Education as the Practice of Freedom? Troubling spaces in the Neoliberal University

Erin Sanders-McDonagh and Carole Davis (Middlesex University) are organizing a special section of the journal Critical Studies in Education on radical pedagogy, emancipatory politics, and neoliberal higher education.

Their CFP echoes a session they convened for the 2016 AAG meeting in San Francisco, and resonates very clearly with themes in the session I organized with Sutapa Chattopadhyay at the same conference.

The deadline for abstracts is approaching quickly — June 24, 2016.


Call for Papers: Special Section in Critical Studies in Education

Expected publication date: 2019

Special Section Title: Education as the Practice of Freedom? : Troubling spaces in the Neoliberal University

Editors: Erin Sanders-McDonagh and Carole Davis

In the contemporary Neoliberal University, and in direct conflict with transformative curriculums and pedagogies that require students to engage with difficult subjects or challenging issues, professors are being increasingly pushed towards sanitizing curricula as part of broader managerial strategies aimed at improving satisfaction ratings and corresponding enrolment figures in order to stay competitive in the higher education market. There is a concern amongst many academics that these managerial strategies will result in the curtailment of academic freedom, as administrators increasingly police classrooms to ensure that ‘safe spaces’ are being created. In some cases this has resulted in professors in the US and UK being reprimanded or even fired for not creating a safe enough classroom. Additionally, as a result of the increased administrative monitoring, key topics that we can frame as highly provocative (e.g. pornography, FGM, abortion, terrorism), may be watered down, if not left out of the curriculum altogether. Indeed, there is a rise in reports of professors being asked by administrators to provide ‘trigger warnings’ when covering sensitive topics, or to avoid certain topics altogether. However, discussing difficult topics requires some degree of risk and discomfort – engaged pedagogic approaches encourage debate and disagreement and it often  through these uncomfortable emotions that transformation and meaningful learning takes place.

Inspired by the works of Paulo Friere and bell hooks, who provide radical and engaged approaches that challenge the status quo and seek to empower and transform students – this special section invites papers that consider the ways in which the curtailment of academic freedom and the increasing management of ‘safe spaces’ are impacting on teaching practices, student engagement and learning experiences for educators within Higher Education.  We are interested in papers that consider how educators are practically managing teaching ‘difficult’ topics within the Neoliberal University, and in exploring student reactions to different pedagogic approaches in different contexts.

We invite 300-word abstracts that engage with a variety of topics, both theoretical and empirically-focussed. Possible questions for exploration might include, but are certainly not limited to, the following:

  1.  To what extent does the Neoliberal University allow for spaces of transgression in relation to teaching ‘difficult’ subjects or using ‘transgressive’ pedagogies (e.g. radical/critical/feminist)?
  2. Can students in the Neoliberal University still be empowered and inspired? How do critical/feminist/intersectional pedagogic approaches in classroom spaces impact student experiences in the Neoliberal University?
  3. What challenges do educators face when teaching on topics that might cause tension for students (e.g. issues related to sex/sexuality, race, religion, femininities/masculinities – or ‘hot topics’ such as abortion, sex work, pornography, terrorism)?
  4. What impact does the increased policing and monitoring of learning environments have on students or educators?
  5. How do educators create new spaces to introduce ‘difficult’ ideas? (e.g. social media platforms– can social media or online platforms offer alternative ways of engaging students around ‘difficult issues’?
  6. Are there modes of assessment or specific teaching/pedagogic tools that can be used to facilitate more transformative learning?

Please submit abstracts to by the 24th of June.

About nicholasjoncrane

Associate Professor of Geography and International Studies at the University of Wyoming
This entry was posted in action-research, Conferences, Higher Education, Teaching, University service. Bookmark the permalink.

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