vii. Teaching Visual Literacy

I have been reflecting on the following quote as part of my essay on ‘Designing and Planning for Learning’:

During our lives we are taught how to read the printed word. We are shown how sentences are made up of grammatical units, how authors go on to use a whole cornucopia of grammatical devices to get their meaning across, and how meaning is both created and communicated at a remarkably sophisticated level. […] Things are much less straightforward in the visual world. Often, we are left on our own when it comes to figuring out what a visual image means.

(Howells and Negreiros 2012: 1)

Visual literacy is something we build in students as part of their art and design education, and something that has been key to my teaching in Visual Culture. However, I am aware that my own socio-cultural position and my own research interests will inevitably influence the kind of materials that I present. I think asking students to bring in their own images to discuss is one way to decentre the tutor, as is group work in seminars where students draw upon their own ‘cultural competences’ in order to decode an image or set of images. This allows students to learn from one another, and avoids visual culture being imposed on the students in a ‘top-down’ manner.


Howells, R. and Negreiros, J. (2012) Visual Culture, 2nd ed. Cambridge: Polity

vi. Emotion, Empathy and Sensitivity in Teaching

Alison Shreeve and Ray Batchelor (2012) ‘Designing Relations in the Studio: Ambiguity and Uncertainty in One to One Exchanges’ in Design and Technology Education: An International Journal, 17 (3).

This article focuses mostly on studio practice in Art and Design education but I nevertheless found it useful when reflecting on my own practice in one-to-oe feedback tutorials.

The article explores the type of tutor-student relationships that ‘support or restrict student learning’ (20), with the authors finding that ‘two-way exchange on an equal level’ (20) most enabled students to reach their potential and become independent practitioners.

One-t0-one tutorials have the benefit of being bespoke to each individual student (21), with the article finding such relationships to be ‘incredibly nuanced, complex and fluid’. Tutors interviewed found relationships with students to rely on ‘interpreting or understanding what might be appropriate with each individual on a particular occasion. This required negotiation on the part of the tutor and a sensitivity and a awareness towards individuals’ (21). Empathy was also recognised as important. These factors gave rise to a level of ambiguity in such relationships.

However, although empathy and sensitivity were found in many cases to facilitate positive student engagement, there is nevertheless ‘a point at which emotional exchanges are unhelpful’ (22). Professional distance is particularly important when the tutor needs to deliver negative feedback, assessment and critique of student work. There seems to be a ‘line between emotional engagement and professional distance’ which is optimal (22). The ambiguity in art and design education can mean there is ‘difficulty [in] drawing a precise line between friendliness, friendship and professionalism’ (23).

Mutual respect was identified as key to positive student/tutor relations. This involves ‘tutors [respecting] students as individuals and students [respecting] tutors for their professional expertise’ (23). Some students found tutors’ manner to be demanding or saw tutors as having a ‘superiority complex’ (23): this top-down model is something I am at pains to avoid in my teaching, perhaps to a fault. In terms of respect, there can be an expectation on the part of students that tutors are there to ‘demand and deliver’ rather than being seen as ‘guides or enablers’ (23). Part of respect means ‘being sensitive and aware of individual difference’ (23).

Parent/child dynamic can also be an issue (22) – ‘too close or too emotional a relationship has been identified as leading to dependency’ (23). There can also be a danger whereby students are temped ‘to please the tutor, rather than to grow and develop their own personal approach to being a designer’ (24) – this is definitely something I have encountered, particularly with conscientious students. As one tutor noted ‘It’s never about the mark, it’s the learning experience’ (25) – this is perhaps something I should emphasise more with student when it comes to Theory. Particularly in the first and second year it’s about students taking risks and trying out new ideas. As a conscientious learner myself, this is perhaps something I need to emphasise even further.



v. Performative Pedagogy: A Review

Ross McKeehen Louis (2002) Critical Performative Pedagogy: Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed in the English as a Second Language Classroom. Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis: Louisiana State University. 

Although this Ph.D. thesis focuses on teaching in the English as a Second Language Classroom, it presents a literature review of theory on performative pedagogy, which I found useful in mapping out the key thinkers and concepts.

Key thinkers



What is performative pedagogy?

A means of ‘captivating my student audiences […] with enough enthusiasm, creativity and humor’ (98)

‘performative pedagogy concerns the action taken within the classroom to construct knowledge’ (101).

Performative pedagogy as ‘body-centred practice, as resting on improvised, contingent dialogue, and as invoking a healthy sense of risk for both teachers and students’ (102).

‘Performative pedagogy happens amidst the conversation between critical pedagogy and performance theory’ (100) with an emphasis on ‘process and embodied action (100).

Roots in Performance Studies

Performance Studies occupies a liminal space between different disciplines (106), taking literary and non-literary texts as  objects of study, and seeing performance as ‘a method of enacting or embodying those texts but also as a legitimate objects of study’ (104). This discipline also has an ‘epistemological commitment to inclusivity’ (105) in the sense that it does not privilege academic authority instead looking to the interpretation of the audience and performer. Furthermore, performance methodologies engage the senses and the body. Building on this, performative pedagogy might be seen as ‘an exercise in the tenuous relationship between text and performance’ (104) that has long vexed performance scholars. ‘As cultural texts, education and the schooling process are themselves performatively generated’ (104). The question here is what does it mean to embody an educational text?

‘there are aesthetic events that cultures traditionally label performances, and there are other events that operate per formatively by exaggerating, masking, or otherwise altering some behavior for some intended effect. Performance Studies embraces both what is conspicuously marked as performance and what can be seen as performance though it may be “unmarked” as such’ (106)Critique of existing literature

Some research in education and performance has succeed in building ‘sophisticated bridges between performance and pedagogy’ (99) although some writing on performance as a method for the classroom has undermined ‘the richness of the performance metaphor’ (Pineau as cited in Louis 2002, p.99).

‘I criticize applications of performance to pedagogy that rely on metaphors of the teacher as performing artist or drama exercises in the classroom for their basis in an “impoverished sense of performance” which “diminishes the complexity of educational interactions”‘ (Louis 2002, p.101, citing Pineau).

John Warren: Three Performative Modes 

  1. Recognises the lives of students and teachers as socially constructed via performative processes
  2. Recognise bodies of teacher and students as culturally and historically located
  3. Teacher’s body/performativity as ‘a way of speaking’ to the student work (Louis 2002, p.106 citing Warren)

Louis then quotes at length from Warren’s text:

‘My vision of critical performative pedagogy is one that privileges the body, mind, and spirit of educational bodies. […] My vision also makes space for them to see the political in every pedagogical situation, regardless of whether that teacher foregrounds it. My vision calls for a balance between democratic collaborative pedagogy and teacherly authority […] My role of critical performative pedagogy values the transformative, the critical, the reflexive, the bodily, and the belief that with possibility there is hope for all students’ (Warren as cited in Louis 2002: p.107)

iv. The Teacher’s Soul and the Terrors of Performativity

Stephen J. Ball (2003) The teacher’s soul and the terrors of performativity, Journal of Education Policy, 18:2, 215-228, DOI: 10.1080/0268093022000043065

This article presents a critical take on performativity in light of the increased regulation and measurement of performance in Higher Education, borrowing the phrase ‘the terrors of performativity’ from Lyotard (1984).

I found the article useful in its reference to Foucauldian models of regulation (the Panopticon) as a means of describing the increased management and monitoring of teaching in HE. Within the regulatory environment, ‘teachers are represented and encouraged to think about themselves as individuals who calculate about themselves, “add value” to themselves, improve their productivity, strive for excellent and live an existence of calculation’ (217). In other words, lecturers become ‘enterprising subjects’ or ‘neoliberal professionals’ who are ‘subject to a myriad of judgements, measures, comparisons and targets’ (220). This involves a shift towards individualism and a shift away from solidarity (something also discussed in The Slow Professor). It also involves a shift away from one’s own beliefs and one’s authenticity (223).

‘Structural and individual schizophrenia’

The burden comes to fall on the private individual rather than the collective institution or society more generally. As such, responsibility is internalised by the individual, potentially leading to feelings of ‘self-doubt and personal anxiety’ ‘pride, guilt, shame and envy’ (221). They might also lead to self doubt whereby the source of one’s motivations become contradictory or unclear: ‘Are we doing this because it is important, because we believe in it, because it is worthwhile? Or is it being done ultimately because it will be measures or compared? It will make us look good!’ (220). The issue here is that teaching becomes less authentic and more about presenting the appropriate ‘spectacle’; it becomes an ‘”enacted fantasy” (Butler 1990), which is there simply to be seen and judged – a fabrication’ (222).This results in ‘inauthentic practice and relationships’ (222). Or as Ball polemically puts it ‘Authenticity is replaced entirely by plasticity’ (225).

Some optimism… 

However, another strand in Foucault’s thought is worth acknowledging: ‘technologies of the self’. This idea allows for more agency on the part of the individual than the disciplined or subjected self discussed by Ball, above. One can craft and manage the impressions one crates (224), which could lead to new teaching situations with students: a ‘postmodern’ approach to teaching. ‘Performativity is promiscuous’ which may not always be a bad thing (224). I found Ball’s article interesting in the way it theorises identity through the notion of different subject-positions: ‘There are ways of presenting oneself within particular registers of meaning’ (225). I hadn’t really reflected on the idea of shifting subject-position while teaching, but this was something that emerged in Tim’s observation of my one-to-one feedback tutorials. What would it mean to consciously shift subject-position in my interactions with students, rather than doing it intuitively or automatically? Would this enhance my teaching practice?

iii. The Role of Doubt in Teaching

Continuing my reflections on Pedagogy of the Oppressed, I came across an interesting quote, where Freire discusses the problem with adhering to a right wing or left wing position:

‘While the Rightist sectarian, closing himself in “his” truth, does no more than fulfil his natural role, the Leftist who becomes sectarian and rigid negates hives very nature. Each, however, as he revolves about “his” truth, feels threatened if that truth is questioned. Thus each considers anything that is not “his” truth” a lie. As the journalist Marcio Moreira Alves once told me: “They both suffer from an absence of doubt”.’ (Freire 1972: 18)

The mention of doubt here is interesting because I think the presence of doubt in teaching is actually fundamental to the opening up of positions. I have always been someone who puts viewpoints forward tentatively. This can prove problematic when conversing with someone who has a very clearly-defined position but when it comes to research it means you check your position from a number of perspectives. Too much certainty can shut down the discussion or make you miss possible critiques.

But reflecting on the quote above, doubt is perhaps productive not only in my research but also in my teaching practice. It allows students a way in to question the ideas that I put forward. That’s not to say that ideas shouldn’t be explained with clarity; it’s more to say that emphasising the speculative nature of critical theory is perhaps a good thing. It avoids dogmatic adherence to one position (something I seek to avoid, even if Cultural Studies has a Marxist/feminist/environmental inflection).

ii. Pedagogy of the Oppressed


This book was written in 1968 by a Brazilian educator and activist, based on his experiences of teaching illiterate people in Brazil to read and write. It is one of the foundational texts of critical pedagogy. In a foreword to the book, Richard Shaull describes Freire’s writings as ‘the response of a creative mind and sensitive conscience to the extraordinary misery and suffering of the oppressed around him’ (1972: 9-10).

The philosophy of education Freire developed is described as ‘authentically his own’ (Shaull 1972: 10). I found this idea of developing a unique perspective on education quite inspiring, as it allows one’s values and personality to influence the way one develops pedagogical practice.

The learner’s path to literacy can enable a ‘new awareness of selfhood’ (Shaull 1972: 9) which enables the learner to becomes critical of their social surroundings. ‘Men educate each other through the mediation of the world’ (Freire as cited in Shaull 1972: 12) – this view of teaching means that peer-to-peer learning can be just as valuable as teacher-led learning. Education allows man to ‘say his own word, to name the world’ (Freire as cited in Shaull 1972: 12). Education might therefore be a means of resisting the way ‘advanced technological society is rapidly making objects out of most of us’ (Shaull 1972: 13); it’s therefore a question of how we recover some of our subjecthood as well as start to chip away at the structure which attempt to mould us into submission and conformity.

It was interesting to see Shaull write that ‘there is no such thing as a neutral educational process’ (13). The idea of politics came up quite a lot in our T+L seminars. I work within a paradigm which is quite open about its politics: Cultural Studies has been Marxist since its inception, and remains political in a myriad ways. However, that’s not to say that as educators we shouldn’t still examine the position from which we are speaking. It’s about trying to present a range of critical positions – whilst recognising the weaknesses of each – without losing the progressive potential of education. Stuart Hall once said that ‘there is something at stake’ in Cultural Studies, and I think this idea could be applied to education, more generally, and is certainly a notion that underpins Pedagogy of the Oppressed. 



i. Education, Mobility & Inclusion

Where have you come from; where are you going?

In the seminar I realised that this question can be answered from a number of perspectives. It can be about one’s position within the university, or one’s own personal career trajectory within that wider framework. It can also be a geographical question, in terms of where one grew up and where one finds oneself now – and what happened in between to get from one place to the other. It can also address one’s emotional place in the world and how that has changed.

Being a public blog I will here answer the question in terms of my place within the university and my career trajectory. I have been teaching since 2008, first teaching English as a foreign language in Paris, then teaching Cultural and Historical Studies to students at London College of Fashion. In the past few months I have taken up a more senior position at Chelsea College of Arts, as Theory Coordinator for BA (Hons) Textiles. This has involved a shift from working within a department of ‘theory’ people, delivering CHS to students form many different courses, to being ’embedded’ onto one course only. I am enjoying the aspect of my new role that allows me to plan the curriculum, and develop an exciting and (hopefully) nourishing programme of theory that will help the students in their studio work and also help them in their capacity for conceptual thinking more generally.

This role has, however, left less time for research, which is a big shift from the period during which I studied for my Ph.D.. Once I am settled in the new role I hope to allot more time for research-based activities, both for its own sake and because it underpins the teaching that I deliver.

Where have your students come from and where are they going?

I teach a very diverse group of students, both at LCF and Chelsea College of Arts. Many students are international, and some of them have English as a second language. In terms of their aspirations, these are diverse in that textiles feeds into a number of different industries, such as fashion, interiors and scientific projects. Students might go on to work in the more commercial aspects of the field or might become textile-artists in the field of fine art. Some students continue to postgraduate study, and some go into university teaching themselves.

What role does education play in this movement?

Education can involve an unfurling of the self: getting in touch with your interests and skills. Sometimes education can show you what you the things that you don’t want to engage with – in my case studying Law showed me that this kind of career was too stifling for me. Education can also be about developing networks of contacts in the arts, which carries over into industry. It also equips students with the skills they will later need, such as giving presentations, drafting exhibition proposals and developing the practical and creative skills they need to be successful textiles or fashion designers.

Lastly, education allows for an expansion of the self through an expansion of the mind. In a more prosaic sense it also helps build students’ repertoire of creative references as well as key theories that are central to making sense of the art and design world.

What are the politics of inclusion?

Teaching that is meaningful, relevant and accessible to all. It involves designing the curriculum and assessment in a way that allows everyone to participate. It means incorporating the themes of diversity, equality and liberation into the content of the teaching itself. So in my case, when I choose visual examples, I try to incorporate a range of different ethnicities, nationalities, sexualities and genders so that each student can identify with at least some of the examples I present.

When assigning readings, it is also important that the authors come from a range of different perspectives. Ideas can be oppressive as well as enlightening, after all. For example, when discussing feminism, this could mean including bell hooks, who critiques second wave feminism for its white, middle class bias, alongside feminists such as Simone de Beauvoir and Judith Butler (both of whom are white, western writers).

Teaching materials themselves should also be accessible: avoiding too much text on PowerPoints; using multimedia examples to engage different learning types.

Introducing a new group of students

Play | Unlearning |

What opportunities do you give your students to get to know one another?

Experiment as a group: ask questions of one another.

Interruptions/accidents make the environment more alive (as opposed to seminar room as a pre-programmed environment).

Hidden curriculum: what are you telling the students without realising it?


What is our role as educators?

Enabling | Facilitating | Engineering an environment in which things can happen (like Rousseau with Emile? Piquing Emile’s curiosity was key in that case.)

Catalysts? | Speeding up the learning process | Intensification | Tipping point.

Often about instinct/emotion when it comes to the visual – ambiguity – how can something so instinctual be learnt?

Teacher has to comfortable in the environment or the student won’t be.