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Critical Education and Sociomaterial Practice

Narration, Place, and the Social


Marcia McKenzie and Andrew Bieler

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.
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Chapter 1. Introducing Critique as Sociomaterial Practice


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Karl Marx wrote in 1845 that we are what we do: “As individuals express their life, so they are. What they are, therefore, coincides with their production, both with what they produce and with how they produce. The nature of individuals thus depends on the material conditions determining their production” (1845/2004, p. 42; see also Marx, 1845/1994). In other words, Marx suggested that our practices, and in particular, forms of labour and associated modes of production, shape us as humans. Critical education is familiar with focusing on such practices as objects of critique, for example, in considering how institutionalized practices of schooling structure individualized conditions of racism. However, critical education itself also involves practices that do things to students, and thus far these processes have received far less examination.

In this book we suggest that common conceptualizations of critical education—i.e., as deconstructive mental activity most often occurring in classrooms with a focus on individual learning—implicitly include everyday practices and understandings bound up in the very social structures and norms that critical forms of education seek to challenge. Rather than only considering practices as objects of critique, this book advocates for also explicitly attending to everyday practical experience in the generative processes of critical ← 1 | 2 → education. In addressing the role of practice in learning more intentionally, the book elaborates a critical situated approach to teaching and learning.

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