Cultural Studies and Education: Perspectives on Theory, Methodology, and Practice
reviewed by Aditya Raj - 2004
Title: Cultural Studies and Education: Perspectives on Theory, Methodology, and Practice
Author(s): Ruben A. Gaztambide-Fernández, Heather Harding, and Tere Sordé-Martí
Publisher: Harvard Education Publishing Group, Cambridge
ISBN: 0916690415, Pages: 296, Year: 2004
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When flowers bloom, fences become meaningless. Boundaries fade out when symbiotic relationships start. In the recent past, the relationship between cultural studies and critical pedagogy has been strengthened. The attempt in this edited collection is to fill the void at the intersection of educational practice and cultural theory and guide future scholarship in cultural studies of education. The editors of this significant and timely collection have highlighted the areas that have not been paid adequate attention. The articles in this book also provide a new framework to guide research designs and practices that can be emancipatory.
The editors bring forth influential works and divide them into four sections. The first section delineates some of the most important debates and analytic frameworks and lays out the context of the book. The sections thereafter deal with gender and queer studies, postcolonial and ethnic studies, and popular culture and youth studies. Their contents describe the way pedagogues have dealt with the conceptual challenges of cultural studies, and the broad horizon and perspectives that education offers to the cultural domain.
In the first section, Gray Thomas questions the use of theory and is guided by anti-theoretical strands in post-modern thought. His plea to end the contemporary romance of education with theory seems contextual when attempting to delimit the boundaries of academic disciplines, yet encouraging reflexivity. The essay by Patti Lather is engaging and useful to researchers. Lather shows how research as praxis in the postpositivist perspective can be empowering to both the researcher and the researched. The novel aspect of this essay is research reciprocity between researcher and the researched as well as between empirical information and theoretical ways of understanding for emancipatory research design and practice. Lather’s highlighting of ‘catalytic validity’ can be seen as a form of research synergy. The importance of a dialogic approach to anti-racist pedagogy delineated by Flecha in his essay made me sit back and exercise my reflexivity about the multi/inter-cultural class that I teach, and I must confess that this essay has made me realize how most multicultural education perspectives approach the ills of modern racism with post-modern solutions.
In the second section, Bernal and Honeychurch, in their respective articles, offer new epistemological frameworks to research, understand and attempt to empower the marginalized ‘other.’ While Bernal presents the feminist nature of reality in educational research using the feminist standpoint on her research on the Chicano, Honeychurch approaches social knowledge from a queered position. Both of these essays not only fill the void and present a novel view of reality; both also attempt to make a difference. To quote Honeychurch, ‘the university as a primary site of social inquiry has an opportunity to contribute to the constitution of inclusionary knowledges and emancipatory projects rather than remaining removed from them” (pp. 121). Michelle Fine in her article highlights the prevailing discourses of female sexuality inside (public) schools and the community at large and advocates the struggle for an empowering sex education. She writes that “in order to understand the sexual subjectivities of young women more completely, educators need to reconstruct schooling as an empowering context in which we listen to and work with the meanings and experiences of gender and sexuality revealed by the adolescents themselves” (pp. 131).
The section on postcolonial and ethnic studies points to many traps and hidden conflicts inherent in various approaches of postcolonial theory to educational challenges, highlights different historical and contemporary colonial realities, and outlines novel approaches to postcolonial liberation (pp. 152-153). The piece by Kennerley emphasizes the role and inadequacy of intellectuals in a Puerto Rican state sponsored community education project between 1948 and 1968. The author brings to attention the importance of a Freirean approach to cultural negotiations. She calls upon the state sponsored intellectuals to “regularly visit or live in urban and rural communities to develop artistic talent and collaborate with community members in an organic way” (pp. 178). The article by Grande in her own words “focuses on the interaction between dominant modes of critical pedagogy and American Indian intellectualism” (pp. 185) and addresses how critical pedagogy has failed to address the needs of American Indian education. McCarthy’s approach is also liberatory of post-colonial subjectivities. He criticizes both the liberal and racial perspective of multicultural education and offers a subjective process of identification as indispensable for accepting and eradicating racial and ethnic discrimination.
Popular culture and youth studies offer an opportunity to understand the matrix between several social institutions such as the family, the school, or the media, and the cultural production and consumption of young adults. The fourth and the last section of this book has seminal articles by Giroux and Willis connecting the struggle for identity and representation of youth and identifying the realm within which these youth will have more control over what is expressed and how such expression occurs. Both authors highlight the issues and the context where the pedagogical voices are quiet in regard to youth. They address diverse issues, and while Willis highlights the social context, Giroux calls upon teachers and researchers to be more sensitive. Willis uses ethnographic details from his work in England, and Giroux relies on issues and examples from the United States of America.
The book charts the ways in which education is influenced by larger cultural currents in society and how pedagogy can empower the marginalized by examining issues from a new perspective. As the editors mention “this book offers a heuristic tool…to cultural studies of education” (p. 3). It will be useful to graduate students, senior academicians, and policy makers alike.