Boler and Zembylas on a “Pedagogy of discomfort”

Subsequent to Megan Boler and Michalinos’ Zembylas’ exciting presentation of the concept of a “pedagogy of discomfort” in 2003, a teaching/research group I have been part of since 2005, the Community, Self and Identity group, has been working very productively with this concept. So much so that we have invited Megan and Michalinos to present their most recent thoughts on the topic on this blogsite, and to invite anyone, including the participants on our short course, Citizenship, Social Inclusion and Difference, to respond to this. The 2003 contribution I am referring to can be found in: Boler, M. and M. Zembylas. 2003.  Discomforting truths: The emotional terrain of understanding difference.  In Pedagogies of difference: Rethinking education for social change, ed. P. Trifonas, 110-136. New York: RoutledgeFalmer.

 Here is Michalinos’ contribution:


Pedagogy of discomfort has been first used and theorized by Megan Boler in her landmark book Feeling Power (1999). Then, Megan and I have made an attempt to further build on her earlier analysis by emphasizing the role that discomfort plays in teaching and learning about ‘difficult’ issues such as racism, oppression and social injustice. For me, pedagogy of discomfort still remains a powerful pedagogical tool able to produce action, because teachers and students can utilize their discomfort to construct new emotional understandings into ways of living with others—the ultimate vision of this pedagogy, in my view.

 My most recent work explores pedagogies of discomfort in the context of ethnic conflict and historical trauma in societies such as those of Cyprus (my home country), Israel and N. Ireland. This work focuses on how discomforting emotions—which occur as the very result of attempting to address the ‘difficult’ issues of living with the ‘enemy-other’—serve as the springboard to uncover and undone the mechanisms with which hegemonic values and beliefs about others continue to operate in daily habits, routines, and unconscious feelings. In other words, my attempt is both to enrich existing theorizations of the notion of “pedagogy of discomfort” and to expand its empirical grounding in conflict and post-conflict settings (e.g. see Zembylas, 2010; Zembylas & McGlynn, in press). In this endeavour there are two new things that I have learned and are worthwhile to highlight:

  1. The ethical dimensions of ‘pedagogy of discomfort’ need greater attention not only for obvious reasons but also because the ‘collateral effects’ of discomfort often threaten its effectiveness as a pedagogical tool.  The complexities of these effects are far greater than I have initially assumed, especially when ‘troubled knowledge’ (Jansen, 2009) enters the scene.
  2. More exploration is needed about the practical consequences of ‘pedagogy of discomfort’ in different cultural and political settings. For example, this pedagogy may mean something totally different in South Africa than in Cyprus or elsewhere. Similarly, the ways in which this pedagogy is manifest and perceived by teachers and students might be altogether different and have variable implications in societies where conflict is unresolved and those in which have moved into a post-conflict situation.

Along the above two directions, then, there is a lot that researchers and educators can contribute by delineating the complexities of pedagogy of discomfort in various countries and compare and contrast their findings.


Zembylas, M. (2010). Teachers’ emotional experiences of growing diversity and multiculturalism in schools and the prospects of an ethic of discomfort. Teaching and Teachers: Theory and Practice, 16(6), 703-716.

Zembylas, M. & McGlynn, C. Discomforting pedagogies: Emotional tensions, ethical dilemmas and transformative possibilities. (in press). British Educational Research Journal.

And here is Megan’s contribution:





One question is frequently raised by readers, students, and audiences who engage the concept of ‘pedagogy of discomfort’: Isn’t the educator’s discomfort an equally important part of this call to action, this potential transformation?  If I were to rewrite the chapter, I would emphasize in more detail how and when an educator’s own discomforts inhibit educational exchange with students, prevent the educator from taking risks, and eclipse the educator’s very capacity to see, for example, his or her own attachments to particular outcomes.  The cultural and social norms and myths that represent teachers as rational, neutral conveyors of information is so far off the mark, yet are as persistent as is the myth of neutral curricula.  Thus for example, as briefly mentioned in the chapter, “silence is not neutral.”  When an educator chooses not to interrupt, respond to, or call out expressions of racism or homophobia, for example, in classroom discussions, in course material, or in hallway chatter, this silence is equivalent to condoning homophobia or racism as acceptable.  The fear, ignorance, or even perhaps the inability on the part of the educator to recognize an instance of racism or homophobia reflects the very same kinds of cherished assumptions and beliefs that pedagogy of discomfort aims to unsettle in students.  Because of power differences between educator and student, a student may witness racism in the actions or words of a fellow student, or in those of her teacher, but be unable to challenge the teacher to undertake his own pedagogy of discomfort.  Here is where co-teaching and creating allies that work together as educators in a classroom offers opportunities to model, for the students, how people can challenge one another constructively to address internalized beliefs and values that need to be brought to light. (See Boler 2004 cited below.)

Another point sometimes raised about pedagogy of discomfort is the question and when and how it applies to non-dominant groups.  For example, is pedagogy of discomfort (either as expressed in the chapter, or as a praxis and/or concept) a pedagogy only appropriate for challenging members of a dominant social group?  To my mind, pedagogy of discomfort in fact can be engaged to ask all of us, regardless of identity, to question a variety of cherished values and beliefs.  It is crucial as well to note that gay and lesbian people, for example, can hold deeply internalized homophobic feelings and beliefs that need to be challenged; women often have internalized sexism as if it represents acceptable norms, etc.  However, the socially-defined identities of those involved in educational environments creates complicated dynamics.  For example, if a white educator perceives that a student of color expresses internalized racism, it can be emotionally and socially complex for the educator to challenge the student.  Further, the question arises: is every educator equipped to engage a pedagogy of discomfort?  What might be the “criteria” for “licensing” an educator to engage pedagogy of discomfort effectively and ethically?  And finally, echoing a point made by Professor Zembylas, what *are* the ethics of “shattering world views,” which can happen as a result of a pedagogy of discomfort?  How do we ensure ethical responsibility on the part of the educator for possible emotional repercussions of these fraught dimensions of pedagogy?

[For discussion of a number of these issues, see Boler, M. (2004). “Teaching for hope: The ethics of shattering world views.” In D. Liston & J. Garrison (Eds.), Teaching, learning and loving: Reclaiming passion in educational practice (pp. 117-131). New York: Routledge.]

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77 Responses to Boler and Zembylas on a “Pedagogy of discomfort”

  1. Daniela Gachago says:

    In their article “Discomforting Truth: The Emotional Terrain of Understanding Difference” Boler and Zembylas postulate that to engage in critical inquiry, ‘often means asking students to radically reevaluate their worldviews’ (2003, p.110). This process can incur discomfortable feelings of anger, grief, resistance and consequently they title this way of learning a ‘pedagogy of discomfort’ (ibid). This pedagogy not only requires cognitive, but also emotional labour.

    I have been involved for the last year in a large first year conversation class for Engineering students. This class is lead by a very engaged lecturer, who tackles some potentially discomfortable topics on a weekly basis with her students. Many of these topics deal with diversity and moral dilemmas, such as interracial relationships, rights of homosexual persons, cheating, the potential of a woman president for SA, interference of democracy on culture, compulsory HIV/AIDS tests at University, racism in SA or freedom of religious choice to name a few of the topics on this year’s lists. The main underlying principle in these conversation classes is respect. From the beginning the lecturers stresses the importance of paying respect to individual’s opinions and interferes strongly when she feels students do not respect each other.

    Why I find this example interesting in the light of the concept of “pedagogies of discomfort”, is the tension between making students comfortable enough to share and join a discussion and at the same time encouraging them to step out of their comfort zone to engage in critical enquiry. Can you feel at the same time comfortable in a specific classroom setup and discomfortable enough with a topic to challenge your world views? What kind of assumptions do we as lecturers have, that we actually want to challenge students world views? It is interesting that Boler and Zembylas ask for both students and lecturers to engage into a critical inquiry, which means that both, lecturers and students need to feel the discomfort.

    When listening to this week’s conversation class on homosexuality (the topic was based on local radio station’s 2 guys and a wedding initiative), I was struck by how many of the students discussed the topic through a religious lens. In a follow-up conversation with the lecturer, we realised, that as we both consider ourselves ‘liberals’, for us religion and sexual orientation would be on one level as general human rights of people. This lead me to re-think our own ‘hidden agendas’ for this conversation class and made it very clear to me, that education can never be neutral. As Boler and Zembylas state in their article: ‘Educators […] are also likely to encounter the stubborn myth that education can be fully objective, netural, apolitical’ (p114). However, wouldn’t that also mean that we as educators would have to make explicit our own world views – as critical pedagogy postulates, so that we cannot be seen as engaged with ‘political propaganda’ (p115, ibid). While Boler in her response to this blog, emphasizes a lecturer’s silence to racial comments and his/her own discomfort with dealing with these issues, I argue that the Engineering lecturer in my example, also had a hidden agenda, in the way she led the discussion, for example with the arguments she brought into the class. I caught myself many times during the session, thinking, what arguments could I bring to shake students enough, to step out of their religion-based comfort zone? However, who am I to “shake students up”? What gives me the right to challenge their religious beliefs?

    To answer the question, whether a pedagogy of discomfort is appropriate in the South Africa context: yes, definitely it is. However, it is important that lecturers and students alike need to engage critically with their underlying political orientations and ‘hidden agendas’ and reflect on them – do we need some sort of supervision for lecturers dealing with these difficult topics?

    • Patricia Lenaghan says:

      In reading the comment posted by Daniela Gachago I was reminded of a similar cord struck in the comment posted by Kasturi Behari-Leak. In both my replies I have chosen to remark on the aspect that ‘silence is not neutral’, a theme that I am of the opinion is present in both these comments. A further opinion that that has developed is an awareness that this hesitancy to speak out may be linked to other deeper lying considerations. The existence of these deeper considerations are also evident from the caveat issued by Zembylas. (Posting Boler and Zembylas on a ‘Pedagogy of discomfort’ (2011). Zembylas calls for the ethical use of the ‘pedagogy of discomfort’ and alerts us to the fact that certain ethical considerations may flow from the debunking of safe myths. I in my comment alert the reader to the fact that sometimes this need to remain silent may originate from a hesitancy to break away from these seemingly neutral myths that may lead to a sense of discomfort and a feeling of misplacement and not belonging. The compulsion to remain silent is feed by an understanding that in the world of hegemony belonging is paramount.

    • Someka says:

      It is interesting to read about the dedication teachers have with social issues and the manner in which they expose students to ways of unpacking and dealing with these discomforting issues. In reading your piece I was reminded of a workshop that was presented to us, in my previous work place. The issue at hand then, was the growing unpleasantness among the staff around our diverse races which I feel was left unresolved because the unpleasantness led to accusations and labeling. Those created more divide than was before. Coming to your posting it seems as if the teacher hasn’t dealt with her own discomfort but is focusing on students as you have mentioned. As a facilitator of the group I don’t hear her taking action to mobilize students other than putting “respect” as a guiding tool. This brings me to Megan’s comment in her blog on“Pedagogy of discomfort” that teachers need to question and address their own uncomforting issues. As much as critical pedagogy is student directed or driven in terms of the issue to be problematized and discussed but I think the teacher as the facilitator of the group needs to bring her experience to the fore by recommending in some kind of structure how the participation of these student would benefit them in future. In showing leadership I also think that the teacher should encourage some kind of participation not only orally but something that students will use to mobilize other students participation for future development Anyon (20090.

    • Lana van Niekerk says:

      Daniela Gachago asks an interesting question when she talks about her interest in the concept of pedagogies of discomfort as being about “the tension between making students comfortable enough to share and join a discussion and at the same time encouraging them to step out of their comfort zone” – the question: “Can you feel at the same time comfortable in a specific classroom setup and discomfortable enough with a topic to challenge your world views?” has also been living in my mind for a while. I found some interesting insights that might help to offer and answer, or deepen the question – probably both – when I was reading the Introduction by Zembylas (2007). Firstly, I could identify with my own ambivalence around having (‘revealing’ ) emotion in learning context (as a student and as a lecturer) at least as much as being aware of emotions/affect amongst my students. The reading, especially the thorough coverage of “critical hope”, somehow did something to reconciled conflicting emotions that I tend to vacillate between when dealing with situations that I (as a result of doing this course) now understand to be fitting within a pedagogy of discomfort. The two emotions I’ve struggled with most (I realized to my surprise) is that of hope (which I worry is based on a lack of insight) and the fear of naivety (that I won’t understand the scope and depth my ‘blindness’ as a result of my protected upbringing). So, when I talk about vacillating emotion, I don’t really experience the opposite emotions (which, I guess, would be cynicism and fatalism), rather, the doubt I experience about my experience of hopefulness increases and decreases and I feel more or less convinced that my take on life is naïve and lacking in understanding. Back to Daniela’s question. So, what the reading did was to help me understand better that many complex factors play a role in each of these emotions and that it is good to remain critical of them (without accepting the mere existence of these emotions to be a problem). Back to Daniela’s question. I don’t think making students aware of their emotions (which will lead to discomfort) will necessarily block or facilitate their tendency to question world views – however, there is a good chance that it will have a positive outcome if the process is facilitates in such a way as to increase intellectual and emotional insight. The balance should be between teaching about experiences of other while also facilitating an awareness of personal emotions that are elicited (without making these bad) THEN challenge students to use the new information to critique the emotion.
      “Critical hope, then, is a relational construct that is both emotional and critical” (xiii).
      Zembylas, M (2007) Five Pedagogies, A Thousand Possibilities: Struggling for Hope and Transformation in Education (Introduction ppxi-xxx)

    • Nicolette Roman says:

      Daniela, you have definitely raised some pertinent issues with regard to the pedagogy of discomfort. As I posted earlier, it seems the educator’s role is to encourage the engagement of students within the classroom regarding issues which create difference and hopefully point out the similarities as well. However, as you rightfully suggest, while the educator engages on these point, the educator should also take the responsibility of the possibility of opening “underlying political orientations and ‘hidden agendas’”, which may be left unattended. Perhaps you are correct in posing the question of “supervision” since inexperience in dealing with these issues may leave students wanting and create further dissent, which could result in non-engagement in critical issues in communities. Furthermore, this could result in a stagnation of the growth of society as a whole. I especially liked Anyon’s (2009) perspective that participation of students are so important in critical issues since this results in further participation and thus create socially constructed new identities. However, she clearly stipulates that students be “assisted” (p. 392) in these processes towards “social justice”. This assistance provides one the perspective that as educators our role should not only be that of taking the responsibility of dealing with critical issues, but also to be accountable for the outcomes and consequences. Her methods of engaging students in critical pedagogy do not necessarily “shake up” students but allows them to come into their own which ultimately results in their own competence to critically engage in and with communities.
      Anyon, J. 2009 Critical pedagogy is not enough: Social justice education, political participation, and the politicization of students. In M. Apple, W. Au, & L.A. Gandin (Eds). The Routledge international handbook of critical education. New York and London: Routledge, pp. 389 – 395.

    • Jill van Dugteren says:

      Daniela I found your highlighting of the tension between allowing the students to feel comfortable enough to share while also being “discomfortable”, insightful. It made me wonder about how we actually learn and brought to mind a comment from social worker Brene Brown’s TedxHouston 2010 talk: The power of vulnerability. Brown has specialized her doctoral and post-doctoral studies in the areas of fear, shame and most particularly vulnerability. She notes that we are wired for struggle from the moment we are born Brown (2010). This makes one reflect on the difficulty of, for example a young baby, getting to sitting, crawling, talking and reaching other developmental milestones. These don’t just happen seamlessly, but are a process often marked by periods of huge frustration and emotional outbursts. Struggle and learning seem inherent in transformative life experiences that allow us to grow. Growth and expansion of awareness are key to the pedagogy of discomfort (Zembylas and Boler, 2003). Yet as you note the role of the educator is questionable. Whereas Nicolette sees the onus resting quite firmly on the educator in “managing” and “platforming” different “voices” in order that we speak as “we” rather than “I”, you seem to question the hidden agendas that accompany the educator and the possible arrogance of the educator in assuming the “right” to shake the students up. Part of this “right” must surely come in being participant in order to establish trust, authenticity and value in the process. The educator somehow has to loose their traditional role of authority, mark-giver, and privilege so that students are not feeding back what they think the educator wants to hear, but rather the really responding to what is happening in the space provided by the pedagogy of discomfort (Zembylas and Boler, 2003).


      Brown, B. 2010. The power of vulnerability TEDxHouston 2010 [Online] Available:

      Boler, M. and Zembylas, M. 2003. Discomforting truths: The emotional terrain of understanding difference. In Pedagogies of difference: Rethinking education for social change, ed. P. Trifonas, 110-136. New York: RoutledgeFalmer.

  2. Lana van Niekerk says:

    The ‘pedagogy of discomfort’[1] is most certainly appropriate in South African higher education – in teaching and learning, for teachers and students- in order to foster citizenship, inclusion and difference. Boler and Zymbylas make a comprehensive and convincing argument for its use to problematize the hegemony of liberal individualism. Two successive questions came to mind while reading the article:
    1) How might the hegemony be different in the South African context? I wondered to what extent rigidly polarised identity positions are challenged or destabilised (on a day to day basis) by the (a) media and other external sources of knowledge exploring the legacy of Colonialism and Apartheid, (b) living in in a country characterised by difference (c) the white population being far the minority. In other words, should we expect that naturally occurring experiences of people (as they participate in every-day work, play leisure) – over time – lead to a more diverse (set of) answer(s) to the question ‘what does it mean to be a South African’?
    2) To what extend does the discomfort that is necessarily experienced by white South Africans – when they are confronted with difference – result in a broadening of perspectives and or, conversely, a more entrenched position.
    The questions were formulated referring only to race, by way of illustration; however, these should be read to include other forms of difference, including class, gender, (dis)ability, sexual orientation, religion etc. For me, the questions served to consider how experiences of difference in South Africa might be different from the American experience. In other words – would the question ‘what is it like to be South African’ yield answers that are more diverse and broader in scope? I don’t have answers to these questions, however, my impression is that exposure to difference can ‘go both’ ways, it could lead to a re-appraisal of the ‘other’ in ways that open opportunities to learn from one another or it could reinforce a homogenised (essentialist) identity. The continuation of polarised views in our society seems to suggest the latter response. Boler and Zembylas describe the emotional labour associated with problematizing the hegemony[1]. Carrim[2] adds a further explanation when he positions strategies of deracialisation and depoliticisation as protecting the privileged; once again, these are strategies to maintain the racial status quo. Furthermore, his detailed analysis of self-articulation of identity further reveals that people face limitations when attempting to articulate identity using ‘own voices’ and that immersion in the discourse is a pre-requisite in order to ‘rearticulate’ identity in ways that are meaningful and can contribute to anti-racist struggles[2]. Pease[3], in turn, ascribes difficulties to the fact that members of a privileged groups have to create negative identities – this “entails challenging our internalised moral superiority and rejecting the sense of entitlement that so many of us are socialised into” (p.175).
    When programmes within Higher Education Institutions accept the responsibility to prepare students for making a contribution within South African society, they should recognise the full scope of knowledge, skills and attitude required. Pease make a clear differentiation to structural and discursive levels of privilege and explains how these are perpetuated[3]. To make a constructive contribution in South Africa, the reproduction of privilege and oppression will have to be challenged. To this end curricula should include courses that will equip students for this task – even if an argument can be made that such a course will not directly fit into the outcomes needed for particular profession. A precedent for such an approach was set when Higher Education Institutions became involved in combatting HIV/Aids. This brings me back to the question about the value of the ‘pedagogy of discomfort’, which in my opinion has to do with;
    • the detailed explanation of identity positions,
    • a clear justification for calling these positions into consciousness,
    • consideration of the implications of maintaining polarised positions and
    • normalisation of discomfort as an on-going and universal product of engagement.
    The paradox – for me – is that I believe the pedagogy of discomfort has the potential to offer the containment needed for people to explore new ways of looking at society. I am basing this last conclusion on my own experience – when I understand better, I can relate better.
    1. Boler, M. and M. Zembylas, Discomforting truths: The emotional terrain of understanding difference., in Pedagogies of difference: Rethinking education for social change., P. Trifonas, Editor 2003, RoutledgeFalmer: New York.
    2. Carrim, N., Critical Anti-racism and Problems in Self-articulated Forms of Identities [1]. Race, Ethnicity & Education, 2000. 3(1): p. 25-44.
    3. Pease, B., Undoing privilege: Unearned advantage in a divided world, in Challenging the reproduction of privilege within2010, Zed Books: London. p. 169-187.

  3. Nicolette Roman says:

    South Africa comes from a socio-political history of difference and inequality and the underlying issue of difference has in the main been racism. The essence of racism was to divide along colour, socio-economic status, gender, education, in fact in all areas of life. What was clear during apartheid was a raised awareness of those who can and cannot and those who have and have not. Thus privilege, in whatever form, became all encompassing and permeated all aspects of society. It was in higher education that these differences were realised and challenged since higher education provides the platforms for theoretical and philosophical discussions to challenge what was and is considered to be the norm. When reading Boler and Zembylas (2003), I found this article to be fascinating and it seemed to resonate with so many issues which one would think would be ‘laid to rest’ or silenced post-apartheid. However, being in higher education, one tends to realise that these issues are not quite ‘laid to rest’ or that they necessarily have become silent. Rather, these issues continue to be platforms from which discussions and debates ensue. Boler and Zembylas (2003) emphasise the issue of the self and other and suggest that we tend to view ourselves in relation to the other/s. In doing this, we open ourselves to the realisation of how similar, yet different we are. Within the higher education teaching and learning contexts, theory and philosophy underpinnings are used to build arguments and debates, but these underpinnings may also be used to challenge these very theories and philosophies which may underpin the beliefs of discrimination and stereotyping, which may further have supported the notions of privilege and difference. However, it is when we open these debates and offer the alternative challenging possibilities of difference, that we then become discomforted by the emotional turmoil that this may evoke. It is at this point Pease (2010) comes to mind and I would like to state a point I had made in the previous assignment, that fact that how we view privilege is important, as the social practices we choose offers us a sense of understanding of how we are called to change and adapt, to where we find ourselves in comparison to where we had been. Teaching and learning contexts in higher education do exactly that, a form of social practice, since the teaching and learning contexts provide opportunities of difference to be shown, possibly addressed but importantly provides the opportunities to become comfortable with difference between the self and other/s. Although discomforting, differences show themselves often in students’ abilities and interaction of different ideas. It is the teacher’s role to manage these differences, although discomforting, in a way which fosters citizenship, inclusion and difference. The teacher provides the platform for the different “voices”, which may have been previously silenced, to be heard (Carrim, 2000: 37-38) and to subsequently become one voice of a ‘we’ instead of an ‘I’. Clearly, teaching and learning contexts in higher education are the ideal for providing the “pedagogy of discomfort” because when we speak with one voice, we intonate the essence of being sameness (citizens of the same country) and silence the voice of difference.

    Boler, M. and M. Zembylas. 2003. Discomforting truths: The emotional terrain of understanding difference. In Pedagogies of difference: Rethinking education of social change, ed. P. Trifonas, 110-136. New York: RoutledgeFalmer.

    Carrim, N. 2000. Critical Anti-racism and Problems in Self-articulated Forms of Identities. Race, Ethnicity & Education, 3 (1): p. 25-44.

    Pease, B. 2010. Undoing privilege: Unearned advantage in a divided world. London: Zed Books.

    • Kasturi Behari-Leak says:

      Nicolette, you highlight an important issue raised by Boler and Zembylas on the notion of self versus other and I think that you are on the mark when you say that teaching and learning contexts in HE provide opportunities for difference to be shown. I also agree that it provides the opportunity to become ‘comfortable’ with the difference between self and other. Judging by the way students actually interact with each in our classes, one is tempted to deduce that gravitating towards people in the same class, of similar age who share a common purpose i.e HE study, is not a natural, organic process. The layers of difference supersede layers of sameness, highlighting a ‘self’ that is juxtaposed against ‘other’ rather than self and other. Institutionalised ideology predisposes us to discount rather than celebrate difference.
      In such a context, I would be circumspect about placing the sole responsibility in the teacher’s hand as you suggest. What about the teacher’s construction of self versus other? What about the teacher’s sense of inclusion/ exclusion? I encountered an example of a young black female lecturer who was terrified to face her class of young white male 3rd yr engineering students as she was still struggling with her own identity and place in this world, even though from a power relations perspective, she held the most power in the class by virtue of her lecturer status. Her understanding of her race, class, gender and power within the dominant culture in her class prevented her from coming into her own. She feels she still has to negotiate what it means for her to be a lecturer in that class. She has to ‘emotionally labour’ (Boler and Zembylas, 2003) before she can ‘sing with one voice ‘in her class.

      Also I would caution that being ‘citizens of the same country’ engenders our sameness on limited levels, such as patriotism. Being the ‘same’ on this level should not ‘silence the voice of difference’. I believe that it is this dialectic that is important for a critical pedagogy to take root and be effective. It is a juggling act of note I agree but it is that sense of discomfort within a sense of comfort that is the happy balance – a constant reminder that it is always in trying to, that we become…..

      Boler, M. and M. Zembylas. 2003. Discomforting truths: The emotional terrain of understanding difference. In Pedagogies of difference: Rethinking education of social change, ed. P. Trifonas, 110-136. New York: RoutledgeFalmer.

  4. Roisin Kelly-Laubscher says:

    “The Pedagogy of discomfort is an educational approach to understanding the production of norms and differences”1
    In particular, its focuses on helping us (teachers and students of all cultural groups)to recognise how we unconsciously contribute to the creation of these norms and differences . We can only begin to recognise our contribution after we step outside our comfort zone. The pedagogy of discomfort causes us to step outside our comfort zone in two ways; It invites us firstly to engage in critical inquiry at a cognitive and emotional level and secondly to explore the multitude of habits, relation of power, knowledge and ethics which determine our behaviours. Critical thinking leads to recognition of “multiple, different and messy realities of power relations as they are enacted and resisted in localities”1 which may upset the beliefs upon which ones comfort zone is built. Exploring our habits, values, knowledges and emotions can lead to an unveiling of the origins (“curriculum and media that serve the ruling class”)1 and reality (“falsehoods, lies etc”1) underlying the norms to which we conform and which delineate the boundaries of our comfort zone. Re-examination and consequent broadening of these “norms” and the “comfort zone” is hoped to transform the learning environment into a place where a greater diversity of people and ideas are accepted as “normal”.1 In my experience, when we consider one person as “the norm” and all different from that as “other” we tend to hold the opinion of the “normal” person in higher regard. If our concept of what is a “normal” person is very narrow it limits the variety of ideas and opinions we are willing to consider and thus limits our growth as a society. By broadening our comfort zone we are opening ourselves up to a broader variety of input and new perspectives which can only help to make our society better.
    As Boler & Zembylas suggest in their blog postings , it is important that both teachers and students of both the dominant and non dominant social groupings engage with this pedagogy. This is because people from a minority group may also fall victim to hegemony; “no one escapes hegemony”. 1
    Zembylas suggests in his blog posting that its practical use in different cultural and political situations may lead to very different outcomes . To this end he suggests that this pedagogy may need to be tailored to the particular political and cultural situation at hand. This pedagogy has been implemented in the South African education system. One example is the “Community, self and identity” course. This course seemed to have the desired effect for many of the students but not all. The main factors influencing transformation of the students seemed to be “prior life experiences, and material and social capital of the participants.”2
    Zembylas also warns in his blog posting that we must be careful of the some “collateral effects of discomfort” may arise from and hinder this pedagogy. Likewise, Leibowitz et al talk about the “inherent dangers” of this pedagogy, namely the reinforcement of existing differences, behaviours and distrust. However, they argue that this is a risk worth taking to provide an opportunity for students to learn in contexts of difference.2
    1.Boler & Zembylas (2003). Discomforting truths: The emotional terrain of understanding difference. In Pedagogies of difference: Rethinking education for social change. ed P Trifonas, 110-136. New York: Routledge
    2. Leibowitz et al(2010). ‘Ah but the whiteys like to talk about themselves’: discomfort as a pedagogy for change. Race, ethnicity and education. 13(1);83-100

    • Nicolette Roman says:

      Roisin, I liked your simplistic description of how we find ourselves in a comfort zone and the pedagogy of discomfort almost forces us to revisit the aspects of ourselves we have become accustomed to and thus enables us to “step outside” and consider the other. It is so true that the pedagogy of discomfort takes us to two levels of awareness that is emotional and cognitive and which ultimately results in particular behaviours. Clearly, one is then able to extend ourselves to encompass the differences and realise how similar we really are. As Boler and Zembylas (2003: 123) affirms, that we are then called to be “intersubjective” and recognise that although different we are very similar. Similarly, Pease (2010: 176) suggests that if we are able to identify these similarities, we would then be more connected to “the lived experiences of people who are oppressed”. This perspective is so true in teaching and learning where one is forced to recognise and engage the differences such as lived experiences, power and resources within the classroom in order to speak with one voice and create new perspectives, theories or ideologies. The educator becomes the example for an inclusive approach in order to teach students to create and engage in non-discriminatory or anti-oppressive practices in wider communities (Bozalek & Biersteker, 2010). In a sense, the educator recognises and moves beyond the pedagogy of discomfort, which is so central in Higher Education because we teach students to create new knowledge for the purposes of growth, development and transformation.
      Boler, M. and M. Zembylas. 2003. Discomforting truths: The emotional terrain of understanding difference. In Pedagogies of difference: Rethinking education of social change, ed. P. Trifonas, 110-136. New York: RoutledgeFalmer.
      Bozalek, V. and L. Biersteker, 2010. Exploring power and privilege using participatory learning and action techniques, Social Work Education, 29: 5, 551 — 572.
      Pease, B. 2010. Undoing privilege: Unearned advantage in a divided world. London: Zed Books.

    • Daniela says:

      Dear Roisin,
      By reading your post and some of the others, I have again realised how different my previous experiences are from what I am experiencing here in South Africa. Before coming here I worked for an old Scottish University, which prided itself in being one of the most diverse Universities in the world in terms of staff population. There diversity was a sign of prestigiousness, of excellence…not just as “normal”, but as something that adds enourmous value to the institution. Would it be naive, as Lana, in one of her previous postings mentions, to hope for this in South Africa? I have just finished reading a novel by Anne Tyler (2006) on an Iranian’s family’s struggle to settle into America. One her main protagonists, the grandmother, tries to explain to her American friend, her experience as immigrant and her feelings on being a foreigner and never belonging: “…You can start to believe that your life is defined by your foreigness. You think everything would be different if only you belonged…” So far nothing new, but then her friend turns the conversation around by saying: “You belong…you belong as much as I do…we all think the others belong more…”. (p 181) I found this very interesting and it shows that through discourse, your own self-perception can radically change (Carrim 2000). It also reminded me of Carrim’s guest lecture in this course and how we should start acknowledging diversity in ourselves. People are not fixed, but “always in a state of becoming, changing, developing, shifting in its power positions and relations…”(Carrim, 1995, p.28).
      So this – the conscious effort to engage with an “other”- for me could be one of the ways of starting to transform our perception of a diverse learning environment and appreciating it as something of great value.

      Carrim, N (1995) Working with and through difference in antiracist pedagogies. International Studies in Sociology and Education, 5,1.
      Carrim, N (2000) Critical Anti-racism and Problems in Self-articulated Forms of Identities. Ethnicity and Education, 3, 1.
      Tyler, A (2006) Digging to America. London: Chatto & Windus.

  5. Kasturi Behari-Leak says:

    Pedagogy of discomfort
    I have found the article to be extremely lucid and powerful as a conscientising agent and transformative tool. The writers move logically through a set of constructs that underpin the notion of difference and discomfort. As a piece of academic writing, it certainly dispels the myth that only dispassionate and ‘sanitised’ accounts are credible. The underlying, unspoken appeal to join the movement for change is heard and felt as one navigates through Boler’s and Zembylas’ charged piece.
    In trying to understand, unpack and relate the pedagogy of discomfort to my own experience, I am urged to begin with my own construction of self. For most of my life I have experienced myself as an outsider and an insider. My awareness of difference and binaries forced me into an ongoing dialogue with self about existential and humanist questions around my ontology and my purpose in this world.
    I was exposed from an early age to the discourse of liberation and oppression as a binary opposition. Responding to this, I engaged in anti-apartheid activities that forced me to question my sense of internalised notions of race, culture, ethnicity, etc further. I always felt at the periphery of the ‘tribe’, who constructed themselves as a homogenous Indian community, satisfied in their zones of comfort, giving credence to writers’ myth of the ‘celebration model’. For every active person in the community, who was challenging, interrogating and actively opposing the evils of apartheid, there were at least five other people happy to maintain the status quo and toe the line, despite their awareness that there was indeed ‘something rotten in the state of South Africa’.
    For many years, especially after apartheid, I chided myself on my inability and weakness to respond to racist and bigoted statements by friends and family at the dinner table, in work place discussions as well as in exchanges with mums at my child’s playschool. They would either deride the new ’black’ government as a bunch of fools who could not run a country, or they would comment on their ‘girls’ (domestic workers) who lacked common sense because ‘they were all the same’. The us and them dialectic set up by people supposedly on the same side of the struggle, (and not by the white nationalist enemy), was a far more real and threatening force because ‘shades of black’ were being polarised against each other. The power of my silence and absence (Boler and Zembylas, 2003) in those encounters made me feel extremely guilty, hurt and complicit. I chastised myself for not being brave and strong enough to rise above my own discomfort to ‘force’ them into the arena of their own discomfort and to perhaps spirals of change.
    Pre- 1994, it seemed natural to conflate layers of difference when black people were commonly united against the enemy. Post 1994, it seemed urgent for people to assert their difference in order to mark their territory and demarcate their physical and ideological borders. Paradoxically, while we were being united under the myth of the rainbow nation, we were equally becoming more aware of the nuances that supposedly divided us. One might argue that it was survival of the fittest perhaps.
    Perhaps our eagerness to accept a new political dispensation with a new status quo made us less vigilant, critical or able to see invisible differences that the new hegemony was consciously or unconsciously setting up. It was the same struggle masquerading as ‘liberation’, or worse still ‘liberalism’. The morphogenesis that Archer (2003) suggests as a necessary set of transformation cycles to agency was severely hampered by our contrived notions of freedom. This, instead of deepening our sense of critical inquiry and action, lulled us into acceptance and inaction. In that state of inertia, the uninvited but age old host Hegemony took his seat at the table and silenced his unsuspecting guests.
    Perhaps the onus and burden of proof lay with each and every individual who lived through those times, oppressor and oppressed, marginalised and other alike, to engage in the emotional labour so necessary for the process of change. Boler and Zembylas’ claim that ‘no one escapes hegemony’ rings true here as the tragic effects to our fractured psyches and hearts, experienced by all of us without exception, needed healing and ownership.
    This knock on effect is certainly evident in the higher education sector, where guest and host share an uncontested terrain. The education platform which is a significant site of socio-political struggle especially at the chalk face in any society is a surprisingly neutral arena in a country that has been in the throes of social upheaval and political defiance. The notion of growing a knowledge economy for example, reveals an agenda that would not have been accepted as uncritically before. Higher education has responded to this national appeal by packaging knowledge into neat commodities of uncritical technical currency for economic gain.
    The higher order critical thinking skills needed to develop students into active critical citizenry, often cited as an important graduate attribute, are reduced to units of measure of how successful we are as a nation. As Nussbaum points out (1997) we need to ask what a good citizen of the world today should be and should know. It seems that the development of critical citizens of the world is being controlled by the very forces that are no longer critical about creating equal opportunities or advocating social justice.
    The delusion that the ‘struggle’ is over is dangerous and provocative at the same time. For students at our higher education institutions today, the challenge should be to extend racial, sexist, ethnic and class debates into their realms of reality. Higher education should provide the ‘safe’ intellectual, cognitive and emotional space and platform where young adults can exercise their socio-political muscles within an informed understanding of national imperatives and global aims. The struggle has indeed not ended, but it might be a different type of struggle, expressed and articulated differently to the tyre burning, toyi-toyi-ing era of the past. Higher education has a responsibility to facilitate this expression and to deepen our holistic vision. We need to be skilled in developing, questioning, affirming and owning our claims before the cycle changes again into a new struggle, debate and change. It is the responsibility of higher education to create and maintain a pedagogy of hope.

    Nussbaum, M. 1997. Cultivating humanity. Harvard University Press
    Boler, M. & Zembylas M. 2003. Discomforting truths: The emotional terrain of understanding difference. In Pedagogies of difference: Rethinking education for social change, ed P. Trifonas, 110-136. New York: Routledge Falmer
    Archer, M. 2003. Culture, Structure and Agency.

    • Patricia Lenaghan says:

      I admire your comment Kasturi for its frankness and your ability to critically reflect on her own inability and weakness to respond to racist and bigoted statements by your friends and family. In illustration you mentions the new government being described as ‘as a bunch of fools who could not run a country’. whereafter you critique of your own inability to voice your sentiment. This inability is also identified in the comment posted by Bohler (Posting Boler and Zembylas on a ‘Pedagogy of discomfort’ (2011), in which Megan Bohler comments that ‘silence is not neutral’ equating this silence to being equivalent to condoning this racism as acceptable. It also shows how these myths when perpetuated create as sense of belonging to a certain group or community and how to sometimes challenge these myths may lead to alienation and a sense of not belonging to a group to which one traditionally was considered part of and still to a large degree forms part of.

    • Daniela says:

      Dear Kasturi,
      I found your post very interesting, and as Patricia mentions, very brave. It reminded me of Boler and Zembylas’ claim for the importance of counter-narratives in Education (2003) – counter hegemonic stories, that defy stereotypes typically encountered in “stock stories” (Rolon-Dow 2011)
      In both telling their stories and listening to the stories of others, marginalized
      studens can learn ways in which arguments about them are perpetrated in stock stories and learn how to make arguments on their own behalf (Solorzano, Ceja, and Yosso 2000 cited in Rolon-Dow 2011).

      By sharing your personal story with us, you have created such a counter narrative.

      Boler, M. & Zembylas M. 2003. Discomforting truths: The emotional terrain of understanding difference. In Pedagogies of difference: Rethinking education for social change, ed P. Trifonas, 110-136. New York: Routledge Falmer

      Rolon-Dow R. (2011) Race(ing) stories: digital storytelling as a tool for critical race scholarship. Race Ethnicity and Education 14 (2) p. 159-173

  6. Jill van Dugteren says:

    Jill van Dugteren response 1:
    My reading of Discomforting truths: The emotional terrain of understanding difference was influenced by my contingent reading of Mamphela Ramphele’s Laying ghosts to rest: Dilemmas of the transformation in South Africa (2008). In the latter Ramphele uses the analogy of the ghosts that terrorized her childhood and distinguishes between “spirits at peace” and “troubled spirits” that “roam as furious ghosts”(Ramphele, 2008:9). It was only through naming and acknowledging these ghosts, by calling them forth and making them visible that they and those they terrorized could find some kind of peace. Ramphele states that the “process of transformation to normalize South Africa has at its core the laying to rest of these lingering ghosts lest they continue to haunt our future. The most stubborn ghosts are those whose names we are often too afraid to mention: racism, ethnic chauvinism, sexism, and authoritarianism. Yet effective transformation is predicated on acknowledgement of each ghost by calling it by name, engaging with it to transact unfinished business, and bidding it make peace with bygones” (Ramphele, 2008:10).
    What really struck me in the Discomforting truths chapter was the way in which hegemony is seen to naturalize patterns of domination in such a way that these disappear into the “everyday fabric of what is considered common sense” (Boler and Zembylas, 2003:111). It is this nebulous dissolution – this ghostliness – that I see a pedagogy of discomfort calling forth, platforming and then problematizing.
    A pedagogy of discomfort demands critical enquiry and social activism of both the educator and the learner. There is no rest or resolution offered here, but rather a space is created for the spontaneous bursts of sometimes unsettling growth, that characterize the emotional “labour” so necessary for transformative education (Boler and Zembylas, 2003:111). This notion of space is significant. As Zembylas (2007) notes in reference to Albrecht–Crane the “affective connection” between teacher and student offers the potential, vitality and creative possibility for a new pedagogy (Zembylas, 2007:xxiv).
    This is however tricky terrain where one must avoid the pitfalls of reductive conceptions which normalize and silence difference into the model options of celebration/ tolerance, denial/sameness or natural response/ biological (Boler and Zembylas, 2003:112-113). These options all conveniently deny the constructed nature of difference with the accompanying social, political and economic ramifications. They are marked instead by their abdication of responsibility (Boler and Zembylas, 2003:112-113) regarding these “constructions” and their attendant assumptions, beliefs and values, which orient worldview. It is this abdication, this retreat into the silence and solution of hegemony, with which critical pedagogy does battle, to re-instil critical growth and an awareness of very real distributions of power.
    Another pitfall to be avoided is that of binary oppositions. There are different ways of activating an interstitial, oscillatory space rather than pointing to the extremes of the binaries. It is into this space that critical pedagogy feeds. It is a space that embraces discomfort and fear of ambiguity (Boler and Zembylas, 2003:122).
    While Waghid notes that one should not be so focused on the certainty of knowing and rather consider “living with scepticism” (Waghid, 2010: 138), Ramphele says as South African’s we should “resist the temptations of classifying people into irreconcilable categories in a country where diversity is our biggest strength” (Ramphele, 2008: 142).
    But Ramphele also notes that it is not so much differences – that hinders “forging a united nation”, but crucial is the “acceptance of multiple identities in people with whom we share citizenship of our nation” (Ramphele, 2008: 140). Although she sees “such acceptance” as “widespread among South Africans” she points out that the real challenge is the “depth of that acceptance” which is inherently fragile and can turn into “rejection if opinions on key issues differ” (Ramphele, 2008: 140). The snapback and default settings internalised (Boler and Zembylas, 2003:122) below the surface are what need to be altered. It is these internalisations, which act to “fix” meaning (McLaren as cited by Zembylas and Boler, 2003: 116) as noted with reference to the narrow conception of the American flag that has been “laundered of contradiction, contestation, and ambiguity” (McLaren as cited by Zembylas and Boler, 2003: 116). Ramphele asks how one goes beyond just the symbols of citizenship and cites an excerpt from Aaron Sorkin’s film The American President that seems to talk to the “fixing” and “laundering” above, albeit fictional. Here follows:
    You want to claim this land as the land of the free? The symbol of your country cannot just be a flag. The symbol also has to be of its citizen exercising his right to burn the flag in protest. Now show me that, defend that, celebrate that, in your classrooms. Then you can sing about the land of the free. (As cited by Ramphele, 2008: 127).

    Boler, M. and Zembylas, M. 2003. Discomforting truths: The emotional terrain of understanding difference. In Pedagogies of difference: Rethinking education for social change, ed. P. Trifonas, 110-136. New York: RoutledgeFalmer.
    Ramphele, M. 2008. Laying ghosts to rest: Dilemmas of the transformation in South Africa. Cape Town: Tafelberg.
    Waghid, Y. 2010. Education, democracy and citizenship revisited: Pedagogical encounters. Stellenbosch: Sun Press (pp137-144)
    Zembylas, M. 2007. Five pedagogies, a thousand possibilities: Struggling for hope and transformation in education. (Introduction, pp xi-xxx)

  7. Patricia Lenaghan says:

    Following the reading of Boler M and Zembylas M(2003) I am firmly of the opinion that through the incorporation of the concept of a ‘pedagogy of discomfort’ it is indeed possible for South African Higher Education teaching and learning to make strides in the process of fostering citizenship, inclusion and difference amongst educators and students of different groups.

    Boler and Zembylas (2003:111), describe ‘pedagogy of discomfort’ an as an educational approach or methodology that encourages educators and students to enable and encourage students and educators alike to question seemingly safe myths concerning the reductive conceptions of difference (Boler and Zembylas, 2003: 112). In doing so educators and students are more able to enhance understanding of each other and to critically reflect on the power relations that exist between students and educators, and between different student groups.

    I found in particular the arguments that educators have an active role to play to encourage students to question their firmly held opinions and worldviews convincing. Educators are ideally situated to critically evaluate the values and practices that facilitate and maintain a particular hegemony within society. It is imperative to be mindful that there is no such thing as a ‘neutral’ silence Megan Bohler in Boler and Zembylas on a ‘Pedagogy of discomfort’ (2011) posted on It is vital that educators employ their position of relevance to speak out against seemingly neutral hegemonies in society. To break this silence may at times be difficult, as we as educators we are not free of our own discomfort. This discomfort too is emphasised by Bohler in the comment mentioned above as well.

    I do however endorse the caveat expressed by Michalinos Zembylas that in employing the ‘pedagogy of discomfort’ we need to exercise extreme care and be wary of the fact that as educators we may not have sufficient training or expertise to deal with the ethical considerations that may follow from the debunking of these safe myths. Zembylas must be lauded for alerting supporters of ‘pedagogy of discomfort’ to the consideration that this technique must be applied within the considerations of so-called ethical use. (Posting Boler and Zembylas on a ‘Pedagogy of discomfort’ (2011).

    Often hegemonies of power have created a safe environment of non-critical reflection for the members of the dominant group. Even members of minority groups may have grown accustomed to the security that these beliefs and value systems have fostered amongst themselves. To break away from these seemingly neutral myths may only be possible with extreme discomfort and a sense of misplacement and not belonging. It is important that the educator is able to adequately deal with these feelings of discomfort and emotions of extreme loss and loneliness. The introduction of the value of difference must not leave any one feeling without value. It is essential that the educator sufficiently grasps the need to in an ethical manner employ the ‘pedagogy of discomfort’. Sufficient consideration ought to be given to this need and research as to how best to deal with these concerns ought to be conducted.

    • Kasturi Behari-Leak says:

      Patricia, you raise important concerns regarding our responsibility as educators as we take on the role of the change agents that the Boler and Zembylas article (2003) on the pedagogy of discomfort suggests. I too have been concerned about the ethical issues around educators leading young minds out of comfort into spaces of discomfort without the ‘training’ (Posting Michale Zembylas) to manage such a highly emotive process. How higher education is framed in our own lived realities does not necessarily prepare us for this. The nature of how knowledge is constructed and packaged at our institutions makes allowances for curricula changes that are dictated by our Ministry of Education, but the aspects of looking critically at how students are enslaved/ liberated by that knowledge is not yet part of our institutional vocabulary. If not ‘handled’ properly, educators may be accused of the very propaganda and brainwashing that the system we are critiquing, is guilty of today. The challenge for me, in taking on this radical pedagogy, is to avoid romanticising the messy processes that we wish to involve our students in. How would we address issues of binaries for example with sensitivity to diversity, without alienating and polarising students themselves? Also, the challenge of including aspects of the pedagogy of discomfort in hard and pure disciplines such as the sciences, where it has been successfully argued thus far that such ‘prestigious’ disciplines do not have the time, space or penchant (or patience) for embedding social justice issues, poses a real threat if the education systems themselves are not ready to embrace such a necessary but contested approach.

      Nussbaum, M. 1997. Cultivating humanity. Harvard University Press

      Boler, M. & Zembylas M. 2003. Discomforting truths: The emotional terrain of understanding difference. In Pedagogies of difference: Rethinking education for social change, ed P. Trifonas, 110-136. New York: Routledge Falmer

  8. Melanie Alperstein says:

    The “pedagogy of discomfort” elaborated on by Boler and Zembylas (2003), can be described as an educational approach or methodology that encourages educators and students to question their longstanding values, habits, daily practices and worldviews that help to maintain the hegemony within their society or institution. This educational approach, according to Boler and Zembylas embodies not only cognitive process in dealing with difficult issues such as difference, but also “emotional labor” (Boler and Zembylas, 2003:111)
    Opportunistically or interestingly, in the context of this assignment, I attended a talk yesterday evening organised by the Gordon institute for performing and creative arts (GIPCA) on the Hiddingh Campus UCT. The hall was packed and the audience was a mixture of students and a range of citizens. Former Constitutional Court Justice, and freedom fighter, Albie Sachs was talking on the issue of ‘Free spirits and ravaged souls: Tension at the heart of freedom of expression’ which included referring to Zapiro’s controversial cartoon. The main arguement of the talk was for a conciliatory approach to solving differences of opinion, values, approaches etc., through sensitive dialogue. This to me appears to have elements of ‘liberal individualism, in particular, in relation to the ‘tolerance model’ where “Every individual is different. We should respect and honour everyone’s difference equally” (Boler and Zembylas, 2003:112), embedded in it. There was much heated debate, but many unresolved emotions remained in this plea for reconciliatory dialogue, without discussion on issues of power relations between a President of a country and a cartoonist.
    Can educators in Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) take a risk and go against the prevailing discourse in the country? Are educators in Higher Education able to deal with whatever repercussions result from disrupting the ‘sameness’ (Boler and Zembylas, 2003) or ‘rainbow nation’ myths by using pedagogies such as the ‘pedagogy of discomfort’ to force or encourage students and educators to question these seemingly safe myths ? It is much easier to talk about celebrating difference and drawing on difference to enrich understanding of each other, to create an environment of citizenship, inclusion and difference in this manner, than to seriously explore the power relations between students and educators, and between different student groups.
    The role of HEIs is to develop critical thinking and create new knowledge. This cannot be done if dominant pedagogies reinforce comfort zones and do not encourage challenging of past knowledge, values, practices, ethics and human rights. In the context of this period of history in South Africa, if we wish to create a truly ‘New South Africa’ it is essential to introduce ways of challenging educators and students to engage with difference in a transformative manner. Leibowitz et al (2010) when applying the ‘pedagogy of discomfort’ in an interdisciplinary class, and across two universities where historical and present “inequality in material and cultural resources” exist, suggested that these “power differentials…. can limit the transformational character of such initiatives”(Leibowitz et al, 2010:83). However, they conclude that such pedagogies are important to pursue, especially in relation to graduates of professions who need to develop “criticality, empathy and insight” (Leibowitz et al, 2010:97) to work effectively and inclusively in different communities.

    Boler M. and Zembylas M. 2003. Discomforting Truths: The emotional terrain of understanding difference. In Pedagogies of difference: rethinking education for social change. Eds P. Trifonas, 110-136. New York: Routledge Falmer.
    Leibowitz B., Bozalek V., Rohleder P.,Carolissen R. and Swartz L (2010) Ah, but the whiteys love to talk about themselves’: discomfort as a pedagogy for change. Race, Ethnicity and Education, 13:1, 83- 100.

    • Lana van Niekerk says:

      Melanie Alperstein refers to Sachs asking for ‘a conciliatory approach’ to solving differences ‘through sensitive dialogue’ – and in the ‘much heated debate’ that followed ‘many unresolved emotions remained in this plea for reconciliatory dialogue’. The immediate question that came to mind was: Can sensitive dialogue, by nature not be reconciliatory? The question that remained with me is broader: What are the characteristics of reconciliatory dialogue? Initially, when I looked towards the readings for characteristics that makes dialogue reconciliatory I found an array of concepts mentioned (‘sensitive’ was not one of these), however, my first (superficial) reading of it was that the the pedagogy of discomfort was explained clearly in terms of ‘what’ it was but without much guidance on ‘how’ it should be done. An unexpected link appeared when I read the chapter by Kincheloe (2007), who discussed critical pedagogy in two stages (original stage and the ‘next stage’) this I found helpful and interesting. Firstly, it provided me with some insights I did not have before, but, more importantly, because it dawned on me that the elements that make dialogue reconciliatory will also (inevitably) change over time and will be relational (and context-driven). The realization removed me away from my need for a recipe (to explain ‘how’) – towards an appreciation that the stance needed is a critical one, regardless what is being focused on (and in all life domains withclassroom teaching being a small part of all of it). Kincheloe (2007) talks about the ‘next phase’ in critical pedagogy as moving into “a new terrain of intellectually rigorous and highly practical cultural and education work” (p13) – which reminded of the term “emotional labor” (Boler and Zembylas, 2003 p.111). Zembylas (2007) calls for an approach that is both critical and emotional. So, for me, it went back to the pedagogy of discomfort, with a focus on challenging the hegemony (even if you do it sensitively).
      Boler & Zembylas (2003). Discomforting truths: The emotional terrain of understanding difference. In Pedagogies of difference: Rethinking education for social change. ed P Trifonas, 110-136. New York: Routledge
      Kincheloe (2007) Critical Pedagogy in the Twenty-first Century: Evolution for Survival. In P. McLaren and J. Kincheloe (eds) Critical Pedagogy: Where Are We Now? New York: Peter Lang pp9-42
      Zembylas, M (2007) Five Pedagogies, A Thousand Possibilities: Struggling for Hope and Transformation in Education (Introduction ppxi-xxx)

    • Jill van Dugteren says:

      Melanie I found your reference to the “prevailing discourse” and the “tolerance model” (Boler and Zembylas, 2003:112) in relation to the talk given by Albie Sachs interesting. In my response I referred to some extracts from Mamphele Ramphele’s Laying ghosts to rest: Dilemmas of the transformation in South Africa (2008), which also points to finding a way forward and reconciling past differences. Reconciliation has been the preferred route for obvious reasons, but there is a danger too in that is pacifies, silences. Unlike Nicolette, who notes in her response that, “when we speak with one voice, we intonate the essence of being sameness (citizens of the same country) and silence the voice of difference”, I feel that this silence is what the pedagogy of discomfort (Boler and Zembylas, 2003) aims to disrupt. So yes, in relation to this pedagogy, I think that educators should go against the “prevailing discourse” in the country. Like Kasturi I agree that (HEIs) are well positioned to provide a “ ‘safe’ intellectual, cognitive and emotional space and platform where young adults can exercise their socio-political muscles within an informed understanding of national imperatives and global aims”. But I also think that another discourse is at play and it is one at which liberal academics are well-versed and which feeds into the pedagogy of discomfort – struggle discourse. Kasturi points out that “the delusion that the ‘struggle’ is over is dangerous and provocative at the same time”. But perhaps this struggle discourse is also a comfort zone that hinders the “affective resistance” that Zembylas (2007) speaks of in relation to Albrecht Crane’s “lines of flight that are indeterminate” (Crane, 2003 as cited in Zembylas 2007:xxiv). How do we wing it and let the subject “dissolve” (Crane, 2003 as cited in Zembylas 2007:xxiv) and find this “new pedagogy” (Zembylas 2007:xxiv) when we carry so much determination from the past?


      Boler, M. and Zembylas, M. 2003. Discomforting truths: The emotional terrain of understanding difference. In Pedagogies of difference: Rethinking education for social change, ed. P. Trifonas, 110-136. New York: RoutledgeFalmer.

      Ramphele, M. 2008. Laying ghosts to rest: Dilemmas of the transformation in South Africa. Cape Town: Tafelberg.

      Zembylas, M. 2007. Five pedagogies, a thousand possibilities: Struggling for hope and transformation in education. (Introduction, pp xi-xxx)

  9. Melanie Alperstein says:

    I am not sure who I am replying to at this stage, but it seems we mostly agree that it is the role of HEIs to challenge students to look at issues of power, privilege and oppression, and that these issues cannot be totally divorced from our past. Even if the majority of our students were children at the point of ‘liberation’, and have no adult memories of apartheid (Swartz et al, 2008) we cannot fool ourselves that the inequalities that existed then, have been erased. As Swartz et al argue, especially for students studying to become professionals in the social and health professions, the communities and clients they will serve live in the same conditions post as pre apartheid. However, whether in the context of our past, present or future there will always be a divide between the oppressor or oppressed in the context of race, sex, sexual orientation, age etc depending on particular contexts. Pease (2010) raises the issue that she is often criticized for dwelling on the concept of the oppressor learning to listen to and understand the oppressed and through this interaction, possibly being persuaded to give up privileges, or at least not to resist the move to equality. This in contrast to paying more attention to strategies of giving voice and power to the oppressed as it has been acknowledged that the oppressed will only liberate themselves as the oppressors will always hold on to their privileges through ‘individual practices’ as well as ‘cultural’ and ‘structural’ practices (ibid:169). This made me realise that in working with any of the different pedagogies for change and transformation, that in future I would need to analyse which strategies were being emphasized – those related to encouraging the privileged to acknowledge and discard their privileges, which is seldom likely to happen, or concentrating on strategies to empower the oppressed. As Pease mentions, even if the privileged do give up their privileges, they always have the choice to regain their privileges. That rings particularly true for me. I mentioned in sharing my “river of life’ that I did relinquish a comfortable life in Cape Town to live in a rural area for a number of years, as the only white person living there, with no electricity, a cold water tap outside the house, no bath or shower, the bucket toilet system, no tarred roads, no street lights, extremely repressive politically….. (there were a few white business people- a café and a hotel owner in the town, but they went to sleep in the nearest ‘white town’ every night with all the amenities). However, when my child reached school going age, I could make the choice, with much guilt and acknowledgment of my privileged position, but even with those emotions, to returned to Cape Town to better schooling ( and all the luxury amenities of baths, showers and flush toilets!) because I could, leaving behind all his friends who had to endure the under- resourced rural education system.
    In many situations these situations remain the same – 17 years post apartheid – can we ignore the past with as students, as for many South Africans, including some of our students, it is still the present and the future. As educators, largely being the privileged (some of us through both our race and our social position) we have to learn how to provoke, feel and deal with the discomfort of past present and future. I believe as Brookfield () stated, ‘we teach to change the world’. Most times this cannot be a comfortable, but maybe rewarding in the end.
    1. Brookfield, S (1995) The getting of wisdom: what critically reflective teaching is and why it’s important. In S.Brookfield Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher. San Fransico:Jossey-Bass

    2. Pease. B (2010) Undoing privilege: Unearned advantage in a divided world. London: Zed Books (Challenging the reproduction of privilege within, pp 169 – 187)

    3. Swartz et al (2008) ‘Your mind is the battlefield’: South African Trainee Health workers Engage with the Past. Social Work Education, iFirst Article, 1 – 14.

  10. Roisin Kelly-Laubscher says:

    In Jill’s post she describes how Mamphela Ramphele’s questions the extent to which most South Africans actually accept difference. Firstly, I find the concept of “ accepting difference” a strange one. To accept something means to approve of it , to look favourably on or tolerate it. This is appropriate when looking at the desirable differences however do we really want to “accept” the hardships and inequalities that go with the difference. This phrase in itself is guilty of the “celebration/tolerance model” described by Boler & Zemblyas (2003). In this sense” acceptance of difference” is appropriate for many South Africans because although they know the hardships that others face they choose to ignore them and instead celebrate the more desirable elements of their difference. However, other South Africans do not know what they are accepting. This is evident from the study carried out by Biersteker & Bozalek (2003) who saw that many students from privileged backgrounds “ were shocked by their ignorance of the vast discrepancies….”. This suggests that many blindly accept differences they do not even know about. Pease (2010) quoting O’ Connor asks if we can really hold these people responsible for their ignorance. Maybe we cannot, but as evident from the guilt Kasturi described in her blog posting, we can hold ourselves responsible for their ignorance if we do nothing to try to change it.
    Finally apartheid only ended in 1994 and if we look at other countries with issues of difference such as the US they are still struggling after more than 50 years. We need to give this country’s people time to come to a true acceptance of its people, their differences and their past. However, we need not sit idly by and hope that it happens by accident.
    Boler & Zembylas (2003). Discomforting truths: The emotional terrain of understanding difference. In Pedagogies of difference: Rethinking education for social change. ed P Trifonas, 110-136. New York: Routledge
    Bozalek V & Biersteker L (2009). Exploring power and privilege using participatory learning and action techniques. Social Work Education 1-22
    Pease, B (2010).Undoing privilege: Unearned advantage in a divided world. London: Zed Books (Challenging the reproduction of privilege within, pp. 169-187)

  11. Roisin Kelly-Laubscher says:

    Lara points out that the pedagogy of discomfort may also result in a more entrenched position. This is a very interesting and important concept because the last thing we want this pedagogy to do is reinforce racism or bigotry. Zemblyas (2007) quoting Roman states that interventions that elicit emotions, as this pedagogy does, may elicit many different responses e.g. “relief, recognition, empathy, defensiveness, anger, resentment and disbelief”. The intervention carried out by Liebowitz et al (2010) using the pedagogy of discomfort confirmed that it is possible for students to retain “contradictory or defensive positions”. One might ask, what kind of person on seeing the hardship of another could ignore it? A snap response may be, a stubborn one or a heartless one but in reality, how many of us see homeless people begging or lying in the street on a daily basis and ignore it. We use logic and fear to justify our lack of action. In this way, when faced with the pedagogy of discomfort, students and teachers also have the option to engage with it or ignore it.
    Even on engaging with this pedagogy, some may “miss the point”, likening their own “hardships” to those of the less privileged. Pease (2010) writes about how people may “frame themselves as the oppressed”. So instead of accepting their role in creating or contributing to hardship or trauma they relate it to a “parallel” hardship or trauma of their own, thus denouncing any responsibility they may have or making them seem just as hard done by as anybody else.
    Another reason for an apparent reinforcement of contradictory or defensive positions may be an attempt to stop their long held world views from crumbling around them. There is something very scary about having everything you have always felt safe and secure in “knowing” being torn apart.
    Leibowitz et al(2010). ‘Ah but the whiteys like to talk about themselves’: discomfort as a pedagogy for change. Race, ethnicity and education. 13(1);83-100
    Pease, B (2010).Undoing privilege: Unearned advantage in a divided world. London: Zed Books (Challenging the reproduction of privilege within, pp. 169-187)
    Zemblyas , M (2007). Five pedagogies, a thousand possibilities: Struggling for hope and transformation in education (Introduction)

  12. Someka says:

    I realised that I posted on the wrong site/space I therefore post my response on the blog. i hope this is the correct spae/site.

    Pedagogy by its nature is a discipline of teaching where teachers enter a classroom armed with theories, approaches and materials to share information with students about unpleasant social conditions with the intentions of developing cognitive skills through dialogue to collectively work out an intervention process. Pedagogy of discomfort is an approach that aims at identifying and problematizing social issues, as a group, people work out a remedy to solve the problem, Adams, Bell and Griffin (1997). Boler and Zombylas (2003) further argue that pedagogy of discomfort intends to create awareness about the unconsciously embedded behaviors that frame people’s actions. For example, in my previous work place, the principal has a silent policy of restricting the use of school resources by certain teachers. In her thinking, she is monitoring the use of school’s resources but her acts of restriction on its own promote discomfort and oppression among the staff and that poses a problem to those affected by the restriction.
    Pedagogy of discomfort does not provide a sequentially planned strategy, but it creates a conscious awakening within an individual to start thinking about working what seems to be discomforting. It is meant to challenge unpleasant social conditions and also promote awareness and consciousness about social injustices and oppression. Through pedagogy of discomfort, students are therefore equipped with strategies to challenge the dominant ideology, Boler and Zembylas (2003) also to visit their emotional space in order to participate in action campaigns.
    Historically, South Africa is a divided country where even institutions of higher learning are divided. These divisions in institutions of higher learning were also institutionally supported by many the Acts of law that were passed as forms of restrictions especially to achieve racial injustices Robus and Macleod (Undated). The institutional support through the passing of the oppressive laws by apartheid government strengthened the ideology of the oppressor. These divisions are found on the basis of those who have and those who do not have and also but not limited to race. For example, the gap between privileged and none privileged becomes evident during registration period where most students get an exemption and register to study at institutions of higher learning but because of financial problems they spend most of their time in long queues applying for financial aid. At my university a group of students called peer mediators have taken upon themselves to help financially struggling students to help apply for financial aid. By the very nature of not ignoring the socio-economic imbalance at the university, these peer mediators are engaging at a social battle to provide an intervention measure for their peers to access financial assistance to cover their tuition fees. This process Jean Anyon (2009) calls attribution of opportunity. To deal with the discomfort that these divisions and restrictions impose, I think that pedagogy of discomfort is appropriate for South African higher education teaching and learning on the basis that, it not only focuses on cognitive development but also at questioning issues of dominance, restrictions and privilege in societies. It also changes the mind set teachers and students have about their role in education by engaging them as groups in a lifelong process of campaigning for the greater good for the others as well as for themselves, Anyon (2009).
    The identifying characteristic of pedagogy of discomfort is that, it promotes the construction of a problem by participants using their experiences and through active discussions and campaigns arrive at a solution that best suits the participants Freire (1993), Boler and Zembylas (2003) leading to the construct of new identities and communities. This means as educators we need to create none threatening environment alongside with students to identify an unsettling issue within our institutions and use it to educate each other about the manner in which it oppresses the other person and not sit and be comfortable if the issue per se does not involve a teacher directly.
    Domination by the other presents itself in three forms, Pease (2010). These forms are personal, institutional and cultural. According to Boler and Zembylas (2003) people join action campaigns after the problem or the discomfort has been identified, problemitized and then conscientized. Pease (2010) agrees with the method to be followed when working with social justice education but adds on this by saying identifying and problematizing issues of injustice do not on their own abolish injustice but continuous dialogue and discourses should be maintained to weaken institutionalized privileges. In relation to higher education teaching and learning, pedagogy of discomfort is important because students are not only given cognitively challenging tasks but are cultivated to critically view just and unjust practices in their situations so that they develop a political understanding of not repeating the same behavior.
    Pedagogy of discomfort if appropriate for South African higher learning because it creates wider awareness about the fact that people are not the same and are affected by difference in different ways. Boler and Zembylas reiterate the fact that critical pedagogy is needed in South African education system in all levels because it provides skills for both the teacher and students to use their different levels of uncomfortable situations to learn from experiences in order to develop a
    Pedagogy of discomfort serves to unpack issues of diversity, oppression, sexual orientation in a classroom situation. For example it promotes an ongoing dialogue around issues of sexual orientation, languages, race and others forms of discrimination in order to promote and develop new identities and communities. The creation of dialogic environment helps to take the teacher to a zone where he could face up on his own discomfort about issues of sexuality. By this I mean, if the teacher in question has discomfort around certain topics then he would tolerate teaching the module because he gets paid for it, but that would not provide justice to him and the students in question.
    Critical pedagogy unpacks the readiness level of teacher in skillfully deconstructing and model issues of difference for their students. This pedagogy broadens participants’ thinking about the role of education. It provides strategies to engage to be resilient and fight for the greater good. This resilience leads to the development of new allies that aim at analyzing economic, social and political opportunities, Anyon (2009)

  13. Fiona Moolla says:

    The pedagogy of discomfort (Boler and Zembylas, 2003) attempts to expose the normalized and naturalized assumptions of hegemonic education paradigms through the emotional engagement and subsequent unease of both the teacher and student. The pedagogy of discomfort is relevant to both dominant and marginalised members of a society since it unsettles the internalized hegemonic norms in both groups. An example of this is provided in the essay “’White excellence and black failure’” (Robus and Macleod, 2006) where black participants uncritically reproduced the hegemonic perception that historically white tertiary educational institutions represented a higher standard. Using emotion as a pedagogic tool seeks to deconstruct the Cartesian binary which opposes reason and emotion (Zembylas, 2007). Emotion instead is presented as a crucial factor in the construction of rationality and, crucially, the transformation of models of reason. It represents a way to overcome reductive binaries and expose multiple silences or absences. Emotional transformation also acts in the world since emotions are embodied in emotional habits which impact upon behaviours in real contexts. Zembylas reinforces this idea in the blog entry where he suggests that the pedagogy of discomfort is a “tool able to produce action”. When the pedagogy of discomfort is “complemented” by the pedagogy of “compassion”, then a context of critical hope (Boler, 2007) is constructed which completes the work of the pedagogy of discomfort. Furthermore, classroom emotional tension, in terms of this theory, also implicitly generates self-reflexivity. Infinite self-reflexivity in turn produces a model of knowledge of the self and the world which embraces endless ambiguity and contradiction. The pedagogy of difference thus theorises itself to be fluidly counter-hegemonic without its oppositional stance evolving into a stable critique. The pedagogy of discomfort thus is a model for subject formation which inherently denies its formative role since the subjectivity it produces is “ a self in continuous construction, never completed, never coherent, never completely centred securely in experience” Boler and Zembylas, 2003: 125). This is a “nomadic” self whose altering beliefs alter emotional habits.
    The model assumed by the pedagogy of discomfort takes for granted an idea of the self and an ego-awareness which may not be universal, and may be a product of the liberal individualist, hegemonic regime it critiques. This, I think, is implied in the support garnered from Cornel West for the pedagogy of discomfort. West suggests that “the new cultural politics of difference … are distinct articulations of talented (and usually privileged) contributors to culture who desire to align themselves with demoralized, demobilized, the politicized and disorganized people in order to empower and enable social action …” (West, 1990, quoted in Boler and Zembylas, 2003). What is clear from the position outlined by West is that it is not the marginalized themselves who may be engaged by the pedagogy of discomfort. Instead, it is the subjects who, in becoming selves with identities, already are significant insiders to hegemony. These are the selves who can “invent themselves”, who have the “vitalism” or “will to shape their own lives”, whose life practice is “its own telos”(Boler and Zembylas, 2003:133-4). Paradoxically, the pedagogy which challenges Enlightenment constructions of the autonomous self finally reproduces Enlightenment/liberal individualist discourses of the self fundamentally free of a collective idea of self-realization. The pedagogy of discomfort applied in a South African context, where the idea of self of the greater part of its people may be shaped by collective expressions shaped by tradition and a mythological worldview, probably will leave out of contestation this idea of being in the world since it is precluded by the idea of subjectivity implicitly assumed by the model.

    • Genevieve Langdon says:

      Your comment concerning the perception of self within the South African people was thought provoking. You appear to suggest that the pedagogy of discomfort relies upon a conception of self as autonomous and open to development independently of the collective. You question whether the autonomous self is a universal experience, particular in South Africa “where the idea of self of the greater part of its people may be shaped by collective expressions shaped by tradition and a mythological worldview”. As Zembylas () wrote in his blog post above, further “exploration is needed about the practical consequences of ‘pedagogy of discomfort’ in different cultural and political settings. For example, this pedagogy may mean something totally different in South Africa”.

      Self awareness is generally regarded as something that is common to all people, and has been theorized as something which develops from infancy (). That is not the same thing as the autonomous self, but I think it might be more useful to consider our students as possessing degrees of autonomy, rather than no autonomy at all. This would have implications for a pedagogy of discomfort – if students have a spectrum of self awareness and hence varying capacity towards critical reflection. If our students are representative of the South Africa people (whatever than means), some of them will present with ideas of self that are more individualistic than others. In this case, a pedagogy of discomfort may enable all students to develop their abilities towards critical reflection, opening their eyes to hegemony. I agree that the results might be unexpected, and not at all what an educator with liberal individualist tendencies might desire. However, any window in a students’ life that helps them to develop their critical reflexivity will benefit them in the longer term. My hope is that a pedagogy of discomfort, used properly, could start to equip students for their lifelong journey of reflection and growth.
      Secondly, what do you mean by a “mythological worldview”?

      (the next part is not really directed at Fiona, but is my personal musing..)

      I find discussions of this nature quite “discomforting” as one can always appeal to the idea of hegemony if one encounters the views of another. Am I trapped in my own box by insisting that some degree of autonomy is present in everyone? Is this due to a belief in God? If I am trapped in my own box, how would I know?

      • Genevieve Langdon says:

        The above was posted accidently and I can’t find a way to delete it – my apologies! Please see below for the final piece.

    • Genevieve Langdon says:

      Your comment concerning the perception of self within the South African people was thought provoking. You appear to suggest that the pedagogy of discomfort relies upon a conception of self as autonomous and open to development independently of the collective. You question whether the autonomous self is a universal experience, particular in South Africa “where the idea of self of the greater part of its people may be shaped by collective expressions shaped by tradition and a mythological worldview”. As Zembylas (2011) wrote in his blog post above, further “exploration is needed about the practical consequences of ‘pedagogy of discomfort’ in different cultural and political settings. For example, this pedagogy may mean something totally different in South Africa”.

      Self awareness is generally regarded as something that is common to all people, and has been theorized as something which develops from infancy (Bronwell et al). That is not the same thing as the autonomous self, but I think it might be more useful to consider our students as possessing degrees of autonomy, rather than no autonomy at all. This would have implications for a pedagogy of discomfort – if students have a spectrum of self awareness and hence varying capacity towards critical reflection. If our students are representative of the South Africa people (whatever than means), some of them will present with ideas of self that are more individualistic than others. In this case, a pedagogy of discomfort may enable all students to develop their abilities towards critical reflection, opening their eyes to hegemony. I agree that the results might be unexpected, and not at all what an educator with liberal individualist tendencies might desire. However, any window in a students’ life that helps them to develop their critical reflexivity will benefit them in the longer term. My hope is that a pedagogy of discomfort, used properly, could start to equip students for their lifelong journey of reflection and growth.

      Secondly, what do you mean by a “mythological worldview”?

      (the next part is not really directed at Fiona, but is my personal musing..)

      I find discussions of this nature quite “discomforting” as one can always appeal to the idea of hegemony if one encounters the views of another. Am I trapped in my own box by insisting that some degree of autonomy is present in everyone? Is this due to a belief in God? If I am trapped in my own box, how would I know?

      Bronwell C, Zerwas S, Ramani GB (2007) So-big: the development of self awareness in toddlers, Child development 78(5):1426-1440.
      Zembylas, M. (2011).

    • Sherran Clarence says:

      If I understand your argument correctly, I am reading you as wondering whether a pedagogy of discomfort has the potential for emancipation that Boler and Zembylas seem to suggest. Perhaps emancipation is the wrong word, though. Perhaps it’s more of a realisation of one’s positioning and the options open to one, or that one can create, to change that positioning, and remake their life and their consciousness. I think I hear what you are saying about whether the marginalized can or are engaged by such a pedagogy if they are outsiders to hegemony. But, and I agree with Genevieve, as a tool that enables action, I think this pedagogy can work with a range of ‘selves with identities’, and it has value when it helps anyone, marginalised or dominant, to achieve self-reflexivity and begin to look more deeply at and challenge some of their own assumptions and beliefs about themselves and the world they live in. I think that your concern (?) could be answered in part with what you (and Boler) said about combining a pedagogy of discomfort with a pedagogy of comapssion to create critical hope. I think this compassion is really central to this pedagogy – in order to be an educator who uses such a tool effectively, you need to care about your students – really care and not just project that you care. You need to care about them as people, rather than just students. And I think for many educators this is a real challenge because it’s hard to care and perhaps educators tend to conflate caring with softness and an endless stream of students telling sad stories. But I think that what this pedagogy asks for, and what care really is in this sense, is teaching in ways that ask students to think and engage with the world they live in and study in in ways that help them to grow into the people they are becoming – ways that challenge and discomfort them, but also support them in this process. The potential outcomes of a pedagogy of discomfort and compassion have value, as Genevieve says, in preparing students for their lifelong learning journeys that have to continue long after they leave university.

      • abdullah bayat says:

        Responding to Fiona,Genevieve & Sherran’s initial posts

        I think that what the “pedagogy of discomfort” points out to us is that we need to take a more holistic approach to teaching. Teaching can not only be about engaging in a limited number of instructional activities in order to complete a course/module. The “pedagogy of discomfort” approach seems to be asking us to be more than that. It is asking us to facilitate the development of students identities and their world views. If we accept this then we have to broaden the goals of our teaching. This is where the pedagogy of compassion as suggested by Fiona and Sherran has a role to play.

        I am also concerned about us only looking at the “pedagogy of discomfort” as a once off event. How do students make the transition to being reflexive? What happens if students go back to their homes or friends after taking our course? How does one engage students to internalize a pedagogy that distresses and destabilizes them ?

        I do not know the answers to these questions but I think the an answer would be to bring social justice to the top of the university agenda. Social justice inquiry and similar emancipatory approaches need to be part of university wide efforts otherwise we won’t be able to make a difference beyond our classroom engagement with our students.

        In conclusion, I think we need to go beyond the classroom and apply the “pedagogy of discomfort” with the “pedagogy of compassion” to the way we approach and engage with the academic departments, schools and universities we belong to as well as our own families and friends (Behari-Leak,2011).

    • Brenda says:

      Dear Fiona, you raise some very challenging issues or questions here, to which I unfortunately don’t have an answer! But very interesting nonetheless. I think the issues of the conceptions of self and the pedagogy of discomfort should be given more attention by us in this short course. At a more basic level, though: do you think it can be useful in our undergraduate or graduate classrooms?

  14. Genevieve Langdon says:

    The pedagogy of discomfort, as described by Boler and Zembylas (2003), unlike traditional pedagogy, is not about knowledge transfer. It is about critical inquiry, which is difficult to undertake because we cannot escape our own skin. Hegemony is everywhere, but we are blind to it because it is so deeply embedded within us. Boler and Zemblyas (2003) state that “noone escapes hegemony”. Whether we are members of a dominating culture or a marginalised one, we all have a set of internalised values that is influenced by the dominant ideology. Challenging this is discomforting because it involves the exercise of our minds and our hearts – or in the words of Boler and Zembylas (2003) “not only cognitive but also emotional labor”.

    The pedagogy of discomfort is deeply relevant in South Africa as we live in a society that is struggling to define itself in the “post-apartheid” era. As Kasturi Bahari-Leak intimates in her blog post above (Bahari-Leak, 2011), the struggle is far from over and our higher education institutions should be offering students safe spaces to explore and critically consider every aspect of society. We hope this will cause them to lead our society forward with a better informed and continuously evolving worldview. Instead, in engineering, we are often chasing throughput targets, contributing to the “knowledge economy” and trying to prepare people for industry (whatever that means). Critical awareness should be one of the highest goals of education and hence the pedagogy of discomfort is something that every graduating student ought to encounter.

    In engineering, we are trying to move beyond the traditional knowledge transfer model and describe our degree aims as discursive identity development (Allie et al, 2008). Students need not be fully competent engineers at graduation, but they should be able to engage in the engineering discourse with others from their community of practice. Critical thinking is highly prized by engineers, yet we tend to “teach” it in very narrow ways. I think the pedagogy of discomfort opens up other possibilities. At the moment, I am battling with two challenges which concern the practical implementation of the pedagogy of discomfort within Mechanical Engineering:

    (1) I have a growing awareness of the hegemony in my own discipline as it is expressed at my own institution (although I believe it is similar across many institutions). Finding a space for the pedagogy of discomfort within the curriculum as an isolated experience is probably possible, but I doubt it would have the desired effect. Integrating it across the curriculum so that students are exposed to it repeatedly is probably necessary but difficult to achieve. At the moment the debate around embedding social justice issues into the curriculum is not happening. How do I take this forward?

    (2) There is considerable expertise required to adopt the pedagogy of discomfort. I can only imagine the disastrous effects of doing this badly, both to the academic involved and to the students. How can this be done well?
    I have been searching to find examples of this pedagogy used in my discipline, but I have yet to find one. This does not imply that it is not worth doing…!

    I have also been challenging myself to see if I am negatively reacting against the pedagogy of discomfort because I can see the difficult work ahead for me if I choose to champion this. Perhaps, true to my discipline, I am in the middle of a cost-benefit analysis. Maybe in later postings I will have come to a conclusion – it is taking some time as this is an emotional and cognitive exercise for me, and I am not used to using both of them in my academic writing.

    Allie S. et al. (2009) “Learning as acquiring a discursive identity through partcipation in a community: improving student learning in engineering education”, European J Engineering Education, 3(4): 359-367.

    Behari-Leak K. 2011. Pedagogy of discomfort, posted to

    Boler, M. and Zembylas, M. 2003. Discomforting truths: The emotional terrain of understanding difference. In Pedagogies of difference: Rethinking education for social change, ed. P. Trifonas, 110-136. New York: RoutledgeFalmer.

    • Brenda says:

      Genevieve, I agree with you that to “do” a pedagogy of discomfort badly, is disastrous, and rather not do it at all. How many awful diversity-type workshops have I been to, where the facilitators do not have the means to mediate successfully between the different voices, and to encourage learning. that is why a reflexivity on the part of the mediator or facilitator or lecturer is required. Perhaps in Engineering or courses like that, the pedagogy of discomfort is less about specific teaching methods or activities, and more about having space in the classroom in which people feel free to speak and to take risks?

  15. Sherran Clarence says:

    As I read the article I kept thinking the question of epistemological access, and what students are actually gaining access to: i.e., the dominant discourses and practices that shape learning and teaching in the academy, and the interests they represent. How would a pedagogy of discomfort be relevant to my work in ‘teaching’ academic writing, and training tutors?

    I have been thinking a lot about my role as a tutor trainer, and about the workshops I often do with students around how to be more confident and successful academic writers, and what role a ‘pedagogy of discomfort’ could play in these spaces. How can I make space for ambiguity and for questioning the ‘cherished beliefs and assumptions’ that go into the ways in which, for example, we create knowledge, and think and write about it? How can I create space, with students and educators, for questioning the silences we find when some voices are privileged in the kinds of writing that are valued in the disciplines and others are not? Am I skilled enough as an educator to take the intellectual and emotional risks such a pedagogy will involve, given my own sense of self as a young, white woman in an environment where I feel I am in the racial minority even though I am part of the dominant culture or class whose interests are represented by the curricula that are being taught? I can problematize my own identity by reflecting and writing and thinking on my own, and reading articles such as this one, and even change my habits, but what good is that if it does not impel me to use my own agency to begin to create spaces that make those I train and teach and work with feel safe enough to do the same?

    Students have spoken to me about how they find academic writing practices discriminatory and exclusive, and many who come from less resourced educational backgrounds do struggle to make sense of the ‘rules’ of the academy that are so implicit, and are hidden even from the educators who work within it. I am reminded of the idea of ‘committed outsiders’ in Bozalek (2011), but in this case I don’t think we can stand outside this culture as we are so deeply embedded in it. Perhaps we need, rather, to be committed insiders through a pedagogy of discomfort, not just between students and lecturers, but also between lecturers themselves, that seeks to challenge assumptions and beliefs about the dominant discourses around literacy practices that we perpetuate because they seem like common sense, for example. And if we can engage students in questioning these practices to, and understanding their construction, and the power dynamics that ensure their dominance, then I think we really can start to create space for inclusion, and for hope. I think this is absolutely necessary in South African higher education, because, for me, this issue of literacy practices and academic writing is often where I see students being offered formal access but denied more meaningful access to the ‘powerful knowledge’ (Young and Muller 2010) and the ways of knowing and writing about their knowledge that allow them to master it and make it their own. I also think it is possible.

    I am emboldened by the article, and motivated, but also very aware that the change that this pedagogy strives for is a slow, inching and often frustrating process and that the ‘cognitive’ and ‘emotional labour’ (111) required is a lot to ask of myself, but maybe more of those I work with, especially students.

    Boler, M. and M. Zembylas. 2003. Discomforting truths: The emotional terrain of understanding difference. In P. Trifonas (ed). Pedgaogies of difference: Rethinking education for social change.New York: RoutledgeFalmer, 110-136.

    Bozalek, V. 2011. Acknowledging privilege through encounters with difference: Participatory Learning and Action techniques for decolonising methodologies in Southern contexts. Intl Journal of Social Research Methodology, 14(6): 469-484.

    Young, M. and J. Muller. 2010. Three Educational Scenarios for the future: lessons from the sociology of knowledge. European Journal of Education, 45(1): 11-27.

  16. Rejane Williams says:

    In his blog, Michalinos Zembylas’s (2011) says that: “More exploration is needed about the practical consequences of [a] ‘pedagogy of discomfort’ in different cultural and political settings.” He also says that there is a need to consider its application and implications “where conflict is unresolved” or where societies have “moved into a post-conflict situation”. While I agree that a ‘pedagogy of discomfort’ is critically important in South African higher education teaching and learning contexts, I also believe that for it to be appropriately deployed we have to have a clear and detailed understanding of the contextual challenges we face here.

    Apartheid ideology (preceded by colonisation) was consistently administered in high doses as a coherent and legislated system. In our post-1994 democratic development phase, I am not certain that we have necessarily developed as compelling and effectual an antidote to this initial treatment. A ‘pedagogy of discomfort’ could provide the foundations for this. But what precisely are we to cause “discomfort” to? And what contextual realities are we to take account of?

    At the risk of oversimplification I want to argue that ‘a pedagogy of discomfort’ in our context needs to disrupt internalised dominance and internalised oppression in relation to several intersecting oppressions/marginalisations that are related to ‘race’, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, economic/material poverty, language and religion. Megan Boler’s (2011) blog entry says that a ‘pedagogy of discomfort’ is not only appropriate for “challenging members of a dominant social group” but to her mind, it “can be engaged to ask all of us, regardless of identity, to question a variety of cherished values and beliefs.”

    We have all been subjected to a system whose deliberate purpose was to create a divided society with rigid and essentialised identities that capitalised on stereotypes, prejudice and fears. Racialization meant that socially constructed ‘race’ groups were persistently fed information about “white” superiority and “black” inferiority creating an omnipresent binary between ‘white’ oppressors and the ‘black’ oppressed. To weaken the oppressed further, “African”, “Coloured”, Indian”, language, ethnic and tribal divides were amplified. To strengthen the oppressors, “white” society received messages of superiority that were reinforced through state, education, church, sport, family, cultural and most social structures. All groups were subject to a society that was patriarchal, authoritarian and sectarian. Jansen (2009), referring to the “white”-Afrikaner experience, refers to this as “knowledge in the blood” that is “indirect” and “bitter” knowledge, passed on generationally. This transfer of knowledge does not, however, exclusively apply to Afrikaners. It has had damaging and lasting effects on all South Africans and needs to be ‘discomforted’ in multiple ways. We live with the legacy of this past in different ways across different generations and the past remains active in the present.

    My understanding of a ‘pedagogy of discomfort’ in our educational context is that it can offer both educators and learners an opportunity to reflect on our socialisation, challenge unexamined beliefs, values and worldviews and examine how power contributes to social stratification (Boler, 2004). It also offers the opportunity “to get beyond simplistic binary understandings” or “oversimplified and reductive understandings of difference” that may prevent for us “from inhabiting more ambiguous and less rigid, identities and relations to the world” (Boler & Zembylas, 2003, p. 121). Given the ‘programing’ associated with Apartheid and the generational transfer of knowledge, educators and learners alike can benefit from reflecting on the impact of the past and exploring new possibilities around identities in South Africa.

    At present we have few programmes that support collectives in disrupting consciously or unconsciously, directly or indirectly or generationally received messaging. We are individually finding our way. The education sector should and could be a critical and important site of intervention to redress our social programming and move us all towards a more equitable, just, enlightened and liberated society. The task is not simple and has ethical implications because of the complexity and sensitivity around disrupting’ imbedded knowledge’ and unsettling identities regardless of whether individuals have been directly or generationally implicated in the past as perpetrators, bystanders, beneficiaries or victims of oppression or marginalisation.

    On the one end of the continuum, the task is to respond to internalised oppression that arises out of – the generational and compounding effects of land dispossession (rural and urban); the creation of group areas with profoundly unequal and poor allocation of housing, healthcare, education and social welfare resources to generations of ‘Africans’, ‘Coloureds’ and ‘Indians’; job reservation and migrant labour; the effects of violent repression, persecution, exile, torture and loss of family and friends; and ongoing racial micro-aggressions. All of these have had disruptive effects to the very fabric of communities and a healthy social environment. In addition, cognisance has to be taken of the intra-psychic effects of internalised oppression. These include a socially induced inferiority complex, self-hatred, low-self-esteem, jealousy of those seen to be progressing (black and white), suppressed aggression, anxiety, defensive romanticisation of indigenous culture, disempowerment, lack of clarity, diminished zest and low desire for connection (Biko, 2004, bulhan, 1985, Fanon, 1986). Many of these dynamics and the residual effects of oppression remain active as individuals gather in institutions today. A ‘pedagogy of discomfort’ has to constructively respond to and disrupt this. It also has to support individuals in attending to wounding and healing, building a defense against internalised inferiority/oppression and embracing new productive identities and engaged and critical citizenship. Those previously oppressed have to weather the discomfort of a shift from a victim or marginal status to a majoritarian one and imagine and live into new identities.

    On the other end, the task is to address internalised dominance and the effects of being at the receiving end (intentionally or unintentionally) of the oppression of others and unearned privilege. Here a previously dominant minority have to confront the fears of loss of status and privilege and have to create new meanings for themselves around belonging and being in a new way. Wendell Berry (2010) has argued: “If the white man has inflicted the wound of racism upon black men, the cost has been that he would receive the mirror image of that wound himself.” Watkins and Shulman (2008) share this view about the psychic cost not only for perpetrators but also bystanders or those at the receiving end of unearned privilege. For them, the symptomology of the intra-psychic costs include the severing of self; pre-occupation with own survival and success; loneliness; narcissism; degrading others; fear of oneself, the abject; replacement of being with having and consumption; greed and false feelings of entitlement, psychic numbing; and an obsessive-compulsive rehearsal of violence. A ‘pedagogy of discomfort’ therefore has to respond to identities that are already tenuous, threatened, fragile or in a state of flux.

    Facilitating a ‘pedagogy of discomfort’ means being able to hold the reality of those at the receiving end of hegemony, alongside those who may continue to benefit from it. This is an enormously challenging task for any educator or facilitator. As Boler (2004, pp. 120-129) suggests this means being able to show compassion towards all individuals who are ‘discomforted’, being able to deal with “resistance and suffering”, offering “critical hope” and “making up for loss” that accompanies shifting worldviews or a reshaping of a sense of self.

    Biko, S. (2004). I write what I like. Steve Biko a selection of his writings. Johannesburg: Picador Africa.

    Boler, M. (2004). Teaching for hope. In D. P. Liston & J. W. Garrison (eds). Teaching, learning and loving, pp. 117-131. New York: RoutledgeFalmer.

    Boler, M. & Zembylas, M. (2003). Discomforting truths: The emotional terrain of understanding difference. In P. Trifonas (ed). Pedgaogies of difference: Rethinking education for social change, pp. 110-136. New York: RoutledgeFalmer.

    Boler, M. & Zembylas, M. (2011). Boler and Zembylas on a “Pedagogy of discomfort” posted to

    Bulhan, H. A. (1985). Frantz Fanon and the psychology of oppression. New York: Plenum Press.

    Fanon, F. (1986). Black skin, white masks. London: Pluto Press.

    Jansen, J. D. (2009). Knowledge in the blood: Confronting race and the Apartheid past. Cape Town: UCT press.

    Watkins, M. & Shulman, H. (2008). Toward psychologies of liberation. Hampshire: Palgrave

  17. Bonga Chiliza says:

    The chapter’s reference to the American dream made me wonder about our dream, the dream of a rainbow nation. What happened to that dream, I wonder? I happened to watch CNN two nights ago when one of the Republican candidates announced that he is effectively stepping out of the race for the presidency. He spent twelve minutes talking about what a wonderful place America is and what wonderful people he has met on the campaign trail and only ten seconds or so saying that he dropping out the race. No wonder Americans are so full of confidence, every four years many men and women crisscrossing their country telling them what a wonderful country they live in. I think we should also have presidential campaigns that focus on how wonderful we are. When was the last time we had a leader celebrate the so-called rainbow nation? Let us celebrate our differences, instead of ‘tolerating our difference’! I think it will be good for us as South Africans to elevate the national dialogue to re-examine these concepts that Madiba and Tutu championed. I cannot remember the last time I read a newspaper article which even mentioned the rainbow nation. I think we all know that apartheid certainly did an excellent job at instilling the fear of difference in all of our psyche. I am sure there are very few South Africans who can honestly claim that they escaped the dominant cultural values.

    The whole notion of the pedagogy of discomfort is particularly uncomfortable for me. I was fortunate to get a scholarship to attend a prestigious English boarding school situated in the beautiful rolling hills of the midlands – it is not the one that the author of Spud went to, but it is very similar. I was eleven years old when I started at that boarding school. I was immediately struck by the number of rules. Rules about where to walk, how to greet, who to greet first (head prefect then other prefects and then matrics etc…), what to wear, when to wear what type of uniform, when to shower, when to go for breakfast, lunch and supper, how long your hair should be… it was very clear that the school had a certain idea of the kind of gentlemen they wanted to make out of the young boys. So, being different was frowned upon. In fact it was actively discouraged. Everyone had to fit in. There are many boys who could not and so struggled and had a miserable high school. “No one escaped internalizing the dominant cultural values!”
    And so, many moons later I find myself a lecturer at Stellenbosch University where there is a clear conservative culture of how things are done. There are rigid rules to be followed. It is all so strangely familiar, so natural that there are clear boundaries. It feels so correct that ‘Prof’ cannot be questioned without first saying… well, I see where Prof is coming from, but… so how do I engage with a student who struggles to fit in, who hates the rules, who is miserable without thinking that the poor student is not going to make it? They will drop out or go to another university just like the boys at high school did… that cannot be allowed to continue off course as the students who fit in so well look just like the ‘Prof’ and composition of the student body has to change. It is all so uncomfortable when we as lecturers discuss issues of language with such emotion… when there is so much back and forth about English and Afrikaans and yet not a word is mentioned about Xhosa. Sometimes I feel like shouting, do not forget about Xhosa! But then that would just be plain political propaganga!

    • Genevieve says:

      Your personal insights are fascinating. I just wanted to thank you for sharing them. Your point about the reproduction of privilege from within HEIs is also an important one that each institution has an obligation to engage with and act upon.

      My own story begins in Liverpool (UK) in a government housing estate in a working class (or lower) neighbourhood where I grew up with my 8 siblings. Coming from a family of so many children with an unemployed father automatically meant I should be illiterate, ignorant and bound for a life of grime or crime. Dominant hegemony demanded that I do not “rise above my station”. I have had to swim against the tide to be successful at school, attend university and become an academic. I should also mention that my family were tremendously supportive of me – and that five of my siblings have followed my example and attended university.

      Coming to South Africa was initially quite a shock. Things I found unacceptable, shocking and desperate were commonplace and invisible to the middle class, largely white, South Africans I mixed with at UCT. In tandem, I was viewed differently – my accent no longer gave me away as an undesirable.

      Oppressed to oppressor? Finding freedom that does not result in the oppression of others is a goal I hope for. This would be a worthy goal for a collective, such as a university, to also embrace.

      • Brenda says:

        Thanks for sharing this with us. These stories help to understand what the pedagogy of discomfort, or simply, what difference means to us. Perhaps there is something in this: the importance of story and narrative. Is there a new methodology, ie. not drawings and not narratives, but something epistemologically more similar to what students doing engineering feel comfortably with, that you can invent? I’d like to hear.

        • Genevieve Langdon says:

          According to Koen (2007), the engineering method is

          “Use of heuristics to cause the best change in an uncertain situation within the available resources”
          and that
          “A heuristic is anything that is
          (1) helpful, useful, based on experience,
          (2) unjustified, unjustifiable, and potentially fallible.”

          Perhaps there is something with engineering design, case study, or creation of something that could bridge the gap of narratives and drawings.

          Using the best resources we have available always means a compromise. Often the limiting resource is time or information, and the “accuracy” of our engineering answers and solutions varies depending upon the resources we have. This can be discomforting to many students at first because they want to be right but engineering is often more about being “good enough”. The most scientifically and mathematically competent often struggle the most with this because they are more used to being right.

          What I suppose I am trying to say is that I am already in the business of gently discomforting my students so that they can be empowered when they need to functions as engineers in the real world one day. This applies even more so at postgraduate level.

          What is missing from my current practice is dealing with difference and social justice. Perhaps I can pry my discomfort a little wider.

          Koen B.V. “An engineers quest for universal method”, Engineering, Technology and Culture Lecture Series, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, January 2007.

  18. Anita Campbell says:

    I am convinced by some examples (Bozalek, 2011; Macdonald, 2011) that a pedagogy of discomfort can have a positive effect in fostering citizenship, inclusion and acceptance of difference in South African higher education teaching and learning contexts. However, I have some concerns about the risks involved, particularly with the first year mathematics students that I teach.
    The transition from secondary to tertiary education has been described as a rite of passage (Clark & Lovric, 2008) that is inherently difficult. It is also a stage of life where the ‘radical reevaluation of worldviews’ demanded by the pedagogy of discomfort (Boler & Zembylas, 2003) may be naturally occurring as students are shaped by new experiences in their emergence into adulthood. Many tertiary students are first-generation students who lack the guidance from parents or teachers that could make the transition easier. I would be concerned about pushing students too far into discomfort and not having the necessary psychological background to provide adequate support.
    Lecturers who use a pedagogy of discomfort might find themselves alienated from colleagues not ready or willing to use this pedagogy in their classes and who may resent the suggestion that using a pedagogy of discomfort is good practice that they should therefore also embark on.
    As a teacher of mathematics to first-year students, I have seen my role mainly as a comforter. There is often anxiety associated with the study of mathematics and a global problem of ‘underpreparedness’ in first year mathematics students (Savages & Hawkes, 2000). Will I be effective as a teacher if I am resented by my students for provoking discomfort? Will I be as effective if I am depressed by the discomfort provoked in me if I use this pedagogy?
    I am aware of the limitation of my own views due to the hegemony or ‘consensual social practices’ (Boler & Zembylas, 2003) that are deeply ingrained in me. I wonder if the pedagogy of discomfort will make students depressed, and then wonder if I think this because I’m part of the dominant culture at my institution. Is my reluctance to provoke discomfort more to protect the students or myself? Perhaps I would be more interested in using the pedagogy of discomfort if I felt less comfortable. But if it’s true that ‘individuals comply with hegemony even when it goes against their best interests’ (Boler & Zembylas, 2003), is there much hope in getting the desired outcomes from the pedagogy of discomfort? Will participants even be able to notice their compliance with hegemony?

    Boler, M. and Zembylas, M. (2003). Discomforting truths: The emotional terrain of understanding difference. In P. Trifonas (Ed.), Pedagogies of difference: Rethinking education for social change, 110-136. New York: RoutledgeFalmer.

    Bozalek, V. (2011). Acknowledging privilege through encounters with difference: Participatory Learning and Action techniques for decolonizing methodologies in Southern contexts. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 4(6):465-480.

    Clark, M. and Lovric, M. (2008). Suggestion for a theoretical model for secondary-tertiary transition in Mathematics. Mathematics Education Research Journal, 20(2):25-37.

    Macdonald, H. (2011). Teaching with a pedagogy of discomfort. Innovative Pedagogy in Extended degree Programmes Regional Conference, Granger Bay, 15-16 September 2011.
    Savage, M. and Hawkes, T. (2000). Measuring the Mathematics Problem. Maths, Stats & OR Network. Retrieved from

  19. Sherran Clarence says:

    Anita, your post raises some interesting questions, and links a little with Genevieve’s (and my) concern about the skill, and also I think the openness, of the educators involved. I think the skill of the educator is key to ensuring a positive outcome, where people are challenged in ways that don’t leave them hanging. I think, where students are concerned, especially many of the students we see in the writing centre, and who you may teach in your mathematics classroom, it is really important to provide them with support and with some form of a ‘way forward’ if you are going to bring a pedagogy of discomfort into your collective space. As you point out, not all students have the necessary psychological background to help them find this on their own, and without the skills of the educator in providing a space for challenging hegemonic assumptions and worldviews, and then bringing the discussion round to hope and a way forward, rather than just leaving them challenged and scared and angry and resentful, a pedagogy of discomfort could indeed alienate teachers from students and from their colleagues. And this will likely not lead to habits changing and different worldviews or beliefs being taken on.

    I am not saying all this as some kind of rationale for giving up before we even start, but I do think that this is really tough. I find myself typing and deleting and retyping so many comments I have made regarding these issues because it is hard to speak forthrightly about issues that have become increasingly ‘PC’ and sensitive. I often feel like the more we try to be PC and not offend and not alienate people with sexist, classist or racist comments, for example, the more we actually silence people and we create alienation anyway. I wonder is perhaps this is a starting point for a pedagogy of discomfort – opening up a space where people can speak without so much fear that they will say the wrong thing and be branded a sexist or a racist. Where those brands can be interrogated, and where people can explore their assumptions and beliefs with educators and peers who are open to the challenge. I could see, in this, the possibility of starting to see how we comply with hegemony and what that hegemony is, and therein lies the seeds for challenging and changing that compliance.

    • Genevieve Langdon says:


      I can identify with what you have shared – using the pedagogy of discomfort within our traditional contexts would be incredibly challenging. Developing our own skill and craft in this area is no small feat, and not something I can invest my time in lightly. Perhaps we should view this as the start of the conversation, and find creative ways of practicing this on a small scale. We could build up from individual reflexivity to small (voluntary) groups before trying it on a whole class of students (Leibowitz, 2012). The small groups could initially comprise educators so that we develop each other and grow awareness of this pedagogy. The consequences of failure on our part would be lower if we “experiment” on our peers (I am assuming my peers to be more mature and therefore I assume their psyches to be more tolerant of failures on my part). This will also help the pedagogy of discomfort find wider acceptance from our colleagues, and perhaps reduce the alienation you mention?

      I think we should also be realistic about the immediate influence that we can have. I think the pedagogy of discomfort would be a starting point for those engaging with it. A safe space, but one in which we need to monitor our own frustration if they do not develop at the speed we expect – as you say planting a seed. Developing critical reflexivity will benefit all of us, student and “teacher”, in the longer term. Who knows what the seed will grow to become?

      The pedagogy of discomfort does require considerable commitment from all involved – emotional and cognitive “labour” (Zembylas, 2003). The biggest hurdle of all is TIME. From the posts so far, we all appear to agree that the pedagogy of discomfort offers all of us some positive benefits and also carries potential risks. How many of us view it as a priority, that we will make time for over and above all of the other “urgent” demands we face?

      Leibowitz L (2012). Private communication.

      Boler, M. and M. Zembylas. 2003. Discomforting truths: The emotional terrain of understanding difference. In P. Trifonas (ed). Pedgaogies of difference: Rethinking education for social change.New York: RoutledgeFalmer, 110-136.

  20. Fiona Moolla says:

    Rejane provides a remarkably compressed and compelling analysis of the effects of almost 400 years of colonial and apartheid dominance. (I am not sure whether the timeline assumed suggests that pre-colonial hegemony did not exist or whether the primary focus on race in the posting, despite the signaling of gender, sexuality, language and religion, implicitly foregrounds the period of racial hegemony. This may seem a pedantic point, but it is key to a consideration of whether the purview of the pedagogy of discomfort is an unsettling of modern identities which, in fact, may not even begin to address non-modern ideas of personhood where the self as a discrete entity to be autonomously reflected on and transformed may not be a structural possibility.) In this racialised context then, which generates devastating material and psychic effects, the intervention of the education sector, through the pedagogy of discomfort, holds the possibility of creating a “more equitable, just, enlightened and liberated society”, if it can productively engage and disrupt the behavioural patterns of both the victims and the beneficiaries of hegemony
    I fully endorse this utopian vision, but I am not sure whether the pedagogy of discomfort can get us there. The problem with the pedagogy of discomfort is that it operates within an ethics of equality and freedom, the origin of which the theory itself cannot explain. Inherent in its effects is the unsettling of stable identities formed within various hegemonic structures. The question one may ask is how can the person be formed outside of some form of social structure? Is all social structure hegemonic? Can the pedagogy of discomfort theorise the context within which the subject is enabled, not only acted upon by hegemonic power? I suppose what I am getting at is what does the pedagogy of discomfort regard as the good? Is it only ever disruptive or does it have a view of how things ought to be – what is the vision of “critical hope”? I think Rejane gives us some idea of the future envisaged. It must be “equitable, just, enlightened and liberated”. But if we look closely at what exactly these terms mean, they may not be an answer, merely the beginning of an irresolvable problem unless the pedagogy of discomfort acknowledges that it itself is not outside of hegemony, but part of a hegemony all the more hegemonic since it construes itself as open to all views. To use a South African example to ground the debate, how would the pedagogy of discomfort deal with a course on the law of marriage where some students assume that heterosexual/homosexual monogamy is the equitable norm and some students regard polygyny as encompassing a respect for a natural order which in certain settings may be perfectly, if not more equitable, as is suggested by the West African writer, Buchi Emecheta. These views, of course, may come to be couched in racial discourse, or as Rejane expresses it, the “romanticisation of indigenous cultures”. What is the consequence of unsettling both views? Must the teacher maintain that both views represent justice, suggesting that the teacher speaks from a position that is nowhere or everywhere? Must the teacher oblige students to acknowledge the position of the other? Must the teacher subtly insist that, in fact, since individual equity is paramount in terms of the hidden assumptions of the pedagogy of discomfort, monogamy is the inevitable course?
    Hidden somewhere within the pedagogy of dis-comfort is the idea of what exactly constitutes comfort. When the model acknowledges what its ideal is and acknowledges that it cannot be radically unstable and perpetually transforming, then perhaps it may equitably begin to address difference.

    • Brenda says:

      Interesting. I am not sure if I agree with you: this is a “pedagogy” – not a not a normative philosophy of what the good life is. Are you expecting too much from it? or do you feel that the pedagogic approach can only be resolved, if one has a clear view of what the good life is? – just some thoughts in response to your very stimulating posting. Brenda

    • Andre says:

      Hi Fiona, for me the notion of comfort is always going to differ from one individual to another. To me the pedagogy of discomfort challenges us to interrogate our own comforts as well as discomforts. Thanks for a stimulating post.

  21. Fiona Moolla says:

    I think Anita addresses a number of very cogent points in her assessment of whether the pedagogy of discomfort would be productive in her disciplinary, institutional and personal context. She questions whether introducing students to further realms of discomfort in a transition to tertiary education, which already involves a “radical reevaluation of worldviews”, would simply provoke anxieties which neither she as lecturer, nor her institution would be able to support. Anita accepts this view, but I think her own thinking, unconstrained by the model proposed, may lead her to suggest that arrival at the university may not invariably lead to self-questioning. I do not think that it is a forgone conclusion that entrance to university necessarily forces a review of attitudes. Depending on one’s cultural background and schooling, it may just reinforce existing approaches to the world. The shake-up to one’s sense of oneself may also not come from ideological differences, but simply from the practical demands made on the student with which he/she may not be able to cope. Students may also continue to be oriented by their habitual ways of viewing the world, but simply do what is required for university. She suggests further that a lecturer who uses alternative teaching models may face resentment from colleagues who then are obliged to reconsider their own teaching methods. This is a factor, but not one which should be allowed to be an obstacle if, in fact, the pedagogy of discomfort is an effective technique to address difference. More to the point, is the consideration that this model may not apply to mathematics. I am relying here on my own experience of math at high school, too many years ago for me to want to reveal. But it seems to me that math creates an area of pure reason once subjects, societies and ethical contexts are already formed. It is a little artificial world of pure reason once there is consensus on a whole host of matters. Thus, if we all agree on the concepts, then one plus one is two. There is no room for subjectivity or interpretation. One’s cultural or other difference cannot make it three. One can introduce discomfort into the practical effects of math in the real world – when math is used in the context of geography, town planning, engineering, what outcomes do we envisage? – but this occurs in a different context. Anita is quite right that her ethical responsibility is to introduce as much comfort for students as possible into her subject, rather than discomfort. Especially for students whose prior introduction to math may have been compromised for socio-political reasons, she needs to create security in the rules rather than challenge the rules or suggest that there are no rules. I know that South Africa lags way behind the rest of the world, even other developing countries at math. At the school my children attend there are a number of South Korean children who are simply in a different league at math, even though they modestly claim that in their own country they are just average. Their culture and background is completely different, but they have excelled at math not through introducing discomfort, but through excellent training in the rules.

    • genevieve says:

      Fiona (and Anita),
      I am trying to wrestle with the same issues. I can see how the pedagogy of discomfort could be inspiring in certain contexts, like the consultancy diversity training that Rejane undertakes. She appears very inspired. I do not appear to be alone when I say that I am more than a little intimidated, and I feel a bit out of place.

      Anita teaches one of the foundational maths courses that feeds into the engineering degree programme I teach within. I think Anita is correct in attempting to make students as comfortable as possible with mathematics. When I put an integral equation on the board and students start shifting in their seats, I know that they are not going to take in the engineering principles that I will demonstrate using the language of mathematics. I watch them every year. I do as much as I can to present the principles in other ways, using as many “non maths” examples as possible to try and draw them in, but ultimately the engineering sciences require a certain level of mathematics for complete understanding.

      The rules of mathematics used in the engineering programmes are the same worldwide. So are the engineering sciences. What we can change is the context we use for our examples, and asking the students to provide their own examples from their backgrounds might assist in bringing some diversity into the classroom much more than the pedagogy of discomfort.

      The pedagogy of discomfort can still influence maths, engineering and science education in two very important ways;
      (1) it can have an influence on the educators responsible for “delivering” the learning. If I am changed through my experiences on the CSID course where I have encountered that pedagogy of discomfort, then what happens when I engage with students will also change.
      (2) engineering degree programmes all comprise of courses which are not pure science and maths courses. Some of these address issues of the engineers professional responsibility, environmental effects and also so-called “non engineering” courses which aim to broaden the experience of the student. Some of these course may use a pedagogy of discomfort when tackling particular issues, or at least some method of developing critical reflection.

      • Brenda says:

        One dimension on the “mathematics” debate is about “competence”. No one has thus far considered the link between mastery, sense of competence and cultural background: what does it feel like to feel incompetent? does one’s educational biography influence a) one’s competence and b) one’s sense of competence? and how does it feel to be in a class where one is struggling? we are linking our comments here very much to maths, but not about the people studying maths and how they could or should be relating to each other as people, how they should be collaborating as learners, etc? I think this is a domain in the debate that I have neglected thus far.

  22. Fiona Moolla says:

    A brief response to Genevieve’s response: I agree that self-awareness is enjoyed by all and develops from infancy, but the forms of awareness that develop are to a significant degree shaped by the cultural and social context outside of which the subject or self cannot be conceived. I think it is Aristotle who said that outside of the polis only beasts or gods may exist. So yes, self-awareness and the self-criticism which may develop as a consequence are common to all, but critical reflexivity will always be both enabled and constrained by the fundamental assumption, or, for want of a better description, the myth of origin of that culture. I am teaching Arthur Miller’s The Crucible at the moment which casts a modern rational glance at the Salem witchcraft trials. Most students in the first year English class of 750 believe that witchcraft exists. This is a conviction as real as the belief that only that which may be procedurally proven to be true is true. My implication is not that these students need to me awakened from the sleep of superstition. My implication is that both Arthur Miller and the students enjoy a self and an idea of reason constituted by their founding mythology. Arthur Miller’s myth is that the self can independently know itself and the world. The students’ myth is that they know themselves through a complex web of spiritual and social understandings.

    • genevieve says:

      I agree with you, and also with your response to Rejane, that there is a danger that what is implicitly good may be hidden with this pedagogy or at least within the way it could be applied in an education setting. Can a good outcome be anything more than an individual undertaking some re-evaluation of their worldview (whether it is the same of different to that of the educator)? Even if that view is ultimately reinforced, this is not necessarily a bad thing. The time spent in critical reflection means that the opinion is becomes more truly ones own, and one will be able to articulate an opinion more clearly in future engagement. This has happened to me at various points of my life, where tragedy and difficult circumstances have forced me to re-evaluate my beliefs. Often they were reinforced or at least not radically altered, but I still found the experience difficult yet valuable.

      I still think the pedagogy of discomfort has something to offer us in developing critical reflexivity within higher education institutions. It may not be a universally applicable pedagogy and will always have limitations as we are both empowered and constrained by our cultural and social context. I am yet to find a social theory or research method that is universally applicable!

      • Anita Campbell says:

        While my head is spinning slightly with theoretic ideas about the pedagogy of discomfort and self-awareness, the ideas in Genevieve’s, Sherran’s and Fiona’s eloquent replies contain some practical ideas that comfort me. I like Genevieve’s suggestion (inspired by Leibowitz, 2012) of forming small groups of educators in which to experiment with the pedagogy of discomfort before risking it on students. We are more likely to use these ideas to help students grapple with emotive issues if we do so ourselves.
        Recently in class, I find myself looking for opportunities to touch on discomforting topics although simultaneously (possibly instinctively) I find myself trying to lessen the potential discomfort for the students. For example, when studying population growth, I spoke briefly of the limited land in Israel and how it appears that the Jewish and Palestinian populations are encouraging their communities to grow, perhaps so they can have a claim to more land. I felt this was a slightly provocative yet safe example as there are no Jewish or Palestinian students in my class. More discomforting would have been to use example closer to home, perhaps suggesting that very poor South Africans may have many children as a means of income through state grants for child support. But because some of my students come from large, low-income families, I resist discussing this for fear that it could make them feel bad about who they are, as the underlying message is that overpopulation ultimately leads to disaster. For me, the balance is to introduce topics that have an edge of discomfort but not force the students to engage deeply and personally with them. I feel I still have much to learn about doing this effectively. The pedagogy of discomfort gives an accelerated way to achieve what might be more gently achieved through one-on-one discussion, particularly if it is student-led.

        Leibowitz, B. 2012 Personal communication to Langdon, G.

        • abdullah bayat says:

          I think Anita’s reflexive introduction of the pedagogy of discomfort to her class is a useful technique for embarking on this journey. It is a reflective practitioner approach. I think becoming a reflective practitioner of critical pedagogy will require from me to be part of a community of practice to help me deal with challenges. Thus I agree that we should start up a small community of practice as suggested by Brenda. This group should not just be a talkshop about a pedagogy of discomfort but should be an active forum.

          In addition, another way to get students to become more aware and involved in anti-oppression thinking and action is to get students involved in planning or participating in anti-oppression campaigns and linking this to their classroom pedagogy. This is Ayon’s (2009) suggestion who reports research that confirms that initial participation in contentious politics enable students to stay connected to existing networks. I think as a teacher, I should also become involved in existing anti-oppressive campaign so that I can speak of experience to my students.

          However, critical pedagogies are as ethical as conventional pedagogies –if not more so- so we have to be very careful that we do not oppress our students when we expose them to the pedagogy of discomfort.

          Anyon, J. 2009. Critical Pedagogy is not enough.: Social justice education, political participation, and the politicization of students. Apple, M., Au, W. & Gandin, L.A. 2009. The Routledge international handbook of critical education. New York and London:Routledge. Pp. 389-395.

        • Brenda says:

          Hi Anita, thanks for your interesting and honest answers. It is indeed threatening to have discomforting situations, but especially so when you don’t feel you have the capacity to mediate them. That is why your idea of working in small groups with educators, where there is a base of trust, might be a good starting point, because you can help each other out and know whether you can take risks. When you feel more skilled, then working directly with students might not be so threatening. I am not so sure I agree with you about first-years. If students are already outside their comfort zone because of the transition, then to have to open that risk zone a bit wider, might be just ‘more of the same’. Also, pedagogy of discomfort requires a baseline of comfort and trust in the classroom, then it is easier to consider. Regards, Brenda

  23. Rejane Williams says:

    The conversations in the blog entries have been merging so I’d like to offer commentary on 1) Fiona’s entry and then 2) the connection for me between Bonga’s entry and the exchange between Fiona, Genevieve, Sherran, Anita and Sandra.

    There is so much in your first and second blog that I found stimulating, worthy of thoughtful consideration, and very relevant for social justice praxis. I only offer brief commentary on one of your first points. If time permits, I will later attempt a comment on your second blog entry.

    Your concern that the ‘pedagogy of discomfort’ and the “self and ego-awareness” that it refers to may be a product of the “liberal individualist, hegemonic regime it critiques” has definitely captured my attention and I think deserves a very very long conversation. I hear you saying that in the South African context you carry a concern that those who live outside this hegemonic individualistic paradigm and who have a “collective idea of self-realization” may not want or be able to – “invent themselves” or “have the “vitalism” or “will to shape their own lives” in ways that the pedagogy may promote. (I hope that I have read you correctly!). I agree that the individualism/ collectivism dynamic you refer to is definitely imbedded in our society presently and needs to be considered in relation to everything we do. My experience is that the discomfort/conflict that simmers or erupts when we consider how we teach, train, performance manage, organise or lead in institutions is sometimes fed by this underlying individualism/collectivism dynamic. We therefore do need methodologies that allow us to critically engage with and expose such dynamics. I’d be interested in exploring and thinking about how Freire’s work around developing a critical consciousness sits in relation to the ‘pedagogy of discomfort’ and whether it too falls prey to a hegemonic regime?

    While I hear your concern, the ‘pedagogy of discomfort’ still has value for me because it can rupture silences that we maintain around certain issues and it can provide space for marginalised voices. However, I must acknowledge that it does not always do this effectively. In practice, as we open spaces for individuals to discuss issues of dominance and oppression, the discussions are most often focussed on the fears, needs, concerns of the dominant or privileged who feel that they are being ‘discomforted’. You say that the “self as a discrete entity to be autonomously reflected on and transformed may not be a structural possibility” and that the problem may be “the pedagogy of discomfort” in that “it operates within an ethics of equality and freedom”. This may be true because I see the ways in which the marginalised remain side-lined even in spaces that are meant to challenge hegemony. But if we are aware of this, are there not ways in which we can facilitate a more egalitarian exchange? Are there not ways in which we simultaneously address the structural inequality as well?

    Bonga’s blog alerted me to those who remain invisible, who silently “drop out or go to another university” and the topics that never make it onto the agenda (“…there is so much back and forth about English and Afrikaans and not a word is mentioned about Xhosa”). We have all spent time talking about – the fears we have as educators about our competence to do this work; whether we can fit it in alongside everything else we do; the discomfort that goes with challenging paradigms and worldviews; and the ethics of disturbing identities. But there are other realities around this for me as well that I think we could easily lose sight of. What about
    – Those who come into hegemonic spaces and have to sit with the discomfort of their silence or invisibility. Could a ‘pedgagogy of discomfort’ not offer them relief as it makes hegemony that bit more permeable? What do we do with their discomfort when we choose not to engage?
    – Those who have to date felt that their identity choices have been constrained by certain socio-econo-political factors. Could conversations facilitate a different awareness with different choices for them? Again if we choose not to engage what happens to those whose identities are subjugated in the face of hegemony?
    – Those who live with injustice and who feel that ‘social justice education’ is about a way of being more than it is about a practice that you adopt? For some there is little choice to be made.
    – How we hold the damage of not engaging alongside the potential damage of engaging? The silence for me has caused more damage to the potential of individuals and collectives than the discomfort caused in any of the post-democracy conversations I have witnessed? I am not always convinced that our fears around the discomfort that may arise is as warranted as we allow ourselves to believe?

    Perhaps we need to jump-in with the full knowledge that we will be learning along the way and that sometimes it will feel like it’s getting better and sometimes it will feel worse but always we will remain clear about our intention and always we will remain engaged and be learning. I have had periods of deep despair and demoralisation. I do this work not because the context in which I work offers inspiration. I am driven and committed for now because I know it is the right thing to be doing even though I may not have nearly enough tools to do it effectively.

    • Anita Campbell says:

      Thanks, Rejane! Thought provoking and encouraging.

    • Genevieve says:

      I believe your parting comment on your response to Fiona offers us an opportunity to consider using PLA techniques we experienced in the first CSID session alongside a pedagogy of discomfort. Enabling the oppressed and disadvantaged to have a voice in the classroom requires educators to overcome differences that might lead to one group dominating the conversation such as English language ability (or Afrikaans, or whatever language is our teaching medium), academic expression and experience with computing/IT (such as internet access, owning a computer, being familiar with a word processor).

      Ironically, or perhaps tragically in some cases, we must overcome differences to be able to start discussing difference in meaningful ways as our society is so broken and divided. Bozalek & Biersteker (2009) claim that PLA techniques such as picture drawing about something (community, a project, a subject, a life story) can assist here.

      I think they could be right and I intend to try. This may be the beginning of a journey!

      Bozalek, V. & Biersteker, L. (2010) “Exploring power and privilege using participatory learning and action techniques”, Social Work Education, 25(5): 551 – 572.

    • Brenda says:

      Rejane I really enjoyed your comments, and think that what you say about the danger of the silences is very apposite. I also like your comment about the pedagogy of discomfort offering different alternatives to people. As I write I can think of two concrete examples, one a student and one an administrator, who found the pedagogy of discomfort as practiced on the short course and modules for students liberating in that it offered different options. I also agree with you that this work is not easy, and there is a lot of imperfection, but that does not mean that one should avoid it. about your comment that the marginalized might be even more silenced when amongst others coming to terms with their privilege etc, is extremely well described in: Blackwell, D. M. (2010). Sidelines and separate spaces: making education anti-racist for students of colour. Race, Ethnicity and Education, 13(4):473-494.

  24. abdullah bayat says:

    I think that the ‘pedagogy of discomfort’ is a useful starting place in South African Higher education to foster citizenship, inclusion and difference because it offers an opportunity to address how multiple oppressions are at work simultaneously in South African society.

    However the ‘pedagogy of discomfort’ is a potentially destabilizing pedagogic practice. I would use it with caution. If I were to employ it I would have to first apply it to myself. It would be gradual process. I need to first demonstrate it to my students. Demonstrate how I engage with it since ‘(n)o one escapes hegemony’ (Boler and Zembylas, 2003:115).

    Since it asks us to question our beliefs and entrenched values it is not an easy space to arrive at or deal with once one arrives there. Making myself uncomfortable and modeling how I respond to this discomfort, how I make the transition to seeing things differently would be important first step. Before I start making students feel uncomfortable, I first need experiential knowledge for myself .

    I would also consider following Zembylas’ (2007) example of inviting someone from the ‘other’ side-an oppressed person-to explain their perspective to help students change their perspective without having to do it themselves, by themselves.

    One of my biggest challenges would be how to counter “the lack of knowledge about the social-historical context of identity and relations of power that make it impossible for students to engage each other in dialogue from positions of equality” as stated by Ellsworth in Blackwell (2010: 481). How does one provide this knowledge when every student has a unique life-trajectory even if there are overlaps between students’ experiences? Perhaps a solution would be to tackle broader issues of oppression or perhaps involve as many students as possible to choose which issues to address.

    What about students who do not want to enter an emotionally disturbing space? Who want to stay with their ‘inscribed habits of emotional inattention’? Those who cannot bear the challenges of disruption and ambiguity being visited on their sense of self ? I will follow Boler (2004) and accept that students cannot be made to go where they do not want to go.

    Concluding for now, I think drawing from Ellsworth’s insight as cited in Blackwell (2010) , I do not take on a task of trying to bring about change for all students–something beyond my capabilities -but rather open students up and introduce them to the ‘pedagogy of discomfort’ and challenging them to engage with it throughout their student lives and beyond.

    In addition, the critical attitude fostered by the ‘pedagogy of discomfort’ needs to be extended to the curriculum as well as to the structure of the university. All knowledge is tied to social constructions and are embedded in power relations. For example the study of operations management that I lecture, takes the perspective of the manager and neglects the perspective of the worker-the managed. We got to challenge all perspectives and closures in knowledge and show our students that the world is socially constructed and this construction is primarily done by those who are in power e.g. states, modern transnational corporations. Thus they would be able to see that it is possible to restructure the world.

    Blackwell, D. M. (2010). Sidelines and separate spaces: making education anti-racist for students of colour. Race, Ethnicity and Education, 13(4):473-494.
    Boler, M. (2004).Teaching for Hope: The Ethics of Shattering Worlds Views. In D. Lizton & J. Garrison (eds.) Teaching, Loving and Learning. New York: Routledge pp. 117-130.
    Boler, M. and M. Zembylas. 2003. Discomforting truths: The emotional terrain of understanding difference. In Pedagogies of difference: Rethinking education for social change, ed. P. Trifonas, 110-136. New York: RoutledgeFalmer.
    Zembylas, M. 2007. Five Pedagogies, a thousand possibilities: Struggling for hope and transformation in education. Introduction, pp x1 – xxx.

  25. Brenda says:

    This is an interesting and thought-provoking response on the pedagogy of discomfort. I found the questions you raise interesting, as well the possibilities you open up. I also agree that you should use this approach “with caution”. Most of all, I agree with you that as the lecturer, you need to experience this yourself. That is what we argued in our paper, Leibowitz, B., Bozalek, V., Carolissen, R., Nicholls, L., Rohleder, P., and Swartz, L. (2010) Bringing the Social into Pedagogy; Unsafe learning in an uncertain world. Teaching in Higher Education 15 (2) 123 – 133. Thanks for this, Abdullah!

  26. Andre says:

    Hi Abdullah, your post was really thought-provoking as much of your experiences resonated with me. It is easy to forget how one personally arrived at the point where you realized that something is amiss. Just like the PLA techniques that we’ve done during the CSID course I find that telling stories, whether personal or otherwise, presents a good starting point to give voice to the voiceless and highlight perspectives that would otherwise not be seen.

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