Susan Robertson and Mario Novelli
2022 in Review
As the year draws to a close, I’ve invited Susan Robertson and Mario Novelli to reflect on the past 12 months. What were the big events in 2022 and how might they impact the field of comparative and international education? We discuss a range of issues from protests to conflict to elections. We even touch on a few existential issues. I hope you enjoy the conversation and wish you a happy and safe new year.
Mario Novelli is professor in the political economy of education at the University of Sussex. Susan Robertson is a professor of sociology of education. They co-edit the journal Globalisation, Societies and Education.
Citation: Robertson, Susan, Novelli, Mario, interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 294, podcast audio, December 26, 2022.https://freshedpodcast.com/2022inreview/
Will Brehm 1:09
Susan Robertson and Mario Novelli, welcome back to FreshEd.
Susan Robertson 1:43
Thank you, Will. Lovely to be back.
Mario Novelli 1:45
Yeah. Thanks, Will.
Will Brehm 1:46
And I guess, happy end of 2022. I don’t know about you, but I am kind of excited that this year is coming to a close. What a year it’s been! So, to jump into it, I’ve been thinking about how to reflect on the year in education sort of broadly defined. And I guess the thing that struck me first was just how much unrest and sort of protests there were around the world from Sudan to China today, to Iran, it just seemed like protest was a constant in 2022. So, I guess, how do you see protest during this past year? Like, what does it mean, for so much protests to be happening?
Susan Robertson 2:27
In many senses, I think protest is a really good thing. At the same time, let us be very clear, people are risking their lives. If we think of what’s going on in Russia and the protests that have been taking place there. Protests also that were taking place as the elections were actually going on in Brazil. So, basically, I think protest actually does signal the health and sort of even a tiny, what would you say, layering of democracy, potentially, where people kind of feel that their voices are so needed. And maybe also let us add in the climate change protests; young people turning up to Egypt and so on. But it does say something about a great unsettling in the world, as Paul James and Manfred Steger actually describe it, that actually the world itself is not well with itself. And I mean by that the societies around the world. We can come to the climate change and the planet itself. But yes, a very unsettled set of politics. And it’s something that we need to spend some time thinking about, the issue of protest.
Will Brehm 3:35
Mario, how do you see protest in this past year?
Mario Novelli 3:37
I mean, stepping back a bit from the protest, and thinking about the drivers of that I think it’s important. It seems to me that we’re living in a real period of crisis that manifests itself in different ways: inability to feed whole populations, massive inequality, widespread injustices based on race, gender, class. And so, I think that the protests are popping up in different places in different ways but something about the kind of legacies of COVID that, in a sense, many governments stepped in during COVID borrowed money. And now we’re in this spiraling crisis of balance of payments, deficits and a real feeling that the only solution is austerity. And, of course, many people have no space in their daily income for austerity and more cuts. So, that’s leading to protests around the world. And as many authors have talked about, it’s this kind of emergent separation between capitalism and democracy and how that manifests itself. And I think you can see the clamors for freedom in different dimensions. I mean, I think the Iran protests are really important. The kind of courage of the women and men that are raising their head in this period. I think it’s really, really important. And it just shows you the kind of power of the human spirit. That people will resist. And they’ll resist in multiple ways. But sadly, the powers of repression are also extremely strong. So, let’s see what happens as we move forward.
Will Brehm 5:14
What do you think the protests that we see worldwide and the different drivers that are causing it as Mario was beginning to say, and issues around democracy as Susan brought up; what does this have to say about comparative and international education? Or what can comparative international education contribute to helping understand what’s going on today in terms of protests?
Susan Robertson 5:38
So, what are we doing when we’re comparing and we’re looking at what’s going on around the world? My sense is that we might be comparing, for instance, how different governments actually fared with how they managed COVID, for instance. Certainly, in the UK, huge amounts of money was actually siphoned off into private pockets. And yet, at the same time, then people actually paying the price. I mean, very large numbers of people who actually even hold down jobs, find themselves actually having to go off to food banks. At the same time, if you look at what’s going on in schools, schools are actually having to worry about rapidly rising fuel costs, rapidly rising food costs, where you might have actually had feeding programs for children, lunch programs, even breakfast programs, even those are becoming extremely expensive. And so, I think there’s something important about what comparative international education could do around thinking about when we see these major crises – and, on the one hand, a crisis of capitalism, on the other hand, the pandemic, and I think they are two different kinds of crises – how robust their systems are for redistribution, how robust their systems are for actually just making sure some basic forms of corruption are actually not happening in ways in which it kind of undermines infrastructures and that kind of thing. I’d really like to see a whole series of panels that actually look at the kind of macro political, economic, and cultural dynamics and the kind of state structures that might well have mediated and maybe they’re kind of the qualities of our civil societies in ways in which they’re able to manage their way through these more fundamental crises without actually plummeting those who already kind of confronted the crisis with even, as Mario said, even further kind of austerity. I’m not sure what you think about those thoughts, Mario, but education, by definition, because it’s a public good is so dependent on public resources. And when those public resources are not available, let’s take people have got private resources. But those public resources are there for individuals who actually are incredibly dependent on the public purse. And when the public purse actually has been wasted in many cases, then we’re actually facing a real crisis of the social contract.
Mario Novelli 5:47
Oh, yes, absolutely. And I think – just pulling off that, Susan – I think that on the one hand, understanding the uneven geography of these processes, I think is important for us. Understanding the drivers and what is common about some of these issues. So, you know, we’ve talked about austerity, and post-COVID debt, and rising inequality and thinking about those but also recognizing, or pushing through in our field, a recognition of the diversity of experience and not projecting out from one particular Northern experience of these things. I think, we think about comparative education, and its, let’s say, colonial and neo-imperial history, and its Westocentric kind of roots, I think it’s important that we push for a much more diverse ecology of knowledges that we bring into the field. And I think that’s a challenge. But I think, a very necessary challenge. And I do feel like we’re entering a period of much more fragmented global governance, and it makes it much more important to capture that diversity in our field. And as editors of journals, as presidents of societies, we need to make sure that those voices are heard and in a range of ways.
Will Brehm 8:13
I often think about, with protest, I think about Aziz Choudry’s work on sort of how protest is quite educative. These are pedagogical spaces of education that exist and can be studied and learned and thinking about what the archive of the protest is, and how you can go back and sort of study these historically, but also, of course, in the contemporary moment. And I reflect on my own experiences being on picket lines in higher education in the United Kingdom, pretty much every year since I moved here three years ago. And they are so educative. I learn so much from my colleagues on the picket line, and from the students that join and often it’s some of the best moments of my time in higher education, is on the picket line learning from each other.
Mario Novelli 10:23
And that forces us then to resist the kind of collapsing of education and schooling and recognizing that education is so much more than that. And boasts, education takes place through protests, through social movements. And also, education takes place through the media and all of those processes as well. So, it’s a kind of broadening out, as well as our conceptualization of education it requires. And then also recognizing that knowledge does not just exist inside universities, or think tanks, but exists with people facing challenges in their lives and struggling against those. Often, they have the best sense of what is the reality of our societies. That’s a very important thing. And you know, I’ve been working the last two years on tracing the histories of four movements in four different countries precisely that -recognizing that protest bursts onto the scene but actually, behind that is what Aziz would say is the daily grunt labor of activists organizing, building consciousness, building communities, bringing people together, which then later on appear spontaneous, but is anything but spontaneous.
Susan Robertson 11:43
Can I come in there? I just also give it a little bit of history. Recently, I came here – I’m currently broadcasting from Australia – and I was invited to give the annual Thesis Eleven lecture, it’s a radical sociological journal. And toward the end, thinking about what would it actually mean? So, Thesis 11 itself for Marx – 1845, he wrote, this – makes the really strong kind of statement in thesis 11 itself. And there’s 11 of these around the importance – not just to think philosophically, but actually to act politically. But it’s also important to look at what he describes as what he says in thesis three. So, we might make our own histories in which case, we build our own institutions, in which case, if we build institutions, we can unbuild those institutions. But in the second part of thesis three, essentially, it’s we need somehow to find a kind of almost revolutionary strategy. So, essentially, for Marx, it would be two kinds of education: one that more or less reproduces, or sort of incremental kinds of changes. And the other, which is a much more radical rupturing of the kinds of paradigms, and I think that plays very, very nicely into the moment that we’re in, fundamentally. Where, in fact, we need a radical new paradigm, not incremental. And then let me just go forward. And I’ve been reading quite a bit of Rosa Luxemburg, and so to do this history lesson, we actually, we can learn -So, Rosa’s is writing on the eve of the beginning of the First World War. And if you read it now, and you’re thinking about Ukraine, you could swear, actually, that she’s writing in the contemporary moment. And what she’s struggling constantly with is within the party itself, about an evolutionary versus a revolutionary kind of strategy. But the revolutionary strategy has to – and this takes us to really what you asked about – it has to be the wider social movement, and you learn in the movement. You learn as part of that social movement. And I think that’s where, absolute hats off to the young people who’ve been out campaigning and organizing, and so on. Many of those have been striking in the UK, or we could go to Iran, and that kind of thing. So, for Rosa, that’s actually where you do learn politics. And that’s actually the educative, the more radical revolutionary educative kind of space. Because essentially, and particularly if it’s connected across nation-state boundaries that you see this as part of a much, much kind of wider movement. And I think a good society, if it’s able to make a contribution actually plays down the boundaries around each of these societies because they are a nation-state bound in many senses, and actually sees their capacity to connect voices and politics and concerns across a wide range of different kinds of spaces, places, and politics.
Will Brehm 14:52
I find a lot of meaning in that analysis. But then when I think about 2022 and today, I don’t see a lot of these connections being made across nation-states from that sort of revolutionary protest point. But I do see a lot of connections being made by sort of far-right groups, that they’re sort of creating this far-right internationale. And that, to me, is this really sad moment to live through in a way. You know, it’s not what Rosa Luxemburg was talking about in the lead up to World War One, or after World War One.
Susan Robertson 15:26
And Saskia Sassen, she reflects on this. She says, How is it that in fact, actually, when you’re looking at the Chiapas and the social movements and the indigenous movements in Mexico, but actually, if you looked at who got connected quickly? Who advanced their agendas and interest really quickly? It was finance capital. And her comment when she starts getting into a series of books that she puts out that included territory authority rights is that we kind of failed to learn capitalism, and the right have been almost kind of at one level counterhegemonic forces. I mean, we actually by assuming that the counter hegemonic always lies with the left, we make some really poor assumptions, because it can come from the left and the right in that sense. Who says, let’s say the right are not doing so-called Critical Theory? Of course, they actually are. They’re unpicking, they’re unpacking, their unraveling, sets of arrangements that might have actually secured some forms of redistribution, to actually suit their own ends. And they’ve done it, and this is what we’ve got. And so, in a way, can we dare say this, we actually have to learn from the right, at least in terms of strategy.
Will Brehm 16:41
Would you agree, Mario?
Mario Novelli 16:42
You know, I cut my spurs, if you like, in the anti-globalization movement at the turn of the millennium, Aziz too. That’s when I first had contact with Aziz Choudry, and of course, there was that period where there was a whole range of global protests, and you really felt like you were in a movement that was talking to each other. And post-911, all that fragmented in a whole range of ways, after the failure to stop the war in Iraq and a kind of rise of localism. I think we still have that legacy of. But I kind of see some signs of a re-emergence of that – through the push for a global Green New Deal, the protests in Egypt recently over the COP meeting – that I think give some hope of a coherent, left understanding of the relationship between capitalism, inequality, resource extraction, and the climate change. And so, let’s see how that develops. But yeah, definitely the communication is important across borders. And communication is also important within borders. Thinking about those movements that have been successful in recent years, is they’ve managed to cross identity domains, managed to Turkey, with the HDP, managed to link Kurdish movement, women’s organizations, gay movements, ethnic group together, Colombia recent election, similar Pacto Historico, which brought together Black communities, women’s organizations, Indigenous groups. So, there is a need to both talk beyond borders but also re-articulate relationships between protesting movements within borders. And I think that has been a challenge. That’s a real challenge in many parts of the world because there is a lot of isolation within particular movements. But I think that we’ve already touched on some movements. For example, in Iran, which started and looked like it was about gender and women, and actually emerges as a much broader protest supported by men and women against theocracy and authoritarian rule and oppression and raising issues of Kurdish autonomy and those kinds of areas. So, I think that that dialogue is happening and does emerge through struggles. So, like you were saying earlier that people learn through the struggle, who are their allies, who are their enemies, how to build strategy.
Will Brehm 19:23
It would be great if some of these broad coalitions can definitely be strengthened into 2023. I’d like to just shift focus a little bit. You know, another thing that really, I guess, shocked me in 2022 was sort of the level of violence that just sort of seemed worldwide from the COVID deaths that are still with us. Still a huge number of people dying in 2022, from the wars in Yemen and Ethiopia, and of course in Ukraine, from the mass shootings in sometimes in schools, mostly in the USA, to sort of high-level assassinations that sort of shocked, at least me. You know, I wasn’t ready for political figures to be assassinated. And so, it was a shocking sort of violent year in a way. And I guess, the question is, what does this say about comparative education? Or what can comparative education do to try and understand some of this violence and this conflict that seems so present this year?
Susan Robertson 20:29
I’ve just read a really, really interesting analysis of neoliberalism in Theory, Culture and Society, but particularly focused on Hayek and a re-reading of many of Hayek’s kind of texts. And perhaps we don’t know, some of this. And I wouldn’t want to also blame it all on Hayek either. But nevertheless, this idea for Hayek, actually, he was very Darwinian, as we know: it’s the fittest, the most productive that are actually going to survive. Optimistic cruelty is the way in which that’s kind of being framed. And that, in fact, actually cruelty, humiliation, those kinds of embodiments of shame in relation to cruelty and things like that. It’s argued that looking at actually some of the original texts of Hayek, that’s actually the writing of Hayek. So, one of the things we might actually say, and it doesn’t apply to all parts of the world, that certainly there’s a dominant ideology, where in that dominant ideology, neoliberalism, that in fact, actually almost part of the DNA of a Hayekian version of neoliberalism. I think, then you could probably go to Russia, and it would seem to me a kind of nostalgia for an old kind of empire, again, potentially linked to notions of humiliation, as well to do with long standing issues in and around for Russia, for example, NATO and its encroachment onto what Russia saw as its kind of space and sphere of interest and that kind of thing. Will Davies writes a lot around what he calls “nervous states”, and he would say that, in fact, actually, alongside this very pernicious hyper individualism, entrepreneurship and so on, what you actually get is the alter ego of that, is essentially kind of a high level of a sense of self-doubt, resentment, vulnerability. I mean, those two things kind of go together. Now, I’ve made it sound too simple because of course, neoliberalism doesn’t look the same everywhere and all the world is not actually governed through those kinds of ideological projects. But there is something about the way in which we’ve become so much more cruel.
Mario Novelli 22:49
I agree that I think the history of capitalism is also a violent process from creative destruction, accumulation by dispossession, all of those kinds of things, of course, are violent the creation of nation states. But with a more kind of presentist, or let’s say the last few decades, I do think that something happened, post-911 to do real damage to the idea of an international rule-based world. That the West lost its moral authority in Abu Ghraib, in black sites around the world where torture was widespread, disappearances, abductions, the killing of 1000’s of people in Iraq and Afghanistan that, in a sense, sent a signal to everyone else that the gloves are off, and whatever you want to do -and, you know, I think that there is a chain there that leads to state assassinations, willful interventions, rise of authoritarianism in different parts of the world, breaking down issues around democracy and those kinds of things, which may be a historical cycle because we’ve been through these pendulum kind of shifts from democracy to authoritarianism, think Latin America in the 70s and 80s. But nevertheless, I do think there is something about the kind of loss of moral authority of the West post-911 that bears some responsibility for these things. Not all responsibility. And I don’t want to kind of rant on as a kind of rabid anti-imperialist that only sees violence in our own societies but sometime those connections get lost. And it’s the brutal Putin or the rogue actor there but there is a sense that things are breaking down and we created the conditions for that breakdown.
Will Brehm 24:58
It’s sort of like in International Relations, they often talk about the post-911 is sort of creating this moment of perpetual war. And I think it is good to sort of recognize that history and that continuity, even in a year like 2022, which might have seemed even more violent, in a way, or violent in ways beyond just quote, unquote, war. Bringing up war and issues of Ukraine, and some of the other wars that, of course, have been going on like in Yemen and Ethiopia, it does make me think – I’ve had a few conversations this year with people in comparative education about the anti-war movement. And I guess this kind of links back to this notion of protests and building coalitions both within a nation state but across nation state boundaries. And I guess the question is, to what extent does comparative education sort of contribute to anti-war movements, if at all, and, you know, how do we understand the anti-war movement that exists today? Is it fit for purpose?
Mario Novelli 25:57
Let’s start with Ukraine because in a sense, that seems to have been the story of this year. I think if we reflect on this process, it’s incredibly difficult to talk about two sides of a story in Ukraine. And I think what we’ve seen over the last months is the effect of that in keeping silent questions to be raised about the fact that we don’t have to support Putin to recognize the role of NATO in creating the conditions under which Putin invaded. And for me, this reflects a broader problem, which is also in our broader field of a kind of binary thinking. If we support the Palestinians, we must be anti-Semitic. We can’t kind of move forward if we can’t hold two things in our minds at the same time. And it’s extremely difficult to build an anti-war movement in this country at the moment because this is a state-led project. The war in Ukraine is a state-led project for the UK. And it’s very, very difficult to find spaces to build opposition to that. And it’s very difficult to talk about it. And I’ve done that myself in my own university and felt quite isolated. So, I think that there is a challenge for us. It will come. People will start to raise these issues but at the moment, it reflects the fact that it’s easy to be critical of human rights, and violations and violence, when your own state is of the same opinion. When your own state is of a different opinion, then you start to have these challenges. And that’s the case we’re in, I think, with the whole fallout from the Ukraine conflict is there’s not too much space for debate without being accused of being part of Russian state media, as you get labeled in Twitter, if you raise any issues.
Susan Robertson 28:04
But I mean, it is, then Will, come back to your question that you asked is “What does this all mean for comparative and international education”? And I guess one question, I think is, do we actually have the kind of tools that we need to talk about these complex kinds of issues? Do we actually have the protections in our institutions to enable us to talk about these kinds of issues? Certainly, it’s a bit touch and go in the UK, given the so-called free speech, and the ways in which this sort of monitoring of the kinds of conversations that are taking place on campus and so on. So, I think there’s two elements to what I’ve just put out there. One, essentially, do we actually look at the curriculum and our pedagogy and ask questions about global, comparative international education studies and how fit for purpose, they actually are to really tackle these complex kinds of issues in our conversations to learn to listen to multiplicities. And yet, on the other hand, you know, being also incredibly mindful of the changed circumstances that let’s say institutions of higher learning, universities, and Turkey would be a good example, Mario. You’re not free to talk at all about many of these issues. I imagine it would be Hong Kong, another example, Iran, another example, many of the university students were actually being rounded up in huge numbers. And I’m sure we could go to some of the universities in Russia, same. So, the conditions for knowledge production are actually at the moment, critical radical knowledge production, or even just considering complexities of issues are all under a lot of pressure.
Mario Novelli 29:49
One book that I’ve been really influenced by over the last year, Michael Rothberg Implicated Subjects: Beyond Victims and Perpetrators, which Michael Rothberg is a Professor of Holocaust Studies in the US. And essentially, the book revolves around trying to understand the way that there is a lot of binary thinking around, who are the victims and who are the perpetrators. And he tries to open that up and talk about the way that we are implicated in a range of human rights violations, including poverty and inequality, and that we need to open up that discussion. And I think all of this precisely circulates around that is to say, in a sense, to what extent is comparative education, or the university implicated in those violations that are taking place? And sometimes our silence is implication, our failure to speak out and to challenge injustice. What’s it like to be a Russian in the UK now? Do we care about that? What’s it like to be a young Russian around the world? I think we need to raise those issues, and to start to say, who are we working for? What is the greater purpose? How are we implicated and try to address that. And I think that the concept of the implicated subject is helpful because it does allow for a dialogue, a space to recognize that we’re not all equally implicated. But let’s just open up that discussion and try to understand issues around privilege, issues around power and inequality that emanate from that. And certainly, universities are one space of import implication in a whole range of issues.
Will Brehm 31:34
I think for comparative education, like you said, really getting away from this binary thinking would be really helpful and being able to hold tension and contradiction, and live with it, and try and understand it seems to be a really important part of the academic project in a way. It’s something that knowledge production should work towards. So, I do want to move to things that perhaps are less heavy and more hopeful because 2022, of course, was not all dire. And I think the talk on protest actually does sort of indicate that there’s a lot of really interesting spaces, helpful spaces that do exist. But I actually want to ask you, what were you hopeful about in 2022? Are there any examples or instances that just sort of made you think differently, or, in new ways, maybe sort of understood the world differently because of something that happened in 2022?
Susan Robertson 31:48
Maybe – Mario and Will – the big thing that happened is that, in fact, actually, for many of us, I know the death rates with COVID, but you know, now there are certain drugs that you can take. Many of us have just gone back to our daily life and our daily business. It’s harder to get some individuals back into workplaces and so on. But nevertheless, what an astonishing feat of science, that is, if we want to really think of it. That there was as it all started, a sense that this might be two to three years. And yet, essentially, not only are they able to deal with some of the variations and that kind of thing, and of course, not all the world has actually been lucky enough to get top-up jabs and that kind of thing. But to some extent, I know the world’s not come back to where it used to be, and nor should it, actually because people are traveling again, but my understanding is that, in fact, actually many, many fewer travels. We’re learning to use the internet much more for things like meetings and, and things like that. Now, it seems to me that we do have to actually celebrate some of that, you know. I don’t think we thought at the beginning of 2020, it would happen that quickly. And that’s a shear marvel. Now, I know many companies have benefited hugely from the kind of manufacturing of the vaccines and things like that. And we need to do an awful lot more in terms of redistribution of the vaccines and things like that. But I want to hold on to that as a very hopeful moment.
Mario Novelli 34:19
I’ll move continents and say that Colombian elections last summer, I think, were personally a very important thing for me because now I’ve been working with organizations and movements for the last two decades in Colombia. And in the turn of the millennium – late 1990s – I was working with a British organization War on Want, which I’m now a trustee of, and we raise funds to start a diploma in human rights in the southwest of Colombia. And in the third cohort of that program, there was a young Black single mother who represented The Black Communities’ Process, one of the Colombian social movements, and she is now the Vice President of Colombia, Francia Márquez. And for me that 20-year journey is an example of what we began this talk with: the power of popular education. It’s not just about her, it’s about the movements that are behind that process. It’s about the coming together in that diploma and other spaces in Colombia, of different movements, and building commonalities, building understandings, recognizing difference but also building kind of common objectives that came to fruition in that process. And for those people that don’t know anything about Colombia, Colombia has never had a left-wing government in its history. So, this is a huge event that, for me, gave amazing optimism. It continues to inspire me. And I think that there is something that is signaled by that which is happening in a range of different parts of the world, which I think, potentially, is precisely that catalyst that we were talking about. To build a new type of internationalism that respects diversity, understands variegated histories but doesn’t get lost in particularities and manages to hold on to a common humanity. And I think that’s a really, really important and hopeful thing for me.
Susan Robertson 36:30
I was just going to say – and for sure, yes, Lula wins by a kind of a tiny margin. But that’s incredibly important that, in fact, actually the Chilean elections that were held, as we know, but essentially, they were voting on the Constitution. They couldn’t land a new constitution. And in a way, that’s not surprising. If you’ve got privilege, and so on, you’re not going to give up that so easily. So, that’s going to be a fight and a battle. But I do want to actually say too that, I was last elected President of the Comparative International Education Society and be hosting the 2024 conference, and the theme will be, “The Power of Protest”. And for the organizing committee -for us – it will be really, really important to try and bring into the conversation the kinds of individuals and movements and so on that were involved as both school children into universities now into parliament, and Chile, and so on. But actually, having encounters with – and these are not overnight things. These were if, you think of Chile, I mean, 2006, actually, the Chilean so-called “penguins” start getting organized and almost take control of their schools, these school kids. So, I mean, there’s a bit of a long march here, but actually, you can begin to see some outcomes just as Mario described with Colombia. So, it’s a set of commitments that actually will require kind of year-on-year organizing, strategizing, realizing and so on, celebrating,
Will Brehm 38:01
I’d like to highlight two things that I thought just were amazing and made me think of the world and myself differently. And the first one is the James Webb telescope that was launched. I watched it going up and have been following it very closely, ever since. And I am just sort of, almost without words, how amazing it is to be able to look back in time and through space and understand the sort of origins of the universe in new ways. And it just makes me realize how insignificant I am. And I absolutely love that feeling. And I think that is so humbling. And it was this existential moment for me in 2022. It almost reminds me of the Voyager being sent off with Carl Sagan’s golden record. You know, I didn’t get to live through that moment, but I did get to live through the James Webb moment. And I don’t think I’ll ever see myself or the world the same ever again.
Susan Robertson 39:00
I mean, your description about putting us in our place, I think is really important. I’m often reminded on that. If you look at Asian art, for instance versus Western art. So, we foreground the great person, they occupy most of the visual space in a painting, don’t they? But if you go to some of the kind of East Asian art, a human being might be a tiny, tiny, tiny little figure amongst nature. And I think that is a metaphor for trying to understand the way in which we hubristically have actually allowed ourselves to think that we are so much bigger, so much more superior than anything else around us. And so, the Webb kind of space taking us back in time or going out and actually reminding ourselves of our place in the universe. You know, I think we should do more of.
Mario Novelli 39:55
It makes me think around, when we talk about critical realist approaches to research, we talk about being methodologically modest. That the tools that we have to understand the complexity of reality do not match the complexity of that reality. And in a sense, when you look at those pictures, or more broadly think about humans’ relationship to nature, is that we are so insignificant, so tiny, yet we’ve placed ourselves so much at the forefront of everything. And so, it does allow you to step back. And I think, some of these things, just to tie up some of the other things is, I think that when I talked about Colombia, there’s a recognition for the first time over the last decades of the importance of listening to Indigenous communities, who knew their relationship, or have a very different conceptualization of their relationship to nature as this kind of mother that needs to be protected and supported and nurtured. And I think that we look around the world now and see the power of nature unleashing upon us a whole range of different challenges. And it makes us realize that maybe our path to presume that humans can overcome everything through science was somewhat limited and that we need to be a bit more modest about that and try to rectify some of these things. But it does also make me think when you look at those images, whether there are other more sophisticated species out there that may have better answers than us.
Will Brehm 41:30
I hope so. To build on that, Mario, the other sort of moment that really was inspiring to me was actually the Australian elections because what happened during the first moment when they announced the winner, Albanese, I think it was Peggy Wong went out, and was introducing him to say that he won. And the first thing she says is that she recognizes the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which is this statement that was put together with a huge amount of effort across the diversity of Indigenous communities in Australia. And it was actually created with consensus, right? So, every single community group that was brought together agreed with this statement. And that was the first thing that this new government said and acknowledged and said, they’re going to recognize it. And to me, that was just this struggle. And I think this goes to what Mario was saying. These long-term struggles, decades/centuries in the making, reaching consensus, all that labor that might go unrecognized, and then it sort of shoots up the national or international stage sort of instantaneously. And it seems like it came from nowhere but of course, there’s that long history. And to me, it was just really inspiring to witness it. Now, of course, how does it translate into actions is the next sort of question. But at least rhetorically, it was a really big moment.
Susan Robertson 42:51
There was nothing natural or evitable about that. Let’s say a different government got back into power, that would not have actually emerged potentially as a possibility. So, it does matter, the kinds of -often we think “left, right, whatever. What’s the difference”? But actually, in this particular case, it has made a difference, it actually has made a difference. And there is a, as my understanding, a strong commitment to that in the first kind of round. Let’s say if they went to another election, it would be this that would be foregrounded. At the same time, I don’t think we should just kind of think that it’s all just going to unfold and going to happen. Having spoken to some of the Indigenous community in Australia, they are hopeful but at the same time feel doubtful. So, there’s this hopeful, doubtful kind of moment. And it’s hardly surprising because they’ve lived in the shadows for ever since they were invaded, if not in a space of complete indifference to their plight. So, I think the battle is not over at all. And there’ll be attempts to water it down because there are big interests involved as well.
Mario Novelli 44:05
Well, it reminds me of my good friend, [Melanie S] which talked about the Rio Magdalena, which is a big river in Colombia, that she used that as a metaphor for the history of these kinds of social protests that it rises and lowers but always returns. And so, sometimes it’s these long cycles of processes of struggle that are challenged but then they come back and that gives you always hope, I think. Even in the darkest times that movements can develop, and change can come, progressive social change.
Will Brehm 44:40
So, to sort of end this reflection on the year, I guess it’s always good to look into the next year. So, with 2023 just around the corner -just a few days away by the time this airs: What are you looking forward to? Anything in 2023 that is sort of on the horizon that you’re excited about?
Mario Novelli 45:00
That’s a challenge for me actually just like you. I mean, I’m guessing that for us, if we take it localized in the UK, our universities are in for tough ride. Strike action, austerity, and massive slashes to academics’ pensions are leading us to think that the next year, there’s going to be a range of struggles around that. So, I think that’s going to focus a lot of us in the UK. The US elections, or the primaries, and what does that mean for the rest of us? Those are two things. In our field, we have, of course, the ongoing range of debates taking place in the field around the kind of decolonization, those processes. Susan is going to take over the presidency of CIES and all of those things will open up new possibilities, new discussions, new spaces.
Susan Robertson 46:02
I mean, as a journal editor, which is at one level, the biggest hat really that we’re kind of wearing both Mario and myself as the co-editors of Globalization, Societies and Education, and I’m super excited, really around work coming through our journal. And that’s a kind of litmus for the concerns people have, the conversations they’re having, the kind of research that they believe is important. Geopolitics, higher education, a fabulous, special issue on Paulo Freire, a global educator, there’s a special issue coming through around and probably likely two issues too of a volume around teacher labor issues, and so on. Now, what that kind of tells me is that actually a critical engagement with things that matter a lot to people, if I paraphrase, the wonderful scholar, Andrew Sayer, the things that matter to people. And these matter. I’ve been so bowled over also in Cambridge at students as organizers, major organizers, major, major organizers on the picket line, and things like that. Speaking out, stepping out, and so on. I mean, it sounds like they’re kind of engagements with potentially kind of heavy issues but in fact, actually, there’s a lightness that comes with being able to look at that. To see that that’s bubbling along, to actually think that, in fact, people have just not got their head down and pretending that these things are not there and don’t matter. And we benefit from that, hugely. So, I’m super excited particularly for the quality of the kind of debate that’s going on in in GSE. And would want to encourage more of that through the different societies that we’re functioning in.
Mario Novelli 47:57
Yeah, I knew that I missed something when I was talking. And I realized that it’s something that I’ve been thinking about quite a bit recently. It may be too early next year to see the full ramifications of this but my own feeling is that we’re entering now into a new Cold War period. And for the last 30 years, we’ve had a process around the world, which has been dominated by the idea that no two McDonald’s ever went to war. The idea that the spreading and interconnection of global capitalism would stop tensions, make everybody integrated. And what we’ve seen – in both tensions in Russia, post Ukraine invasion, but also towards China, and issues around Taiwan – is the beginnings of a process of disembedding global capitalism, reconstituting new borders, new lines. And I think, what does that mean for international education and development? What does it mean for the global education industry? And we’re educationists, right. So, we’re involved in this area but more generally, we’re seeing this process happen in all different social domains. And those that were arguing for integration 30 years ago, when we were in the anti-globalization movement, have reversed. So, you’ve got people like Vijay Prashad and leftists arguing for “Don’t exclude, don’t put up these walls, keep people together, keep dialogue going”. And on the other side, those that previously were advocating for all of these processes of integration are now saying, “No, let’s cut these companies out. Let’s stop that. Let’s stop integration”. So, I think that there are real challenges from comparative education there to ensure that we keep dialogue between colleagues in different parts of the world, to ensure that we maintain relationships and not be reduced to the decisions of our nation states, our leaders, our political leaders of the best way to do that. And I think that’s going to be a really trying period. And we have historical precedents. So, it’s been easy to go back to the playbook for the West: Russophobia, Chinaphobia, Sinophobia, all this kind of things. But we also have a history of transcending those processes. We have history of movements that said, “Neither Washington nor Moscow, but international solidarity”, we have grassroots relationships that we can recall and reimagine. And I think that it’s important within the comparative and education field that we start to address these but also to study them because it’s a fascinating thing. I mean, think about the push for internationalization, US campuses in China, and all of these kinds of things, what is going to happen? It’s a fascinating time, even if it is equally frightening.
Will Brehm 51:07
And I think that’s a fantastic way to sort of end the year. Fascinating, thinking about the future, equally frightening. But there is a place for us in comparative education to contribute to that sort of future. So, Susan Robertson and Mario Novelli, thank you so much for joining FreshEd as always, Happy New Year, and I look forward to talking to you in 2023.
Susan Robertson 51:30
Wonderful to speak to you again, Will. Have a wonderful end of 2022 and see you in 2023.
Mario Novelli 51:38
Thanks, Will, thanks, Susan. It’s always a pleasure at the end of the year to have this beautiful chance to reflect amongst friends on a monumental year and some of the challenges that we face.
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The roots of neoliberalism in Friedrich von Hayek
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Implicated Subjects – Michael Rothberg
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The socialist cry for civilisational change – Vijay Prashad
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