Critical Ideas from the Periphery

By Martin Preston and Betzabé Torres-Olave

A year ago, free from the knowledge of what 2020 would have in store for us all, we invited people to join us in the idea of creating a collective place to discuss critical theories.

Inspired in part by the activities of the Standing Seminar in Critical Theory based at Bath University, we were interested in establishing a collaborative space in which to interact with different perspectives of critical theories, to build community around similar interests, and to foster creativity. Also, we were happy to have an excuse to see each other beyond our research interests, something perhaps we value even more at present. As Antonia Darder reminds us, there is an “importance of building communities of individuals who share a collective vision and recognize the importance of critical relationships of solidarity. They are comrades, compañeros and compañeras who share a revolutionary love for one another as brothers and sisters in struggle” (2017, p.64).

This is key since from different approaches, we are working within education which can be a vehicle to change ourselves and inevitably the relationships we build within the world. We hoped that in creating a space built on the recognition of others with similar dreams and hopes, we could learn from each other and progress further than if alone. We sought to draw on the rich and diverse interests and knowledge of those in our learning community. This is particularly important within the multidisciplinary department within which we are based, the University of Bristol’s School of Education, but also because we hoped to reach out beyond its boundaries.

Central to our idea was to go beyond those critical thinkers typically associated within European Critical Theory. We sought thinkers from different perspectives, locations, and where possible, those who were still contributing to critical theoretical approaches.

With this in mind, we initiated this collaborative process by facilitating the group to contribute names of authors or theories which we might be able to explore further:

Our first meeting was a success, success measured in our own way: we were not alone. Students and academics from across the university and beyond gathered to create something. Through a lluvia de ideas (rain of ideas) we came out with some topics to explore: Critical Race Theory, Feminist Critical Theories, Critical Theories in Education, Decoloniality, and Eco-feminist theory.

We named our group Critical Ideas from the Periphery. Why this name? Firstly, we thought that our group would not simply look to gather theories and collect schools of thought, but rather experiences and concepts formulated in our conversations and distilled in the act of co-creation. Moreover, many of the scholars introduced in our initial scoping task and some others who we will go onto explore in the next term, are not the common ones related to critical theory.

Equally, the name is aspirational, and one which we hope challenges us to seek out new and different understanding of the areas we cover. Just as significantly, many of us, whilst engaging with critical theories in our various research approaches, do not consider ourselves within one school of thought.

Lastly, the word periphery gives us perspective to look from far away and then to go closer and explore further.  Moreover, we would like to use the periphery also as a position, in the same way bell hooks uses the idea of margin: ‘place of radical openness is a margin—a profound edge.’ (1989, p.36) where we can create and resist confinement.

A Reflection on the Year

Space here does not allow for us to sufficiently convey the richness of the contributions from those who led on each of the sessions. However, there are some of things we learnt that we would like to share.

In our first session, we read Restoring our Humanity. The Dialectics of Revolutionary Praxis by Antonia Darder. We shared questions and thoughts around what is the role of knowledge for revolutionary praxis? How can we introduce these critical ideas of community, collective love and educational praxis in our lives as researchers, teachers, family members?

In the second session, Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics by Kimberle Crenshaw, we reflected on intersectionality not just as a lens, but as a way of acting. We were challenged: ‘How do we actually use it in our praxis?’ We also reflected on the need to create alliances of solidarity with those under different conditions of oppression. Even though this could mean tensions and sacrifices, it is from there where we transform.

The third session was on feminism, and we moved to the south of the globe. We read A Manifesto in Four Themes by Rita Segato. In it, Segato invited us to understand patriarchy as a model of exploitation of territories and bodies that have been reproduced through other kinds of oppression. As she says “[e]conomic, political, colonial, and racial forms of supremacy are thus effectively replicas of the patriarchal order” (p.199). Under this order, women’s bodies are seen as inferior to those at the top of the hierarchy, men, or as she calls it, The Masculine Mandate. This mandate has trained men to be loyal to the dynamics of that group, which also oppresses them. In this session, we also reflected on how patriarchy as a form of domination is even replicated through the exploitation of our natural resources, where the non-human is seen as having a lower place in the hierarchical chain. 

How to face this masculine mandate? Politicising the private space, dismantling binarism, and creating bonds between us is one of the ways of facing many forms of hierarchisation and exploitation. Bonds that diverge from neoliberal and capitalist ideas, bonds that are embedded within a “communal rootedness.”

Our fourth session, coming just days after the UK went into lockdown, saw us meet online for the first time. It was the beginning of a time of many uncertainties and a welcome opportunity to meet with others and share ideas, albeit remotely. Not only because of the pandemic, but because of different struggles and injustices that were starting to gain more attention, including in the academic world.

For this session, we read The Structure of Knowledge in Westernized Universities Epistemic Racism/Sexism and the Four Genocides/Epistemicides of the Long 16th Century by Ramón Grosfoguel. The reading was especially timely as it problematised how non-western perspectives provide new opportunities, spaces, and hopes for the creation of knowledge. Epistemic diversity offers the opportunity to understand the world in a richer way overcoming the single (male-western) perspective that favours one side of history.

During the fifth session, we read Virus: all that is solid melts into air. In the article Boaventura de Sousa Santos covers a lot of ground in the context of the onset of the pandemic and the implications for our societies. de Sousa Santos outlines a state of permanent crisis for the world created under neoliberal capitalism. In this state, a sense of security is generated for the classes able to benefit from social provisions such as healthcare, whilst those denied it are victimised. For de Sousa Santos the pandemic crisis has simultaneously revealed the failure of such a system whilst interrupting the notion of security and ‘common sense’ of the minority who benefited from it. Such an event, he asserts, provides the opportunity for a ‘common awareness of planetary, democratic-like communion’, even in the very act of our enforced solitude.

Centrally de Sousa Santos points to the window which the COVID pandemic and resulting lockdowns have revealed into ‘alternative mode(s) of life’. A window often hidden to us through entrenched political and economic systems. In concluding, he points to the ‘shadows that visibility creates’ within a sociology of absences. Poignantly, he invokes the case of ‘migrants and refugees’, people on the Greek island of Lesvos residing in ‘camps’ (detention centres) such as Moria. These places, where people are more vulnerable to the Coronavirus and other diseases are within Europe, and yet are perhaps more invisible than ever before. Thus, it is not a coincidence that de Sousa Santos chose Marx’s phrase “All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned” (p. 38) for the title of his article.

The sixth session approached the area of Eco-feminism, a theory significantly tied to the activist experiences of its most significant contributors as well as to movements such as the Chipko in India or the Green Belt Movement in Kenya. We discussed two distinct, though interrelated, approaches to eco-feminism: essentialist or radical and Marxist or existentialist. Drawing on contributions from some of the most prominent contributors such as Vandana Shiva, Mary Meller, Maria Mies and others, we focused on the work of Ariel Salleh. Reading Salleh’s 2008 ‘Ecofeminism as Sociology’, we delved into their discussion on the place of reproductive labour and its knowledges in the formation of an ‘ecologically literate sociology’.

Freire Cem

Our central focus over the coming year will be in anticipation of the centenary of the Brazilian Educator and critical activist Paulo Freire. As well as restarting our readings, we are looking forward to hosting a series of activities, events and opportunities for collective thinking under the name #Freire100. This is also the name Education International is giving to the celebration. By doing this we would like to not only disseminate Paulo Freire’s contributions to the philosophy of education but also discuss how his work has influenced our own as students, teachers, researchers, and as humans in the world. We seek to question how his ideas are relevant as we all venture into the post-pandemic future. In doing so, having a place to talk about his ideas on autonomy, liberation, humanity, hope, community, and so many others, is a good excuse to imagine collectively how best to put these ideas into practice.  We aim to create ethical and democratic relationships with others, at the school, university, nature, and beyond following Freire’s idea that “the pursuit of full humanity, cannot be carried out in isolation or individualism, but only in fellowship and solidarity” (Freire, 1970/2006, p.85).

Excitingly, the group continues to grow, as do the number of those who wish to bring something to share. If you would like to lead an activity with the group around any of the subjects we have discussed or simply wish to connect, do get in touch.

Contacts: Betzabé or Martin at


Crenshaw, K. (1989). Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics. University of Chicago Legal Forum, 1, 139-167.

Darder, A., (2017). Reinventing Paulo Freire: A pedagogy of Love, Westview Press

de Sousa, B. (2020). Virus: all that is solid melts in the air, Open Democracy,

Freire, P. (1970/2006). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Continuum.

Grosfoguel, R. (2013). The Structure of Knowledge in Westernized Universities: Epistemic Racism/Sexism and the Four Genocides/Epistemicides of the Long 16th Century, Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge, 11(1), 73-90.

hooks, bell. (1989). Choosing the Margin as a Space of Radical Openness. Framework, The Journal of Cinema and Media, 36, 15–23.

Marx, K. & Engels, F. (1847/1977). The Communist Manifesto. In K. Marx, & F. Engels, Selected Works in One Volume, Lawrence and Wishart.

Salleh, A. (2003). Ecofeminism as Sociology, Capitalism Nature Socialism, 14(1), 61-74.

Segato, R. (2018). A manifesto in four themes, Critical Times, 1(1), 198–211.

Learning and teaching under lockdown, the Chilean experience.

By Tamara Cepeda & Hugo Parra Munoz , PhD (C) School of Education, University of Bristol

I. Teaching and learning in Chile

Not even in our worst nightmares. As usual in the Southern region of Latin America, Chilean teachers, students and their families began the academic year on March 4. This fell just a day after the first COVID-19 case in the country was reported. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak classes in Chile were suspended on March 16. What means attend to school in Chile? The educative context is marked by the neoliberal politics. They have gradually dismantled the public education system (Bellei, 2018; Ruiz, 2012) and have installed a network of financing through demand (Verger, Moschetti, & Fontdevila, 2017) and a voucher system as modes for financing public schools (Murnane, Waldman, John, Bos, & Vegas, 2017). Moreover, the neoliberal project has installed a culture of New Public Management (Falabella, 2014), NPM, and has configured and established norms oriented around metrics of performance and results. The setting has been invaded by discourses which privilege numbers and mechanical notions of learning (Flórez Petour, 2014). The grading system used in the country, framed in a high-stakes system, promotes competition and rivalry (Percerisa and Falabella, 2017). The literature in the country evidences a strong connection between students’ socio-economic background and their school achievement (García and Paredes, 2010), and the resultant inequality is linked to the market-oriented transformation of the system (Torché, 2005). Piecemeal reforms have generally only exacerbated inconsistencies and the sense of outright chaos, a historical top-down approach in which a highly centralised policy fails to take account of local contexts and the use of policies based on foreign models which are uncritically applied to Chile without due note of its specificities (Flórez Petour, 2014).

After COVID-19 broke out, students and teachers had only eight days of face to face classes. Since that day until now, education has moved entirely online; tensioning the reasoning of monitoring and accountability associated to NPM. Likewise, in many other cases, Chilean teachers were not trained for that type of teaching practice; they did not receive any technological, pedagogical, or logistical support. A recent OPECH report (Chilean Observatory for Educational Policies, September 2020), stated that this unprecedented lockdown situation has deeply impacted upon learning, demanding everyone involved to adapt to new conditions that represented challenges in various aspects (OPECH, 2020). It has accelerated the sense of vulnerability of the current times, as Bauman (2000) denounces, intensifying the work and deepening the precarious conditions of overwhelmed school teachers (Sánchez Cerón, 2018). We find it necessary to emphasise here, that during March prior to the pandemic the country was already barely operating with any sense of ‘normality’ after the national uprising began in October 2019. That academic year was already challenging to finish. For the educational landscape, the uprising brought one significant change: the end of the PSU, the competitive test used to offer university places in the country. It had been identified as a significant element in the (re)production of acute social and knowledge inequalities in education. During January 2020, students protested fiercely during the administration of the PSU, demonstrating against the elitism of the test and thus access to Higher Education, as it foments segregation and inequality. The test was boycotted in masse with the slogan ‘No more PSU’ used widely. This demonstration culminated with the elimination of it and the creation of a ‘Transitory Admission Test’ that will be used for the first time this year during November if health conditions permit.

Students protesting against the University entrance test, January 2020.

Chile also presents damning data in the OCDE reports, as a member of this organisation. Particularly for upper secondary level education, where both authors had taught for several years before embarking upon our PhDs. The number of students per teacher at the secondary level is one of the largest among OECD countries (usually there are 45 students in a classroom with just one teacher!), and conversely the annual expenditure per secondary level students is one of the lowest (OECD, 2016). In that reality, Chilean teachers give their lessons and assess learning processes. In that reality, students are supposed to learn. Furthermore, teachers are expected to teach a large number of hours (1,064 hours in Chile, within an average of 655 working hours, in OECD countries), whilst receiving among the lowest salaries in the OECD countries. In these conditions, the COVID-19 outbreak hit the already crisis-ridden Chilean classrooms.

A typical secondary school group, these are some of the 45 students that Tamara was in charge of as teacher and tutor before coming to the UK to start her PhD.

II. The OPECH report and our experience

The OPECH report identifies three main issues affecting learning during lockdown. The COVID outbreak just makes worse a situation that was already complicated enough. Firstly, there is a clear issue of work overload. Teachers are spending more time working during the lockdown, doing even more than the usual. Consequently, many are declaring themselves ‘tired’ or ‘very tired’ under the current conditions. These conditions have clearly made it very difficult to harmonise work and family life. In spite of these considerable obstacles, teachers have shown a commendable level of commitment towards their students’ learning continuity. During these months, we have known about former colleagues stressed, working all day barely attending to their children and bursting into tears and breaking down. The increased time in front of the computer makes it difficult for them, for example, to engage with their children’s learning or even undertake simple daily tasks like cooking.

Secondly, the report highlights socio-emotional aspects by stating teachers’ worries about the health and emotional condition of their families and also the high reported levels of stress. A number of teachers also exhibited high levels of burnout. Inevitably, this has tended to be higher among teachers with parental responsibilities. In this regard, teachers also face significant worries about their students’ mental, economic and social wellbeing during the COVID outbreak. The demands of this seemingly ‘new world’ make teachers’ duties recording classes, doing online courses, sending material, homework and assignments, and assessing their students.

To add further complexity to the panorama, teachers were worried about their students: quarantined families, families who tested positive, death, unemployment and (increased) poverty. Not only students were left sometimes in households with no formal incomes, but also there were threats of not receiving payments for teachers as well, especially within the subsidised system. Following our well-known culture of the neoliberal system, parents would not (and indeed could not) meet the schools’ fees, prompting fears about teachers’ salaries. All this under the logic that ‘if parents don’t pay, we don’t have the money to pay teachers’. One school in San Bernardo, a district in the South of the capital, mostly inhabited by families who belongs to the Chilean lowest quintiles, just cancelled online teaching by adopting the logic: ‘if parents don’t pay, we don’t teach’. In private and subsidised schools, teachers were enlisted to call their students to know about their situation. So, beyond their teaching function, they were expected to remind the parents’ of their ‘debts’ to the school. This action was often carried out using their personal mobile phones, and consequently their own data and allowances. This meant that the schools sidestepped their logistical responsibilities in the same way as when teachers themselves supported all the online teaching/learning process. In this scenario, Teachers’ Unions reject the erratic government policies for returning to face-to-face education; claiming the lack of health equipment and the schools’ infrastructure, where students are crowded together.

Lastly, the situation made the lack of ICT learning and conditions among the educational sector manifest, even considering attempts to educate teachers and students about online learning. In a country with a significant rural population, the lack of internet access has also been problematic. Most of the schools did not supply the requisite technological tools for either teachers or students; a factor for stress and burnout increase and, on the other hand, engagement decrease. The lack of internet connection and technological supplies meant that many teachers had students who never participated in classes and thus were not submitting any type of assignments. Within a high-stakes system, that means that students could end up repeating the academic year. For others, learning to use new platforms, such as Zoom or Classroom implied long hours, a slow process, frustration and adaptation difficulties. One teacher said:

“The main challenges have been in the creation of resources with which to assess students, that allow the collection of full information, by using new platforms, which are engaging, but at the same time facilitate the revision or that give reports of students’ attainment. The lack of time is still a very present problem.”

As has been stated, Chilean teachers have a historical work overload that makes it almost impossible to teach in the right conditions; the lack of time is a transversal theme. During teacher interviews that Tamara conducted online in July, time appears a crucial axis for several issues. Time influences teachers’ decisions about assessment methods. In this line, it was a determinant sphere in the decisions made associated with the use of tests and standardised test formats; a formative assessment that becomes summative. These curricular and assessment dilemmas are an expression of the teachers’ desires, which collide with the demands of the system, the lack of student feedback, the overreliance on grades and numbers, and the lack of reflection on students’ attainment. It generates the conditions for configuring a scenario of teachers’ and students’ reticence to embrace changes. In the meantime, at one moment, the country exhibited some of the worst rate of infection per inhabitants and high fatalities percentage in the capital city (June 2020, OECD). Therefore, the health system collapsed.

Ambulances waited up to 12 hours with COVID-19 patients outside a collapsed hospital in the south of the capital, in the cold winter weather and without any food or drinks.

III. Open analysis

The full analysis of what we have set out cannot yet be satisfactorily concluded. We have been in permanent contact with former teaching colleagues on the ground who are facing this unprecedented situation on a daily basis in the country. They have been doing teaching online for seven months now. The precarious context that Chilean teachers have faced for decades has been exacerbated by the health crisis and the intensified work under emergency conditions. Teachers have reported and felt a lack of support and even absolute abandonment from the educational authorities and employees. The ongoing situation in Chile; in the political sphere, along with the upcoming election for changing the constitution at the end of October, forced by social mobilisations; the ongoing demonstrations which have maintained the momentum from the social uprising; the opposition of the Teachers’ Union to returning to the classroom; configure a scenario which remains open for further reflections. However, we suggest that the historicity of dismantling public institution as part of the neoliberal privatising processes has generated a situation that we, at least, could characterise as incompatible with dealing with a humanitarian crisis of this magnitude. It invites us to think about the challenges of education in aspects such as the curricula of the teacher training; the support that teachers and students require undertaking online teaching and learning. Elements such as the technological imbalance of Internet access within a deeply uneven society; the lack of technical support at the national scale and also the constant tendency toward imposing the Western paradigm with scant regard for the reality and specificities of firstly Chile and secondly the various Chiles, a pluriversality, which have unveiled from the aforementioned might also be reviewed.

A typical cramped Chilean classroom environment.

As many scholars have suggested, the pandemic provides spaces for analysing what is occurring at the interior of the education institution. However, the analysis might surpass the reduced limits of the didactic procedures. The academic and political debates of the last two decades have been dominated by managerial calculations, policymakers and educative actors who have discussed aspects such as, who has to administrate the public system and what are the modes for better assessing students and teachers. The debate has been reduced to the engineering of education. This feature could be associated with the gradual dismantling of public education. It is a process of dismembering it from its material conditions and symbolical values. We must recognise, the precarity of Chileans schools has impelled us to concentrate our analysis in statistical aspects, such as the quantities of students and teachers in a classroom, or learning accountability as a guide for determining the meaning of educative quality. The reflection on the educative purposes and the place of the public education – from a pedagogical perspective, in so far construction of comprehensive subjects – is avoided. The current situation at the Chilean school invites us to think not only about better methods for teaching, rather to steer our thought to aspects related to what we are teaching. As an example, the Ministry of Education of Chile has commanded a curricular reduction to “essential pieces of knowledge”, without questioning the overwhelming objectives of learning, their uncountable learning indicators and the implications of that selection or body of knowledge. A critical analysis might transcend formal aspects, inasmuch as procedures, in order to reflect holistically upon the epistemological aims and limits of education and by extension the meaning and raison d’etre of schools within our societies.

As teachers, we may wonder how ‘social distance’ will work within classrooms with 45 students and a very limited space, where if we have corridors, it is only because of earthquakes…. By now, the re-start of face to face classes seems to be something that may happen in March 2021, as most educational actors refuse to come back to school due to the insecurity of the health situation. It is noteworthy that in the last weeks some students in Year 11 and Year 12 of 4 private schools in the most exclusive areas in the capital, went back to classes in person. It would be interesting to continue analysing the Chilean situation in the upcoming months, especially when in the last weeks all the districts of the capital were declared to be out of local quarantine for the first time in 7 months.

Finally, we must mention here that as a product of the national uprising that started one year ago in the country, on October 25 2020 Chileans voted to have a new Constitution, with an overwhelming 78.27% of the votes. People’s participation in this plebiscite was the highest since the return to democracy in 1990. The new Constitution will replace the one imposed in 1980 during the Pinochet dictatorship. The constitutional convention voted to write the new Constitution will be the first in the world to have gender parity and will be fully elected by popular vote during April 2021. For the educational sector, the new Constitution will support and reformulate the redefinition of the balance between State and the market in guaranteeing quality public education (against the private), freedom and diversity, and therefore, education as a human right. These events open hope for change related to the inequalities of the system. As both authors come from low income backgrounds and also were in the country during the social uprising one year ago, we see these aspects opening multiple possibilities for future analysis.

Massive protests in Chile one year ago, during the social uprising.


Bauman, Z. (2000). Liquid modernity. Cambridge, UK: Polity.

Bellei, C. (2018). La nueva educación pública. Santiago: CIAE.

Centro de Estudios de MINEDUC. (2018). Estadísticas de la Educación 2017. Publicación diciembre 2018. Santiago.

Falabella, A. (2014). The Performing School: The Effects of Market & Accountability Policies. Education Policy Analysis Archives22(70), 1–29. 

Flórez Petour, M. T. (2014). Systems, ideologies and history: A three-dimensional absence in the study of assessment reform processes. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 22(1), 3-26.

Garcia Palomer, C., & Paredes, R. D. (2010). Reducing the educational gap: good results in vulnerable groups. The Journal of Development Studies46(3), 535-555.

Murnane, R., Waldman, M., John, W., Bos, M. S., & Vegas, E. (2017). The consequences of Educational Voucher Reform in Chile.

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OECD (2020). Policy Responses to Coronavirus (COVID-19). The territorial impact of COVID-19: Managing the crisis across levels of government.

OPECH (2020). Principales resultados de encuestas sobre el trabajo del profesorado chileno en periodo de pandemia.

Parcerisa, L., & Falabella, A. (2017). La consolidación del Estado evaluador a través de políticas de rendición de cuentas: trayectoria, producción y tensiones en el sistema educativo chileno. Education Policy Analysis Archives/Archivos Analíticos de Políticas Educativas, (25), 1-24.

Ruiz, C. (2012). La república, el Estado y el mercado en educación. Revista de Filosofía68, 11–28.

Sánchez Cerón, M. (2018). La intensificación del trabajo docente en tres países latinoamericanos. Voces y silencios. Revista Latinoamericana de Educación9(1), 4-27.

Torché, F. (2005). Privatisation reform and inequality of educational opportunity: The case of Chile. Sociology of education78(4), 316-343.

Verger, A., Moschetti, M., & Fontdevila, C. (2017). La privatización educativa en América Latina. Una cartografía de políticas tendencias y trayectorias. Barcelona: Internacional de la Educación.