Policy & Practice - A Development Education Review



Critical Literacy: Theories and Practices in Development Education

Finding the 'Historically Possible': Contexts, Limits and Possibilities in Development Education
Autumn 2014

Vanessa de Oliveira Andreotti

Abstract: This article explores the idea of critical literacy in development education, used here also with reference to global education and global citizenship education, recognising multiple orientations, theories and practices of critical engagement within these related fields.  Critical literacy, as defined in this text, emphasises the need for a careful examination of different ‘root’ narratives as a practice of responsible intellectual engagement across all sectors.  In the first part of this article, I review the idea of critical literacy in the context of development education offering examples of my own academic and pedagogical practice in this area.  In the second part I expand on the idea of soft and critical approaches to global citizenship and development education by presenting a new conceptual cartography with four different ‘root narratives’ as a critical literacy stimulus for dialogue and analyses that may open new possibilities of thinking and practice in development education.

Key words: Critical Literacy; Global Citizenship; Development Education; Power; Postcolonialism.

Critical literacy in global citizenship and development education

Critical Literacy: Theories and Practices is the title of an academic open access journal I founded with Lynn Mario de Souza in 2006.  When we first started the journal we were aware that different groups in education used the term in different ways, which is evident in the wide variety of articles we have received and published so far.  Therefore, as an editor, I have used a very open and general definition of the term as ‘an educational practice that emphasises the connections between language, knowledge, power and subjectivities’.  Authors have traced the origins of the term to different sources and associated critical literacy with different traditions, including critical pedagogy (e.g. Paulo Freire), the New/Multi-Literacies groups (e.g. Brian Street), discourse analysis (e.g. Norman Fairclough), and poststructuralism and postcolonial studies (e.g. Michel Foucault and Edward Said).  The way I use critical literacy in my own work has been informed by the latter.  In this article, I intend to outline some of the ways I have used this concept in research and teacher education related to global citizenship and development education as a strategy of examining the politics of knowledge production and the limits and possibilities of different knowledge systems.

            In the article ‘Soft versus Critical Global Citizenship Education’ (2006), drawing on the works of Dobson (2006) and Spivak (2004; see also Andreotti, 2007, 2011, 2012), I stated that there were at least two common trends in educational initiatives that promoted concern for others (especially distant others).  The first was based on the idea of a common humanity.  I represented it as a ‘soft’ approach to global citizenship and development education.  The second was based on the idea of justice and complicity in harm.  I represented it as a critical approach to global citizenship and development education.  I argued that ‘soft’ approaches based on a modernist understanding of linear time, progress and development, although productive in certain contexts, tended to close down the possibility of more critical approaches, particularly of approaches that offered alternative ways to conceptualise development, knowledge and solutions from the perspective of historically subjugated peoples (see also Bryan and Bracken, 2011; Bourn, 2011; Martin, 2011; Andreotti and Pashby, 2013).  I asserted that ‘critical literacy’ as an educational practice that critically examines origins and implications of assumptions as well as other possibilities for signification, could be a viable way to address this problem.

            The conceptualisation of critical literacy I used in that article combines questions within two orientations.  The first orientation challenges imbalances in power and representation.  This can be illustrated in questions such as: who decides (something is true or ideal), in whose name and for whose benefit?  The second orientation challenges the notion that meaning is objective and self-evident.  It emphasises the social, cultural and historical ‘construction’ of realities and highlights the limits and blind edges of any system of signification, promoting openness to suppressed knowledges and subjectivities and to what is unknown.  This orientation is illustrated in questions such as: where is this understanding coming from (in terms of collective ‘root’ narratives), where is it leading to (in terms of social, cultural, political and environmental implications), and how can this be thought ‘otherwise’ (what possibilities of signification have been ‘forgotten’ in this context)?

            Within the multiplicity of critical literacy traditions, this approach differs slightly from critical engagements based on other orientations.  Cervetti, Pardales and Damico (2001), for example, establish a distinction between traditional reading, critical reading and critical literacy, emphasising that each orientation of ‘reading critically’ will result in different questions being asked.  Using their framework, I illustrate these differences through the scenario of a teacher and a student in a classroom, where the teacher is telling the student that s/he needs schooling in order to ‘be somebody in life’.  Within the framework proposed by Cervetti et al., a traditional form of reading would enable ‘decoding’ questions such as: what did the teacher say, how did she substantiate her arguments, is what she said true or false?  A critical form of reading would look further into the context and political framework of the scenario: where was this school, when did it happen, what was the socio-economic situation of the teacher and student, what was the motivation and political orientation of the teacher, what power relations are reproduced in the teacher’s statement, how did the teacher’s views affect the student and his/her family?  A critical literacy approach would focus on the production of knowledge/power and enable questions like: who decides what ‘being somebody’ means, in whose name, for whose benefit then, and now, how do we come to think about the ways we do, who makes choices about understandings of reality, whose interests are represented in these choices, who benefits or loses with them, what choices are forgotten, how do people in different contexts understand the idea of ‘being somebody’?

            When introducing critical literacy in development education, I choose scenarios that make evident dominant (taken for granted) perspectives about the benevolence of progress, charity and schooling in international engagements.  One of the scenarios I use is a poster with pictures of children in need with the title ‘education for all can solve all problems’.  I use the idea of ‘critical reading’ to explore the context of production of that poster: what is the purpose of the poster, who created it and with what motives, where was it placed and why, how and why were pictures and words chosen, how is the reader manipulated through the language?  I use the idea of ‘critical literacy’ to start to open up questions related to complicity in harm at a very basic level, such as: who decides what problems and solutions are (in the poster, historically and in ‘our’ context), what assumptions inform these decisions, how are unequal relationships between donors and recipients reproduced through these significations, what other conceptualisations of problems and solutions could be designed by communities that have been historically subjugated in these relationships, and so on.

            I also usually emphasise a strategic distinction between reflexivity and reflection in the practice of critical literacy in teacher education.  ‘Reflection on practice’ in teacher education has been mainstreamed as a form of thinking that looks at individual processes of meaning and decision making in order to improve educational practice amongst teachers.  I suggest the term self-reflexivity to contrast the practice of reflection (thinking about individual journeys, assumptions and decisions), to the practice of tracing individual assumptions to collective socially, culturally and historically situated ‘stories’ with specific ontological and epistemological assumptions that define what is real, ideal and knowable (i.e. ‘root narratives’).  This highlights that possibilities for thinking available to individuals, and individual ‘choices’ are never completely ‘free’, ‘neutral’ or only ‘individual’, as the things we say, think and do are conditioned (but not necessarily determined) by our individual and collective contexts and histories (see Andreotti, 2010a; 2010b).  Self-reflexivity also challenges the assumption of the self-evident subject - the idea that there is a direct correlation between what we say, what we think and what we do.  It draws attention to the complex constitution of subjectivities, to the interdependence of knowledge and power, and to what is sub- or un-conscious in our relationships with the world.

            I have used the metaphor of a three-layered cake (Figure 1) to illustrate these differences.  At the top layer there is what we say, what we think and what we do, which are generally perceived to be directly related.  A ‘Cartesian’ understanding of subjects states that we say exactly what we think and that we can describe objectively exactly what we do.  However, our capacity to describe what we think is limited by what can be said: what is appropriate and intelligible to both ourselves and to others (e.g. we can think things that are not appropriate to say in specific contexts, or that we cannot articulate, acknowledge, or make sense of).  Our capacity to describe what we do is limited by what we can notice and by what we want to present to others (e.g. we can say we are open and flexible, but fail to notice that we act in a contradictory way).  This recognition of the limits of language is part of critical literacy practices. 

Figure 1. Awareness, reflection and reflexivity

The second layer of the cake is that of individual experiences.  It acknowledges that what we say, think and do are based on our individual journeys in multiple contexts. They are rooted in our unique ‘baggage’ of concepts and traumatic, inspiring and ordinary learning experiences, and dependent upon what we have been exposed to.  The third layer of the cake recognises that our experiencing and interpretation of these experiences are conditioned by collective referents grounded in the languages we have inherited to make sense of reality and communicate with others.  These languages have specific criteria for what counts as real (ontology), what can be known and how (epistemology), what is ideal and how to get there (methodology).  These collective criteria are socially, culturally and historically ‘situated’ - they depend on a group’s social, cultural and historical background and therefore they change (slowly) over time, as contexts change and criteria of different groups intersect and contradict each other.  Therefore, there is always diversity within a group of same criteria, as things are never static, but there is also always a dominant set of criteria that represents the ‘common sense’ of a group or groups.  I suggest that an analysis of the first layer could be named ‘self-awareness’, an analysis of the second layer ‘self-reflection’ and an analysis of the third, ‘self-reflexivity’.  All three are important for development education.

            In order to address some of the pedagogical challenges of introducing this conceptualisation of critical literacy in the classroom context in my work as a teacher educator, I created a matrix of the relationship between knowledge, power, the construction of realities in the classroom, and ideas about the control of pedagogical outcomes (see Andreotti, 2008).  I illustrate this matrix with examples from development education, as the practice of critical literacy in this area is sometimes accused of either ‘indoctrinating’ or ‘paralysing’ learners (see Vare and Scott, 2007 for a similar discussion on Education for Sustainable Development).  Critical literacy is perceived to indoctrinate learners when a specific critical analysis of injustice and position on justice are presented as the only morally justifiable path.  Critical literacy is perceived as paralysing learners in questioning everything, when it emphasises a multiplicity of perspectives, the limits of knowledge and the complexity and context dependency of positions on justice.  Thus, the matrix helps think through these issues and present these perceived problems as part of a more general discussion on the role of education.  This matrix combines two ways of thinking about education (i.e. ‘think as I do and do as I say’ and ‘think for yourself and choose responsibly what to do’) and two ways of thinking about knowledge (i.e. ‘there is one right answer independent of context’ and ‘answers are socially constructed and context dependent’).

            Therefore, there are (at least) four different possibilities for thinking and action.  The first possibility is ‘think as I do, do as I say, there is only one right answer’.  The example from development education I use is a quote from a teacher: ‘I teach my students that people in poorer countries lack technology, education and proper work habits.  I make sure my students understand that we have a moral obligation to help them by providing assistance through charity and expertise.’  The second possibility is ‘think for yourself and choose responsibly what to do, but there is only one right answer’, which is illustrated in the quote: ‘I teach my students that they need to be critical thinkers – to separate facts from opinions and to search for impartial, objective information to construct their arguments.  I believe rational and scientific reasoning is the only way to achieve a just and prosperous society.’ 

            The third possibility is ‘answers are context dependent, but in my class (i.e. in this context), you should think as I do and do as I say’, illustrated in: ‘I teach my students that textbook history is always told from the point of view of the winners and that the perspective of the oppressed peoples are seldom promoted. I teach my students the perspective of the oppressed because I want them to be willing to fight for social justice.’  Last, the fourth possibility is ‘answers are context dependent, you should learn to think for yourself and choose responsibly what to do’, exemplified in: ‘I teach my students that there are always different perspectives on any issue, that these are grounded in social, cultural and historical processes, and that whatever choice they make will have systemic implications.  My job is to create spaces for students to engage with the ethics of global challenges, processes and dilemmas in ways that create a sense of interdependence and responsibility for themselves and towards the world.’  I emphasise that decisions about possibilities are also context dependent (a teacher may legitimately choose the first under certain circumstances), but that the fourth possibility has not been common in formal Western schooling where the first and second possibilities have been dominant and also imposed or exported all over the world.

            In terms of engagements with historically subjugated communities who may offer alternative perspectives on international development issues, in the Through Other Eyes Initiative (TOE), Lynn Mario de Souza and I developed a resource and framework of a critical literacy practice based on Spivak’s ideas of learning to unlearn, learning to learn, learning to listen and learning to reach out (see Andreotti, 2011a; Andreotti and Souza, 2008; Souza and Andreotti, 2009).  I also framed this kind of practice of critical literacy as a response to increasing complexity, uncertainty, diversity and inequality in contemporary societies related to two different conceptualisations of the ‘post-’ in postmodernism (i.e. post- as ‘after’, and post- as questioning) that could prompt an educational process to enable students to move from the desire for absolute certainties, fixed identities/communities, and predictable and consensual futures towards being comfortable with contingent and provisional certainties, complex and hybrid identities/communities and open co-created futures in the context of global education (Andreotti, 2010b).

            I have used insights from postcolonial theory both to articulate a critique of soft approaches to development and global education and to tentatively propose possibilities for more ethical educational possibilities that (Andreotti, 2011b). It is important to note that it is theoretically contradictory to expect a clear set of normative values or ethical principles from a postcolonial critique where the benevolence of every attempt to ‘make things better’ is suspect of reproducing unexamined colonial practices. However, it is precisely this suspicion of the benevolence of benevolence (see Jefferess, 2008) that can create the possibility of self-reflexivity, humility and openness that ground ethical forms of solidarity ‘before will’ (Spivak, 2004), where historical imbalances related to distribution of resources, value and knowledge production are kept firmly on the table. Postcolonial theory subtly implies a set of ethical practices that render it impossible to turn our back to difficult issues, such as our complicity in systemic harm, the persistence of relations of dominance, complexities and paradoxes of crossing borders, the gap between what we say and what we do, or our own sanctioned ignorances.

            If one is looking for a ‘feel good’ recipe for how to make things better, postcolonial theory is not the place to search for it.  Looking at one’s own historical and systemic legacy of oppression might involve a stage of guilt – of realizing that one’s positive self-image does not hold when looked at from the perspective of those more severely affected by the systemic violence that we benefit from. However, guilt is only an issue when we are attached to specific desires which are constantly emphasized in the architecture of modernity. Three of these modern collective desires are key to the inequalities in North-South relations that are constantly reproduced in education: 1) the desire for seamless progress in linear time epitomized in science, technology and middle-class metropolitan lifestyles; 2) the desire for this progress to be achieved through innocent human protagonism (human agency focusing on solutions and forgetting how it is part of the problem); and 3) the desire for totalizing forms of knowledge production grounding this process (i.e. knowing the world in order to control it). (Andreotti, 2014). In North-South encounters, these desires translate into patterns of engagement, flows and representation that are:

  • Hegemonic (justifying superiority and supporting domination);
  • Ethnocentric (projecting one view, one ‘forward’, as universal);
  • Ahistorical (forgetting historical legacies and complicities);
  • Depoliticised (disregarding power inequalities and ideological roots of analyses and proposals);
  • Salvationist (framing help as the burden of the fittest);
  • Un-complicated (offering easy solutions that do not require systemic change);
  • Paternalistic (seeking affirmation of superiority through the provision of help) (Andreotti, 2012a: 2).

The first letter of each pattern makes up the acronym ‘HEADS UP’. I have put together a checklist of questions to help to identify each pattern in education (see Andreotti, 2012a) and also a list of questions that complicate further common/easy solutions for each of the patterns (see Andreotti, 2012b).  At the heart of this work is the idea that education is about preparing myself and those I work with to enlarge possibilities for thinking and living together in a finite planet that sustains complex, plural, uncertain, inter-dependent and, unfortunately, deeply unequal societies.  In order to do this, perhaps what is needed is an attitude of sceptical optimism or hopeful scepticism (rather than naïve hope or dismissive scepticism) in order to expand our inherited frameworks in terms of four educational priorities.  First, it is necessary to understand and learn from repeated historical patterns of mistakes, in order to open the possibilities for new mistakes to be made.  Second, we need to recognise how we are implicated or complicit in the problems we are trying to address.  Third, we need to learn to enlarge our referents for reality and knowledge, acknowledging the gifts and limitations of every knowledge system and moving beyond polarised antagonisms towards agonistic solidarities (Andreotti, 2011a, 2014).  Fourth, we must engage with more complex social analyses acknowledging that if we understand the problems and the reasons behind them in simplistic ways, we may do more harm than good.

            In relation to the latter, it is also important for the field that these analyses are accessible and available to different discursive communities (e.g. academics, non-governmental organisation (NGO) practitioners, teachers and students).  Therefore, work that translates and synthetises discussions in different fields (e.g. politics, development, sociology, social movements) can be very useful and important in moving the debate in the field forward in a more organic way (see for example Andreotti, 2011b).  The downside of translations and syntheses is that they simplify complex discussions and can create seemly fixed distinctions that are always more complex and fluid than their representations.  Nevertheless, if used as a starting point for discussion (that is also open to critique), they are necessary tools in the creation of a tradition of responsible, non-exclusive, critical intellectual engagement in the field (see also Evans, Ingram, McDonald and Webber, 2009; Khoo, 2008, Marshall, 2011; Richardson, 2008).  It is in this spirit that, in the second part of this article, I offer a new conceptual cartography which represents a revision of the popular distinction between soft and critical approaches to global citizenship education (Andreotti, 2006).

Mapping narratives as a key critical literacy exercise

Tracing individual or institutional narratives to collective ‘root’ narratives (or meta-narratives) is a central exercise of the kind of critical literacy I advocate in this article.  As an intellectual exercise, mapping discourses helps people clarify their own positions by making evident the ambivalence of signification (the fact that words mean different things in different contexts), and by promoting the productive identification of inherent assumptions, patterns, trends, differences, similarities, paradoxes, and contradictions between and within different worldviews.  Mapping exercises can also help people to explore the problem spaces that generated the questions they are seeking answers for in order to check if they are still relevant or if questions have already changed (Scott, 1999). However, each mapping exercise is not neutral or transparent: as all interpretations are socially, culturally and historically situated, so is the ‘picture’ presented in a map by a map-maker. Therefore, it is important to remember that maps are useful as long as they are not taken to be the territory that they represent and are used critically as a starting point of discussion.

            The mapping exercise I present below establishes distinctions between a) technicist instrumentalist, b) liberal humanist, c) critical and postcritical, and d) ‘Other’ narratives of society, education, development and diversity. Root-narratives a, b, and c reproduce similar characteristics of privileging: anthropocentrism (putting ‘mankind’ at the centre); teleology (aiming for a predefined outcome in terms of progress); dialectics (expecting a linear progression towards a synthesis); universal reason (the idea of one rationality); and the Cartesian subject (who believes that he can know himself and everything else objectively).  I propose that these basic characteristics should not be seen as all good or all bad, but as historically situated, and potentially restrictive if universalised as a single story through social, political or educational projects, as they prevent the imagination of other possibilities.

            The technicist instrumentalist root-narrative frames social engineering as economic rationalisation decided by experts. This narrative can be seen at work in educational and development initiatives concerned with the creation of human capital for national economic growth in knowledge societies.  From this perspective education is perceived as a way to maximise the performance of individuals in global markets driven by services and innovation, in order to improve their employability or entrepreneurial capacity with a view to contribute to their country’s competitiveness in global economies.  Economic growth is associated with the acquisition and accumulation of universal knowledge (in contrast, for example, to the explanation that economic growth is based on hegemonic control of means of production) and poverty is defined as an individual or a country’s or an individual’s deficit of knowledge, competencies and skills to participate in the global economy.  The rationale for education is presented as a business case, as an individual responsibility of lifelong learning and adaptation to ever-changing economic contexts.  From this perspective, global/development education, often associated with ideas of ‘social responsibility’ involves the export of expertise from those heading the way in terms of economic development to those lagging behind.  Engagements with other cultures are defined in relation to national interests, such as the protection of national labour markets, the expansion of consumer markets, and the perceived threat of unwanted immigration, creating a need for controlled and market oriented internationalisation based on nationally defined objectives.

            The root-narrative of liberal humanism frames social engineering as human progress decided by national representatives.  From this perspective, education serves as enculturation into a national culture defined by its political or intellectual representatives, as well as an international culture perceived as an encounter between nationally defined groups of individuals primarily concerned with a combination of individual, national and humanitarian interests. What human progress looks like is decided by national representatives in supranational governance institutions like the United Nations, through a process of international consensus on key universal aims to be delivered by nation states, generally focusing on human rights, substantial freedoms or human capabilities. From this perspective, education should disseminate the international consensus on universal human progress defined in terms of access to education, healthcare, democracy and economic development.  In this sense, obstacles to human progress become the focus of government agreed targets (such as the Millennium Development Goals), campaigns (like Education for All), and other charitable and humanitarian interventions which generally define help as the moral responsibility of those who are ahead in terms of international development. 

            Poverty is explained as a deficit in terms of human progress, thus education becomes a vehicle for poverty eradication through partnerships between donors/dispensers and receivers of aid, knowledge, education, resources (e.g. books, computers, etc.), technical assistance, human rights, or volunteer labour.  From this perspective, education is a means to prepare world leaders to bring order and progress for all (generally through education itself).  Engagements with difference are also defined in national or ethnic terms: global learners are encouraged to acquire knowledge about different cultures/nationalities, including different perspectives, in order to be able to work with diverse populations towards common/consensual goals (predefined by national or supranational governance institutions).  Therefore, different perspectives and critical engagement are welcome within pre-defined frameworks (i.e. as long as there is acceptance of specific ideas of development, progress, human rights, governance, etc.).

            Critical and postcritical root-narratives frame social engineering as fair distribution done by ordinary people (rather than experts or representatives).  These perspectives are based on a critique of both technicist instrumentalist and liberal humanist root-narratives highlighting injustices and inequalities created or maintained by their ideals and means of implementation.  In terms of state governance, critical and postcritical narratives emphasise the complicity of initiatives based on economic or humanist ideals in the creation and maintenance of poverty and marginalisation in order to sustain exponential compound economic growth and/or improvements in quality of life that benefit only small sections of the world population.  A critical narrative (still drawing on humanism) focuses its critique on the primacy of economic growth imperatives in nation state agendas, as well as the erosion of autonomy and accountability of governments to their own populations due to lobbying and increasingly closer relationships with corporations.  This type of critical humanism attempts to expand the notion of consensual human progress to include the rights of those who have historically been marginalised working against patriarchy, sexism, class divisions, racism, ableism and/or hetero-normativity.

            Post-critical narratives claim that the consensus on human progress, based on modern development, is manufactured by elites and imposed around the world as a form of imperialism that eliminates other conceptualisations and possibilities of progress and development, therefore, they challenge the idea of social engineering.  Post-critical narratives will tend to focus on relationality, complex subjectivities, difficulties of representation (of hybrid and fluid communities/identities), intersectional violence, and agonism (rather than antagonism) in politics.  Education, from critical and postcritical perspectives, is concerned with the transformation of society and the creation of a new social order more inclusive of or led by those who have been silenced or exploited by the current dominant system - it involves an emphasis on critical social analyses of unequal power relations, distributions of labour and wealth (emphasised in critical narratives) and the politics of representation and knowledge production (emphasised in post-critical narratives).

            Education, therefore, from this perspective, is about the creation of a critical mass of people who could see and imagine beyond the limitations and oppression of the current system in order to bring a different reality into being.  Engagement with difference involves listening to and empowering those who have been marginalised and insisting on the need for spaces of dissent where other alternatives can emerge.  The World Social Forum, the Occupy Wall Street Movement, the Idle No More Movement in Canada, and the occupation of Syntagma Square in Athens are examples of initiatives based on critical narratives in civil society.  Several educational initiatives inspired by anti-colonial, feminist and anti-oppressive movements since the 1960s also enact critical humanist ideals.

            Through education in contemporary metropolitan and industrialised societies people are exposed to different degrees to the three configurations of thinking described so far.  The common theme of social change as social engineering in the three configurations is also not a coincidence.  All these narratives can be traced to common roots in the Renaissance, the Industrial Revolution, the Reformation, European colonialism and resistance to colonialism, and, particularly, the European Enlightenment. However, since these cultural, social and economic transitions have framed our ideas of what is good, ideal and normal, it is important to acknowledge our constitutive blindness (Santos, 2007) to other forms of seeing, knowing and being in the world that do not fit what we can recognise through the frames of references we have become used to.

            For this reason, I presented the fourth option ‘Other(s)’ as a question mark: non-anthropocentric, non-teleological, non-dialectical, non-universal and non-Cartesian possibilities.  For people over-socialised in the first three options (i.e. most of us who have been schooled), these possibilities would be extremely difficult to even begin to identify or to experience.  Thus, it may be more useful to present them as absences rather than categories.  The closest and most intelligible example that I have of an ‘Other’ narrative is that of a global education centre in Pincheq, a tiny village between Pisac and Cuzco in Peru (see below).  Even though their principles for global education may seem self-evident and understandable, a deeper experiential cognitive-relational engagement with the metaphoric ontologies of that region would be necessary to unlock contingent meanings that are not obvious in what we can represent in writing (see Andreotti, Ahenakew and Cooper 2011, 2012).  I use this here to illustrate the limited nature of our interpretations (that always rely on inherited concepts) and the complexity and difficulty of translating and representing these worldviews outside of their contexts (e.g. if you think you ‘understand’ this, think again), both of these preoccupations are key to critical literacy.

The Apu Chupaqpata Global Education Centre’s ‘Global Education Principles’ (2012) are:

  1. The entire planet Earth (i.e. Pachamama) is my home and country, my country is my mother and my mother knows no borders.
  2. We are all brothers and sisters: humans, rocks, plants, animals and all others.
  3. Pachamama is a mother pregnant of another generation of non-predatory children who can cultivate, nurse, and balance forces and flows, and who know that any harm done to the planet is harm done to oneself.
  4. The answers are in each one of us, but it is difficult to listen when we are not in balance, we hear too many different voices, especially in the cities.
  5. The priority for life and education is balance: to act with wisdom, to balance material consumption, to learn to focus on sacred spiritual relationships, to work together with the different gifts of each one of us, with a sense of oneness. Our purpose is to learn, learn and learn again (in many lives) to become better beings.
  6. There is no complete knowledge, we all teach, learn and keep changing: it is a path without an end.  There is knowledge that can be known and described, there is knowledge that can be known, but not described and there is knowledge that cannot be known or described.
  7. Our teachers are the Apus (the mountains-ancestors), Pachamama, the plants, what we live day by day and what has been lived before, the animals, our children, our parents, the spirits, our history, our ancestors, the fire, the water, the wind, all the different elements around us.
  8. The serpent, the puma and the condor are symbols of material and non-material dimensions, of that which can be known, of that which cannot be known or determined, and of the connections between all things.
  9. The traditional teachings of generosity, of gratitude, and of living in balance that are being lost are very important for our children – it is necessary to recover them.
  10. The world is changed through love, patience, enthusiasm, respect, courage, humility and living life in balance.  The world cannot be changed through wars, conflicts, racism, anger, arrogance, divisions and borders.  The world cannot be changed without sacred spiritual connections.


I started this article with an overview of the ways I have used critical literacy in global citizenship and development education, particularly in the context of teacher education.  I offered examples of how critical literacy may trigger new questions and directions in relation to global and development education in terms of how we can move beyond repeated problematic patterns of thinking and engagements and how we can start to approach increasing complexity, uncertainty, plurality and inequality in contemporary societies.  I emphasised the importance of intellectual depth, of multiple and complex social analyses and of making these analyses accessible to different communities in order to build a strong foundation for the field.  In the second part of the paper, I presented a new conceptual cartography that traces assumptions in three common sets of narratives in education and that frames a fourth set of narratives as a question mark, something that the related fields of global and development education could further engage with to pluralise knowledge in the present in order to pluralise the future.


Andreotti, V (2006) ‘Soft versus critical global citizenship education’, Policy & Practice: A Development Education Review, Vol. 3, Autumn, pp. 40-51.

Andreotti, V (2007) ‘An ethical engagement with the Other: Gayatri Spivak on education’, Critical Literacy: Theories and Practices, Vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 69-79.

Andreotti, V (2010a) ‘Global education in the 21st century: Two different perspectives on the “post-” of postmodernism’, International Journal of Development Education and Global Learning, Vol. 2, No. 2, pp. 5-22.

Andreotti, V (2010b) ‘Glimpses of a postcolonial and post-critical global citizenship education’ in G Elliott, C Fourali and S Issler (eds.) Education for Social Change, London: Continuum.

Andreotti, V (2011a) Actionable postcolonial theory in education, New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Andreotti, V (2011b) ‘Engaging the (geo)political economy of knowledge construction: Towards decoloniality and diversality in global citizenship education’, Globalization, Society and Education Journal, Vol. 9, No. 3-4, pp. 381-397.

Andreotti, V (2012a) ‘HEADS UP: editor’s preface’, Critical Literacy: Theories and Practices, Vol. 6, No. 1, pp. 3-5.

Andreotti, V (2012b) ‘Education, knowledge and the righting of wrongs’, Other Education: the Journal of Educational Alternatives, Vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 19-31.

Andreotti, V (2014) ‘Conflicting epistemic demands in poststructuralist and postcolonial engagements with questions of complicity in systemic harm’, Educational Studies: A Journal of the American Educational Studies Association, Vol. 50, No. 4, pp. 378-397.

Andreotti, V, Ahenakew, C and Cooper, G (2011) ‘Epistemological pluralism: challenges for higher education’, AlterNative Journal, Vol. 7, No. 1, pp. 40-50.

Andreotti, V, Ahenakew, C and Cooper, G (2012) ‘Towards global citizenship education “otherwise”’ in V de Oliveira Andreotti and L de Souza (eds.) Postcolonial Perspectives on Global Citizenship Education, New York: Routledge.

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Vanessa de Oliveira Andreotti is Canada Research Chair in Race, Inequalities and Global Change, at the Department of Educational Studies, University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada.  She has extensive experience working across sectors internationally in areas of education related to international development, global citizenship, indigeneity and social accountability.  Her work combines poststructuralist and postcolonial concerns in examining educational discourses and designing viable pedagogical pathways to address problematic patterns of international engagements, flows and representations of inequality and difference in education. Many of her publications are available at:https://ubc.academia.edu/VanessadeOliveiraAndreotti.

Andreotti, V (2014) 'Critical Literacy: Theories and Practices in Development Education', Policy & Practice: A Development Education Review, Vol. 14, Autumn, pp. 12-32.