Entanglements: Transculturality, Pedagogical, and Curricular Ponderings
In my work, I spend a lot of time reflecting on my pedagogy. I consider how the decisions that I make about the curriculum of my classroom affect my students and how my choices will influence the decisions that my students will make about their future students. My ponderings cause me to realize that all of the things that we do in our classrooms, our communities, our public, and our private spaces occur in contact zones. Clifford James (1997) evokes Louise Pratt’s definition of a contact zone. He explains that a contact zone is a “space in which peoples geographically and historically separated come into contact with each other and establish ongoing relations, usually involving conditions of coercion, radical inequality, and intractable conflict” (Clifford 1997, p.192). Contact zones have public pedagogies that are influenced by the ideas, cultures, and beliefs of the various individuals that exist within them. The educational theorist Gert Biesta asserts that public pedagogies are pragmatic and political. They act as educational interventions that are sanctioned by how we exist together in our shared public spaces, and the quality of that togetherness (Biesta 2012, p. 2). Contact zones are busy places that are propelled by the push of our desires, decisions, and the rhizomatic-like breaking and making of connections by those who consume space in the contact zone.
My point of inquiry regarding contact zones causes me to ask: 1) what is the quality of our being in contact zones; 2) how do our entangled bodies, subjectivities, and affects continue to exist in our continuously transforming, mid-Covid-19, ‘post-colonial’ world? How can we answer or respond to these questions? Perhaps we should slow things down and consider the movement of place by exploring the Cittàslow Movement? Perhaps the answers to these questions breathe within the examination of the curriculum of place and an interrogation of our entanglements. There are many possibilities, but I prefer the idea of developing a curriculum that responds to our need for transculturality. Juneja & Kravagna (2013) argue that transculturality is an evolving and transformative event that occurs when people, cultures, and objects interact, make, and break connections. The process of transculturality is not without its tensions. These tensions result from the movement and extended contact, becoming of lives, and entanglements that occur when different cultures and regions interact (Juneja & Kravagna 2013).
As I walk down Broadway, I am amongst people and their voices and their experiences. I can almost see myself turning in a 360-degree circle, just noticing how I am surrounded by all of the experiences that each person carries inside of them and my own. New York is a densely populated space. The interactions that occur between people daily, such as walking, bumping into a stranger, watching, communicating, touching, and listening, all leave behind affective scratches, which, according to Dernikos et.al. (2020 p. 4),
“Guides, dis/connects, excites, startles, interrupts, diverts, and reorients. The scratch contains many possibilities: It can leave a mark, scrape away, skit across the surface, wound, or tear open”.
All of our interactions have meanings, and some result in tensions. I locate myself within transculturality as a teacher educator and curriculum designer. My stances catalyze me to consider the affective entanglements that occur when my students and I interact with others within our local and global communities in everyday life. I recall a time in 2017, when I visited a museum in New York. I was drawn to the museum’s installation of Ukrainian Folk art. In previous years, I had acquired folk art in the form of beautiful pictures, knittings, and clothing. As I entered this museum, I felt the affective scratch of excitement. I greeted the museum attendant in Russian. She immediately asserted, “‘real Ukrainians’ speak Ukrainian”. And there it was… a huge transcultural and affective scratch. I was socially and politically re-orientated. I was thrown into the midst of the political rift. I, a woman of color, living in New York, with connections to a country that was almost 8,000 kilometers away, was immediately swept up into a transcultural moment. This transcultural event led to a creating and breaking of the connection between the museum attendant and myself. The museum as a contact zone threw me back to my initial inquiry. My interaction with the museum assistant was an example of two entangled bodies who had a chance meeting. I left this situation with certain understandings, affects, and emotions regarding how the museum assistant saw herself, her nation, and some of her requirements of nation building. When I left the museum, I did not leave the transcultural affective scratches at the place where they occurred. I carried them with me into my future social, educational, and political entanglements. These affective scatches interrupt my interactions with others, and they skid across the surfaces of consciousness as I try harder to understand the transcultural positioning of others.
Theory & Practice
When I think about the lines of flight that could lead us to respond to our entanglements with the tensions and intensities of transculturality, I immediately think of curriculum and pedagogy. The educational philosopher John Dewey (1974) asks us to consider the interaction between theory and practice. He contends that novice teachers should develop a psychological understanding of their students without the simultaneous responsibility of classroom management. This will enable the teacher to develop “insight into soul-action” and make decisions about the instruction the student needs. Initially, having the sole opportunity to learn about the student and their experiences would be more beneficial than simultaneously learning about the soul and the “control of bodies” (Dewey 1974, as cited by Archambault, pp.313-319). Dewey’s argument can be extended to the pedagogy of public space, since learning and teaching occur outside of traditional educational spaces. Considering who we are and how we consume shared public spaces will lead to deeper understandings in the process of transculturality. We should take time to obtain a deeper understanding of the identities, agencies, and thoughts of those we are entangled with. Our attempt to obtain understanding should have the goal of increasing our evolvement as transcultural beings.
Another line of flight that can help educators, curriculum designers, and communities respond to the variabilities of transculturality and transcultural tensions is the theory of ‘Currere’. Curriculum theorist William Pinar (2012) explains that Currere seeks to understand how academic study contributes to one’s life, and how the experiences of one’s life contribute to academic study. Currere also argues that we must understand how both of these are entangled in politics, society, and culture (Pinar 2012, p. 45). Currere offers a reflective and transformative opportunity that allows us to review our past, and to consider our future experiences. Currere has four stages: regressive, progressive, analytical, and synthetical. The regressive stage allows the individual to reconstruct the past. The progressive stage will allow consideration of the future. The future refers to what could take place in both positive and negative aspects. The analytical stage of Currere asks that individuals conduct a self-examination as a means to consider what curriculum is communicating. The synthetical stage is an opportunity for the individuals to seek understanding of the present (Pinar 2012, p. 47). Currere enables educators to consider how to implement the curriculum of transculturality as a learning experience and as complex discussions and discourses.
Chinyere Harris, M.Ed., M. Ed.
Doctoral Student at Teachers College, Columbia University
Biesta, G. (2012). Becoming public: Public pedagogy, citizenship and the public sphere. Social & Cultural Geography, 13 (7), 683–697.
Clifford, J. (1997). Routes: Travel and translation in the late twentieth century. Harvard University Press.
Dernikos, B.; Lesko, N.; McCall, S. D. & Niccolini, A. (2020). Feeling education. In Mapping the affective turn in education: Theory, research, and pedagogy (pp. 3-27). Routledge.
Dewey, J. (1974). The relation of theory to practice in education. In R. D. Archambault (Ed.), John Dewey on education: Selected writings (pp. 313-338). Chicago: University of Chicago. (Original work published 1904).
Juneja, M., & Kravagna, C. (2013). Understanding Transculturalism in Conversation. In Model House Research Group (Ed.), Transcultural Modernisms (pp. 22-33). Berlin: Sternberg Press.
Pinar, W. (2012). What is curriculum theory? New York: Routledge.