by Marx, Foucault and Bourdieu, among others.

To celebrate his legacy and engage critically with the work of Paulo Freire, the Cambridge Latin American Research in Education Collective (CLAREC) organized “Paulo Freire 100th Anniversary: Celebrating his legacy in education” a two week-long set of events that included several seminars, talks, discussions, workshops, reading groups and even a student conference. 

Around 1260 people from different parts of the world, especially Latin America and Europe, participated in the 14 events. The events, many of them using a blended format (online and face-to-face), were organized by CLAREC with the support from over 16 organizations, including universities, research clusters, study centres, academic societies, social movements, collectives and institutes.

This fortnight event brought together researchers from various fields of knowledge, students, educators, community agents and social entrepreneurs not only interested in learning about Paulo Freire’s thinking but also moved by the desire to know the man behind the poignant discourse of liberation.

The events were a fruitful encounter to commemorate the work of Freire, but also to recontextualize and rethink his theory and concepts from a present-day perspective, considering today’s problems and social concerns. Thus, there were contributions and discussions about how to engage with concepts like dialogue, oppression, critical pedagogy, freedom, and others with issues such as climate change, feminism, digital education, decolonial thought, etc. Amongst the several dialogic spaces, some featured a relevant approach to the debate where ideas and arguments were shared in different languages, allowing for the richness of the interlocutor’s mother tongue – something increasingly rare in an increasingly Englished academia. Similar discussions also took place in the digital world, and the online magazine Post-Pandemic University, in collaboration with CLAREC, featured a special issue of contributions that reflects about critical pedagogy in today’s digital environment.

It can be said that there was an intergenerational encounter that convened some of Freire’s colleagues and contemporaries’ thinkers from different universities worldwide, many of his former students and young people who reflect on his writings “in the shade of a mango tree“, echoing the title of one of his books, in which the author recalls how his strong Brazilian North-eastern roots gave him the strength to endure exile.

Undeniably, there are still many exiled in the world – those who inhabit the space of hunger, those who roam the “non-space” as wanderers without a destination, those who have lost their freedom because some have seized power and those who are exiled from themselves, without identity, like displaced refugees.

Indeed, we learnt a lot together during this event, and we still have a lot to learn. This celebration reached the minds and hearts of those who sow freedom and want to reap equality and dignity. Celebrating Paulo Freire’s centenary granted us the opportunity to review one of his most relevant lessons: it is necessary to reduce the distance between what is said and what is done until our discourse becomes real action.

When we do enact this lesson in our existences, it will then have been worthwhile to delve into the work of Paulo Freire.

The series of events closed with the installation of a bust of Paulo Freire, specially delivered from Brazil, which now will be showcased in the Faculty of Education of the University of Cambridge, reminding us of the importance and legacy of this remarkable Brazilian. The display of Freire’s sculpture has already called the attention of national and international media. Unquestionably it symbolises the resistance to the attacks on education, representing the unremitting action needed to challenge undemocratic forms of power worldwide.

On digital teaching and the neoliberal machine

The post-pandemic university

Espen Hektoen

This is part of a special collection celebrating thecentenary of Paulo Freire’s birth.

Paulo Freire‘s conscientization is becoming even more important in an age where discourses about students as consumers dominates pedagogical paradigms, and social consequences, as Henry Giroux points to, are blanketed by notions of pedagogical “neutrality”. When covid-19 broke out, many educators deservedly were praised for their competent flexibility in rapidly adjusting their teaching to the digital format overnight. The pandemic sped up the trend of digital teaching in higher education, a development that Linda Harasim describes originally occurred primarily for non-pedagogical reasons.

From a managerial perspective this might seem like a positive thing. The ushering in of an “inevitable” digital future, reducing logistics and streamlining information to a generation of recipients naively and inaccurately deemed “digital natives”. Administratively, almost nothing can go wrong – even the challenging concept of the third pedagogue

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Challenging non-democracy through participation: Can the classroom be a place of resistance?

The post-pandemic university

Gaston Bacquet

This is part of a special collection celebrating thecentenary of Paulo Freire’s birth.

Almost a century ago, when arguing for what he believed to be the need for democratic participation within learning spaces, John Dewey stated that democracy in the way he envisioned is:

“…more than a form of government; it is primarily a mode of associated living, of conjoint communicated experience. The extension in space of the number of individuals who participate in an interest so that each has to refer his own action to that of others, and to consider the action of others to give point and direction to his own, is equivalent to the breaking down of those barriers of class, race, and national territory which kept men from perceiving the full import of their activity.”

But although many have built on his work over the years, as a society and educators…

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‘Education is freedom’ – turning the rhetoric of inclusion into action

The post-pandemic university

Stephen Thompson

This is part of a special collection celebrating thecentenary of Paulo Freire’s birth.

Paulo Freire is often quoted as saying education is freedom. Education in general has changed drastically in the 100 years since he was born, yet questions remain as to whether these changes are moving us all closer to the freedom that Freire envisaged or whether some people continue to be left behind. To better understand the positive actions that are needed to drive change and deliver freedom, we must examine inclusive approaches to education and pedagogy much more closely.

If we focus in on higher education in particular, we see that there has been much change since the 1920s. Massification, the internationalization and the growth of the global knowledge economy have resulted in the proliferation of institutions, universities becoming more internationally-focused, prioritising international partnerships and students, and education and research being highly valued…

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Classrooms as a space for imagination and hope

The post-pandemic university

Patric Wallin

This is part of a special collection celebrating the centenary of Paulo Freire’s birth.

Where do we go from here? From a situation where students shop courses, teachers measure satisfaction, and everyone complains about everything. From universities that proclaim that they are at the forefront of working with the UN sustainability goals, while at the same time contribute to the marketization of higher education that increasingly positions students as consumers and follows the imperatives of market logic, efficiency, and value for money.

I argue that at the intersection between teaching and research, activism emerges as praxis that aims at challenging neoliberal ideas of higher education. I further argue that teaching can create opportunities for students to learn how to ask difficult questions about the status quo and re-imagine a different kind of society and way of being. What this requires is that we need to reclaim…

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Call for Blog Posts: Paulo Freire’s 100th Anniversary, organised by CLAREC

The post-pandemic university

This year marks the centenary of the birth of one of the greatest thinkers in education: Paulo Freire. Paulo Freire’s work has globally influenced people working in education, community development, community health, communications, and many other fields. In particular, his best-known book Pedagogy of the Oppressed is considered to be one of the foundational texts of critical pedagogy, advocating a pedagogy with a new relationship between teacher, student, and society. Freire developed an approach to education that links the identification of issues with positive actions for change and development.

Considering the relevance of Freire’s thought for education theory, research, and practice, the Cambridge Latin American Research in Education Collective invites researchers, academics, students, and general public to write contributions that reflects about critical pedagogy in today’s digital environment and the challenges for dialogical education considering the new technological landscape. We are interested in contributions linking Freire’s legacy with current trends…

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Autism and Culture: Shaping autism research based on experiences with the autistic communities in Mexico and the UK

Ana Laura Trigo Clapés is a PhD student in the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge (CLAREC member)

This post was originally published at FERSA University of Cambridge Blog

This piece is part of the Autism and Culture series, in which researchers at the Faculty of Education carrying out studies relating to autism across the globe reflect on new challenges and exciting opportunities. This series was published in recognition of World Autism Awareness Week 2021, and you can view the rest of the series here: https://fersacambridge.com/?s=Autism+and+Culture

My involvement in autism research in the last four years has taken place in England; however, my research journey in this field started in Mexico. My experience in these two countries has provided me with different and very enriching opportunities to learn from members of the respective autistic communities and shape my research accordingly. In fact, the focus of my doctoral research was originally inspired by the lessons I learned when I worked with young autistic people in Mexico. 

I collaborated in a programme that provides psycho-pedagogical support for autistic children and adolescents in which psychotherapists attempt to help them develop their own coping strategies and exercise certain cognitive skills. Though we were all psychologists and adhered to a definition of autism as a disorder, we purposely avoided only focusing on difficulties or identifying deficits. It was critical to foster a respectful environment that encouraged dialogue, and thus we focused on adjusting our interactions to be clear and friendly. This included being explicit, avoiding rhetorical questions, or learning whether eye contact was uncomfortable for them. It was important for us to get to know each other as individuals, and challenge assumptions related to explicative theories of autism; like assuming that our patients would not be able to use metaphors (which some were able to do).

In this programme, I had contact with the young people’s close family members and carers. I followed their journey learning about autism and what it meant for their children, as well as the young peoples’ process of building an autistic identity, working to highlight the positives. Sadly, this is a kind of professional support not everyone has access to. There is limited availability and access to specialised support in Mexico and, at the same time, there still exists misinformation about autism and even social stigma. In some cases, families prefer avoiding discussing an autism diagnosis and, in other cases, parents/carers are not sure who to contact to look for support. This could relate to the current lack of a clear estimate of prevalence of autism in Mexico and delayed validation of diagnostic tools for the Mexican population.  I realised how important it is for autistic individuals and their families to learn more about, rather than stigmatise, different ways of thinking and communicating, in order to understand why they experience certain difficulties in their daily lives, improve their relationships and adjust their lifestyles. 

Teacher facing children in a classroom, some children have their hands raised.
Image by 14995841 from Pixabay

Now, as part of my research in the UK, I decided to observe how autistic students participate in class activities with the aim of understanding how they communicate and then suggesting ways of adjusting teaching accordingly. I proposed that it is important for teachers to challenge their expectations of autistic students’ participation and assumptions of why students engage in certain behaviours, because it is easy to guess wrong or even overlook individuals’ communication attempts.

Through my UK-based work, I have learned about inspiring autism research that has been driven by activism. Impactful research groups and charities in the UK are interested in conducting research in collaboration with the autism community with the aim of better reflecting their experiences and developing research that matters for the community. This recent trend in research and my conversations with fellow PhD students at the Faculty of Education have helped me continue to develop my understanding of autism. My vision is now more in line with the neurodiversity approach, which conceptualises autism as a naturally occurring difference in the development of the brain (Silberman, 2015). The approach recognises autism both as a difference and a disability, acknowledging impairments and barriers imposed by society that hinder autistic individuals’ participation (Bottema-Beutel et al., 2020).

I value how these experiences in the UK have led me to take a clearer stance related to my research. I believe that an important goal is to find ways of creating equitable opportunities for autistic individuals to participate and contribute to their communities (e.g., in a school), hopefully promoting a sense of belonging. This requires us to be open to different forms of understanding and communicating, to listen and interact with the autistic community and to question the theories and definitions we have long adhered to. It is also necessary to consider how these equitable opportunities to participate can be developed in different contexts with different surrounding limitations and belief systems. Engaging in dialogue with autistic individuals, practitioners and researchers from diverse contexts can hopefully help identify the aspects that should be taken into consideration in the future creation of a more comprehensive knowledge.

Featured image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay.

Bottema-Beutel, K., Kapp, S. K., Lester, J. N., Sasson, N. J., & Hand, B. N. (2020). Avoiding Ableist Language: Suggestions for Autism Researchers. Autism in Adulthood00(00), 1–12. https://doi.org/10.1089/aut.2020.0014
Silberman, S. (2016). Neurotribes : the legacy of autism and how to think smarter about people who think differently. London: Allen and Unwin.

Note from the author: An example of research that aims to promote social interactions that are adapted to autistic individuals’ characteristics and preferences: 

Ambassadors for autism: Adapting services for autistic service users. A research project that was conducted in the Centre for Applied Autism Research at the University of Bath (UK) aimed to create guidance for professional groups so they can better support autistic people. Service providers took part in a workshop to develop evidence-based adaptations to improve their communication with autistic people. https://www.bath.ac.uk/announcements/ambassadors-for-autism-adapting-services-for-autistic-service-users/

Ana Laura Trigo Clapés is a PhD student in the Faculty of Education. She is a psychologist from Mexico, where she collaborated in different research projects related to productive classroom dialogue and an attention programme for young people diagnosed with autism. In her PhD, she studies how autistic students placed in mainstream classrooms participate in class discussions, and how teachers support their participation. The main objective of her doctoral research is to create teaching strategies that can adjust  to students’ communication characteristics and preferences.

The functions of Education and reflections on the role of researchers engaged in an academic collective

Alexandre da Trindade, Second-Year PhD Student, Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge (CLAREC member)

This post was originally published at ESRC DTP Cambridge webpage.

In October 2020, a group of PhD students from the Faculty of Education at the University of Cambridge founded the Cambridge Latin American Research in Education Collective (CLAREC) aiming to make Latin America, its knowledge, and its needs more visible within the Faculty; contribute to the recognition of Latin American epistemologies; and support efforts to decolonise academia (Mignolo, 2018). As a member of this collective, I carried out this study to develop a clearer conceptualisation of the motives underlying the formation of this initiative (I explicitly recognise my position as a participant in the study). Moreover, since my doctoral research is itself an inquiry into the role of higher education, I was interested in how academics understand their role as researchers and what motivates them to join a collective such as this. The following reflections are based on interviews I conducted with CLAREC members and my analysis of the group’s publications and events.

Presentation by Alexandre da Trindade e Oliveira, Second-Year PhD Student, Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge at the ESRC DTP Cambridge Conference 2021.

In this study, I explored two theoretical perspectives to inform my conceptualisations of the researcher’s role in this specific case and to formulate my investigatory questions. Since the collective is within the field of education, I ultimately aimed to understand how education is seen by members of the group. I drew on ideas from Freire (1987) and Gramsci (1999) to frame my questions. From Freire (1987), I borrowed the notion that education is never neutral but always has a political position and purpose. From Gramsci (1999), I employed the idea that educational systems can perform contradictory social functions. On the one hand, these systems may reinforce social order with an interested, instrumental, and utilitarian character and aim to produce individuals capable of occupying functional positions in society. On the other hand, educational systems might simultaneously be concerned with the intrinsic humanistic values of learning. They may aim to develop conscious citizens capable of defining their own paths – both individually and collectively – in society. Gramsci (1999) believes the latter, more humanistic approach is essential to education if we are to build truly democratic societies.

My interview questions for CLAREC members aimed to analyse: (i) how they understand their roles as researchers and the educational systems in which they perform those roles; (ii) what motivates them to organise and participate in a collective, and how those motives relate to their perceived roles as researchers; and (iii) how this initiative and their approach relate to the aforementioned notion of education’s contradictory functions – that is, as utilitarian–reproductive and intrinsic–transformational.

Based on my interpretation of the collected data and reinforced by my own vision as a CLAREC member, I identified three apparent conceptualisations of CLAREC, the functions of which were perceived as comprising varying proportions of the whole by different members. One such view held that CLAREC carries out activities such as seminars and reading groups; another defined CLAREC primarily as a social environment; and a third framed CLAREC as a utopian space, open to possibilities of actions that could achieve the transformative purpose aimed for by the collective. I concluded my analysis by arguing that CLAREC is predominantly conceptualised as an initiative that can be understood from the perspective of critical and transformative education as proposed by Gramsci (1999). However, my exploration was more focused on what CLAREC represents for its members than on its intended achievements as a body.

In this vein, I suggested the following based on my analysis: i) CLAREC members view the collective as a safe space that promotes valuable relationships among participants with common interests, identities, and values; ii) CLAREC is a space where doctoral students are able to flourish both as researchers and citizens; and iii) CLAREC enables its members to pursue relevant transformational contributions to education, bringing them closer to becoming the researchers and influential figures in academia they aim to become.


Freire, P. (1987). Pedagogia do Oprimido (23rd ed., Vol. 21). Paz e Terra.

Gramsci, A. (1999). Selection from the Prizon Notebooks (Q. Hoare & G. N. Smith, Eds.). ElecBook.

Mignolo, W. (2018). What Does It Mean to Decolonize? In W. Mignolo & C. E. Walsh (Eds.), On Decoloniality: Concepts, Analytics, Praxis (p. 31). Duke University Press Books.

You can contact Alexandre on Twitter at @atroliveira, at ad988@cam.ac.uk, or view his web page at https://clarec.org/alexandre-da-trindade-e-oliveira/

Carving space for multiple knowledges in HE

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 Studies21(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 Studies21(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

The World’s Women 2020: Trends and Statistics online portal is the result of the collective effort of a wide range of contributors from around the world, under the leadership of the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD), Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA). Source: United Nations (2020). The World’s Women 2020: Trends and Statistics – https://worlds-women-2020-data-undesa.hub.arcgis.com

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. 
A rapist in your path’: Chilean protest song becomes feminist anthem. A Chilean protest song about rape culture and victim shaming has become an anthem for feminists around the world. Source: Guardian News
  • Dr. Karla Esquerre (karlaesquerre@ufba.br) 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:
Girls in Data Science. Project that aims to train girls from five public schools in Salvador, with the aim of increasing female participation in Data Science. Source: www.linktr.ee/menina.cientista
  • 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
“We aspire to create spaces for interaction, dialogue and action, in a plural framework that integrates the vision of gender equity regarding the issues of greatest relevance to our country”. Source: translated from https://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.

CLAREC Seminar: #8M: Latin American Women in a Conversation on Feminism and Education

Teacher Craft Knowledge in the Dominican Republic: A building-on-strengths approach to improving teaching and learning in the Hispanophone Caribbean

By Sophia M. D’Angelo

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.

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

By Consuelo Béjares Casanueva

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. 

            My old copy of Laberinto de la Soledad

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