Exploring safe spaces for students to engage with critical and caring thinking regarding portrayals of ‘self’ and ‘other’

Strydom, Esti (2018-03)

Thesis (MA(VA))--Stellenbosch University, 2018.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: As an educator at a private higher education institution, I have observed that there is very little critical dialogue on politically sensitive issues in the classes I teach. A sense of rainbowism, which emphasises sameness between the citizens of South Africa, permeates the classroom culture. This kind of thinking creates a barrier in understanding and empathising with the lived experiences of those whom we view as ‘other’ to ourselves based on our (and their) appearance, culture, race, religion, sex, gender identity and class. Based on these observations, I designed and subsequently implemented two projects in the Professional Photography programme. These were used as a catalyst to initiate difficult conversations. The first project, titled Globalisation and Culture, asked the students to position themselves in terms of social and cultural identity via the selection and photographing of a culturally significant object paired with an environmental self or family portrait. The second project, Conscious Citizenship, asked the students to interview and create environmental portraits of previously unknown people they viewed as outside of their own social identity. The purpose of this study was to investigate how the introduction of critical citizenship education in the second-year Professional Photography programme could promote critical and caring thinking among students. The research also aimed to observe the ways in which creating safe spaces of learning could allow for Freirean conscientising. The research design was that of a case study and research was conducted in a qualitative manner. Inductive content analysis was carried out, with data being organised into categories and patterns that emerged during the research. The data were collected through audio recordings, questionnaires, reflective essays, interview questions and photographic imagery. It was found that students were very hesitant and showed considerable anxiety about discussing differences within a classroom space. Furthermore, some of them had never spoken to people from outside of their social identity groups, and as such, these projects were extremely challenging for them. The students’ photographic and written work showed themes of white normativity, internalised racism and myths of cultural inferiority. By employing a pedagogy of discomfort to facilitate group discussions, ethical violence towards black, coloured and Indian students could not be entirely avoided due to my own positionality. The parameters of a safe space of learning meant that I also needed to be compassionate towards white students grappling with uncomfortable emotions. This balancing act was necessary due to the nature of these projects being compulsory assessments within a private higher education environment and because splitting groups according to any race-based criterion would be unfeasible. Through the process of facilitating these projects I have been left with questions regarding who, according to their positionality, would be an appropriate person to teach these kinds of projects.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: As ʼn opvoeder by ʼn privaat hoëronderwysinstelling het ek waargeneem dat daar baie min kritiese dialoog plaasvind oor polities sensitiewe kwessies in die klasse wat ek onderrig. ʼn Sin van reënboog-isme, wat eendersheid onder die burgers van Suid-Afrika beklemtoon, dring in die klaskamerkultuur deur. Hierdie soort denke skep ʼn hindernis tot begrip van en empatie met die geleefde ervarings van diegene wat ons as ‘ander’ beskou, gegrond op ons (en hulle) voorkoms, kultuur, ras, geloof, geslag, genderidentiteit en klas. Op grond van hierdie waarnemings het ek twee projekte in die Professionele Fotografie-program ontwerp en geïmplementeer. Hierdie projekte is as katalisator gebruik om moeilike gesprekke aan die gang te sit. Die eerste projek, getiteld “Globalisation and Culture”, het van die studente geverg om hulself met betrekking tot sosiale en kulturele identiteit deur die seleksie en fotografie van ʼn kultureel betekenisvolle voorwerp gepaard met ʼn omgewingself- of -familieportret te posisioneer. Die tweede projek, “Conscious Citizenship”, het van die studente geverg om onderhoude met voorheen onbekende mense wat hulle as ekstern tot hul eie sosiale identiteit beskou, te voer en op grond daarvan omgewingsportrette te skep. Die doel van die studie was om ondersoek in te stel na die manier waarop die bekendstelling van kritiese burgerskap-onderwys in die tweede jaar van die Professionele Fotografie-program kritieke en deernisvolle denke onder studente kan bevorder. Die navorsing was ook daarop gemik om die maniere waar te neem waarop die skep van veilige leerruimtes vir Freireaanse bewusmaking voorsiening kan maak. Die navorsingsontwerp was dié van ʼn gevallestudie en navorsing is op ʼn kwalitatiewe wyse uitgevoer. Induktiewe inhoudsontleding is uitgevoer, en die data is in kategorieë en patrone georden wat tydens die navorsing na vore gekom het. Die data is deur oudio-opnames, vraelyste, besinnende opstelle, onderhoudsvrae en fotografiese beelde ingesamel. Daar is gevind dat studente baie huiwerig is en aanmerklike angs toon rakende gesprekke oor verskille in ʼn klaskamerruimte. Voorts het party van hulle nog nooit met mense buite hul sosiale identiteitsgroepe gesels nie, en hulle het dus hierdie projekte as uiters uitdagend ervaar. Die studente se fotografie- en geskrewe werk het temas van wit normatiwiteit, geïnternaliseerde rassisme en mites van kulturele ondergeskiktheid aan die lig gebring. Deur aanwending van ʼn pedagogie van ongemak om groepsbesprekings te fasiliteer, kon etiese geweld teenoor swart, bruin en Indiese studente weens my eie posisionaliteit nie heeltemal vermy word nie. Die parameters van ʼn veilige leerruimte het beteken dat ek ook medelyend teenoor wit studente moes wees wat met ongemaklike emosies worstel. Hierdie koorddans was nodig weens die aard van hierdie projekte as verpligte assesserings in ʼn privaat hoëronderwysomgewing en omdat die verdeling van groepe op grond van enige rassegebaseerde kriterium onprakties sou wees. Deur die fasiliteringsproses van hierdie projekte is ek gelaat met vrae rakende wie, op grond hul posisionaliteit, ʼn geskikte persoon sou wees om hierdie soort projekte te onderrig.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/103416
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