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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 3. Social Norms and Social Change: Class and Belonging in Critical Education Programs


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This chapter elaborates on the role of social dimensions of practical experience or social practice in critical situated education. To do so, it draws on research conducted at three school programs with distinct social milieus and student demographics in British Columbia, Canada: a global education course, a public Montessori program, and a private residential United World College. Differing in scope and populations served, the social contexts and relations of each site were central to the critical learning undertaken, both in constraining and generative ways. The chapter examines how socially embedded practices constrain educators’ and students’ abilities to engage with critical issues in systematic ways. In particular, the variations in class background at the three sites suggest how the material realities of students’ lives strongly influence their future life paths, including in relation to their abilities to enact critical and activist identities. However, social dimensions of experience are not only mechanisms of social control, but also of social transformation. This chapter also explores the generative role of the social in contributing to critical learning and action. We discuss the potential productivity of sociality, particularly peer influence, in supporting the formation and practice of new social norms, or, in other words, the pedagogical possibilities of relational solidarities. With a more nuanced and deeper understanding of both the limiting ← 37 | 38 → and productive influences of the social dimensions of critical learning, we...

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