A collaborative self-study of educators working towards anti-oppressive practice in higher education
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In writing this thesis I tried to create an ‘artwork’ in which theory, literature, narrative and art become interwoven to illuminate the lived experiences of educators working towards anti-oppressive practices in a higher education context. I used an illustrated narrative inspired by the memories and experiences of the participants (including myself) in order to create ‘portraits’ of educators working in this context. These portraits are presented as collages which then become part of a bigger narrative. This narrative explores the connections between educator identity and the issues arising in the broader South African higher educational landscape. I employed Kevin Kumashiro’s (2002) four conceptualisations of anti-oppressive education as a theoretical lens through which to read and discuss the stories. Often, when we talk about social justice we talk about social identities and constructed identities. But these fixed categories can reduce us to measurable and quantifiable units that function in set hierarchies which and can never be disrupted or troubled. Through my research I rather attempt to emphasise the complex and messy nature of educators’ experiences and emotions as they try to teach in anti-oppressive ways. This study is rooted in arts-based practice and experiments with ways in which this research methodology can inform social change. The use of art in the thesis is thus purposefully connected to a theme of anti-oppressive change as it engages not only with different ways of being, but also different ways of learning and knowing. The work is situated in a poststructuralist framework in which oppression is read as intersectional, situated and multiple. Art opens up new spaces for the researcher to explore the social context and educational landscape. The extension of self-study into anti-oppressive theory made it possible to explore the contextual realities through the ‘eyes’ of the participants. In this exploration I used a collaborative self-study to connect the theory to the experiences of the educator where it can open up an in-between space in which anti-oppressive change becomes possible. Art assisted me to challenge certain academic conventions of thesis writing, but it also helped me to make connections between theory and experience that would otherwise have been impossible. The methodology informed me theoretically as working towards anti-oppressive change also involves giving up some control so that we can learn from uncertainty and crisis in order to trouble existing knowledge. The implication being that as educators we cannot learn or be ‘told’ how to work towards anti-oppressive practice but have to build such knowledge through our experiences – and our creative engagement with these experiences. The portraits foreground educators as complex beings dealing with complex issues and resist the idea that there is a correct way to be or to teach. In this way, it troubles prescriptive recipes for anti-oppressive practice by looking at creative avenues of exploring one’s identity to become different. This research shows how we work in in-between spaces of uncertainty, discomfort and self-doubt, and how our experiences are disruptive, interrupted, and messy. We are troubled and haunted by our own identities as we try to move our experience into a new frame in which difference is possible.