IDCRE Students’ Conference

Grace Davies, our Masters student reflects on the International Development and Comparative Research in Education (IDCRE) student conference held in December.

Conference participants presenting a poster

Education and technology

The day started with two talks based on the idea of technology and how this will shape the future of education. Firstly, two students from our cohort Emma and Sherry gave a presentation on the application of education in remote areas of China. The talk focused on how mass migration from rural areas to cities in China has resulted in extremely low pupil numbers in rural schools and the benefit of utilizing technology to tackle this. The talk primarily focused on how internet platforms can be used for online and interactive lessons – which enable students in rural areas to access far more classes.

 The second talk in the technology section of the conference was given by Professor Jun Zhao, a Chinese Professor in Northeastern University, Shenyang, China. We were very grateful to have an international perspective into the role of big data and the recent unprecedented changes to privacy as a result, which certainly holds many implications for education.

Our varied educational experiences

As a cohort we are extremely privileged that many of us are international students, this has enabled us to gather a wide range of perspectives on educational futures outside of the UK. To hone in on this theme two students volunteered to give presentations on their own home countries current education situation. Firstly, a presentation by Muassua David ‘The Structure of Educational Opportunities in Mozambique: Who fails, who succeeds?’ Muassua provided a brilliant and personalized overview of the history of education in Mozambique and the challenges faced within inequalities between states. Two key challenges for the future were highlighted; reducing inequality between states and lack of migration of graduates to rural communities. Secondly, Mawada Ahmed gave an enlightening talk on ‘Sudan’s Education Policy Reform: Revolution and New Agendas.’ The talk focused on the impact of the most recent revolution in Sudan and how that might shape Sudan’s educational future based on lessons learned and changes made in previous reforms. Mawada examined the Sustainable Development Goal 4 and how there is very little data for Sudan. Mawada also shared a video created by Unicef to encourage girls in education and acknowledged the lack of awareness it shows to Sudan’s history of gender equality and the wide range of achievement made by women.

Muassua David presenting his research in Mozambique

Imagining educational futures 

After a morning full of great discussion we broke off for lunch, where yet more discussion among peers could occur. During the lunch break we were able to look at posters created by masters and PhD students. After this break we were separated into two groups dependent on our interest. I joined some of my peers in a workshop on alternative education, where we discussed the pros and cons of different education styles. The workshop raised some key questions surrounding whether we should mix age groups of children and how the future of education might look if we were to adopt more alternative schooling methods. Alternatively, the other half of the conference attended a talk given by Arshia Jain, Shamiso Mahari, Driti Prasad from our IDCRE cohort titled ‘Pre-Colonial Education: Using the Past to Understand the Future.’ The talk focused on how we can learn from the past to understand the future of education and how there is value in learning from our experiences within education.  The talk took two case studies one of the Khoi-San group in Africa, which was based on environmental education, and the gurukul system in India based on community learning and how we could learn from parts of these experiences.

Group discussions

Decolonizing the education system

The conference now gathered together for a discussion panel from three of our visiting speakers; with Dr Foluke Adebise, Professor Leon Tikly and Aisha Thomas, chaired by our fellow student Ugbaad Aidid. The panel focused on how we can decolonize the curriculum. The discussion was extremely insightful and opened many avenues for debate and mixed perspectives from our three guest speakers and the conference audience. One key point raised is the emphasis on cultural capital that needs to be made within the curriculum and how this can sometimes become a tick box exercise. It was unanimously agreed among the panel that multicultural education is more important than this and should become a part of everyday dialogue within schools. The role of cultural capital in creating hierarchical culture was also acknowledged and how some cultural backgrounds within education are seen as more valuable.


Professor Carol A. Taylor giving her keynote

This brings us to the keynote speaker, Professor Carol A. Taylor, whose presentation was titled; “Using New Material Feminism: Rethinking what Matters in Higher Education.” The talk focuses on “the challenges of new material feminism and the possibilities it opens for doing higher education research differently.” (C A. Taylor,2019). We were extremely grateful to have Professor Taylor share her expertise with us and she gave an enlightening talk on her concept of ‘edu-crafting’ (Taylor, 2016, 2018) and the role of feminism in mixed methodologies. Taylor also illuminated on classroom practices and how they perpetuate gender roles and our position as educators to tackle this. The talk ended with the question of how we could incorporate feminism into our own research practice and work whether that be in classrooms or within policy. In terms of the future of education what was apparent from this talk is the need to ask more questions regarding gendered notions within education practice and research.

Alternative education models

The final talk of the day came all the way from Canada with the second of our international speakers Matt Hern who discussed youth empowerment in alternative education and how alternative education can be used as a method to tackle inequality. This presentation linked in well with the alternative education workshop and allowed more conversation to develop around a differing models of educational futures and the increasing need for more schooling options to meet the needs of today’s society.  Hern ended his talk with the poignant question: “What would an institution look like if students felt that what they thought was important?” Something I felt left us all with something to consider in terms of our own future in education and working within this sector.

Wrap up

The day was a huge success and enabled us to reflect upon our place within education and how education might look in years to come. Hosting this conference provided us with ample opportunity for collaboration and the day really showcased the hard work of every student who took part. Speaking on behalf of myself and other students from my cohort the experience was invaluable, and we are very proud of the discussions and collaborations generated as a result of the day. The objective for the conference was; “to facilitate interactive discussion and debate around our chosen topics, enabling students and academics to share their expertise and network with those both within and outside the University.” I believe the conference showcased just this.


 I would like to personally thank everyone who attended and took part in the day and make special acknowledgement to certain individuals for their contributions. Firstly to all our visiting speakers: Professor Jun Zhao, Dr. Foluke Adebise, Professor Leon Tikly,  Aisha Thomas, Professor Carol Taylor and Matt Hern. Secondly to all of our student speakers: Emily, Paloma, Emma, Sherry, Song, Muassua, Mawada, Arshia, Shamiso, Driti , Ugbaad and also a special thanks to Angelika who coordinated our key note speaker and many aspects of the day.  The photographs of the day were taken by Ali Ahmed and Yan Lee. Furthermore, we would all like to thank the Education department for funding the event and our lecturers, Laura Hankin, Julia Paulson and Rafael Mitchell.


J Muassua, B David and João Carlos Colaço, 2018. Estrutura de Opportunidades Educacionais em Moçambique. Publifix Editions: Maputo, Mozambique.

Taylor, C.A, 2013. ‘Objects bodies and space. Gender and embodied practices of mattering in the classroom.’ Gender and Education, 25 (6) 688-703.

Taylor, C.A and Gannon, S, 2018. ‘Doing time and motion diffractively: Academic life everywhere and all the time.’ Qualitative Studies in Education, 31 (6) 465-486.

UNESCO, 2019. Sustainable Development Goal 4 (Online) Available at :

Are we all invested in climate crisis? USS, Shell and us

Article written by: Dr. Angeline M. Barrett

Angeline M. Barrett is one of the CIRE staff on strike this week. In this article, she takes a closer look at how the USS pension is invested

This week, academic and some professional services staff at the University of Bristol will be on strike. The industrial action relates, amongst other demands, to the terms of our pension benefits and contributions. Bristol is the first UK University to declare a climate emergency and the School of Education has developed its own Climate Strategy. Yet, our pension fund, USS, holds substantial shares in the fossil fuel industry. Let us use the time on the picket lines to build a climate Ethics for USS campaign.

USS investments in fossil fuels

According to the USS 2019 annual report, 40.9% of the Pension fund’s £64.7 billion assets, what is known as its implemented portfolio, is invested in private equities (i.e. shares in private companies). Its website lists the top 100 equity investments (as of 31 March). Number one on the list is Royal Dutch Shell plc with equities valued at £538 million. Shell is the sixth largest extractor of fossil fuels in the world by volume. In total, I recognised eight of the listed companies as being in the business of exploration and extraction of fossil fuels:

  • Royal Dutch Shell plc
  • Glencore plc (coal mining)
  • Lundin Petroleum
  • Occidental Petroleum Corp.
  • Pioneer Natural Resources Co.
  • EOG Resources Co. (formerly part of Enron Oil and Gas)
  • Petroleo Brasileiro SA (known as Petrobas)
  • Lukoil PJSC ADR (A Russian multinational)
1 Breakdown of USS Retirement Income Builder as of 31 March 2019 (USS 2019a)

The Guardian recently ran a series of articles on the world’s largest corporate polluters. Shell and Petrobas both appear on the list of 20 firms, which between them have been calculated to have contributed to 35% of all energy-related carbon dioxide and methane in our atmosphere since 1965, according to research by the Climate Accountability Institute led by Heede (Taylor & Watts, 2019; Heede, 2019a). 1965 was taken as the start point because by then the oil giants already knew about that carbon emissions could lead to climate change (Bannerjee et al., 2016). When approached to respond to Heede’s research, Shell claimed:

“… we fully support the Paris agreement and the need for society to transition to a lower-carbon future. We have already invested billions of dollars in a range of low-carbon technologies, … . Addressing a challenge as big as climate change requires a truly collaborative, society-wide approach. We’re committed to playing our part, by addressing our own emissions and helping customers to reduce theirs.” (Taylor 2019).

Shell is investing in renewables. In 2018-19, it invested $1-$2billon on renewables, around  4-6% of its $25-$30bn annual investment (The Guardian, 2019). In this respect, the two European oil giants, Shell and BP are doing much more than US, Saudi, Russian and other oil companies (Watts, 2019). However, Shell is also planning to increase production of crude oil and gas by a colossal 38% between 2018 and 2030 (Watts, Ambrose and Vaugh 2019). Future plans include fracking for gas and oil in land belonging to the Mapuche indigenous people in the Neuquén province of Argentina (Bnamericas, 2019; The Guardian, 2019; Goñi, 2019). Local groups have complained about thousands of tonnes of toxic waste dumped on their land by Shell’s subcontractor, Treater Neuquén S.A. (Raine, 2019). Petrobas is not investing in renewables but claims that through the use of new carbon capture technologies, it can expand production with no change to its carbon footprint (Taylor 2019). Certainly, it is expanding production. This month it purchased exploration and production rights for two deep water oilfields off the coast of Argentina, opening the way for the world’s biggest expansion of offshore oil and gas exploration (Petrobas, 2019; The Guardian, 2019). Despite all the rhetoric around support for the Paris Climate Agreement, the rate at which oil and gas is pouring into global markets is accelerating not slowing. For Shell, Petrobas, Pioneer Natural Resources, EOG and Lukoil, exploration and exploitation of new oilfields is their main business activity.

Fossil fuel companies can present themselves as progressively green because of the way that responsibility for carbon emissions is accounted, including by the United Nations. Only the greenhouse gases produced in the process of extraction, refining and transportation are attributed to the oil companies. Like other fossil fuel companies, Shell and Petrobas accept no responsibility for the emissions produced when their customers burn the oil or gas they have extracted from the ground. By contrast, Heede’s research (2019a) attributes to the oil giants responsibility for all the carbon dioxide and methane associated with the gas and oil they extract, including that produced when it is burned by consumers.

It is disingenuous for Shell to point the finger at the rest of society. For decades the petroleum companies have spent millions on influencing public opinion and politicians. Shell is reported to be spending over £50 million per annum branding itself as a company that supports action against climate change (Laville, 2019a). A recently released report by Corporate Europe Observatory, Food & Water Europe, Friends of the Earth Europe and Greenpeace claims that Shell spent €35.6 million between 2010 and 2018  just on lobbying EU officials (Laville, 2019b). State-owned Petrobas’ entanglements with Brazilian politicians is even more problematic. The company has been embroiled in political corruption scandals, involving two Brazilian presidents, Lula and Rousseff, as well as a number of other high-level politicians (Chapman, 2018). Last year, Petrobas settled a lawsuit with investors in the US by agreeing to pay-outs of £2.2 billion as recompense for profits illegally siphoned off through bribes and kickbacks.

Investor influence

The current climate crisis demands immediate and drastic action. The Guardian’s environmental editor, Jonathon Watts (2019) points out that this will not come about through an accumulation of individual consumer decisions but requires turning off the flow of fossil fuels at source by phasing out extraction. The argument goes that as long as fossil fuels continue to flow into global markets, carbon-dependent industries will continue to grow. Whilst as individuals, we can and should change our behaviour, the burden of responsibility does need to shift towards the companies, which for fifty years have profited enormously from fossil fuels, whilst in full knowledge of the potential impact on climate. As Naomi Klein observed, naming another oil giant:

A lot of environmentalist discourse has been about erasing responsibility: “We’re all in this together… We’re all equally responsible.” Well, no – you, me and Exxon (Mobil) are not all in this together. The idea we’re all guilty is demobilising because it prevents us directing our anger at the institutions most responsible. (Forrest, 2014)

Yet, when it comes to Royal Dutch Shell, it appears that we are all in it together not just through consuming fossil fuel consumption but in benefiting from the profits. Investors play a key role in enabling their business and companies are under obligation to generate and to pay dividends to shareholders. Shell, therefore, can only make a dramatic change in direction in its longstanding business model with support from shareholders. USS is probably the largest pension fund in the UK, in terms of assets, so its corporate influence is substantial, particularly within UK. USS claims leadership within the sector in respect to its response to climate change. So, how is USS using its influence as a shareholder?

USS summarises its overarching strategy as:

Using our scale and expertise to deliver secure futures for our members, support for universities and being a force for positive change in the UK and broader economy. (USS, 2019a: 9)

In an article (Russell, 2018) on fossil fuel divestment, the Head of Responsible Investment, explains that due to its legal responsibilities, the first part of this strategy has to take precedence over the second. Delivering secure futures for us, its members, trumps positive change. USS, Russell explains, has a legal obligation to deliver on its primary objective of delivering dividends on their investments to meet the defined benefits for members.  This we are told, rules out divesting for ethical reasons alone and requires the fund to maintain a “balanced portfolio” – presumably a balance between ethical and unethical investments. As an example of what this means in practice, Russell points to £800 million (1.2 % of its total assets) of renewable energy assets held by USS. USS has been proactive not only in securing but making it possible to hold these types of assets. It created and wholly owns as a subsidiary L1 Renewables, a platform from which it has loaned £500 million to fund renewable energy technology.

Investing in clean energy is just one half of the USS responsible investment strategy. The fund also seeks to use its stake in companies “to promote positive boardroom action on ESG [Environmental, Social and Governance] and ethical issues” (Russell, 2018).  To exemplify this kind of action, this year’s annual report (USS 2019a) explains how USS collaborated with other pension funds to engage with Shell, leading to a commitment from the company to reduce carbon emissions by 50% by 2050. This is presumably a 50% cut in the roughly 10% of emissions that come from the extraction, refining and transportation of oil and gas; a gain for the planet that will be dwarfed by the increase in emissions at the point of consumption associated with Shell’s planned 35% increase in output by the much earlier date of 2030.  

In another success story (USS, 2019b), we are told that a resolution they proposed to three UK-listed mining conglomerates (Glencore, Rio Tinto and Anglo-American) related to how they “were managing the transition to a 2 degree world”. These were, in each case, “supported by an overwhelmingly majority” of shareholders and board members. This exemplifies the risk management discourse, which typifies asset managers’ response to climate change:

As a long-term investor USS wants to be able to assess how companies are managing climate change and the risks it poses to their business. (USS, 2019b)

Risk management needs to be informed by data. So USS, also encourages companies to report on carbon emissions and their plans to respond to climate change.

What about us? What can we do?

USS’ climate change leadership represents a shift within but not a rejection of the neoliberal profit-led logic of capitalist global markets that has been key driver of climate crisis in the first place. The kind of logic that places the security of profits over ethics. The School of Education’s mission includes a commitment to promote social justice. The Centre for Comparative and International Research in Education is concerned with issues of social, environmental and epistemic justice in education. The part of the pension fund that is invested in the environmental destruction of Mapuche people’s land runs completely counter to the whole purpose and value-orientation of our professional work and research. The gains that USS and its collaborators have made in the Climate Agreement 100+ project arguably amount to little more than window-dressing, playing into Shell’s green-washing strategy. USS talks of managing the risk of ‘stranded assets’, but not the risks to lives and livelihoods associated with climate catastrophe. Stranding shale and deep-water reserves is precisely what we need to do fast. For humanity and the planet, they are not assets but threats to security.  The prospect of a near future in which carbon emissions from fossil fuels increase by 35% is one to fill us with dread and foreboding. Certainly, not one on which to place a bet. What logic can there be to betting on a future in which we have no wish to live, or to bequeath to our children?

So as we are members of USS and the money they invest is ours, what can we do? If you earn over £55,000 or pay top-ups on your benefits you can unilaterally withdraw the defined contribution part of your pension from fossil fuels, tobacco, the arms trade, gambling and pornography. Just log into ‘My USS’ and select the ‘Ethical Lifestyle’ option from the ‘Do it for me’ section (Jennings 2018). 

For the rest of us and the larger ‘defined benefit’ part of the pension, the only way to bring change is through collective action. USS has responded to such action in the past. The reason that USS is a national leader in responsible investment is because of the demands of its members.  USS first adopted a responsible investment policy 20 years ago following a two-year Ethics for USS campaign, involving university staff and students (Fair Pensions n.d.). In 2014, it published a detailed response to recommendations of a report by ShareAction on Ethical Investment because UCU demanded a response. Another Ethics for USS campaign ran from 2014 to 2016, focused on divesting from companies with any involvement in banned weapons (ShareAction 2016). USS participates in global investor initiatives in IIGCC and the Climate Action 100+. It has a large in-house responsible investment team. USS communicates its actions on climate change through its website because it knows its members care deeply about such matters, although much of the information is frustratingly vague. Our Union is represented by three appointees on its (entirely white) 12-member, although one is currently suspended after asking awkward questions around deficit calculations (UCU, 2019).

With greater levels of awareness of climate change and following University of Bristol’s declaration of a climate emergency, here and now seems an apt point to launch another Ethics for USS campaign with a focus on climate. Industrial action brings us together in different ways that can build solidarity. One of UCU’s planned actions is participation in the climate strike on Friday 29 November. So, let us use the next week to join up the dots between pension investments and climate change. Let us build a collective campaign to demand a broader, deeper, more robust responsible investment strategy. Let us tell USS that we appreciate their efforts over the last five years to constructively engage with companies such as Shell and Glencore but they do not go far enough. Over the next five years, the urgency of climate change requires complete divestment from all companies that persist in expanding production of oil, gas and coal. Let us insist that USS engages more closely with its members to explain and be accountable for their investment choices. Let us insist that they engage with the expertise of research institutes such as Bristol’s Cabot Institute for the Environment. Let us through sustained collective campaigning attempt to break down the gulf in values between the investment sector, where unethical investments are justifiable, and the HE sector, where ethical scrutiny is unavoidable.

If anyone working for USS is reading this, what are your plans for Friday? Do pop down to a climate demonstration, it will be a great way to get to know us better.


Bannerjee, N., Cushman Jr., J.H., Hasemyer, D. and Song, L. (2016) CO2’s Role in Global Warming Has Been on the Oil Industry’s Radar Since the 1960s. Inside Climate News, 13 April 2016.

Bnamericas (2019) Neuquén and Shell review security in Sierras Blancas after shooting. Bnamericas, 11 June 2019.

Chapman, B. (2018) Petrobas agrees to pay $3bn to settle US lawsuit over corruption scandal. Independent, 3 January 2018.

FairPensions (n.d.) Our history.

Forrest, A. (2014) Naomi Klein: “A 3-day week will help to save life on Earth”. The Big Issue, 28 October 2014.

Goñi, U. (2019) Indigenous Mapuche pay high price for Argentina’s fracking dream. The Guardian, 14 October 2019.

Guardian, The (2019) What do we know about the top 20 global polluters? The Guardian, 9 October 2019.

Heede, R. (2019a) Carbon Majors: Update of Top Twenty companies 1965-2017. Press Release. Snowmass, Colorado: Climate Accountability Institute. 9 October 2019.

Jennings, N. (2018) Pensions: Invest in our future, not the past. Climate & Environment at Imperial, 3 September 2018.

Laville, S. (2019a) Top oil firms spending millions lobbying to block climate change policies, says report. The Guardian, 22 March 2019.

Laville, S. (2019b) Fossil fuel big five ‘spent €251m lobbying EU’ since 2010. The Guardian, 24 October 2019.

Petrobas (2019) We acquire Búzios and Itapu fields on the Transfer of Rights surplus bidding round. Petrobas, 6 November 2019.

Raine, J. (2019) Argentina: toxic waste from fracking in Patagonia. Latin American Bureau, 11 March 2019.

Russell, D. (2018) The Divestment Debate. London: University Superannuation Scheme.

ShareAction (2016) Ethics for USS. Campaign Briefing, November 2016.

Taylor, M. (2019) Climate emergency: what the oil, coal and gas giants say. The Guardian, 10 October 2019.

Taylor, M. & Watts, J. (2019) Revealed: the 20 firms behind a third of all carbon emissions. The Guardian, 9 October 2019.

UCU (2019) UCU comment on sacking of USS board member Jane Hutton. UCU news, 11 October 2019.

USS (2019a) Reports and accounts for year ended 31 March 2019. London: University Superannuation Scheme.

USS (2019b) Climate Change. London: University Superannuation Scheme.

Watts, J. (2019) Naming and shaming the polluters. The Guardian, Today in Focus Podcast. 18 October 2019. Watts, J., Ambrose, J. and Vaughan, A. (2019) Oil firms to pour extra 7m barrels per day into markets, data shows. The Guardian, 10 October 2019.

The Bottleneck of Neoliberalism and the Chilean Revolution

Blog written by: Hugo Parra Munoz, Doctoral Candidate at School of Education, University of Bristol. @HugoPaMu

From Santiago of Chile 12th November 2019

During the last three weeks, Chilean unrests show to the world the social crisis of neoliberalism as a structure of state formation. The international media has broken the communicational censorship imposed by the Chilean government, showing violations of Human Right (see the links The Guardian, The Washington Post). The Chilean political situation has been savage; 5.629 people have been arrested, 2.009 people injured, 197 people have lost one or both eyes. Last weekend a 21-years-old undergraduate student was blinded by rubber bullets in his both eyes. Also, there are 283 cases of police sexual abuse (you can see the violent action of Chilean police here -sensitive content-, and a New York Times report here). I share my experience in the Chilean unrests while I was running my fieldwork.

Photography: Frente Fotografico

I. The cauldron as scenario

The story of neoliberalism is intimately linked to the history of a small Latin American country. Chile was the first state formation which embraced neoliberalism (Harvey, 2005). From the Coup d’ Etat in 1973 (Klein, 2008), carried out by civilians and soldiers with the support of CIA and the Nixon-Kissinger’s administration, neoliberalism has suffered a series of deployments that touch every sphere of living. The instalment of neoliberalism in Chile hit the society as a Tsunami does, setting up a crisis, disciplining, torturing, murdering, and disappearing people opponents to the ideas of the free market.

The fear of that ages operated in subjective levels. The Chilean neoliberalism; a.k.a. The experiment of Chicago; emerged as a macro-economic contra-revolution, privatising the national industry and natural resources, eliminating the notion of a welfare state, installing the logic of a subsidiary State, besides the culture and values-oriented to results. There exist a wide body of research that analyse the structural scopes of neoliberalism in Chile (Bellei, 2018; Falabella, 2015; Morales, 2014; Ruiz, 2012). In this vein, the Redondo and Munoz (2009) research points that “[people have been expropriated from the real spaces which support the associative bond, and keeping illusory and contradictory spaces that ended in subjects’ isolation]” (p. 400). As result of this neoliberal process Chilean population have observed the privatization of water, education and health (three decades before of the current NHS situation) the retirement system with monthly incomes of $128.127 Chilean pesos -clp$- (£125.8), a minimum wage of clp$276.000 (£270.98) in context where the line of poverty arises to clp$430.000 (£422) (Benjamin Saez; Fundacion Sol) for a family of four people, and a minimum monthly waste per family of clp$1.500.000 (£1472.73) (Encuesta de Presupuestos Familiares – INE) including in it education, transportation, health, and credits. This situation generates that 11 million Chileans are highly indebted, in a total population of 19 million (Marco Kremerman de Fundación Sol, 2019). In the other hand, Chile is a rich country in terms of its natural resources, with an annual per capita income of us$15.923,4 similar to Romania with us$12.301. (World Bank, 2018), obtaining a privilege situation in regional terms.

Chart 1. Comparing GDP per capita (Chile, Brazil, Costa Rica, Mexico). Source: OCDE economic report 2018

The chart presents Chile as an oasis of macro-economic stability (and a population subsumed to the neoliberal doctrine) in the region. However, the extreme inequalities of the neoliberal structure present that only 1% of the Chilean population is the owner of the 26,5% of the total Chilean GDP, while the 10% of the population concentrates the 65% of the GDP (Source CEPAL, 2018).

Chart 2. Inequalities in Chile, comparing OECD and Chile levels of temporary workers and Gini index.
Source: OCDE economic report 2018

II. The Neoliberal private malaises

If you visit Chile, you can easily observe these inequalities. The 55% of workers live with salaries less than clp$400.000 (£398,14), that provokes enormous rates on indebtment; 24% of Chilean maintain credits elevated to six times of their wage. Chilean people observe the plot of several companies, such as drugstore chains (Editorial express), pharmaceutical companies (CPI), supermarkets (AmericaRetail), even toilet rolls companies colluded (Reuters) to set up the prices of their products. In addition to that, while the average of retirement income is £125.8, last year the insurance companies (called Retirement Funds Administrators, AFP in its Spanish acronyms) obtained profits for more than US$551 million. Interestingly, the military dictatorship created a separate retirement system to soldiers, with monthly payments ten times higher than the rest of the population. In 2017, the Chilean Health Ministry declared that 6.320 patients died waiting for attention in the public health system (Radio Bio-Bio). Even, the institutions dedicated to the safety of the country have been involved in cases of corruption. The army, between 2010-2014, stole US$200 million, while the police stole US$36.161.513,60. In all those cases, the Justice system applied risible sentences, such as attending courses of ethic. During 30 years Chilean population tolerate that situation creating a sort of “Private malaise” in the words of the UNDP Project. This discomfort was embodied by the de-legitimation of the democratic institutions and by Chilean secondary students who start a series of mobilisation to evade the payment of the public transportation after the increment of the fare (you can see a video here).

III. Chilean unrest as resistances to neoliberal moulds of living

I am in Chile since the beginning of the unrest, and I have actively participated in the peaceful demonstration, you can see the people dancing, waving flags and singing. Finally, since many decades the people have found new bonds of association, the parks are full of families and children playing, surpassing the neoliberal isolation we are marching together. However, The president Pinera declared the “war against a powerful enemy” (The Guardian), that enemy is the un-armed people demonstrating his discomfort on the neoliberal Chilean state, a population who claim for a new constitution to change the current design of a subsidiary state. It started in Santiago, the capital city of Chile, but rapidly spread out to the rest of the country; in that war, soldiers and police officers have acted with ferocity (The New York Times), shooting, hitting and abusing people. I was threatened by police in a peaceful demonstration at Plaza Nunoa, in the presence of my wife and our both sons (You can see a video of that peaceful demonstration here). The repression have been savage (a video is available here, sensitive content); indeed, the uncle of one participant of my research was kicked by soldiers until became brain dead, there are more than 20 people dead since the beginning of the revolt. But, we are still struggling, after three weeks the Chilean people began a national-range industrial action, and actively occupy the principal squares of each city and towns. They are claiming for equity and social justice, a better distribution of wealth, through a new constitution constructed by the people through a constituent assembly. Neoliberalism, in its logic of marginalisation, procedures of exclusion, and exceptions (Ong, 2006) created this bottleneck. The marginalised are in the streets following the words of Paulo Freire: “the democratisation of the shamelessness which took the country, the disrespectful treatment to the public thing, the impunity; they are rooted so profoundly that the nation has begun to stand on its feet, to demonstrate. The young people are out on the streets; they criticise, they claim transparency, the public spaces are crowded again, there is still a hope”.

Chilean people need solidarity of the international community, in most of the cities exist facebook groups named “asamblea de chilenos en”, (assembly of Chileans in…). Specifically, you could find the Bristol community organised in Asamblea de Chilenxs en UK or in the twitter @ChileansB, and the international assembly Chile Desperto.

Cited works

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

Falabella, A. (2015). El mercado escolar en Chile y el surgimiento de la nueva gestión pública: el tejido de la política entre la dictadura neoliberal y los gobiernos de la centroizquierda (1979 a 2009). Educação & Sociedade, 36(132), 699–722.

Harvey, D. (2005). A Brief History Of Neoliberalism. New York: Oxford University Press.

Klein, N. (2008). La doctrina del shock. El auge del capitalismo del desastre. Buenos Aires: Paidos.

Morales, M. (2014). New Public Management in Chile: Origins and Effects. Revista de Ciencia Politica, 34(2), 427–438.

Ong, A. (2006). Neoliberalism as exception, mutation in citizenship and sovereignity. Durham and London: Duke University Press.

Redondo, J., & Muñoz, L. (2009). Juventud y enseñanza Media en Chile del Bicentenario antecedentes de la revolución pingüina. Santiago: Salesianos.

Ruiz, C. (2012). La Republica, el Estado y el mercado en educación. Revista de Filosofía, 68, 11–28.

Bristol Colombia Week 2019: Opportunities and Challenges for the Colombian Truth Commission

Post written by: Mary Ryder (

Mary Ryder is a 1st year doctoral researcher at the School of Education, University of Bristol. Her research explores the conflict narratives of rural farmers in drug-producing regions of Colombia, within the country’s transitional justice processes.

As we approach three years since the negotiated peace agreement between the FARC-EP and the Colombian state, the University of Bristol’s Centre for Comparative and International Research in Education (CIRE) co-hosted members of the Colombian Truth Commission (CTC) to participate in ‘Truth, Memory and Diaspora: The Seeds of Peace in Colombia’, a week of transnational dialogue and collaboration between UK and Colombian institutions.

The University of Bristol has been working with the CTC through a variety of different collaborative projects including ‘MEMPAZ: Bringing Memories in from the Margins’, funded by AHRC, Newton and Colciencias, which supports the creative memory practices of local organisations to bring memories from the margins into Colombia’s transitional justice processes; and ‘Transitional justice as education’, funded by AHRC, which works to support the gender and pedagogy work of the CTC by connecting it with feminist and educational expertise from around the world.

The week of events served as a unique opportunity to hear directly from the CTC about the achievements, innovations and challenges faced in the implementation of the peace agreement, at this pivotal time in Colombia’s history. In this blog I highlight the key messages shared.

Gender and Pedagogical Innovations

Alejandra Coll, of the Gender Working Group at the CTC, addressed the question: ‘What does it mean to be a feminist and learning Truth Commission?’ Together, she and Ana Cristina Navarro, of the Pedagogy Working Group, discussed the Truth Commission’s innovative approaches to gender and pedagogy – two fundamental issues on the peace-building agenda in Colombia.

Alejandra Coll declared the CTC a feminist Truth Commission. Colombia is the first Truth Commission to have a gender approach central to its entire mandate, which is intended to uncover the disproportionate impact of armed conflict on the lives of women, girls and LGBTI people as a consequence of the violence exercised against them because of their gender, sexual orientation and gender identity. The Gender Working Group at the CTC has adopted a framework grounded in feminist theory and is employing feminist methodologies designed to promote the participation of women and LGBTI people.

Do Colombian society and Colombia’s education system embrace diversity? This is one of the key questions that needs to be tackled through the CTC’s intersectional work. It should be noted that the CTC is able to make recommendations in its final report, to address structural inequalities and stimulate long-term policy and social change, including through education. 

The Truth-telling of ‘the Colombia outside Colombia’

Commissioner Carlos Beristain commented on the work being done to collect testimonies in “the Colombia outside of Colombia”, to investigate how the armed conflict has been experienced by Colombians living abroad, many of whom were forced to leave the country in exile.

The Commissioner asserted the challenges of carrying out truth-seeking processes in such a polarised context, where lies have been institutionalised, pain internalised, and social fractures run deep in society. 

The CTC intends to create new spaces where previously silenced memories can be shared. Carlos Beristain was joined by members of the UK Truth Commission hub of civil society organisations to reflect upon their efforts to encourage UK based Colombians to give their testimony. 

“We hope you fall in love with the truth commission and become the channel of communication between people who want to give a testimony and us,” said Andrei Gomez Suarez, who is one of the individuals documenting interviews for the Truth Commission in the UK. 

The Challenges of Working in a Polarised Context

Emeritus Professor Gonzalo Sanchez, the former director of the Colombian National Centre for Historical Memory and a member of the Advisory Board of the Truth Commission, reflected on historical memory and peace-building in times of polarisation


Gonzalo discussed the question of who produces memory work and for whom? He raised concerns that in Colombia today, memory and truth are being threatened by “toxic narratives,” made up of hatred, vengeance and fear, built up over years of conflict, and driven by those who oppose the negotiated peace agreement. 

Related to this is the issue of legitimacy and memory production. A key challenge for the CTC is to ensure that marginalised voices, which have historically been excluded and discriminated against, are heard and taken seriously by the Colombian state. 

“It would seem that we are moving from a memory by and for the victims to one constructed by and for those responsible.”

The Opportunity for Reconciliation

The final event of the week, a screening of ‘The Witness’ (El Testigo), a film about the photographer Jesús Abad Colorado who has documented violence in Colombia for over 25 years, allowed Gonzalo Sánchez and Lina Malagón, a Human Rights Lawyer teaching at the University of Bristol, to reflect on whether Colombia is ripe for reconciliation. 

The documentary tells the inspiring human stories of the people in Abad Colorado’s photographs, exploring the pertinent themes of resilience and forgiveness, and what they mean to those for whom so much is at stake. According to Gonzalo, the invaluable memory work of Abad Colorado to not only document, but also humanise the conflict, opened the door for the victims to speak out. 

The film generates a strong emotional connection with the conflict, felt inclusively by those who experiences the conflict indirectly or from a distance. is time to know the truth because we all have a story to tell and we need to move on, expressed Lina, in a resounding message of hope.  

Lessons learned

Bristol Colombia week 2019 provided a valuable opportunity for many Colombians and friends of Colombia to learn more about the CTC and to connect with the country’s transitional justice process, and with one another, so we can support peacebuilding from afar.

Truth-seeking in Colombia will not end with the culmination of the CTC’s three-year period. It is hoped that the final report produced by the CTC will create the conditions conducive to peace and will be accompanied by meaningful efforts to promote dialogue, reconciliation and coexistence on a local and national level, and beyond the national borders.

Why does global inequality in education persist?

Tigist Grieve, a member of CIRE at the School of Education, sat with our colleague Clare Walsh to talk about her research for the University of Bristol magazine Nonesuch October 2019 issue. The article is copied below.

International Development Ethnographer and Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow, Tigist Grieve, is researching marginalised voices in rural Ethiopia in an effort to explain the ongoing difficulties in achieving education for all globally.

In a year where we’re celebrating the 50th anniversary of men landing on the Moon, we still can’t achieve access to education for all across the globe.1 I continually ask myself, why not? How is it so hard? We make it complicated by not listening and by not understanding other people’s perspectives. Why is it the trend to look at people living in poverty from a deficit point of view? My work as a Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow has given me the opportunity to build on my years of PhD research, which focuses on improving the educational outcomes and empowerment of adolescent girls in Ethiopia. I want to bring those voices of marginalised adolescent girls to the ongoing debate of gender and empowerment, while recognising the effort and resilience that goes unnoticed when we have a deficit-based perspective about certain categories of people.

I want to inspire people to go where others would never expect them to by engaging with relevant stakeholders in Ethiopia and beyond.

In particular, my work is about seeing the social, engaging and responding to local voices. In the words of the writer Arundhati Roy ‘There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.’

My inspiration for examining voice is the inspiring work of Robert Chambers, author of Rural Development: Putting the Last First. I am listening to the everyday lived experience of people. My work is about voice – the voices of children, of women, of the resource-strapped communities in rural areas. Really, international development policy to date hasn’t given adequate space to hear them, it’s not informed by their experiences or by their voices.2 Even where there is a claim for ‘voices of the poor’ it is proxy voices where the privileged few speak on their behalf from a position of assumption.

My work is focused on disseminating my research findings back to target communities in Ethiopia, to spark constructive debate about rural schooling and development. I want to do this in a way that challenges policy makers, development practitioners, donors, teachers, researchers and communities themselves.

I’m researching within two communities in Ethiopia, a peri-urban and rural, chosen because they are under the same local authority, but with considerable geographical differences. I believe there’s a misconception that certain communities don’t understand the value of education, but we need to research why, looking at policy, political economy, culture, social pressure. For example, despite the increasing enrolment, school attendance is very poor, not because education is not valued but because the expectation that children will be working around their homes and farms is greater. Girls’ attendance is much lower than boys because societal pressure is higher on girls. Boys have much better autonomy in how they use their time while girls in rural areas are time-poor. My work confirms the importance of recognising the difficulty of transforming gender relations through schooling alone.

We need to make informed decisions through lessons learned from quality research. The joy of being a researcher at the University of Bristol is the opportunity to collaborate with world-leading multi-disciplinary teams interested in developing ideas to meet the global challenges of development.

In analysing categories of children and childhood experiences, I’ve discovered that children are highly mobile in search of opportunities for them and their families, starting from a very young age. My research showed that the ultimate question in rural Ethiopia is ‘Who is this child to me?’ 16 per cent of children in households in my area of research do not live with their biological families and relatedness matters in this culture. This context is so important in Sub-Saharan Africa, which has such a huge population of children orphaned by the AIDS epidemic.3 The concept of family is a complex one and under-theorised in the context of Ethiopia. If you’re related to the head of the household, you have access to better resources.

I’m also looking at issues such as access to water and autonomy of reproductive health (or lack of). These also play a part in preventing girls from obtaining an education. A school without a water source or toilet facilities is not hospitable to children, even less so to adolescent girls dealing with menstruation. Climate change also has a part to play in water scarcity issues, with the African continent identified as one of the parts of the world most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.4

The University’s second cohort of 15 Vice-Chancellor’s Fellows started in the academic year 2018-19, joining the 12 from 2017-18. Alumni and friends have contributed funding for six of the Fellows to date. For more information on the Fellows see our dedicated web page.

1 UIS. (2018). One in Five Children, Adolescents and Youth is Out of School. [Available online at:] (last accessed 23.08.19).
2 Brock, K. and McGee R., (eds) (2002). Knowing Poverty: critical reflections on participatory research and policy. Earthscan.
3 UNICEF. (2016). For Every Child, End AIDS: Seventh Stocktaking Report, 2016.
4 Serdeczny, O., Adams, S., Baarsch, F., Coumou, D., Robinson, A., Hare, B., Schaeffer, M., Perrette, M., Reinhardt, J. (2016). Climate change impacts in Sub-Saharan Africa: from physical changes to their social repercussions. Regional Environmental Change. 1-16.

Fighting Patriarchy One Woman at a time

By Zibah Nwako

Zibah is a 4th year doctoral researcher at the School of Education, University of Bristol. Drawing from a social justice perspective, her research is a critical participatory study that problematises the wellbeing of female undergraduate students in Nigeria. Addressing this year’s theme of the International Women’s Day on 8th March, ‘Balance for Better’, Zibah’s post reflects on the continuing effects of patriarchy on women from one society in West Africa. Find her on Twitter: @zibahnwako

In April 2018, I received an informal invitation from a female cousin stating that she was being conferred with the title of first female international patron of a certain organisation that was founded in Nigeria, West Africa. I replied with half-hearted congratulations and forgot all about it. When the subject came up again in June in an online family group chat, I was in the process of writing the context chapter of my thesis. The more I wrote about the influence of patriarchy on lived experiences of female students, the more this invitation piqued my interest and I decided to conduct a little research on the said organisation. My initial findings were that it had been established in the year 1971 and although membership was open to women, none of the patrons was female – in my view, a veritable ‘old boys’ club’. I therefore accepted the invitation to attend the event for two reasons – to support my cousin in her conferment, and as a gender professional with my researcher cap on.

The Traditional Face of Patriarchy

Some background information – my cousin is a learned, successful medical doctor who runs two General Practices in England. She is a mother to four young children and is the ADA[1] (eldest daughter) of her parents with seven siblings. A respected member in her religious community, the Catholic Church, she is very much involved in charitable works both in the United Kingdom and Nigeria. She also holds the traditional title of ‘Oduenyi’, translated as ‘the Elephant’s Tusk or Ivory’ (Okere, 1996), a symbol of ‘great strength’ in Igbo land (see footnote 1). I would describe her as having a strong personality with well-honed leadership skills. Attaining this position therefore, was well deserved albeit not without opposition, as I later discovered, from the ‘powers that be’ i.e. some of the men who had overseen the group since its inception 47 years ago. It was clear to me that this struggle for control stemmed from the patriarchal nature of the organisation and its members.

Pic 1

According to the English Oxford Living Dictionary, one of the definitions of the term patriarchy is ‘a system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it’ (Oxford University Press, 2018: online); in this case, an institutional system. This organisation describes itself as a non-profit, non-political, social and philanthropic body whose membership is open to everyone regardless of tribe, religion or race. It has a current total of 42 branches in Nigeria, the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States of America. That said, I observed from their literature that the organisation’s membership is mainly male. One member stated that their motto of unity, love and service is founded in their principle of ‘be your brother’s keeper’ [italics mine – highlighting that ‘brother’ is a gendered word].  I also noticed that most of the women photographed at the group’s events were tagged as members’ wives. During the 2-day conferment event, all the group members in attendance were male, which begs the question: where are the female members of the organisation?

Another factor noted was that although open to everyone, most of the members are from the Igbo tribe of Nigeria (see footnote 1). Perhaps this is because the organisation was founded by an Igbo man soon after the Biafran war[2] in Southeast Nigeria which lasted from the years 1967 to 1970. I assume that for this same reason, the activities surrounding the conferment took on a traditional slant. For example, the event was held in our village and as the title-holder Oduenyi, this meant that numerous courtesy visits were made to the local and traditional rulers such as the ‘Igwe’ (King of the village) to formally invite them for the event. We also visited the men and women family groups (known as ‘Umunna’ and ‘Umuada’[3] respectively) of both parents of the conferred. On each visit, traditional gifts presented to the individuals and groups including a cow, bags of rice, tubers of yams, kolanuts, and gallons of palm wine.

The Ceremony

To my amazement, the 2-day event turned out to be a big, expensive affair. The first day consisted of lengthy closed-door sessions between the patrons and members of the organisation. I observed that soon after one all-male group left, another arrived. My cousin later explained that whilst the second group comprised of the president of the club and chairmen of the various branches,

…the first group was mixed with both the break-away faction and the official main group but they were mostly the patrons of the club… also highlighting the turmoil and division going on in the club at the time of my installation. Each faction of the club was competing to be the one officiating at the ceremony. I had to be seen to be neutral at all times.’

Nevertheless, the investiture was performed in one of the private sessions, with the formal certificate presented the next day (see next photo).

On day 2, the ceremony commenced with a Catholic mass, followed by a grand and colourful celebration attended by dignitaries and villagers alike. It was a rich mix of traditional attires, cultural dance troupes, decorative banners, live music bands, and vast amounts of drinks and food. The event was also publicised and reported on the local radio and television channels.

Pic 2

Her Struggle

The event brochure was filled with pictures and congratulatory messages from family, friends, well-wishers and members of the organisation to the first female patron.  Like the phrase ‘be your brother’s keeper’, the term ‘patron’ is another gender signifier, and I wondered if a title such as ‘patroness’ or ‘matron’ would not be more appropriate. In any case, I realised that the honour was not accorded to her without a struggle and therefore the more pertinent question was: how and when was the decision taken to confer the patronship on an already accomplished, successful woman in her profession, home and community? I found one answer in the pages of the brochure, from the President of the organisation’s branch in London –

‘Congratulations on your installation as a patron of our prestigious club… as the first woman in the history of the club to attain such a position. You had a pipe dream that became a burning ambition. You stood your ground. You remained focused and fought for it, clawing away giant obstacles till the end. And what a result. You must feel good that you achieved your goal and very proud that in doing you have created a record… I feel optimistic as you rise in status within the hierarchy that the club will henceforth experience greater progress and monumental prosperity.’

Pic 3

The Other Women

During our interview after the event, I asked more questions such as: ‘Are you the only female member of the Club?’ and ‘Where are the other women?’ From her answers, our discussion extended to the seemingly implicit role of women as promoters of patriarchy (I have written another piece about this). In the meantime, her advice to women is:

‘…to be the best that one could be in whatever they are doing in life. They will be noticed soon enough. Also, if you volunteer to do something, perform that duty as if you are doing a paid job, i.e. with passion and dedication. You will stand out in the crowd. Thirdly, no doors are permanently shut/closed. Continue to knock until it is opened for you, in other words, persistence always pays off in the end.’

As for patriarchy – still alive and kicking – this woman took on the challenge, battled for herself and the other seemingly faceless and voiceless women in the organisation and paid a handsome price. In a sense, she fought and won!

So now in 2019, in response to balance for better, I say:



[1] ADA is usually a traditional name given to the first female child in a family from Igbo land, an area in the Southeast of Nigeria. The Igbos are one of the 3 main tribes in the country.

[2] Also known as the Nigerian Civil War. More about it here:

[3] Considered as the most important decision-making group in the Igbo family and society, the ‘Umunna’ is a hierarchy of patrilineages, i.e. the male line of descent from a founding ancestor (Akakuru et al., 2014).

‘Umuada’ is a forum for ‘all daughters of a particular clan, village, town or state… designed to present and protect their interests’ (Michael Vincent, downloaded from on 27th November 2018).



CIRE student members present at the annual SWDTP Student Conference 2018

“This is my very first blog entry. I saw it fitting to write about something close to my heart, my research and the shared experiences of researching I am currently having with my colleagues. This maybe a very descriptive entry but I think this is a start of me blogging and I believe that the CIRE blog is the best place to start as this is a platform which has given me voice, encouragement, and so much self-growth”


By Aminath Shiyama

This years’ annual student conference organised by the South West Doctoral Training Partnership (SWDTP) was held on the 14th November 2018 in Bristol at the lovely venue of Brunel’s SS Great Britain. This year, the theme for the conference was Beyond Research: Society, Collaboration and Impact. Among the six presenters from the University of Bristol’s School of Education, three were CIRE student members.

Aminath Shiyama (third year PhD student), Leanne Cameron (third year PhD student), and Beatrice Gallio (final year PhD student) presented at the conference, sharing experiences from their research work and how they are learning to navigate the intricacies of researching and communicating research work in (un)familiar contexts. Below are overviews of these presentations.


Aminath (Shimmi) in her presentation shared her fieldwork experiences working collaboratively with primary science teachers in the Maldives. Though collaborative approaches were presented as the ‘best-practice’ methods that guided her research design in developing ways of working with teachers as co-researchers in pedagogic innovations, her experiences in the field demonstrated somewhat different. Using quotes from her reflective journal, she shared instances where her expectations clashed with the realities of the field. Differing expectations, constant changes in plans at the schools, and clashing identities were the realities she had to navigate. Though some of these were unexpected, as researchers we have to learn to make a compromise of the situation, learn from it, and identify meaningful ways in which such clashes can impact our research mindset and the data that is generated in the process. To do so, she suggested that as researchers, it is important to construct a mutual understating of our chosen research approaches in tandem with our participants, be empathetic to the context teachers are working with, and have a positive outlook on the trajectories the research is taking on despite of the challenges that we face. The key is embracing the challenges and explore and learn the contextual relevance of the methodologies and methods we choose for our research.


Leanne presented about her dilemmas of negotiating identity(ies), reciprocity, and the associated need for constant reflexivity in her fieldwork with teachers in Rwanda. She shared anecdotes from her fieldwork to illustrate the ongoing challenge of mismatch between her and her participants, including a mismatch of expectations and how her own identity was itself differently interpreted: participants viewed her according to her ‘previous’ identity as a teacher trainer rather than as a researcher, which made her view of reciprocity very different than that of her participants. As such unexpected issues are often part-and-parcel of fieldwork, Leanne recommended that we talk more explicitly about fieldwork and what it entails and proposed a simple framework for considering the researcher, the ‘researched’ and the interaction of the two. For our physical and emotional wellbeing, we need to explore fieldwork beyond terms such as that it is ‘messy’ and ‘challenging’ and unpack the possible issues and dilemmas fieldwork may bring us. She closed her presentation suggesting a mindful hands-on tool for researchers that can be used before, whilst, and after fieldwork. Leanne recommended that we ask ourselves three key questions regarding who we are, what we need, and what we offer. We can aim it at ourselves as researchers, present it to the participants, and consider the way each party is looking at the other, thus enabling some level of mutual understanding.

Beatriz’s presentation was about engaging policymakers in academic research, drawn from her experiences as a PhD intern at the Welsh Government. Contributing her quantitative data analysis skills for analysing the relationship between well-being and natural resources, Beatriz learnt a different angle for research impact. She shared with us five key learning experiences on how to improve the communication of academic findings with policymakers. First, she suggested making the analysis and results relevant to policymakers, possibly by connecting them to the current legislation, which enhances the chances for policymakers to take meaning from the results and engage with research. Second, as policymakers work in multidisciplinary teams, she learnt that her analysis and associated recommendations need to be ‘discipline-proof’ so that the message is transmitted to as many policy team members as possible. Third, it is important to be concise, straightforward, and precise in presenting your recommendations. Fourth, she recommended getting in touch with relevant policymakers and taking the initiative to do so is critical in getting the message across, with the earlier, the better. Lastly, oral communication works better than written communication when it comes to sharing research findings and this is done best in focused meetings with the group of stakeholders present. These are critical and practical ways in which research findings can be shared with the public and relevant parties so that research can have the impact it was aimed for.

What the Grammar School debate tells us about understandings of social justice in/through education: a tribute to Vicki Gardner

By Angeline M. Barrett

Vicki Gardner’s outstanding 2017 Masters dissertation, Grammar Schools & the ‘Mayritocracy’: A Critical Discourse Analysis of Social Justice in/through Education, has been published posthumously in the Bristol Working Papers in Education Series. This blog overviews the paper and announces the launch this year of the Vicki Gardner Prize for Outstanding Masters Research in Education Policy.

Grammar Schools and the ‘Mayritocracy

Critical policy sociologists, worried by growing inequalities and increasing corporate interest in the English public education system, will read Gardner’s work with interest. The sudden resurfacing of the grammar school debate in 2016, championed by the Prime Minister Theresa May, whose name is cheekily incorporated into the title, came as a surprise to many British education academics. Gardner states her own reasoned and unequivocal position on the ‘myth of meritocracy’ that underpins selective schooling very clearly. However, the main focus in this dissertation is not to argue her own position on grammar schools but rather to critically analyse the notions of social justice deployed in the popular debate triggered by May’s policy. By taking a specific contemporary debate as the “prism” through which to identify and analyse enduring discourses of global reach, Gardner produced a piece of research that was relevant beyond time and place. In short, she made a contribution to theoretical scholarship on social justice in education. The sophistication and theorisation of her arguments are remarkable for a researcher in the very earliest stage of her academic career.

Gardner was centrally interested in the battle ground of ideas, ideas concerning what is a socially just education and the relationship between school and society. She viewed meritocracy as a version of “the myth of the enterprising individual” (Apple 2001, 421), an assumption that is central to the neoliberal argument for the pseudomarketisation of public education. To understand the rules and parameters of the battlefield, she drew on Gramsci’s concept of cultural hegemony. Gramsci, a philosopher, sociologist, linguist and political activist, produced his most influential writing during 11 years of imprisonment by Mussolini’s Fascist government. His theory of hegemony explained how political elites use cultural power, alongside violent coercion, to control the masses. Cultural hegemony is created through discourse, i.e. verbal and written texts and associated practices that carry, create and promulgate ideologies. Discourses are hegemonic when they exclude other ways of reasoning. Schools are key institutions for transmitting discourses and hence creating public consensus around the world view of the ruling class. However, Gardner also argues that education has the potential to be the site for the reversal of hegemony when it is used for the development of critical consciousness. Education then is a site of contestation, complicit in the historic formation, deconstruction and reconstruction of public consensus or common sense.

Mass media is another site of hegemonic contestation where competing ideological discourses vie to represent and shape common sense. Gardner turned to broadsheet newspapers to find texts representative of the grammar school debate. Her analysis covered a total of seven articles from publications associated with the political Left and Right (The Guardian, The Times and The Daily Telegraph) published within two separate one week periods when the grammar school debate was hitting headlines.

She used the analytical tools of Fairclough’s Dialectic Relational Approach to dissemble and deconstruct the intent and messages of the newspaper articles. Using these tools, Gardner identifies strategies of legitimation and interrogates how social actors are represented in the articles. For example, she showed how authors on both sides of the debate named policies after the individuals, who champion them to imply that policy positions are nothing more than a personal agenda with no basis in research evidence or relation to broader public consensus.

Gardner’s analysis reveals the semiotic and deontic moves made by grammar school champions to represent them as a necessity, a democratic and counter-hegemonic redistribution of resources. She shows how proponents assert a horizon of possibilities for education in English constructed by a neoliberal world view of increasing economic competition. “Thence, the promoting message is that selective schooling is needed for every child to fulfill their potential and contribute to the knowledge economy” (Gazdner 2018, 33). Another strategy deployed by proponents of grammar schools is to represent May and her cabinet as “ ‘new’ intellectuals” (Gramsci 1999, 818), her ‘socially representative’ cabinet a contrast to David Cameron’s privately-educated elite. The grammar school policy is then presented as a virtuous ‘politics of interruption’ (Apple 2013, 66). By contrast, Gardner argues that the central rationale of meritocracy, that it expands opportunity for low income families, neglects the systemic and sociocultural dimensions of disadvantage and hence oversimplifies social class:

by exacting a problem-solution relationship that conceives of the problem as selection dependent on income, common sense is limited to the economic realm. (Gardner 2018, 40)

She finds that whilst social mobility is understood by commentators on the Right as a matter of individual human rights, on the Left it is understood as a structural issue or class formation. Both sides, however, reduce social justice to social mobility, treating the two as synonymous.

Ultimately, the discursive moves “to recontextualize concepts such as democracy, class equality and even social justice itself and, as such… disguise itself as counterhegemonic” (Gardner 2018, 41) did not win the grammar school policy argument in 2016-2017. Yet for intellectuals on the Left engaged in the “war of position” it was not a hopeful time. Gardner wrote her dissertation mere months after the Brexit vote in UK and the start of Donald Trump’s presidency in the US. Within her dissertation, Gardner holds onto and repeatedly returns to two concepts from Gramsci’s work. These tell us much about her hopes for herself and society. First is the notion of an ‘organic intellectual’, i.e. an intellectual engaged with civil society, affiliated with a class or group and who may assume a hegemonic or counterhegemonic stance. Gardner identifies herself as a “subaltern organic intellectual” (2018, 4). The second concept is the ‘cathartic moment’ and captures the utopian vision that steered Gardner’s work. The cathartic moment is the point where purely economic reasoning is superseded by ethical and political reasoning, so that:

structure ceases to be an external force which crushes man …; and is transformed into a means of freedom, an instrument to create a new ethico-political form and a source of new initiatives. (Gramsci 1999, 691-2) (cited on p.15)

And so,

the organic intellectual, be that journalists or the researcher herself – now needs to stand up from their desk and find a means of connecting this theory with practice (Gardner 2018, 44).



Vicki Gardner was a research associate at the School of Education, University of Bristol, where she worked with Leon Tikly, Angeline Barrett and Marie Joubert on a review of secondary science, technology and mathematics education in sub-Saharan Africa. She completed the M.Sc. Education in 2017, specialising in Policy and International Development and producing an outstanding dissertation. Her first degree was in German and Russian languages and she worked for four and half years as a German language teacher in secondary schools in Devon and the Bristol area. Vicki had hoped, and the staff who worked most closely with her had known, that the Masters programme would be the start of a long academic career. In her unexpected absence, we are publishing her dissertation in its entirety not just to remember Vicki, but because it is a piece of research which deserves wider readership.



-Apple, M.W., 2001. Comparing Neo-liberal Projects and Inequality in Education. Comparative Education, 37, 409-423.

-Apple, M.W., 2013. Can Education Change Society? New York/ Oxon: Routledge.

-Gardner, V., 2018. Grammar Schools & the ‘Mayritocracy’: A Critical Discourse Analysis of Social Justice in/ through Education. Bristol Working Papers in Education no. 09/2018. Bristol: School of Education.

-Gramsci, A., 1999. Selection from the Prison Notebooks. tr. Q. HOARE & G.N. SMITH. London: The Electric Book Company Ltd.

Global Imaginaries and the Capacity to Aspire

Every Wednesday at 4.30 pm, 14 November – 12 December 2018 
Room 4.09, 35, Berkeley Square 
CIRE Reading Group
The decisions that people make in and through education are often influenced by their view of globalisation, the opportunities it offers them or the exclusions it creates. Literature theorising how we imagine the globalisation and how we imagine the future may help us to understand why some young people decide to the West to study higher education; how they respond when they are denied access to education; the career decisions of foreign language teachers or why some policy ideas become global policy agendas.
This reading group engages with texts primarily from anthropology and cultural studies in order to explore how dominant or widespread ways of imagining globalisation shape the possibilities that individuals imagine for their own future, or their aspirations. Some readings are concerned with how globalisation is experienced by internationally mobile individuals living within hybrid communities. Others focus on poorer, marginalised communities and individuals, with identities strongly associated with specific localities.
Week 1: 14 November 
Taylor, C. (2002) Modern Social Imaginaries. Public Culture 14(1): 91-124. Introduction (pp. 91-2) and Section 3 (pp. 105-111) 
Charles Taylor coined the term social imaginaries in order to explain how ideas about individuals and society that originated with a small number of European thinkers came to shape modernity in the West. 
Canclini, N.G. (2014) Imagined Globalization. Translated by Yúdice, G. Durham and London: Duke University Press. Ch. 2.  
Canclini focuses on how globalization and identity is conceptualised and represented at a time of unprecedented mobility. Nestor Garcini Canclini is an Argentinian anthropologist with an interest in hybrid cultures.  
Week 2: 21 November 
Steger, M. B. (2009) The rise of the Global Imaginary: Political Ideologies from the French Revolution to the Global War on Terror. Oxford: Oxford Scholarship online. Introduction.  
Steger also draws on Charles Taylor’s concept of social imaginaries to understand concepts and experiences of globalisation but his analysis has a more political focus. 
Week 3: 28 November 
Appadurai, A. (2013) The Future as Cultural Fact: Essays on the Global Condition. London & New York: Verso. Chapter 9 – The Capacity to Aspire: Culture and the terms of recognition. 
This week we turn to the aspirations. Appadurai discusses the capacity to aspire in relation to the voice and agency of oppressed communities to imagine and navigate an alternative future. Arjun Appadurai is an Indian-born anthropologist, who has conducted extensive research with slum dwellers in Mumbai. 
Week 4: 5 December 
DeJaeghere, J. (2018) Girls’ educational aspirations and agency: imagining alternative futures through schooling in a low resourced Tanzanian community. Critical Studies in Education 59(2): 237-255. 
In the last week, we look at one example of the application of the Appadurai’s concept of the capacity to aspire to education. Dejaeghere also draws on the capability approach to conceptualise agency and Bourdieu, to understand structure. 

Comparative Education and Development Alternatives: CIRE at the BAICE Conference 2018

By Angeline Barrett

This year, the British Association of International and Comparative Education (BAICE) annual conference was held at the University of York from the 12th– 14th September. Professor Michael Crossley delivered the Presidential Address titled Policy Transfer, Sustainable Development and the Contexts of Education. This report highlights Michael’s Address and summarises the other Bristol contributions to the conference.

It was fitting that Michael should be BAICE President in the year that the Association celebrated its 20th anniversary. Michael has been an active member of BAICE throughout its twenty years,  serving as Vice-Chair and Chair, and later creating its archive, an open online record of reports on projects and awards sponsored by BAICE, short discussion articles, and, of course, BAICE Presidential Addresses. Michael was the Editor of Comparative Education from 2003-2010, a world-leading journal in the field, and he continues to serve on the Editorial Board of that and other leading journals and was elected as a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences (FAcSS) for his contribution to the field. Michael was the founding and long-time Director of CIRE, including many years when it was known as the Research Centre for International and Comparative Studies (ICS), and he continues to support CIRE as Emeritus Professor.

The Presidential Address: Policy Transfer, Sustainable Development and the Contexts of Education

The voice of Aretha Franklin singing Sam Cooke’s American civil rights anthem, ‘A Change is Gonna Come’, announced the start of the Presidential Address. Her legendary voice evoked the 1960s and symbolized an emerging ‘disruptive and creative youth culture’. And so, Michael’s address began with an introduction to the cultural, local, and global milieu within which he, a young Yorkshire man, became a secondary school teacher and developed a practical and theoretical interest in comparative and international education. This led to a PhD from La Trobe University in Melbourne (an ethnographic study of policy transfer from the UK and Australia to a remote Southern  Highlands school in Papua New Guinea), a first academic post at the University of Papua New Guinea (PNG), and an extensive body of published work, inspired by early research in PNG, challenging the uncritical international transfer of educational policy and practice.


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Michael’s address took us on a grand tour of international education policy transfer and ‘borrowing’ and its critique by comparativists. We started with a historical long view. The field of comparative education, since its origins in the early 19th century, has been influenced by a rich spectrum of changing theoretical and methodological approaches, with some practitioners favouring positivistic research, intended to furnish policy makers with ‘scientific’ evidence,  and others developing more theoretically-oriented, sociocultural analyses, with critical theory and postcolonial perspectives that foreground the contextually situated and contested nature of education policy and practice.  We quickly moved to a critical and theoretically informed interrogation of the contemporary era of ‘deterritorialised’ policy making (Steiner-Khamsi and Waldow 2012) enabled by global-scale international surveys and an influential network of consultants (Auld and Morris 2014). We were shown how big data and global league tables have become technologies of global governance and how international power differentials and inequalities often constrain the agency of local policy actors in aid-dependent nations (Crossley, 2014).

Sustainable development was a strand of Michael’s research before it became a headline international development agenda. Michael’s interest arose from his long association with small island developing states (SIDS). In the Address, we were thus invited to contemplate the potential to learn from such contexts at the ‘sharp end of climate change’. This potential was effectively illustrated by recent British Academy and USP-funded research collaboration between the University of the South Pacific, and the universities of Bristol and Nottingham, conducted between 2012 and 2016, with work continuing in the aftermath of the devastating Cyclone Winston (see Crossley, Koya Vaka’uta et al. 2017).

The address concluded with an in-depth analysis of implications and challenges for the future of the field of comparative and international education and, in its 20th anniversary year, for BAICE itself. I highlight just one of these: the challenge to apply ‘comparative and international education, and the policy transfer literature to new research priorities and contexts that have urgent human rights and global security implications.’

Aminath Shiyama:  Science process skills and environmental education in the Maldives



In her conference presentation, Aminath presented her PhD work, which is also concerned with a low-lying island context, vulnerable to climate change, and focuses on science education and curriculum development. From a curriculum and pedagogy development perspective, she presented findings from a scoping study, which explored how and whether upper primary school teachers are developing learners’ science process skills and addressing environmental education. She analysed learners’ work books and then used samples of their work to stimulate conversation with teachers. She found that teachers tended to focus on learning of content rather than the development of process skills (e.g. argumentation, observation). Hence, they taught about the environment rather than for the environment, meaning children were not engaged in action with respect to the environment or encouraged to analyse the social and political causes of environmental degradation in the Maldives. She concluded by showing how these findings informed the design of her main study for her PhD, in which she collaborated with a small group of primary science teachers to prepare curriculum materials that support the development of science process skills.

Angeline Barrett and Leon Tikly: Sustainability and social justice


Angeline and Leon revisited their framework for conceptualizing education quality, to consider whether or how it could be extended to address the concerns of sustainability. Our original framework had drawn on theories of social justice. Hence, we turned to environmental justice literature. We found this highlighted the deeply social nature of environmental justice. Environmental injustices, such as contaminated water supply or polluted air, are inevitably experienced by communities. Further, communities subject to maldistribution and misrecognition (socioeconomic and sociocultural injustices) are most vulnerable to environmental injustices. This focuses attention on the role of education in expanding the ability of communities to reason about the environment (relevance), including through engaging with postcolonial critiques of scientific reasoning.

Sustainability also offers us the analogy of complex systems as a device for understanding and modeling education processes. Complex systems are dynamic; they self-organise into patterns that may rhyme but never repeat and that are made unpredictable by feedback loops. Complex systems are not isolated systems but co-evolve with other systems. We applied the analogy to understanding the relationship between classroom pedagogy, formal curricula and disciplinary subject knowledge, modelling these as nested co-evolving systems that change at very different rates. We concluded that making the curriculum inclusive and relevant involves creating coherence in processes of translation between knowledge production (research), the formal curriculum, and classroom pedagogy. Making them democratic involves opening up of these processes to active participation and knowledge co-production.



Auld, E., and P. Morris. 2014. “Comparative Education, the ‘New Paradigm’ and Policy Borrowing: Constructing Knowledge for Education Reform.” Comparative Education 50 (2): 129-115.   doi:10.1080/03050068.2013.826497.

Crossley, M. 2014. “Global League Tables, Big Data and the International Transfer of Educational Research Modalities.” Comparative Education 50 (1): 15-26.

Crossley, M., C.F. Koya Vaka’uta, R. Lagi, S. McGrath, K.H. Thaman, and L. Waqailiti. 2017. ‘Quality Education and the Role of the Teacher in Fiji: Mobilising Global and Local Values.’ Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education 47 (6): 872-890. doi: 10.1080/03057925.2017.1338938.

Steiner-Khamsi, G., and F. Waldow, eds. 2012. The 2012 World Yearbook of Education: Policy Borrowing and Lending in Education. New York: Routledge.