The Politics of Affect: an interview with Dr Audrey Reeves

medium-246537On Thursday 2 March, CIRE members enjoyed a talk by Dr Audrey Reeves from the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies (SPAIS) here at Bristol. Audrey shared with us her recent doctoral research exploring the politics of affect in the context of education for peace and conflict at the Pearl Harbor museums and memorials. Through a visual journey around the Pearl Harbor site, we were introduced to the increasing link between war museums and the wider tourism industry and consumerism. In particular, Audrey honed in on the idea of affect referring to the response of our bodies to stimuli, prior to any conscious or subjective reaction; emotion is a more conscious reaction that we display and can be put into words. Through the careful design of visitor sites, affect is therefore promoted in order to encourage or repress consumption. The Contemplation Circle at Pearl Harbor looks out across the water and contain the names of all Americans who died in the 1941 attack. The design reinforces the belief that this was a grievable event, with presumably innocent lives lost in an illegitimate attack at home from a foreign place (Japan) and dictates a quiet, sombre response. On the other hand, other areas are colourful and fun in design, reinforcing the idea of just wars, American force and protection; being uplifted means that people are more likely to buy. Audrey’s research encompassed museums in Germany, Israel and the UK as well as the USA, all of which demonstrate this principle.

Following the session, I had the opportunity to ask Audrey a bit more about her research and her journey in academia so far.


Laura: What drew you to studying museums?

Audrey: I was very keen to do my PhD at the intersection of feminist international studies and peace and conflict and security studies. I originally offered a completely different proposal, derived from my Masters degree, but two years into doing the research I stalled. I was finding all kinds of other things to do that were relevant to my development, like teaching, but I wasn’t doing the PhD. On the side I was doing a museum project that I had started as part of the Discourse Analysis unit I was taking with Prof Terrell Carver, one of my supervisors. I had really enjoyed writing the assignment and was told I should publish it and so I was trying to develop it further. A year or so later I realised that this had hijacked my thesis. I think at some point your interest evolves and you change as a person. I was making a bold move but I had my supervisors’ support. It did mean that my PhD was longer and that I had a tougher time at my viva.


How did you decide on your methodology?

I come from a Foucauldian background so discourse analysis was already what I had been doing. I think if you become proficient at doing a particular method or theory you are more likely to read the world in that particular way. When I started my PhD, discourse analysis in International Relations (IR) was still very focused on the written and spoken. Visual analysis was emerging, but I felt there was something lacking in terms of how embodied practices and bodily movement make up meaning. That was where I was going when I was looking at ‘affect’. I was lucky to have supervisors, Terrell but also Prof Jutta Weldes, who were open to me looking at things that were not traditional, yet forcing me to be rigorous in grounding my ideas in existing scholarship in other disciplines. Other people had done similar things before, I just didn’t know about it!


You have taken a very reflexive approach to your research…

It was difficult and involved a lot of moments of crisis in the research process, but they were productive. I am writing a piece at the moment for a volume on how to study emotions in IR (edited by Dr Maéva Clément and Dr Eric Sangar) where I am arguing for people to use autoethnography as part of their visits to sites that are experiential yet political at the same time – such as war memorials and museums. Taking one’s emotions seriously during the research process, including but not only during fieldwork as such political sites, is the means to keep one’s own assumptions in check about the object of study. We all have an emotional relationship to our object of study – we may be really enthusiastic, or may think there is something really wrong with the thing or people we study. These emotions are revealing about how we conceptualise that thing or group of people, the moral judgements we make about them and our own subjectivities, how we are positioning ourselves in discourses about the thing we study. Autoethnography is not simply about talking about your life, but using your experiences to learn and explain new things in the social world


What were the greatest challenges for you in your PhD?

If you are going to do fieldwork, you need to start looking early on for money, which I did not do as much as I could have. In retrospect, the nature of the project may have made this difficult anyway. Finding funding takes time and the problem was that as my project was evolving organically there was no grand plan or strategy from the start. I had to pay for a lot of it through working other jobs (such as teaching) as there was no time to apply for funding and wait for the response, which can take several months.


What advice do you have in balancing your own development with your PhD project?

For those of us that are looking for an academic job after a PhD the demands are really high. I was lucky with the people that surrounded me, my supervisors and senior PhD students who made it into a lecturing job, so had a good sense of what I had to do. But in terms of how to integrate it into everyday life and balance time management and priorities, that was hard. I got distracted with writing blogs, teaching, conferences and workshops. All these experiences were valuable and I don’t regret doing them – but now I’m finishing my PhD and I only have one peer-reviewed academic publication on my CV. That’s a problem as I can’t get a job with that, but I think I got distracted at times during my PhD as it felt easier to do things that have an immediate impact with instant gratification. Actually, it’s the publishable writing that counts!

Get Green: Learn, Act, Engage, Create

Amy Walsh is currently undertaking an MSc Education (Policy and International Development) and also works for the Student Union at Bristol as Student Engagement Projects Coordinator. Here, she shares with CIRE members her work and what it means for higher education.

I joined the MSc programme through a slightly alternative route. I work at the University of Bristol Students’ Union (Bristol SU), facilitating students to develop their skills, values and confidence through sustainability campaigning and volunteering alongside their course. I led Bristol SU’s Get Green project, which was funded by the National Union of Students (NUS) Students’ Green Fund between 2013-15, and have since been working to embed Get Green’s legacy at the University and SU.

University of Bristol students and the Get Green team at Welcome Fair 2014

Bristol SU Get Green

Get Green’s primary aim was to mainstream sustainability at the University of Bristol. My team developed a four-step approach – Learn Act Engage Create –  to engage students in economic, social and environmental sustainability. The approach was underpinned by active learning theory and maximised peer-to-peer engagement. The four-step approach involved students engaging with Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) through their formal curriculum and then building on their experiences by participating in and leading projects and campaigns outside of their course. You can read the full project report on the EAUC Sustainability Exchange.

Get Green’s four step approach – Learn Act Engage Create (Bristol SU, 2015)

ESD can provide a much needed and radical alternative to neoliberal curricula (Blewitt, 2012), but it needs to encompass more than just increasing students’ knowledge of international development and sustainability (Jickling, 1992; Dillon & Huang, 2010). Education should help us to better understand our own values and beliefs including how they relate to, and are different from, others’ frames of reference. ESD needs to facilitate the development of skills to create positive change, be critical and challenge the status quo, and help us to understand the impact each of our decisions has on the world. In an attempt to work towards this vision, Get Green took a holistic approach to engaging students with sustainability through their formal, informal and subliminal curriculum, in a similar way to the University of Plymouth (Sterling, 2010).

Over the two-year project we recorded a shift from 26% to 44% of students identifying as “positive greens” according to the DEFRA Segmentation Model, with a decline in the number of students leaning toward the negative end of the spectrum. My experience working with students on ESD has been inspiring and I have seen many flourish into environmental and social justice activists determined to make the world better for everyone and teach their peers about sustainability.

University of Bristol Student DEFRA Segmentation Survey results from 2010, 2013 and 2015, n=~500 (Bristol SU, 2015)

What next for ESD in HE?

A major challenge we continue to face is the ironically unsustainable funding for sustainability projects. Since the Get Green project funding ended, the team’s capacity has been vastly reduced so the team are prioritising work around the Learn and Create steps of the four-step approach. This has left a hole in sustainability activity at Bristol, relying on students to deliver projects within the ‘Act’ and ‘Engage’ strands of the Learn Act Engage Create framework. This is theoretically great for peer-to-peer engagement but some student groups haven’t managed to reach out beyond their usual audiences and therefore students who would probably identify in the mid-sections of the DEFRA segmentation aren’t being reached. It also relies on having a pool of interested and driven students, which can be difficult given the high turnover of students as they graduate each year.

If the HE sector seriously wants to “make a real contribution to the emergence of a more socially just and environmentally sustainable society it must embrace an alternative and radical critical pedagogy” (Blewitt, 2012, p.1). The HE sector must stop bolting-on ESD and greenwashing as a result of the new requirements from the QAA and TEF.  It is time to invest in radical curriculum change that includes transformative and active learning inside and outside of the formal curriculum, co-designed with students, academics and the community.

If you are interested in finding out more, the Bristol SU Student Sustainability Committee have organised a speaker series focused on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, workshops and a student research conference for this term. Find out about these events and how you can present your UG or PG sustainability-related research at the ‘A Student’s Guide to Sustainability’ conference by visiting the Bristol SU website.

Bristol SU, 2015. NUS Students’ Green Fund: Bristol SU Final Project Report, Bristol: University of Bristol Students’ Union. See: EAUC Sustainability Exchange
Sterling, S., 2010. Sustainability Education: Perspectives and Practice across Higher Education. London: Taylor & Francis.


CIRE Research Debate – ‘Education and the Sustainable Development Goals’: the case of China

Dini.jpegDini Jiang is a PhD student at the Graduate School of Education, investigating teacher effectiveness and professional development in China. In this post he reflects on the recent CIRE research debate and the specific case of China.


What are the mechanisms that are driving international development agendas? This was the key question that arose for me from the CIRE research debate about Education and the Sustainable Development Goals. It follows from what I see the distinctive educational needs and policy priorities of mainland China to be and the engagement of these needs and priorities with international development agendas such as the Education for All [EFA], Millennium Development goals [MDGs] and Sustainable Development Goals [SDGs]. It also arises from how ‘education governance’ (Dale 1997; Robertson & Dale 2013) has shaped the form, pattern and scope of educational policies and practices globally.


Crucially, the educational needs and policy priorities of mainland China are distinct from those of many countries worldwide. As Law (2014) argues, the Chinese government has taken a human capital development approach to coping with the manpower-related challenges of the 21st century, and, through curriculum-making, the state has played an important role in the social distribution of knowledge, skills and dispositions in order to ease the tension between globalisation and nationalism. This key argument can be evidenced by a series of educational reforms undertaken in the mainland Chinese context, including the sushi Jiaoyu – Quality Education Reform – (The Communist Party of China Central Committee & State Council of PRC 1999), the Basic Education Reform (The State Council of PRC 2001) and the Outline of China’s National Plan for Medium and Long-term Education Reform and Development (The Ministry of Education of PRC 2010). In order to address economic, socio-political and educational changes, the Quality Education Reform is essentially concerned with enabling children and adolescents to achieve all-round moral, intellectual and physical development so as to lay the foundations for cultivating socialist siyou xinren – people with socialist ideals, moral virtues, good education and discipline (The Ministry of Education of PRC 1986). The Outline of China’s National Plan for Medium and Long-term Education Reform and Development has highlighted guidelines (p.7) of “upholding the great banner of socialism with Chinese characteristics”, “carrying out the Party’s principles on education” and “promoting the scientific development of education” as well as strategic themes (pp.10-11) of “always putting moral education in the first place”, “emphasising capacity building” and “stressing all-round development”.

Access, quality and equity

These educational needs and priorities in China do, to some extent, engage with international development agendas. Since Dakar, China has improved access to education by expanding lower and upper secondary enrolment; the gross enrolment ratio in lower secondary education increased by at least 27 percentage points from 1999 to 2012, with that in upper secondary education increasing by over 50 percentage points (UNESCO 2015).


Gross enrolment ratios in lower secondary (top) and upper secondary education (bottom), 1999/2012 (UNESCO 2015, p.114)

The concept of ‘quality’ in China is understood broadly in terms of context, inputs, process and outcomes, which reflects the UNESCO (2005) framework for understanding education quality (Thomas et al. 2011). Student academic outcomes in national exams are perceived as the main criteria of quality evaluation, in consideration of the long standing exam-oriented culture and educational competitiveness caused by access expansion. The importance of ‘equity’ is emphasised locally with regards to reducing East/West and urban/rural differences (Thomas 2011). The hukou – household registration – system is the foundation of China’s divisive dualistic (rural and urban) socioeconomic structure and the country’s two classes of citizenship. Its impact on China’s industrialisation, urbanisation and social and spatial stratification has intensified educational inequalities (Chan 2009) and gaps between urban and rural areas in lower secondary school attainment remain (UNESCO 2015).

Lower secondary attainment rate by location, 2000/2010 (UNESCO 2015, p.117)

All of this reflects the significance of ‘context sensitivity’ (Crossley & Watson, 2009) in understanding educational reform and international development.

Education governance frameworks

Returning to the key question – ‘what are the mechanisms that are driving international development agendas?’ – perhaps education governance frameworks (Robertson and Dale 2013) can provide us with further insights into understanding the social justice implications of privatisation. The governance frameworks are comprised of a combination of distinct forms of education activity (funding, provision, ownership, regulation), particular kinds of entities or agents with different interests (state, for-profit/not-for-profit market, community, individual) and different platforms or scales of rule (sub-national, national, supranational). As Robertson and Dale (2013) argue, “education governance innovations demand an explicit engagement with social justice theories, both in themselves, and as offering an opportunity to address issues of social justice that go beyond the re/distribution of education inputs and outputs, important though these are, and which take account of the political and accountability issues raised by globalising of education governance activity” (p. 426).

Chan, K.W. (2009) The Chinese hukou system at 50, Eurasian Geography and Economics, 50 (2), 197-221.
Crossley, M. & Watson, K. (2009) Comparative and international education: policy transfer, context sensitivity and professional development, Oxford Review of Education, 35 (5), 633-649.
Dale, R. (1997) Educational Markets and School Choice, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 18 (3), 451-468.
Law, W. (2014) Understanding China’s curriculum reform for the 21st century, Journal of Curriculum Studies, 46 (3), 332-360.
Robertson, S.L. & Dale, R. (2013) The social justice implications of privatisation in education governance frameworks: a relational account, Oxford Review of Education, 39 (4), 426-445.
The Communist Party of China Central Committee & State Council of PRC (1999) Decision concerning the deepening of education reform and the full-scale promotion of quality education.
The Ministry of Education of PRC (1986) Compulsory Education Law of the People’s Republic of China.
The Ministry of Education of PRC (2010) Outline of China’s National Plan for Medium and Long-term Education Reform and Development.
The State Council of PRC (2001) Decision concerning basic education reform and development.
Thomas, S.M. (2011) Improving Educational Evaluation and Quality in China. ESRC End of Award Report, RES-167-25-0353. Swindon: ESRC.
UNESCO (2005) Education for All: The quality imperative. EFA Global Monitoring Reports.
UNESCO (2015) Education for All 2000-2015: Achievements and Challenges. EFA Global Monitoring Reports.

Education for sustainability and the MFL classroom

Jennifer is a current MSc Education student at the Graduate School of Education. She is a languages teacher with a PGCE from KCL and has taught French and Spanish in the UK and French in Peru. In this post she argues for the inclusion of ‘Education for Sustainability’ in the languages classroom.

As a French and Spanish teacher I have long felt that education, and specifically Modern Foreign Languages (MFL) education, can and should be a force for positive change. Recent work on education and sustainability, as part of my Master’s study at the University of Bristol, has led me to believe that education for sustainability should have a place within the UK’s MFL curricula at secondary level. Here, I tell you why and consider some of the practicalities.

Education for sustainable development vs. education for sustainability

Jickling’s Why I don’t want my children to be educated for sustainable development (1992) rejects the idea of education for sustainable development (ESD), highlighting the ‘paucity of precision’ in the term sustainable development and pointing to the inconsistencies that some people see in juxtaposing the terms development and sustainable. It also problematizes the idea of educating for anything, stating that ‘the prescription of a particular outlook is repugnant to the development of autonomous thinking’. In recognition that ESD aligns with a development-centered view of the world as opposed to leaving room in which to debate issues such as whether development and sustainability are compatible, I am not advocating for the inclusion of ESD in the UK’s MFL curricula. However, I do not agree with Jickling’s claim that education should not be for anything; I feel it would be naïve to claim that secondary school teachers do not have some idea of how we hope our pupils will respond to certain issues. It is for this reason that I would advocate for the UK’s MFL curricula to include education for sustainability, defined by Wade in Journey’s around Education for Sustainability (2008) as ‘education helping to bring [sustainability] about’.

The importance of education for sustainability

Whilst it is true that ‘teachers know that their job is primarily to teach students how to think, not what to think’ (Jickling 2000), I feel it is important to acknowledge that all decisions regarding school curricula are a result of value judgments on the part of teachers. Our choice of subject material (if not prescribed by a manager or exam board) is certainly based on our own interests and worldviews, whether we acknowledge this or not. My argument for the inclusion of education for sustainability in the MFL GCSE and A-Level curricula is based on a desire to see young people consider environmental issues, and I believe that this is reasonable, provided room is left to ‘enable students to debate, evaluate, and judge for themselves the relative merits of contesting positions’ (Jickling 1992). After all, covering education for sustainability within the curriculum will lead to pupils who are knowledgeable enough to consider the issues facing our world and, ultimately, act upon them.

Education for sustainability in the MFL classroom

It is quite easy to move from a conviction that education for sustainability is positive, to a conviction that it should be incorporated into MFL curricula in the UK. I view MFL lessons as not just a place to learn the language studied, but a window into different countries or cultures. For me, reading about the Sahel drought in French, for example, or Spanish approaches to recycling, enables pupils to engage with environmental issues beyond their immediate experience and to actively think about the interconnectedness of the world. It is my belief that education can, and should, expand pupils’ horizons and create agents of change and that’s why I argue education for sustainability should have a place in the UK’s MFL curricula.

Example word cloud for use with students (created with

The practicalities of integrating education for sustainability into MFL teaching

So, if we accept that education for sustainability should be integrated into the UK’s MFL curricula, we must consider how. Currently environmental topics feature on the GCSE and A-Level syllabi of all main exam boards, providing space and time for the inclusion of education for sustainability in the classroom. The challenge facing MFL teachers is how environmental issues can be covered in a way that involves reflection on the state of the world as opposed to mere learning of vocabulary. For me, this is a challenge that can be met through careful planning, the use of authentic texts, videos and audio files to introduce new perspectives through the target language, and leaving space for pupil discussion.

Jickling, B. (1992). Viewpoint: Why I don’t want my children to be educated for sustainable development. The Journal of Environmental Education, 23(4), 5-8
Jickling, B. (2000). A future for sustainability? Water, Air, and Soil Pollution, 123, 467–476
Parker, J. and Wade, R. eds., (2008) Journeys around Education for Sustainability, London: Education for Sustainability Programme London South Bank University