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Teaching Peace Through Popular Culture

reviewed by Jeff Aguiar - October 03, 2017

coverTitle: Teaching Peace Through Popular Culture
Author(s): Laura Finley, Joanie Connors, & Barbara Wien
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 162396976X, Pages: 294, Year: 2015
Search for book at Amazon.com

Performativity, referring to Judith Butler’s (1999) work on gender and subversion as an interdisciplinary construct, exists in parallel functions directly attenuated to functional, epistemological frames of individual reality. Through one lens, it is a culmination of previous experiences, catalogued and recalled in the space of reaction; through another, external evidence presented in the form of decisions; and through yet another, reactions to information, perceived and received on multiple sensory tracks. In short, humans respond to stimuli through their previous experiences, understand one another by the impact of those decisions, and attempt to grow through such interactions.

It has been the work of the social sciences in the past century to identify, examine, and understand the phenomena of human experience in such terms. What is central to developing these ideas is the intersectional and interdisciplinary study of humans with goals and persisting relationships in real-life situations. In truth, those experiences, whether observed, detailed, or recorded, are the most valuable data. In the words of MTV’s Real World, which premiered in 1992, we want to “…find out what happens when people stop being polite and start getting real.”

What the Belmont Report (U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services, 1979) limits, with sound reasoning, is exactly these situations: Research and experimentation on human subjects is a complicated matter. Outside of purely historical deterrents including the Holocaust, the American Tuskegee Experiments, and the Stanford Prison Experiment, there are implications across the strata of society. One might liken this idea to something out of the speculative library of Alduous Huxley or Mary Shelley, but, as has been seen in technological innovations, life can imitate art.

What remains then is the question: How can researchers and practitioners, partners in developing beneficent work for humanity, gather quality data in any field, or develop responsive, meaningful curricula? In that space exists the volume from Information Age’s Peace Education Series, Teaching Peace through Popular Culture edited by Laura Finley, Joanie Connors, and Barbara Wein. The work focuses on undergraduate educators across a variety of fields, teaching peace through examining literary works, films, documentaries and more. This is a multimedia approach to unpacking Rittel and Webber’s (1973) wicked problems, or those issues which have no resolution, and drive how we build sustainable, positive peace, no matter the home discipline.

Part practical guide and part academic study, this volume shares insights from peace educators within Peace and Conflict Studies curricula, Nursing, English, Sociology and more, who are working with contemporary artifacts as a primary method for both understanding critical analysis of and envisioning social change. Through the subversion of academia, these educators explore the differences and intersections of knowledge and living. Educational value is not established through the credentials of the creator, but through the elicitive responses and personal experiences of students, hitting upon the tenets of Paulo Freire’s (2000) pedagogy of the oppressed.

Finley and her fellow editors provide a strong framework for the undergraduate educator seeking guidance in developing activities that serve the purpose of elucidating the intersection of peace with any number of disciplines, as well as a stand-alone curriculum. Several essays offer, in detail, activities utilized in classrooms, student and faculty responses, as well as a concluding essay that outlines additional areas of exploration for utilizing popular media in class.

A salient criticism of the concepts presented, which is ironic amidst the recent emphasis on STEM education and reinforced by the private business sector, is how these fields are sampling from educational standards that have existed in the humanities and arts-based education for decades. As noted by one of the essay authors who explicitly states, “I am no film expert” (p. 67), parsing popular culture in the academic setting does not necessitate formalized training in film criticism nor a degree in comparative literature, but it does beg the question of why experts in such areas are under constant strain to justify the vitality and necessity of these fields in academic settings. Gender studies and performing arts curricula, along with socio-linguistics, have long contemplated the impact of performativity on social situations; everyone else is just now catching up to that conversation.

Directly, this volume examines how peace is and can be taught in educational programming. Implicitly, the questions raised focus on peace pedagogy and its intersectional applicability: How can students glean understandings of peace and conflict from interacting with popular media? How do these small-scale revolutionary acts culminate in creating effective and sustainable contributions to greater society? How does peace education fit into curricula that might not traditionally be associated with change and social issues like justice and equity? Is it surprising to utilize real, contemporary examples in classroom settings to illustrate a way of knowing or exhibit a specific understanding of a concept? Is it shocking that teaching methods shift as the bodies, minds, beliefs, and perspectives of students change?

In response, Finley, Connors, and Wien highlight the integrated nature of the educational process as well as challenge ways of knowing as discrete processes. As noted by many of the contributors, tackling popular culture in the classroom is a part of empowering students in recognizing the inevitability of constructing knowledge from personal experience, unpacking implicit biases and fostering compassion around humanity’s wicked problems that are all too often written off in ways antithetical to sustainable, positive peace.

The editors also underline a very specific challenge faced by peace educators, those who study peace along with those who practice it: highlighting the intersectional nature of peace as a concept and distilling those kernels into bits of knowledge applicable to home disciplines. In this way, the compartmentalized nature of educational structures striates vital contemporary concepts like peace building, sustainability, and cooperation until they no longer relate to any other curricula but their own. Concepts like leadership training and conflict resolution are presumed to be stand-alone modules employed in social processes that never touch, impact or affect classroom learning.

As within any educational system, social education and “training” are embedded within curricula, ultimately espoused by classroom and institutional leadership, reinforced by constantly engaged practice, and often recede beyond the cursory perceptions of students within the learning community. The truest value of teaching peace through popular culture exists in the experience of critically analyzing accessible media; an entire focus on academic literature can create a sensory vacuum in understanding and undermine the application of these skills outside of the academic setting.

In this way, the editors provide a useful and inspirational guide for undergraduate educators to develop meaningful learning experiences that live in the classroom and have purchase outside of a laboratory setting. As has been exhibited within the pedagogy of arts appreciation and criticism, or what we coin “aesthetic,” fostering analysis of the media consumed outside of the classroom brings the full student into the learning environment, delimiting the reach of philosophically engaged learning and providing optimal conditions for growth in understanding the concept of sustainable, positive peace. It is this potential for impact that underscores the value of this volume and provides the strongest recommendation for its inclusion in the syllabi of peace education training programs.


Butler, J. (1999). Gender trouble: Feminism and the subversion of identity. New York, NY: Routledge.

Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York, NY: Continuum.

Rittel, H. W. J., & Webber, M. M. (June 01, 1973). Dilemmas in a general theory of

planning. Policy Science: Integrating Knowledge and Practice to Advance Human

Dignity, 4, 2, 155–169.

The United States Department of Health & Human Services. (April 18, 1979). Ethical principles

and guidelines for the protection of human subjects of research. Retrieved from



Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: October 03, 2017
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22181, Date Accessed: 11/29/2021 10:21:41 AM

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About the Author
  • Jeff Aguiar
    University of Manitoba
    E-mail Author
    JEFF AGUIAR is a Ph.D. student in Peace and Conflict Studies at St. Paul's College in the University of Manitoba. A former classroom educator in Theatre Arts, Language Arts and Creative Writing, his specialties include arts-based organizations and education, peace education, transformative change and curriculum reform. Most recently, his research has focused on creativity in problem-solving and developing training experiences for beginning peace practitioners.
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