Critical Education and Sociomaterial Practice

Narration, Place, and the Social

by Marcia McKenzie (Author) Andrew Bieler (Author)
©2016 Textbook XVI, 184 Pages


Critical Education and Sociomaterial Practice presents a situated approach to learning that suggests the need for more explicit attention to sociomaterial practice in critical education. Specifically, it explores social, place and narrative dimensions of practical experience as they unfold in schools, in place-based learning, and teacher education contexts. Such an orientation to practice both links social and material conditions (social relations, other species, physical context, objects) to human consciousness and learning, and considers the relationship between such learning and broader cultural change. The core of the book is an examination of critical situated learning undertaken through three separate empirical studies, each of which we use to elaborate a particular domain or dimension of practical experience. In turning to the sociomaterial contexts of learning, the book also underscores how social and environmental issues are necessarily linked, such as in the production of food deserts in cities or in the pollution of the drinking water in Indigenous communities through oil development. More social movements globally are connecting the dots between sexism, heteronormativity, racism, colonization, White privilege, globalization, poverty, and climate justice, including with issues of land, territory and sovereignty, water, food, energy, and treatment and extinction of other species. As a result, categorizing some concerns as ‘social justice’ or ‘critical’ issues and others as ‘environmental,’ becomes increasingly untenable. The book thus suggests that more integrative and productive forms of critical education are needed to respond to these complex and pressing socio-ecological conditions.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise for Critical Education and Sociomaterial Practice
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Figures
  • Acknowledgments
  • Foreword by Rubén Gaztambide-Fernández
  • Chapter 1. Introducing Critique as Sociomaterial Practice
  • Chapter 2. Theorizing Practical Experience and Critical Situated Learning: The Social, Place, and Narration as Dimensions of Practice
  • Chapter 3. Social Norms and Social Change: Class and Belonging in Critical Education Programs
  • Chapter 4. Learning in Place: Wayfinding, Emplacement, and Creativity
  • Chapter 5. Narration as Assemblage: Storytelling and Performance with Digital Media
  • Chapter 6. Practice Makes Practice in Education: Pedagogy, Policy, and Research
  • Appendices
  • References
  • Index
  • Series index

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In drawing together studies over a 10-year period, we are indebted to many for their contributions to this book. We would like to acknowledge Treaty territories 6, 8, 10, as well as unceded territories, in the central prairie and boreal forest regions and on the west coast of Canada, which generated the people, places, and stories that contributed to this book. We are grateful to the research participants in the three studies included in the book, including youth, teachers, and teacher candidates, for your time and many contributions to the research and to our thinking about education.

We would also like to thank colleagues and graduate students who have participated in various aspects of the research and writing over the past decade, including Shannon Dyck, Jean Kayira, Vince Anderson, Scott Thompson, Karen McIver, Jeh Custerra, Marcel Petit, Clark Ferguson, Geordie Trifa, Aleyna May, Scott Mickelson, Jeff Elliot, Jen McRuer, Jaylene Murray, Nicola Chopin, and the graduate students of the Sustainability Education Research Institute. We would also like to acknowledge organizational collaborators on the Digital Media Project, including Core Neighbourhood Youth Co-op (CNYC), the Open Door Society, Paved Arts, CRU Wellness, the La Loche Friendship Centre, and the Committee for Future Generations. We are grateful for the editing work of Dave Mitchell on portions of the manuscript, series ← ix | x → editors Connie Russell and Justin Dillon, and editor Chris Myers and production editor Sophie Appel at Peter Lang. Thank you to Monique Blom and Alan Reid for providing the beautiful book cover images, and to Rubén Gaztambide-Fernández for contributing the powerful foreword.

We would also like to acknowledge colleagues and mentors who have informed the thinking and research in this book, including Janine Marchessault, Warren Crichlow, Deborah Barndt, Chloë Brushwood Rose, Anne MacLennan, Stefan Kipfer, Jennifer Foster, Heesoon Bai, David Greenwood, Jo-Anne Dillabough, Alan Reid, Hamish Ross, and Eve Tuck. Finally, without the ongoing daily support of family, friends, and colleagues, our work would not be possible. Our deep gratitude to our families and to Lisa Folkerson, Tyler Churchward-Venne, Will Gilbert, Ryan Clement, Sara Udow, Lindsey Vodarek, Joseph Henderson, Sarah Riggs Stapleton, Julia Ostertag, Monique Blom, Sarah Buhler, Charlie Clark, Lise Kossick-Kouri, Janet McVittie, Dianne Miller, Alan Reid, Anna Ringstrom, Jim Siemens, Ellen Quigley, and Alex Wilson.

← x | xi →


Rubén Gaztambide-Fernández

To be truly radical is to make hope possible, rather than despair convincing.

Raymond Williams (1989, p. 118)

We live in times that are full of both hope and despair. Economic inequality has never been so extreme or had such devastating consequences on planetary life. Neoliberal economic policies have created conditions that encourage unprecedented capital accumulation while discouraging any and all mechanisms for supporting sustainable social and environmental well-being. As capital accumulates, the internal contradictions of capitalism become magnified, displacing more and more people, spurring more environmental collapse, and promoting more violence. This violence is not simply over economic inequality—the basic premise of capitalism—but also over sovereignty and the rights of Indigenous people; racism and new (sometimes invisible) forms of race-based violence; xenophobia and shifting flows of human migration; sexism and continued violence against women and gender non-conforming people; and over the very definition of what it means to be an able-bodied “human being.” For most living things on the planet we call Earth, these conditions spell despair. ← xi | xii →

At the same time, global political movements have never been so alive and interconnected. The networks of capital have also created conditions for solidary relations across continents. Indigenous peoples in many parts of the world are now interconnected in ways that allow activists to share experiences, resources, and support struggles over land in many parts of the world. Various groups like the Indigenous Environmental Network, for example, support the work of communities and organizations across the lands known as the Abya-Yala, Turtle Island, Cemanahuac, or the Americas, and globally. They bring together the struggles of the Beaver Lake Cree Nation against Canadian oil extraction, the tribes of Western Shoshone and Paiute against nuclear waste in the sacred Yucca mountain, and the Maya-Mam people against the land degradation caused by gold mining in Guatemala. At the same time, the kind of unprecedented cultural exchange taking place over the internet allows people of all ages to extend forms of cultural resistance all over the world. While hip hop is perhaps one of the most recognizable cultural forms currently spreading beyond national borders, its local manifestations are opening doors for modes of cultural resistance that even the walloping force of capitalism cannot swallow or undo. The transnational circuits of capital are also becoming the routes of cultural exchange and resistance.

In light of the massive global shifts that began with the project of European colonization and that are shaping contemporary society and creating the conditions for both environmental and human catastrophe, hope is indeed a radical position. Yet the conviction that things can be otherwise is precisely what mobilizes poets in Palestine, dancers in Rio de Janeiro, street actors in Puerto Rico, and muralists in Los Angeles. It is what brings together the people of Mauna Kea and the Iroquois, the Williche and the Métis. The question for educators around the world is what, under such contradictory conditions, is to be done. For those of us committed to the idea that education should be fundamentally about justice, these conditions present both a set of challenges as well as new possibilities. Yet both the challenges and the possibilities demand that we reconsider the terms by which we understand what precisely are the aims of and the conditions for a critical education.

While advocates of critical approaches to education have insisted that a critical pedagogy is the necessary tool for an education that promotes hope and counters despair, critics have pointed out how its underlying rationalism and its avoidance of desire, affect, and what Butler (1997) calls the “psychic life of power” undermine the promises of a critical education. In some ways, a critical education has never been so necessary, and yet educators committed ← xii | xiii → to a critical pedagogy must confront the dilemmas that undermine the very premises of what it means to engage teaching and learning through a critical posture. These dilemmas include the ways in which critical educators tend to position themselves—sometimes implicitly—as having achieved or at least nearing a state of critical consciousness that they assume students should also approximate; ‘think like me, and you shall become enlightened,’ seems to be the assumption. This state of “conscientization,” to use a classic Freirean term, involves a rationalization of power that bypasses the complex ways in which desires, emotions, and intersecting dynamics of power shape our relationships to others as well as to knowledge itself.

Critical educators have also been criticized for their inability to conceptualize the dynamic nature of identification processes, the complexity of intersectional categories of oppression, the centrality of spirituality and the nature of struggles over land and sovereignty among Indigenous people. While some scholars and educators have attempted to reinvigorate critical education through more nuanced and dynamic understandings of what it means to develop a critical view of society and social justice, this work remains largely theoretical and tends to lack substantial engagement with lived experience. Moreover, critical educators have been unable to move past a persistent humanism that insists on clear boundaries between the natural world, non-human animals, and human beings. Insisting on these boundaries, as the present book suggests and new materialist and posthumanist scholars have suggested in recent years, presents a central limitation for current approaches to critical education.

In their provocative and insightful work, Marcia McKenzie and Andrew Bieler offer us a way of rethinking critical education that is grounded on the experiences of teachers and learners in the context of different formal and informal educational projects committed to social justice. Based on their extensive experience in three different research projects, McKenzie and Bieler argue that a critical education must attend to everyday practical experiences, not only as a focus of critique, but also as constituting learning itself. At face value, this may seem like an obvious, perhaps simplistic argument. Yet McKenzie and Bieler show that critical educators have failed to explicitly address the “everyday practices and understandings bound up in the very social structures and norms that critical forms of education seek to challenge” (p. 1). Central to how the authors seek to make everyday experience more explicit in and central to critical education projects is a sociomaterial understanding of experience as well as an approach to critique as sociomaterial practice. ← xiii | xiv →


XVI, 184
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2016 (February)
Sociomaterial Critic social justice
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2016. XVI, 184 pp.

Biographical notes

Marcia McKenzie (Author) Andrew Bieler (Author)

Marcia McKenzie is an Associate Professor in the Department of Educational Foundations and Director of the Sustainability Education Research Institute at the University of Saskatchewan, Canada (www.seri.usask.ca). She is Principal Investigator of the Sustainability and Education Policy Network (www.sepn.ca) and the Digital Media Project: Youth Making Place; and co-author of Place in Research: Theory, Methodology, and Methods (2015) and co-editor of Fields of Green: Restorying Culture, Environment, and Education (2009). Andrew Bieler completed his PhD at York University, examining the role of arts-sciences collaborations in the development of public pedagogy about climate change. Currently, he is a Postdoctoral Fellow with the Sustainability and Education Policy Network in the College of Education, University of Saskatchewan, Canada.


Title: Critical Education and Sociomaterial Practice
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