Celebrating the Life and Work of Paulo Freire
Celebrating the Life and Work of Paulo Freire
Maria Hantzopoulos and Monisha Bajaj discuss their new book, Education for Peace and Human Rights: An Introduction (Bloomsbury, 2021).
Today I speak with Elizabeth Sumida Huaman and Tessie Naranjo about indigenous women and research. They have co-edited the latest issue of the International Journal of Human Rights Education, which was released last week.
Elizabeth Sumida Huaman is an associate professor of Comparative and International Development Education at the University of Minnesota. An Indigenous education researcher, her work focuses on the link between Indigenous lands and natural resources, languages, and cultural and educational practices in the North and South America. Tessie Naranjo lives in northern New Mexico and is an internationally recognized Indigenous community education, language revitalization, and arts advocate. She is a founder of the Pueblo Indian Studies Program at Northern New Mexico College where she served as faculty, and former co-Director of the Northern Pueblos Institute.
Citation: Huaman, Elizabeth Sumida & Naranjo, Tessie, interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 179, podcast audio, November 4, 2019. https://freshedpodcast.com/indigenouswomen/
Will Brehm 2:55
Elizabeth Sumida Huaman and Tessie Naranjo, welcome to FreshEd.
Elizabeth Sumida Huaman 3:00
Thank you for having us, Will.
Tessie Naranjo 3:01
I am glad to be here.
Will Brehm 3:03
So, let’s start by talking about colonization – a big topic. In your new co-edited volume, in your introduction, you call it a “strategy of imperialism that has left an indelible mark on colonized lands and people.” What sort of narratives has colonization constructed about indigenous peoples and lands?
Elizabeth Sumida Huaman 3:25
I can address that. We talked about this a little bit in our introduction, but I think maybe one of the things that we can clarify is that we’d like to differentiate colonization as a set of actions or patterns that empires will use towards expansion of their empire, and oftentimes that’s bounded by time. So, there is a period of colonization, and then what we’ve seen around the world in different national contexts, is that there’s then a time of decolonization or post-colonization, often referred to as “independence.” I think what Tessie and I are referring to, and what our authors are speaking to, is a condition called “coloniality.” And so, there is an Argentinian scholar that Tessie and I use; his name is Walter Mignolo, and he talks about “coloniality,” which is the ongoing condition of colonial oppression and struggle that’s exemplified through four domains. So, these are four areas where indigenous peoples are encountering resistance and struggle. So, we think very closely about those four domains as: control of economy, which includes manipulation of land and natural resources; control of authority, which is the creation of institutions – political and legal institutions, as well as military; this creation of what is considered normative, so that oftentimes is heavily influenced by ideas of religion, as well as gender and sexuality; and then, this control over knowledge, which is oftentimes most clearly exemplified by the construction of education, and what constitutes knowledge. So, in our issue, we really think very closely about how indigenous peoples are speaking to, or speaking back to, conditions of coloniality in all of those areas. And all of our authors, I think, write about those areas in one way or another. So, they address, really, that entire system of domains, and they address coloniality as a whole, but taking up different lenses. So, one of the things that I think is really important for us to think about is not just how coloniality has left, or leaves us, in a condition where there is that, you know, as we might refer to, this mark on lands and peoples. “Lands” meaning the impact to our natural resources: you know, our earth, our water, our animals, our skies, and so forth. But then also peoples, meaning bodies and psyches. And I think what’s really critical is that our authors who put forth their work so lovingly, speak to that condition. They speak to coloniality in some way or another. And so, for example, we have one author, June Lorenzo, who is from Laguna Pueblo, who talks about this idea, counters this idea, that land and natural resources are only for human exploitation or for capital gain. And she writes about uranium mining in her own village of Paguate in Laguna Pueblo. And we also have authors like Robin Minthorn and Heather Shotton, who take up this idea. So, they would be countering this normative view of gender and sexuality. And primarily, this idea of women in leadership; they take up this idea that you know, women are not leaders because they are not visible, for example, or as visible as men. And they really challenge that.
Tessie Naranjo 7:25
Well, I was thinking about answering the question in terms of fences. I am from one of the pueblos in northern New Mexico, and I have enough knowledge about the history of our place. And I was thinking about when the colonizers came in, first the Spaniards, and then later on the white Americans. And the idea of fences became a part of our understanding. Reluctantly. And so, I was thinking of fences in terms of creating borders and boundaries, and I was thinking of how these fences psychologically make us feel less than.
Will Brehm 8:15
It is interesting. I mean putting up these fences and borders and boundaries and feeling “less than” when thinking about coloniality. And Tessie and Elizabeth, you both sort of mentioned issues of knowledge and even education. And so, you know, I want to ask a little bit about how coloniality has impacted the very meaning of research. So perhaps, Elizabeth, maybe you can start.
Elizabeth Sumida Huaman 8:44
Sure. So, in terms of how coloniality has impacted research, you know, Tessie and I are, we are community members, and we are educators, and we write as well. And we think. And we speak. I think that you know, but we also come from places. We come from very strong peoples and places that we have very strong connections to. And I think one of the ways that coloniality has shaped dominant understanding of research is to devalue those places, and to devalue our interactions as intellectual beings, as spiritual beings, with those places. So, there are wonderful scholars, some of them in our special issue. Others like Linda Smith, who is a very highly regarded Māori scholar, who has really informed our thinking around decolonizing research approaches, who do that work very well. And they help us to understand how research can be transformed by indigenous peoples. I think one of the issues that we encounter consistently as indigenous peoples is that our knowledge isn’t really knowledge – that what we know, and how we’ve managed to live in a particular place over time, isn’t necessarily something that is considered valuable. You know, it’s this idea that: well, maybe indigenous peoples didn’t really know that much about their environment, or they lived in a way that was haphazard, or they were lucky. When in reality, indigenous peoples have very strong systems and ways of interacting and of living and of thriving in places. And I think that that’s one of the key issues that we are interested in as community members is this idea that we, too, have had research for a very long time as indigenous peoples. We maybe didn’t call it “research.” There’s lots of different ways in our languages that we think about inquiry, and we think about knowledge production. But I also think that there are different reasons that we sought to understand, or to know something, and there were different uses for what we did learn.
Will Brehm 11:15
I mean, it is interesting, the idea that you know, this coloniality, the domain of the normative, as you were saying earlier, and how that has sort of narrowed the very meaning of what science is, to, you know, the scientific method or Western science. But, in fact, there’s so many other and diverse ways of knowledge, of inquiry, of what we might call research, very broadly. And, you know, your special issue really sort of draws out all of these different, diverse traditions of what research could be, and has actually been marginalized by this sort of normative stance of what modern research is supposed to look like.
Tessie Naranjo 11:57
Well, I was thinking about the community that I come from and the pueblo world, that I know more about than any other tribal group. And I was thinking about how we have our own way of researching, so that we understand our place and our land, and I was thinking that our methods are different from that non-tribal world. And I was thinking of how we are more circular in our thinking, we are more fluid in our thinking, and in contrast to the Western way of researching, which is, I don’t know if you call it regimented, but it’s different than the way that we understand how to do things. And I will give you maybe an example or so of how we have learned to live off the land. For example, the irrigation. We are a traditional agricultural people, and so how we learn how to grow corn and beans and squash is something that we learn through experimentation. And so, “researching,” if you want to call it that, has been very much a part of our lives. And in terms of, for example, the pottery making that is a traditional part of our lives: how we’ve learned how to mix clays, and how we’ve learned how to use the plants for coloring the designs on our pots, all of that is a researching. Our place, our land, so that we know what its resources are. Our methods are different, but it is researching, nevertheless.
Elizabeth Sumida Huaman 13:50
Will, you know, to speak to your point about the Western scientific method, I think Tessie really exemplifies that with her description of pueblo knowledge and living as agricultural people. I think that one of the things that is really disturbing that we’re seeing about the condition of the earth. And what we are seeing in terms of environmental catastrophe today is the distancing of our relationship from our respect and our regard for place. Our respect and our regard for natural resources and land as living beings. And I think that one of the things that, you know, Western science is not our enemy. Western science in many ways, scientists today, I think, are starting to wake up to, and have been, you know, at least for the last several decades. There are voices and people who are talking about. And they are naming it different things. So, they are calling it things like biocultural diversity, you know, or concentric ecology, for example. So, there are people who are understanding and delving more deeply into this idea of relationships. And I think that indigenous peoples, because of our relationships and our regard and our exercise of values, we don’t just talk about the values of respect or the values of love for the things around us. We have ceremonies, we have activities, we have daily things that we do as community members and as individuals, that put those into practice. And I think that people are seeing the importance and the value of that, and certainly, our authors are seeing that. So, for example, we have Danelle Cooper and her coauthors, her wonderful professor-mentors, who have really shaped a beautiful submission that highlights a couple of different sacred places, one of them being Mauna Kea in Hawaii. And we see there the tension between Western science and this drive to build, you know, super telescopes and more telescopes, and things that can really help humans to explore the universe in ways that assume that indigenous peoples didn’t have the capacity, or the technology, to do that. And I think we are talking about different purposes and different uses of technology, different definitions of technology. And I think so much of it comes back to purpose: Why do we seek knowledge? Why do we think about science the way we do? What is the ultimate goal for us? And for many of us who are really attempting to reclaim those connections to the beautiful things around us, and to appreciate the gift of life that we’ve been given, the purpose is to sustain life and to live a life of values and quality where, you know, children and communities and all the creatures can flourish. So, I don’t know that it’s necessarily a clash of Western science because Western science can be used as a tool of and as a resource for us. But it is: what is the purpose, you know? And I think that you know, those of us who were colonized by the Spanish – and there were many communities that were colonized by the Spanish back in the 1500s – you know, we joke about the Spanish being some of the very early colonial researchers. They were very early anthropologists, and they would ask questions, you know, there’s lists of questions that you can see in the archives. What were the questions that they would ask of community members? You know, they would ask questions like … and they knew, they knew that we had a relationship with place. So, for example, our mountain deities are called Apus, and so they would say, “Okay, we know this Apu. You know, the Quechua people, for example, believe that this Apu has a wife and children and so forth. We know that you know, the Quechua people believe that these mountains are families.” And they would ask the question, “Well, okay, what is the name of this Apu? Who is his wife? You know, who are his children?” And then they would say, “And where are his treasures?” And we can see a very early and primitive approach to science, a primitive approach to social science, a primitive approach to inquiry, that is material gain based. And I don’t think that you know, indigenous peoples today – what our authors, especially the authors who are participating in this special issue – are really interested in, is reclaiming our connection. For the purpose of, not just survival, but of really honoring our existence, and the existence of the things that are in creation.
Will Brehm 18:58
I mean, I love that idea of sustaining life rather than exploiting and advancing economic gain in anyway. I mean, you know, it is a very different purpose, as you said. So, Elizabeth, could you talk a little bit about why, in this special issue, you and Tessie basically situate indigenous women at the center of this conversation, in a way. Can you speak a little bit about why that is the case?
Elizabeth Sumida Huaman 19:22
Sure. So, Tessie and I were very interested in promoting and supporting a special issue that involves indigenous women because we are indigenous women. And we do research, we interact with community members, we work with institutions that serve indigenous peoples. And we do that from our own experience. And I can speak for myself to say that I began doing work with generations of Quechua grandmothers – people from my own communities – and I was very interested in, “Well, if I’m having these kinds of experiences and thoughts as an indigenous woman, as a descendant of these women that I’m speaking with, what might be the unique lenses that indigenous women bring to the conversation? Are other women having these kinds of questions? Are they having these kinds of discussions? What feelings are coming up that might be distinct to indigenous women, particularly women who are from the communities where they’re doing the research, or who are serving the people that they hope their research will highlight in some way, uplift, bring forward?” So that’s one of the reasons why I became interested in working on this project with Tessie. And of course, I’ve held her in such high regard for so many years, and have heard the stories of her talking about her mother and her grandmother, and how she was raised by very important people, women who lived daily lives. And similarly, in my own family background, I was raised by people and had a grandmother, who is no longer with us, and aunties, who are people living daily lives in community. Experiencing certain struggles that in many ways are distinct, gender-based struggles for women in my community; I will only speak from my experience. And you know, these are women that, they are not necessarily scholars, they are not necessarily researchers. But in many ways, I think both Tessie and I wanted to pay homage to what we’ve learned from them as well. And to bring together women in this special issue that also come from somewhere, that also have aunties, that also have grandmothers, that also themselves are living daily experiences, and encountering struggles and challenges as women, and that they too have something to offer a broader conversation that is often very lofty – that’s considered very lofty, and academic, and intellectual – which is a conversation about human rights.
Will Brehm 22:22
Tessie, would you like to add anything?
Tessie Naranjo 22:24
Well, I’d first like to get started in my thoughts, and knowing that, in the pueblo world, our world is constructed with the feminine in mind, the female in mind. So, it is a natural understanding that it is the female who is a part of our beginnings. And so, I’ll start with that. And then, Elizabeth invited me to be part of this project; I did not know what I was getting into. But I was resistant, admittedly, because I thought it was too much for me, because I am pretty much, home is important to me, and I don’t stray too far from home. But in the reading, and the helping edit the articles that were submitted, I began to feel that I had the best opportunity to look at what other indigenous females were very passionate about in the work that they were doing to better the lives of their home communities. And I got all of this understanding in appreciation of the feminine through my great grandmother, who was born in 1867, and then raised my mother. Because my mother was raised by my great grandmother, who did not know how to talk English or any other language, except my language, which is Tewa. I have very much appreciation for the strength of the women in my family, as well as for the strength of women in all other tribal communities, and we are doing our part as individuals, whatever place we live at, and whatever our passion is, whatever fight, whatever cause we want to get involved in. I have been able to look at all of these, or read all of these, articles, and just I am so proud of the dedication of the females who have submitted their articles, showing that they are lifelong contributors to bettering the health of their communities.
Will Brehm 24:59
Recently, I guess, I have noticed a lot of talk about indigenous research through, or within, international organizations, like the United Nations. And I just wonder in your opinion, to what extent is the United Nations, and even places like the World Bank – I have seen them promoting ideas of indigenous research, as well. And, you know, what is your take on it? How does that all fit in? Is it helpful? Is it problematic in ways? You know, how do you see the sort of the international push, through international law and human rights groups, advocating for, and supporting, indigenous research and knowledge?
Elizabeth Sumida Huaman 25:41
So, there is undoubtedly value to international organizations like the United Nations, that are comprised of, and promote and highlight and create spaces for dialogue, that involve indigenous peoples and recognize indigenous peoples as actors in their own self-determination. There is absolutely a place for that. And I think there is a lot of tremendous work that’s been done by the United Nations. For example, the folks who worked on, including one of our authors, June Lorenzo, who worked on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. And at the same time, I think that we have to recognize what era we’re in. So indigenous human rights, or indigenous rights, are considered to be third generation, the third generation of human rights discourse. So, the first generation, you know, in many ways, really focused on what we might think of as these very normative approaches to rights. So, the first generation was really about political and civil liberties. We also hear a lot about European constructions of rights in terms of male property rights; you know, that is very early on. And then the second generation of rights is really about social and economic rights, as well as equality for women and so forth. But I think it is very telling that indigenous rights are only recently, in many ways, being recognized as this third generation of rights. And I do think that many organizations, and lots of different bodies that are involved with bringing forward indigenous issues and struggles for self-determination, do very good work. But I think there’s conditions to that. I think that those organizations, or really any organization – it could be a grassroots community organization – really needs to have some sort of awareness and be very explicit around certain starting point questions. So, for example, what are rights? What are even rights? What is law, for example? How are those things conceptualized and named by indigenous peoples, representative of indigenous communities, at all levels? And how do those reflect principles that are embedded in indigenous languages? So, is that explicit in the work? I think another point that is really critical is that we also have to think about indigenous self-determination and the role that indigenous self-determination plays in those organizations, which refers to the ability of people to decide how they want to live their lives. And is that an explicit part of the conversation. As well, in any organization, are there clear reporting of biases? Is there also another explicit conversation around power, for example? So, who speaks for indigenous peoples? Who represents indigenous peoples? What constitutes indigenous communities? And how are decisions made? What kinds of questions are being asked? What kinds of goals are being identified? So, I think that there is several different areas of consideration that need to be explicitly laid out if organizations are going to attempt to be less problematic.
Will Brehm 29:30
So, Tessie, I want to bring you into this conversation, and ask a little bit about this concept of land and place, and why it’s such an important concept in indigenous research and education.
Tessie Naranjo 29:40
Well, in thinking about that question, I was thinking about, we have a local tribally run school here in my community. And I go to visit the community school every once in a while, and I love what is happening in the school because the children are learning about who they are and what their place is. Knowing how to appreciate their place, and knowing what it means to have a place, and have an appreciation for that. I was thinking about my mother. I would ask her the question, “What is important, Gia?” And Gia is “mother” in Tewa. She would tell me, “Children,” and I didn’t appreciate that as much as I do in my older age, but it was a very profound response to that question, although I didn’t think so at the time. But it is about kids. It is about children that you teach so that they can move forward and pass on the information so that, as they become adults, they can then become the leaders within the community. So that children, I would say, like by mother, children are probably the most important persons to guide, so that they can then maintain the village as they are growing up, when they grow up. That is what I can say about response to that question. But it is very important, I think, to pass on the knowledge of any community in whatever way you can: Who you are. Names of places in your land area. What your name is, for example. Like in the school, everyone has their tribal name. I can give you example of my tribal name and what it means to me because it talks about place and land. My name is Pae Ojegi in Tewa. I was born in January. My great grandmother, that I talked about earlier, took me to greet the sun and to name me. But we have a deer dance in the wintertime. The deer were passing from the mountains, and these, of course, are humans, dressed with horns on and sticks to emulate the deer coming to visit us in the village. And so, as they were coming by, she looked at the deer passing by, and she said to my mother, “We shall name this Pae Ojegi. Pae Ojegi is “deer with frost on its horns,” and I have loved that name all of my life because it represents the time, the cycles that we live, continuously – we live according to the seasons. And because I was given my name, Pae Ojegi, I am always reminded, whenever I see a deer, for example, the importance of that moment when the men dressed like deer were entering the village. This is a long example to talk about what the children in the small grade school are trying to learn. They are trying to learn about place and land. And they can learn it through names and other things that we are able to teach so that these kids one more time, as my mother said, can pass the knowledge from within our community and pass it forward.
Will Brehm 33:38
So, Elizabeth Sumida Huaman and Tessie Naranjo, thank you so much for joining FreshEd. It really was an honor and a pleasure to talk today. And congratulations on your latest special issue.
Tessie Naranjo 33:49
Thank you, Will.
Elizabeth Sumida Huaman 33:50
Urpillay sonqollay, Will. Really appreciate it and thank you so much to our authors and their families and their communities.
Today Raewyn Connell returns to FreshEd to talk about her new book, The Good University. In it, Raewyn takes a deep dive into the labor that makes a university possible while also detailing the main troubles the institution currently faces.
She argues that a good university must work for the social good rather than for profit. It must embrace its democratic roots and protect the process of being truthful.
Raewyn Connell is Professor Emerita at the University of Sydney. She is an active trade unionist and advocate for workers’ rights, student autonomy and educational reform.
Photo by Peter Hall
Citation: Raewyn, Connell, interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 157, podcast audio, June 3, 2019. https://www.freshedpodcast.com/raewynconnell2/
Will Brehm 1:30
Raewyn Connell, welcome back to FreshEd.
Raewyn Connell 1:31
I’m very glad to be here.
Will Brehm 1:33
So, congratulations on your new book. And just halfway through this book, when I was reading it, you tell this wonderful story about this famous Jacaranda tree at the University of Sydney. And I want to just ask, what made this tree so famous? And why did you end up writing about it?
Raewyn Connell 1:48
Well, it’s a very beautiful tree. It has lovely purple flowers, and it’s absolutely covered in blossom at a certain time of year, which happens to correspond with when graduations are held. So, for many years, since the invention of color photography, all the graduates would go and stand in front of the tree in their robes and get the photographs at the end of their degree. And it’s all in front of this sort of mock Gothic sandstone building in golden stone. It’s a lovely picture. Well, a few years ago, five or perhaps eight years ago, the University began including in its advertising, a picture of a tutorial group -a discussion group- sitting on the lawn in front of this tree in full bloom. And that was a lovely picture for advertising with the mock Gothic building behind suggesting how ancient and venerable the University was. Unfortunately, it wasn’t true for two reasons: one, no tutorials are allowed to meet on that lawn. Two, the tree actually blossoms after tutorials are over. So, the thing was a fake! And it seemed to me that that somehow represented what was happening in universities as they became more commercialized. There was more fakery and misrepresentation. And just a couple of years after that image was used in the advertising, the tree died. Now, no biologist among my friends would agree that the tree died of shame but one suspected, and that somehow to me symbolized that the university in some sort of crisis. Yeah, universities in general. Well, by corporate standards, there’s no crisis. You know, the higher education industry is booming. There are now more than 200 million university and college students around the world. The flow of fees and money into the system is bigger than ever before. So, from a profit-making and corporate growth perspective, we’re doing wonderfully in universities. But, by other standards, there are terrible problems. I mean the casualization of academic labor force, virtual end of the prospect of a career for very large numbers of university teachers, the growing level of distrust and antagonism between workforce in universities and the managers, the growing level of inequality within universities just in sheer money terms, the level of anger that you see in conflicts in universities now, and of course, the decline of government support for higher education in most parts of the world, not quite all, which escalates in some countries like Hungary -it’s a famous example recently- of outright attacks by government on the university sector -at any rate, parts of it- showing a kind of political antagonism to good higher education, which is very disturbing, indeed. And in that kind of sense, yeah, there is a crisis that’s bubbling/boiling up around us.
Will Brehm 5:25
Yeah, I mean, I’ve seen photos of many years ago, protests in Chile, just recently, protests in Brazil. Even in the UK, there’s been these mass protests of university lecturers fighting for basically better pensions and better wages and trying to resist this sort of corporatization of the university. So where do we begin? If this is this crisis that we see -and in your book, you basically start by looking at the foundations of the university, and really focus on the massive amount of labor that universities do in a way. All the different types of people that make a university possible require huge amounts of labor. Can you talk a little bit about, you know, what sort of labor actually happens based on your long career in universities?
Raewyn Connell 6:17
Well, what I do in the first chapters of the book is show how research, the production of knowledge, has to be understood as a form of work -a complex and intricate kind of work, but work nevertheless, with a workforce in certain conditions. And the same for teaching too. Education involves a form of labor by the teachers and by the students for that matter. And we have to understand the circumstances in which this work is done, the relationships that shape the work in order to understand the production of knowledge and the educational process itself. Now as the universities have got more commercialized and commodified, this labor has been changing. And the conditions of this labor has been changing. So, the academic work: Well, there’s a much higher level of casualization and insecurity for academic workers, as more of the face-to-face teaching is done by people in insecure, short-term jobs. The role of academics in longer term jobs has also changed. They’ve become a kind of middle management group responsible for organizing a casualized, insecure workforce. There’s been an intensification of labor. This is not unusual in today’s economy. That’s true in other industries as well. But it’s quite striking in academic work. The growth of a long hours culture, the decline of the sense that you have time to sit and think and look around, read around and come up with fundamental new ideas -this is now harder simply because of the change in the kind of work. And there’s more control over academic labor via audits and measurement, and management surveillance. Even a simple decision, like when you’ve done some research, you’ve written an article about it, where you publish it, that used to be your own decision as to where you should publish it to reach the audience who needed to know. No! That doesn’t apply anymore. There are now management pressures to publish only in high-prestige journals in the most central countries in the world, and so forth. So, that’s a very significant set of changes in academic labor. And for non-academic workers, what I call the operations workers, who are half the workforce of universities, the work also has been changing -sometimes in the same ways. There’s more sort of surveillance and control from above, so fewer people are just trusted to get on with a job, assume that they know what their job is, and they should get on with it -there’s less and less of that. More surveillance, more auditing. But there’s also more outsourcing of work in universities. That is, workers who actually work for the university, but are not employed by the university, rather employed by another company, which has a contract with the university management and that changes relationships in universities too as it would in any place where that kind of thing happened. Because people working in an outsourced basis for another company don’t have rights, don’t have recognition on campus, are not likely to be there long-term so they can’t develop long-term relationships with the teaching or research staff, and there’s just less of the basic, ground-level know-how on which universities have depended in order to work effectively as organizations. So, more control concentrated at the top means less effective work down below. And that has been happening on a large scale in universities.
Will Brehm 10:25
And has there been any consequences or impacts on student learning? I mean, this seems to be a major function of the university. So, with these various reforms, with this corporate-style management, this power residing at the top in these administrations, what effect on the student?
Raewyn Connell 10:42
Two things: One, because corporate management drives for lower wage costs, lower labor costs, they’re terribly interested in technologizing university teaching. So, MOOCs are the classic example of that, the massive online open courses, which have something like a 90% dropout rate, I mean they’re quite stunning. But in other ways too, the learning experience is more computerized, more technologized, therefore, more -and this is the other side of it- in various ways more formalized. So, we have more frequent and technologically controlled testing. There’s less scope for ambitious but out of the way learning practices by the students. They’re more, sort of on a prescribed path all the time. I can remember -this is, you know, I’m now one of the older generation very much. When I was an undergraduate doing a history program, we actually had two years in the middle of the degree with no exams at all. We had an exam at the end of the two, but for two years, we could pursue our own learning interests, we had to attend courses, lectures, tutorials, and so forth. But we weren’t tested. And, you know, modern students, I think -and this applies to schools, as well as universities- are tested to within an inch of their lives sometimes. And I think that really degrades the kind of learning experience that a university should be.
Will Brehm 12:25
So, one of the things you mentioned earlier was that there’s something like 200 million students enrolled in higher education around the world. And in a way, this is very much a massification of higher education. So many more people today are going to university than say 50 years ago. And we talked-
Raewyn Connell 12:45
-and that’s a good thing.
Will Brehm 12:46
Right. That’s a good thing. And universities often talk about this in terms of equity, and diversity, and opportunity, and enlarging that student base. But in your book, you start calling the university sort of “privilege machines”. You talk about how they actually produce inequality. And so, I wanted to know, in your mind, how are universities complicit in the production of inequality?
Raewyn Connell 13:08
Hmm. Well, universities have always been connected with privilege and power throughout their history. So, a phrase like “a college man”, a bit out of date now but it used to be an expression which signaled leisure and money among young people. Well, as the university system has expanded, it’s also become more unequal in itself. So, we’ve now got this massive hierarchy of universities from the very well-funded privileged institutions down to a worldwide mass of higher education institutions, colleges, universities, called different things in different places. And that’s symbolized by the league tables that are now published, you know, with Harvard on top, and MIT and Stanford up there at the top, and your local community college way down at the bottom. Now, the biggest part of the expansion, very recently, has been in privately owned, for-profit universities. That’s now a large sector worldwide. And I would emphasize the for-profit part because what these kinds of colleges sell, basically, is vocational training. They do hardly any research, that’s not their game and they have a very casualized workforce so that you’re not getting a high quality of educational thinking there because people don’t have time and opportunity to do that thinking. But you do have connections with local industries, local businessmen, who are often on the boards, and even involved in developing the curricula of those kinds of colleges. So, what you’re getting then, is an apparent mass expansion but also a change in the character of most higher education as that expansion occurs, which becomes a thinning out of the university or the college experience and a commodification of what it’s taken to be. So, the advertising, the marketing of the for-profit private colleges, is all about what this ticket you’re getting should yield you in terms of future income. Now that benefit often doesn’t happen because labor markets themselves are changing, and the meaning of qualifications in labor markets change. But that’s the way universities, on a mass scale, are now sold. I’m entirely in support of professional education. I think that’s a correct business of universities, and there I differ from some other critics who criticize the idea of professional education. I think that’s a central role of universities. But professional education itself should be an intellectual proposition, it should be involve thinking carefully and at length about the ethics, about the social meaning of the profession that you’re going into, it should involve understanding the clients that your profession is going to meet, so it truly involved social sciences, philosophy, humanities, other technical areas -all of those kinds of knowledges should be involved in good professional education. And I think that is being thinned out now in a very worrying way.
Will Brehm 16:48
So, I guess the obvious question then is, what can be done? What does a university look like that doesn’t embrace this corporate management, doesn’t embrace these sort of for-profit logics that many universities are around the world today? Like, what’s the alternative in a way?
Raewyn Connell 17:05
Well, there are multiple alternatives. It’s not a single blueprint that we should be following. That’s part of my critique of the “league table” mentality that assumes we all want to be like Harvard and we don’t frankly. So, one thing then is diversity. Multiplicity of purposes, and styles, and approaches to teaching, and knowledge. There are multiple knowledge systems in the world. We’ve talked about that kind of thing before. It should be part of the universities thinking. Universities now model hierarchy and even propagandize in favor of inequality. All this jargon that comes out about “excellence” really gets up my nose!
Will Brehm 17:58
I don’t know what it even means!
Raewyn Connell 18:00
It’s just a signifier of inequality, basically. And also, the nonsense that comes out about leadership. Leadership, for what for heaven’s sake! in what direction? Well, I think there is a direction which we should be leading and that’s democracy, and public service, and that doesn’t need hierarchies and league tables for heaven’s sake! Talk about self-satirizing university systems, they’re now developing league tables for public service!
Will Brehm 18:39
So how can a university be democratic? How can that ideal be embraced inside a university?
Raewyn Connell 18:45
Well, parts of it is already there. We do know how to run institutions democratically. And that’s what you know, the last 200 years of global history has taught us. There are ways of doing that. So, we have leaderships that are elected, we have forms of responsibility, from top-down and bottom-up, rather than just one way. We diversify the membership of institutions, we take steps to make social inclusion real rather than simply symbolic and selective. We can’t have a democratic education and a democratic knowledge system in an authoritarian institution, it doesn’t work.
Will Brehm 19:34
So, what would that mean? That would mean giving more power to the professors to make decisions to drive the direction of the university, than the central management?
Raewyn Connell 19:43
More power to the whole of the workforce. Remember that half of the workforce of universities are non-academic and they also have know-how and commitment and ideas and should be part of the governing process of the institution. I mean, what I’m talking about is, you know, you can put in the phrase, ‘industrial democracy’, we know how to do that. We’ve done it in cooperatives, in mainstream industries, we do know how to do that kind of thing. It’s not rocket science. But we have been shifting away from those ideas in higher education, as in other industries recently, and there’s a struggle on our hands, I think. The other thing to remember is that at the core of the modern university is a system of knowledge, which I call the ‘research-based knowledge formation’. So, research is central to the knowledge on which we build our curricula, on which we base our professional practices, and which we give to the world at large, is what universities offer. And there’s a democratic core in research, actually. I mean, we don’t necessarily represent it that way because we give Nobel prizes, to a very few top scientists, or the media will drool over the professor with the furthest away galaxy, or the latest cure for cancer. But in fact, research knowledge is a democratic theme in itself. It’s produced by a whole workforce, not just by individual stars. Particular research programs involve research teams, not, in most cases, individual stars. Or the individual stars are standing for teams of 20, 30, 100 people. And they depend on other teams and other researchers. The term publication, which has become a kind of sight of tension and horror for young academics, is actually a sign of that democratic character of knowledge. We put our knowledge out there when we publish. We put it out there for everyone to see, and for other people to build on. That’s the whole point of publication.
Will Brehm 22:08
Yeah, its publication, not ‘priva-cation’.
Raewyn Connell 22:11
Exactly, exactly! And we’re building in the knowledge system, that universities depend on and produce, we’re building a “knowledge commons”. We’re building a common social resource in research-based knowledge. So, there’s a democratic element at the very heart of universities, which is not necessarily immediately obvious, but it’s there. And we can build on it.
Will Brehm 22:39
And it’s particularly not obvious when, you know, Elsevier and Wiley and Sons, and Taylor and Francis are owning that knowledge commons. And it sort of does take that public out of publication.
Raewyn Connell 22:52
Yeah, that’s a classic example of the harm that’s done by privatization, I think. And it is being resisted. There’s quite a strong movement now to reverse that by open access policies on the part of funders, by a kind of movement among academics towards open access for other ways of circulating knowledge that don’t run into those monetary barriers. That’s a hot topic in universities now and I’m very glad to see that kind of struggle going on.
Will Brehm 23:29
So, the beginning of our talk today, you talked about this sort of fake image that the University of Sydney was promoting, and it sort of gets to this idea of truth. And this idea of, what is the role of the universities in being truth?
Raewyn Connell 23:46
Yeah. I should say that I’m not particularly blaming the University of Sydney. I mean, that’s just where I happen to be. And I happened to know that tree from a long time, because I’m also a graduate of this university. But what the University of Sydney was doing was what the University of Melbourne is doing, the University of Queensland is doing, what all the universities in the country in one way or another have been doing, and internationally too. So, I was trying to give an example of something that is, in fact global, as a problem. And why I think that’s significant is that universities do have a cultural role. I mean, they’re not -the corporation famously has, there’s a lovely saying, by Lord Chancellor of England in the 18th century, that “a corporation has no body to be kept, and no soul to be damned therefore it can do as it likes”. And that is pretty much the attitude of the mainstream corporation. And as universities approach the status of money-making corporations which indeed, some of them now are 100% that, they inhabit that kind of situation. And the problem is that universities DO have a soul. And that soul concerns truth. It’s the cultural commitment to telling the truth. And anyone who has done research, you know, I’ve been a researcher for more than 50 years. And I know how difficult it is to establish truth. But that’s what research is, it’s hard work. It’s a struggle. So, you know, it involves interacting with many people and trying to understand situations and speak the truth. It’s difficult, but it’s what we’re about. And if universities start fudging the truth in advertising, pretending to be what they are not, misrepresenting reality, then they are doing terrible damage to their own cultural position as the institutions that embody truth telling. That seems to be a very, very serious problem. And, and that’s why I get, you know, more angry about what seems to many managements to be just good commercial practice. It’s not good university practice.
Will Brehm 26:05
Are you hopeful that the university will soon move away from this corporate-style management? Or are there examples of universities around the world that are actually doing something different? And yes, it could be a multiplicity and a diversity of different ways of managing and organizing the university but sometimes I get very pessimistic about the whole industry that I have spent the last ten years of my life working in. And I don’t know, is it going to change in my lifetime or am I going to be battling this corporate-style management for the rest of my career?
Raewyn Connell 26:41
It’s a good question. And I think everybody involved in these issues at times despairs at the difficulty of moving in a more democratic direction. And I’m sustained, I think -I mean, I’m originally a historian. So, I’m always interested in the history of institutions. And I took some time when I was working on this project to go back into the history of universities and look specifically at the history of alternative universities. And it turns out, there is a wonderful history of alternative and experimental universities all over the world, which is not all that widely known. But things like, for instance, there’s an extraordinary story of the Flying University in Poland, which was developed back in the 1880s, when Poland or most of Poland was part of the Russian Tsarist Empire. And the Russian regime tried to control universities, to ratify them, and to exert regime control over them. So, the Poles went underground and invented a kind of underground university, which became known as the Flying University because its classes would move around from place to place in Warsaw in order to avoid the police. And taught a whole curriculum, natural science, educational sciences, humanities and so forth, all under the radar. And after the 1905 revolution in Russia, that came to the surface, became legal, became a regular university. Then Poland was invaded by the Nazis and they did it again, under incredible repression during the Second World War. Then the Russians threw the Nazis out and established a communist regime in Russia, which restored the universities but also attempted to control them and the Poles did it again! They had a Flying University teaching all the forbidden kinds of social sciences and humanities. Now, that’s one story, there are anti-colonial universities in India, which was set up by people like Rabindranath Tagore, the poet, back in the 1920s as a place for the meeting of civilizations rather than the Eurocentric curriculum in the universities the British had set up in the colonial system. When the pink tide occurred in Latin America 10 or 15 years ago, a series of progressive governments around the continent, they set up reform universities too. Indigenous universities, working class universities, universities in remote parts of the country with rural populations and so forth, publicly funded, bringing in new groups of people who, for years, they’ve been excluded from the university system. In AotearoaNew Zealand, there’s a university which is based on Maori indigenous culture. Similar things in parts of India, all over Central America, in parts of South America, like Bolivia, there are now indigenous universities which have curriculum that try to blend research-based knowledge with indigenous knowledge and develop curricula that are relevant to indigenous communities. So, there’s lots of experimentation in the history when you go looking for it, and that, to me, is a deep source of hope. People have done it in the past, it’s still possible for us to move in these directions now.
Will Brehm 30:34
And that actually is incredibly hopeful that the system that we’re in today is not static, and it can change and there is a history of change over time. And that’s deeply, deeply hopeful.
Raewyn Connell 30:45
I had a bit of involvement in this kind of work back in the 1960s when I was a radical student among the many other radical students. I was involved in setting up what we called Free University in Sydney, which was a student-directed, cooperative learning institution that did a couple of dozen courses on a variety of issues that we felt were missing from the mainstream university curricula. I’ve taught in publicly funded universities that were part of another reform movement, the kind of “Green Fields” universities set up in the 1960s and 70s in countries like Australia, Britain, the United States. The expansion of the University of California was a good example of that, places like UC Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara Davis, were involved. You know, experimentation with curricula, combinations of disciplines, student-centered teaching practices, lots of really interesting educational innovation happening in those institutions over a period of 20-25 years. So even in the mainstream system, it is possible to innovate and democratize in inventive ways.
Will Brehm 32:04
Well, Raewyn Connell, thank you so much for joining FreshEd. You know, I read your book, and it’s like a love letter to the university itself. And it’s critical but supportive and offers so much beautiful history. So, I mean, I can’t recommend it enough. And I just want to say thank you for writing the book and getting these ideas out there. And, as a young academic, I must say that I am actually very hopeful of being in this industry and in this career and hopefully getting involved in some of these new movements to diversify the university. So, thank you very much for joining FreshEd and you’re always welcome back on in the future.
Raewyn Connell 32:40
That’s great to hear. Thank you.
Today we talk about the history and recent rise of Islamophobia worldwide. My guest is Mariam Durrani, an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Hamilton College.
In our conversation, we discussed both the state policy infrastructure enabling Islamophobia while also the everyday discourses and actions that normalize the Othering of a particular group. Dr. Durrani also discusses her own life story of growing up in a military family and witnessing the rise of Islamophobia in the aftermath of September 11th.
Mariam Durrani recently published the book chapter “Communicating and Contesting Islamophobia.”
Citation: Durrani, Mariam, interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 152, podcast audio, April 29, 2019. https://www.freshedpodcast.com/mariamdurrani/
Transcript, translation, and resources: