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Balancing freedom and equality. The emergence of a new globalised student movement?

CHEF Lunch Talk by Associate Professor Gritt B. Nielsen, Danish School of Education, Aarhus University.

2019.02.08 | Søren Smedegaard Bengtsen

Date Thu 09 May
Time 12:00 13:00
Location DPU, Campus Emdrup, room D118. Video-link to CUDiM, building 1483, room 656

University students in a number of countries – including USA, UK, South Africa and Denmark – are increasingly mobilizing around quests for social justice, equality and anti-discrimination. They criticize the reproduction of hierarchies of knowledge based on gender, race, nationality and fight to ‘decolonise’ education. They advocate the university as a ‘safe space’, request ‘trigger warnings’, and ‘no-platform’ speakers on campus whose messages they perceive to be discriminatory. The students’ fights give rise to at least two important questions. First, their fights hinge on a number of challenges related to othering, categorization and essentialisation, which are central in many social science fields. What does it mean for the space of debate, teaching and learning, when students  request more texts written by scholars with a certain gender, race, or sexuality? What are the differences that come to matter and to what extent are processes of othering avoided or transformed? Second, important work has been done on the ways particular policies and reforms promote (un/intended) changes in higher education, unveiling dominant power structures and the ways different actors navigate the system. Less work, perhaps, has been dedicated to what Hage (2012) calls ‘alter-politics’, to collaboratively exploring emerging spaces of otherness that ‘lie in the cracks of the existing order’. In this talk, I argue that scholars of education – working both on and within systems of education – are well-positioned to avoid the kind of simplistic rejections or celebrations of the students’ fights, which tend to dominate current debates. By engaging with students in a more collaborative and explorative research endeavor, combining engaged dialogue with the art of opening up spaces of otherness, educational anthropologists can potentially play a central role, both in the development of academic disciplines and in the creative formation of a more just world.

About the speaker
Gritt Nielsen’s research interests revolve around political processes of transformation in particular in relation to questions of democracy and political/pedagogical participation, and how the conditions for participation are changing as the (welfare)state and its educational institutions are reformed. She is interested in how ideas about good and relevant knowledge are reshaped in both global and local spaces, including how alternative understandings and responses to dominant knowledge regimes are developed and circulated in more activist, experimental groups, especially among students who addresses questions of social justice, equality, decolonisation of knowledge and the limits of free speech and academic freedom. She looks at how these social movements emerge and develop, the kinds of knowledge and learning they engage with, and to what extent their ideas and practices are ‘scaled up’ and gain impetus in wider settings.