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The curriculum as contested space

Keynote on 6 June 2017 @ the 7th Teaching & Learning Conference Theme: Going Places: Let’s Invent the Future
Hosted by North-West University, Vanderbijlpark, South Africa

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The curriculum as contested space

  1. 1. Image credit: The curriculum as contested space Keynote on 6 June 2017 @ the 7th Teaching & Learning Conference Theme: Going Places: Let’s Invent the Future Hosted by North-West University, Vanderbijlpark, South Africa Paul Prinsloo University of South Africa (Unisa) @14prinsp 1
  2. 2. Acknowledgement I do not own the copyright of any of the images in this presentation. I hereby acknowledge the original copyright and licensing regime of every image used. All the images used in this presentation have been sourced from a variety of sources on the internet and were labeled for non-commercial reuse. This work (excluding the images governed by their original licencing) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License 2
  3. 3. By Paul Prinsloo (University of South Africa) @14prinsp Image credit first slide: In the South African context, when we consider the ‘curriculum as contested space’, the following may come to mind - #RhodesMustFall #ScienceMustFall #DecoloniseThe Curriculum 3
  4. 4. Page credit: 4
  5. 5. #ScienceMustFall Page credit: 5
  6. 6. Images credits: 8&keywords=south+africa%2C+higher+education 15&keywords=south+africa%2C+higher+education 1&keywords=as+by+fire%2C+the+end+of+the+south+african+university+jansen 6
  7. 7. Retrieved from uth_Africa 7
  8. 8. In this presentation I would like to take a broader perspective on the curriculum as ‘contested space.’ I would like to explore how different stakeholders jostle to include (and exclude) selected voices in the curriculum in service of their own visions of the future Image credit: 8
  9. 9. Imagecredit: A social cartography of student data: Moving beyond #StudentsAsDataObjects Presentation at the 23rd Conference of the South African Association for Institutional Research (SAAIR), Potchefstroom, South Africa Paul Prinsloo University of South Africa (Unisa) @14prinsp Image credit: The purpose of this presentation is to (1) provide an understanding of the different claims on the curriculum; (2) raise awareness of the voices we include and exclude and the criteria for their in/exclusion; and (3) provide some alternative considerations for the curriculum in service of a more just and sustainable future 9
  10. 10. The curriculum has always been a “contested space” (Prinsloo, 2007), a “place of turmoil” (Slattery & Daigle, 1994) and “an arena of struggle” (Shay, 2015) Image credit: Canadian Gunners in the Mud, Passchendaele by Lieutenant Alfred Bastien, 1917, oil on canvas. Retrieved from, 10
  11. 11. Image credit: Canadian Gunners in the Mud, Passchendaele by Lieutenant Alfred Bastien, 1917, oil on canvas. Retrieved from, The curriculum has also, always, been gendered, raced, and classed. The curriculum has always been used to include voices, perspectives and exclude others. The curriculum has always been used to define and protect power (whether determined by e.g. race, gender, class, or culture) and to ensure that the visions of those in power are sanctioned as the vision of the future 11
  12. 12. Image credit:,_Mgbe,_Etuam,_Egbo,_South_Nigeria_Wellcome_M0005360.jpg Craft associations and guilds, whether comprising mask carvers in Benin or weavers in India, all had the same basis, namely (1) the celebration and acknowledgement of expertise; (2) exercising the monopoly on their craft in a particular geographical area; (3) regulating and sanctioning access to the specific expertise base 12
  13. 13. Image credit:,_embroidery,_and_needle-work_with_Irish_flax_threads_(1892)_(14595691027).jpg “Guilds protected their special knowledge; governments prohibited the export of economically important skills. France, for instance, made exporting lace- making expertise a capital crime: Anyone caught teaching the skill to foreigners could be put to death”(Davenport and Prusak, 2000). (Also see Belfanti, 2004.) 13
  14. 14. Therefore in line with the theme of this conference, Going Places: Let’s Invent the Future we have to ask: Whose visions of the future are represented in our curricula? Whose visions are included/excluded? Whose voices count? 14
  15. 15. The ‘what’ of the curriculum is determined by those who lay claim to own the future … … and they will protect their claim at all cost 15
  16. 16. Image credit: Some examples of the ‘curriculum as contested space’ 16
  17. 17. Page credit: crunch 7 April 2009 17
  18. 18. Page credit: 27 May 2015
  19. 19. 12 September 2013 19
  20. 20. 5 June 2013 Page credit: 20
  21. 21. Page credit: 24 October 2013 21
  22. 22. Page credit: 4 May 2014 22
  23. 23. 14 September 2015 23
  24. 24. Page credit: more-context-is-needed-not-less-content-56215 15 March 2016 24
  25. 25. Page credit: 8 January 2017 25
  26. 26. 17 May 2017 26
  27. 27. Page credit: 4 June 2017 27
  28. 28. Image credit: How do we see the role of (higher) education? And what are the implications for the curriculum? 28
  29. 29. Adapted from: de Oliveira Andreotti, V., Stein, S., Pashby, K., & Nicolson, M. (2016). Social cartographies as performative devices in research on higher education. Higher Education Research & Development, 1-16. Scholastic imaginary of higher education (12th to 16th century) Classical imaginary of higher education 16th to mid to 19th century Civic imaginary of higher education Mid-19th to mid/late 20th century Corporate imaginary of higher education 1970s up to today Church/religious and Hellenic/Islamic philosophies Universal reason and secular knowledge – training of the elites The modern nation state Training of professional labour The capitalist market Production of labour for economic growth Colonialism Apartheid 12th century - University of Timbuktu “It was not a university in the modern sense” - Islam 5th century ACE - Nalanda (Bihar, India) - Hindu 5th century BCE - Taxila (modern-day Pakistan) - Buddhist 29
  30. 30. “All four university imaginaries – scholastic, classical, civic and corporate – co-exist in a dynamic fashion, manifesting in particular assemblages depending on the contours of a given context. However, civic and corporate imaginaries tend to be the most salient, producing unpredictable and at times contradictory and incoherent outcomes for staff, faculty, students and communities” (p. 90) de Oliveira Andreotti, V., Stein, S., Pashby, K., & Nicolson, M. (2016). Social cartographies as performative devices in research on higher education. Higher Education Research & Development, 1-16. 30
  31. 31. Elite (0-15%) Mass (16-50%) Universal (over 50%) Attitudes to access A privilege of birth or talent or both A right for those with certain qualifications An obligation for the upper and middle classes Functions of higher education Shaping of mind and character of the ruling class; preparation for elite roles Transmission of skills; preparation for broader range of technical and economic elite roles Adaptation of ‘whole population’ to rapid and social and technological change Adapted from a presentation by Soudien, C. (2017, 31 May). Debates in the decolonisation movement and their relevance for curriculum renewal in South African Higher Education. University of Pretoria. Referring to Trow, M. (2007). Reflections on the transition from elite to mass to universal access: Forms and phases of higher education in modern societies since WWII. In International handbook of higher education (pp. 243-280). Springer Netherlands. Implications for the curriculum? 31 Another perspective
  32. 32. Neoliberal CriticalLiberal de Oliveira Andreotti, V., Stein, S., Pashby, K., & Nicolson, M. (2016). Social cartographies as performative devices in research on higher education. Higher Education Research & Development, 1-16. 32
  33. 33. Imagecredit: Liberal • Serving the public good – defined by those in power • Increasing equality and access to individual freedoms • A strong state role in welfare and re-distribution • Higher education as key in achieving national development goals • “Research is framed as a form of problem-solving that improves national indicators of development” (de Andriotti et al., 2016, p. 91) • Increasing access and the massification of higher education • Economic growth as driver • Everyone can be a success – from poverty to riches and the individual as an autonomous, rational agent • Let-us-forget-the-past-and-go-on- with-our-lives-the-future-is-bright- just-take-off-your-glasses-and-pull- up-your-socks 33
  34. 34. Imagecredit: Neoliberal • Austerity measures and defunding of higher education • Commodification of “knowledge, research, teaching and service, framing the core ‘business’ of the university as a provider of credentials, expert services and commercial innovations” (de Andriotti et al, 2016, p. 90) • Rationalisation of the Program Qualification Mix (PQM) • Students and industry as customers • Increasing numbers of administrative, well-paid staff and the outsourcing of teaching to contract and adjunct faculty • Institutional prestige and global university rankings • “In this orientation, the role of the nation-state is to enable and to protect, with military force if necessary, the rights of capital and the smooth functioning and expansion of markets” (de Andriotti et al, 2016, p. 91). • Faculty have become “individualist strivers competing for grants, publications, promotions, salary increases, better jobs elsewhere according to a set of rules as market driven as anything dreamed up by administrators” (Jemielniak & Greenwood, 2015, p. 73). 34
  35. 35. Imagecredit: Critical • It explores and exposes the inherent epistemological power and patterns of violence in curricula • “It highlights capitalist exploitation, processes of racialization and colonialism and other forms of oppression at work in seemingly benevolent and normalised patterns of thinking and behaviour” (de Andriotti et al, 2016, p. 91). • The inclusion of more diverse voices but contrary to the production of a singular and homogenous narrative of a nation-state, it “aims to transform, pluralise, or replace these narratives through historical and systemic analyses of patterns of oppression and unequal distributions of power, labour and resources” (Andriotti et al, 2016, p. 91). • This orientation contests and confronts the notion of the university as “an elitist space, and ivory tower” (Andriotti et al, 2016, p. 91) 35
  36. 36. Liberal Critical Neoliberal Commercial outputs Research deliverables Value for taxpayer’s investment Personal betterment ‘Intercultural education’ Social critique Community as businesses Community engagement Community as disadvantaged groups de Oliveira Andreotti, V., Stein, S., Pashby, K., & Nicolson, M. (2016). Social cartographies as performative devices in research on higher education. Higher Education Research & Development, 1-16. 36
  37. 37. Image credit: Mapping (some) of the different claims on the curriculum* (*in no particular order of importance) 37
  38. 38. Employers/the ‘market’ (Un)employment Broader societal trends Students Individual voices in departments Higher education rankings and reputation Funding and quality assurance regimes and bodies Disciplines The role of publishing houses/prescribed books Open Educational Resources (OER), the (Silicon) University (of Google) The curriculum as contested space National development goals 1 2 3 4 5 7 8 9 10 11 6 Institutional character/vision and mission 38
  39. 39. 1. Disciplines • Disciplines represent the evolutionary sedimentation of how we see the world and our place/role in this world (ontology), and the knowledge needed to make sense of the world and our agency (epistemology) • Disciplines, once established, protect their boundaries and determine access, quality, and determine the criteria for the acceptability of ‘new’ research 39
  40. 40. 2. Individual voices in the department • Individuals who see themselves as representatives of a particular discipline, and who act as gatekeeper, quality assurer and who validates all new/alternative knowledge claims • Members of exclusive and exclusionary networks of power and validation • Most probably wrote the book which has been prescribed over a number of years and found in the nexus of academic expertise and academic capitalism 40
  41. 41. 3. Higher education rankings and reputation • Often symbiotically dependent on the standing/gravitas of disciplines (point 1) and individual or groups of individuals (point 2) • Disciplines that distract from the potential to rise in the rankings or who impact negatively on the reputation and commercial sustainability of the institution are ‘culled’ • Often links to and shapes institutional missions and visions 41
  42. 42. 4. National development goals • Depending on the context – Global North/Global South – universities are compelled to contribute to predetermined development goals or national values • Funding/subsidy is used as steering mechanism • Education is seen as the key driver to ‘solve’ societal ills irrespective of the intergenerational structural hierachies of inclusion/exclusion • Often linkes to techo-solutionism where “to save everything, click here” (Morozov, 2003) 42
  43. 43. 5. Funding and quality assurance regimes and bodies • See previous point • The bureaucratisation of the accreditation of courses/programmes shapes the responsiveness of curricula • Demands constant review of programmes to ensure quality (according to the market, industry and students) • The constant threat of de-accreditation steers curriculum ‘renewal’ often in response to dominant ideological positions 43
  44. 44. 6. Institutional character, vision and mission • Differences between research intensive, comprehensive and universities of technology • Differences between modes (and cost) of delivery • Impact of institutional vision and mission (often in response to the latest flavour of the month) • Understanding of position in the market, market share, academic expertise and business model • Impacts on the role of research, teaching, and community outreach and organisational capacity to support curriculum development 44
  45. 45. 7. Students • Despite the (empty) rhetoric of student-centeredness and responsiveness to students’ needs and aspirations, very few students are involved in curriculum development/renewal projects • Students’ prior learning and ‘readiness’ for crossing over into the epistemological boundaries of a particular discipline play a crucial role – e.g. extended programmes, access courses, etc. • Increasingly little choice re curriculum 45
  46. 46. 8. Open Educational Resources (OER), the (Silicon) University (of Google) • For under-resourced/resource-constrained institutions, open educational resources (OER) provide a rich potential source of curriculum content • To what extent will higher education institutions engage abdicate/supplement curriculum development to what can be found (and hopefully validated) on the internet? • Coding as salvation Image credit: 46
  47. 47. 9. Broader societal trends 1. Global warming 2. Excessive population growth 3. Water shortages 4. Destruction of life in the oceans 5. Mass famine in ill-organised countries 6. The spread of desserts 7. Pandemics 8. Extreme poverty 9. Growth of shanty cities 10. Unstoppable migrations 11. Non-state actors with extreme weapons 12. Violent religious extremism 13. Runaway computer intelligence 14. War that could end civilisation 15. Risks to Homo Sapiens’ existence 16. A new Dark Age 47
  48. 48. 10. Employers/the market/ industry/(un)employm ent • The most dominant voice in curriculum development, often to the exclusion of other voices/approaches • Erroneously based on the assumption that education, on its own, can address unemployment, as if there is an infinite number of job opportunities in a contracting labour market • (Not) everyone can/should be an entrepreneur • The entrepreneurial university and its discontents… 48
  49. 49. 11. The role of publishing houses/ prescribed books • See Points 1 and 2 • Once the curriculum becomes entangled in academic capitalism and networks of inclusion/exclusion, there is often, no way out • Publishing houses are increasingly much more than just publishers but have moved to being (accredited) providers of (higher) education • The role of publishing houses and pay-for-view regimes in the dissemination of research findings 49
  50. 50. Image credit: (In)conclusion: Some pointers for consideration 50
  51. 51. Image credit: Universities are no longer the only producers of knowledge 51
  52. 52. Image credit: Knowledge with a capital ‘K’ has been replaced by “knowledges” (Barnett, 2000), claims of “post-fact”, “fake news” and independent agents (e.g.) formulating knowledge claims 52
  53. 53. Image credit: Who will validate the different knowledge claims? Based on what criteria? 53
  54. 54. Image credit: (Some) students have more choices than ever before 54
  55. 55. Knowledge - and education - as public goods are increasingly defunded and privatised 55
  56. 56. Barnett, R. (2000). University knowledge in an age of supercomplexity. Higher education, 40(4), 409-422. Barnett, R. (2004). Learning for an unknown future. Higher Education Research & Development, 23(3), 247-260. We have moved from complexity to supercomplexity where the universal claims of Mode 1’s disciplinary knowledge, and the problem-based approach of Mode 2 knowledge will fall short. We see glimpses of the need for a Mode 3 knowledge – where “knowing produces further uncertainty” (Barnett, 2004, p. 251), where “the world recedes from us, even as we approach it” (Barnett, 2004, p. 252). Image credit: 56
  57. 57. The “curriculum as contested space” Image credit: What are the possibilities for curricula to open spaces for interrogration, questioning, inclusion, and redefinition of what we already know or think we do?
  58. 58. Image credit: What are the possibilities for curricula to celebrate what we don’t know (yet)?
  59. 59. Image credit: What are the possibilities for curricula to contest historical and current knowledge claims? What is the possibility of the curriculum not only being a contested space but also a contesting space? 59
  60. 60. Image credit: THANK YOU Paul Prinsloo Research Professor in Open Distance Learning (ODL) College of Economic and Management Sciences, Office number 3-15, Club 1, Hazelwood, P O Box 392 Unisa, 0003, Republic of South Africa T: +27 (0) 12 433 4719 (office) T: +27 (0) 82 3954 113 (mobile) Skype: paul.prinsloo59 Personal blog: Twitter profile: @14prinsp 60