In the first blog, I attempted to locate the research I am engaging in through “listening in” to rhythms (Lefebvre, 2017): the pandemic everyday, the crisis tremors of FE, and the clamour-for-keyworkers in the context of an imagined future FE. To continue, I want to think about space, domestic and public, and how it is inhabited and can be mapped.
Lorde (2017) directs us to the urgency of the thinking snatched in the domestic. For Crenshaw (2020), there is a pressing need to consider the geographies of pandemic-containment. There is a danger for women, for non-binary and LGBT+ people, in the enforced intimacy of the “household” as the state-prescribed living unit of pandemic, which has been discussed in a series of blogs by Grewal, Hemmings, Sabsay and Tudor (2020). Education work under a pandemic takes place for a large number in the “household”: an imagined as well as real space. This space is demarked by the boundaries of the heteronormative, the nuclear; a narrative of this place as haven does much to mask the relations that transgress those prescribed by the state, and to hide the violence done within confined walls.
I read about the leap in domestic danger and death (Bradbury-Jones and Isham, 2020), and my heart beats faster, an echo of the faster heartbeat of those trapped in state-endorsed spaces being paced by predators. For students (and colleagues) in my life as an access lecturer domestic violence, not always historical, was a reality driving the journey into education. I wonder how many of the bodies counted could have been future students and education workers. While I am snatching reading time to work on this assignment, I hear loud shouts. A man appears over the road with a bar, threatens a woman on a doorstep, and from my own doorstep I shout to him that I will call the police if he does not stop. He threatens me and leaves while I tell a confused phone operator about an event he eventually decides has already been reported.
I become conscious in the moment and after that my response has been a white feminist response. I have done it to physically remove a (white) threatening man, from a distance, but my Black partner now beside me in front of our home is reminding me of the threat police bring to the streets: for James Baldwin, the hired enemies of Black people. I’m reminded of the standard I want to reach for, of the need to strive for decolonial intersectionality (Kurtis and Adams, 2017); to prioritise listening over speaking. I have acted on privilege (in terms of how I as a white woman am situated in relation to the police) in the moment, and it could have caused harm.
In Manchester, Desmond Mombeyrara is tazered by police in front of his toddler. In Birmingham, an enquiry opens into police use of excessive force against Black males. In New York, a white woman calls police and quickening her breath to perform an assault after a Black man tells her to leash her dog around birds.
In Minneapolis, a recurring scene plays out. George Floyd calls for his mother, crying out that he cannot breath, as he is murdered by police. A city erupts and the tremors reach out across the world.
This spectre could be considered a haunting, to use Gordon (2011)’s notion of haunting as both the recurring emergence of racial social violence, and the simultaneous urgency for social change as a response. George Floyd evokes Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Natasha McKenna. The haunting is not just taking place across the Atlantic; it reverberates here in Mombeyrara, Rashan Charles, Sarah Reed, Mark Duggan, Kingsley Burrell. As a number of critical race theorists including Priyamvada Gopal have identified in social media commentary, all of these spectres evoke Frantz Fanon’s (1970) words that often when revolt happens it comes from the inability to breathe.
Why does this matter for research into the struggle over the boundaries and entry points of education? Firstly, because education is resistance as well as state socialisation. Emancipatory pedagogy speaks to Gordon’s (2011) “something-to-be done”. Also, because the violence of education and the violence of policing interconnect. Police brutality is a reverberation of what Bourdieu, Passeron et al. (1977) refer to as the symbolic violence of education in the lines of prevention, exclusion, expulsion. The right to breath is the right to live free from police violence, but also the right to free participation in education as part of participation in a democratic society, to (breathe in) existing knowledge and (breathe out) produce known understanding of what the world is and how it works. Currently, the curricula markers of cultural difference which push racial containment such as Prevent and British Values are in suspense. The metrics of examination are also suspended, which as Fautley (2020) notes in his blog brings a potential de-legitimisation of these neoliberal systems of ranking as appropriate to learning. However, as Patel (2020) has outlined in his decolonial education blog The Teacherist, this also removes the (partial) cultural blindfold of the examiner, leaving student performance to be estimated by a teacher with all of the bias this entails.
There is a tension in the pursuit of social justice between big data and the critical interrogation of human experience. Data shows us the disproportionate BAME Covid death rate, the doubling of femicide, the disproportionate charging of Black people with lockdown violations while the country is travelled with impunity by the PM’s closest ally. Big data sketch out otherwise intangible structures of power and oppression, the skeletal form of how violence and persecution fall under a pandemic. On an intimate level, there are stories. In a racist attack, TSSA member Belly Mujinga is spat at by a man claiming he is infected with Covid. She reports it to her bosses and is ignored. She dies.
My position as a researcher in considering this mesh between statistics and stories is shaped by my journey as a lecturer up to this point. I have worked primarily with adult returner students at level 3, teaching social sciences. This, combined with my engagement in education activism as a trade unionist and campaigner, has formed and reinforced my perspective as grounded in critical theory (trying to learn from feminism, Marxism, intersectionality, antiracism) and emancipatory pedagogy. But to have a way of talking about power as something with a bigger form across our interactions in my experience as teacher necessitates some recourse to statistics, even while these must be open to deconstruction. Feminist methodology (e.g. Childers, Rhee and Daza, 2015) cautions against the privileging of the positivist approach, the placing of statistics shaped by the power positions of those who produce, select and distribute them at the top of a hierarchy of knowing the world. Gillborn, Warmington and Demack (2017) identify quantitative claims of objectivity as a site for obfuscation of racist coding practices. Further, emancipatory pedagogy demands a critical approach to knowledge and authority claims. Lather (2006) discusses the nature of power and the struggle for legitimacy, arguing that increasingly plural methodologies shift the ground underneath the traditional “monolithic oppostions” of positivism and interpretism, leaving in place diversification. As Gillborn et al. (2017) suggest, big data should not occupy a position of unchallenged authority: its value comes from its use in a struggle for justice.
Echoing through both big data and the personal story are power and resistance.
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