Keynote Lectures

Keynote Lectures:

Heidi Safia Mirza, Professor of Race, Faith and Culture, Goldsmiths College, University of London 

Title: Decolonizing Pedagogies: Black feminist reflections on teaching race, faith and culture in higher education

In this lecture, Professor Mirza will draw on black and postcolonial feminist perspectives to explore ways in which professional black and female  academics in higher education engage in ‘embodied’ work towards decolonizing dominant regimes of  ‘diversity’  in higher education. In the context of  the significant numbers of  Muslim, Black and Asian students who are now entering British higher education, Professor Mirza unpacks the ways in which   ‘just being there’ can create spaces of contestation in our still overwhelmingly white and male universities. Drawing on her research on the pedagogic practices of teacher educators and their dilemmas of teaching race, faith and culture, she searches for radical approaches which can offer us the possibility of transcending the ‘stuck’ institutional discourses of race equality and social inclusion in higher education.

Professor Mirza’s work focuses on ethnicity, gender and identity in education, using postcolonial and black feminist theoretical frameworks to explore equality and human rights issues for Muslim, Black and minority ethnic women. She has widely researched the experiences of  young  Black and Asian women in school and processes of  racialisation in higher education. Her recent work explores current debates around multiculturalism and diversity, as well as cultural and religious difference, including Islamophobia and gendered violence.

Professor Mirza’s research includes British lead on the European Union (EU) project ‘Young Migrant Women in Secondary Education: Promoting integration and mutual understanding through dialogue and exchange’.  She was co-principle investigator on the ethnicity strand of  ‘Understanding Society’, the ESRC funded UK Household Longitudinal Study, the largest study of its kind in the world.   She also directed  research projects on refugee education (Rayne Foundation), volunteering (HEFCE), multicultural education (IALEI), and ‘Respecting difference’ (TDA) which promotes the understanding of race, faith and culture for teacher educators.

Professor Mirza established the Runnymede Collection at the BCA (Black Cultural Archives), a race-relations archive documenting the late 20th Century civil rights struggle for  Multicultural Britain. She was also Commissioner on the GLA Mayor’s Commission on African and Asian Heritage and was appointed by the Lord Chancellor to the Advisory Council on National Records and Archives (TNA). She is currently expert consultant to English Heritage advising on bringing in under-represented groups into the English national story.

Professor Mirza has published extensively on race, gender, Black British feminisms, multiculturalism, postcolonial theory and educational inequalities. Her numerous works include: Young, Female and Black (London: Routledge, 1992), Black British Feminism: A Reader. (London: Routledge, 1997), Tackling the Roots of Racism, Lessons for Success, with Reena Bhavnani and Veena Meetoo (Bristol: Policy Press, 2005), Race, Gender and Educational Desire: Why Black Women Succeed and Fail (London: Routledge, 2009), Black and Postcolonial Feminisms in New Times: Researching Educational Inequalities, co-edited with Cynthia Joseph (London: Routledge, 2010), Respecting difference: Race, faith and culture for teacher educators, with Veena Meetoo (Institute of Education, University of London, 2012).

Joyce Canaan, Professor of Sociology, Birmingham City University

Title: Building alternatives to the neoliberalising university: what critical pedagogy can offer


There neither is, nor ever has been, an educational practice . . . [that is] neutral in the sense of being committed only to preponderantly abstract, intangible ideas. To try to convince people that there is such a thing as this . . . is indisputably a political practice (Freire, 2003:77).

As Freire noted in the above extract from Pedagogy of Hope, not only is education not a neutral process built on ‘abstract and intangible ideas’, but the very suggestion of such neutrality reveals the political intention of those who assert it. A growing minority of educators do not doubt Freire’s point; we recognise that the logic of the market now permeates the structures and processes with which universities and those working within them are constituted. In England, where I am based, for example, critics argue that despite recent government claims that new policies will put students ‘at the heart of the system’, these policies are creating a nearly heartless system in which courses cost more, provide less contact time with lecturers and amplify prior class divisions—and such heartlessness and, indeed, soullessness extends to those paid to work within universities.

It is in this context that interest in critical pedagogy is growing; its insights are guiding lecturers’ teaching, their practices for encouraging student learning and for conducting research and negotiating relationships with one another and with students. Critical pedagogy also throws its net more widely; it is in fact ‘a historical project, and in the broadest sense a way of life’ (Amsler 2013:64). At the present historical conjuncture when critical thinking and doing in the university, formal education more broadly and the public sector overall are being hollowed out and reconfigured according to the logic of finance, critical pedagogy offers an ‘attitude of permanent openness’ of ‘being’ and ‘making with’ others in and against a world that constrains and contains possibilities for self and collective realisation (Freire 2001:119, 116). For at least some critical pedagogues, educational practices can potentially serve the purpose of praxis—that is, radical, revolutionary transformation of self and society, against the logic of the financialisation of an ever widening part of peoples’ lives. If critical pedagogy is ‘a historical project’ and ‘a way of life’, then efforts to realise its insights need not be limited to formal education; they could be—and indeed are being—used to build projects with more explicitly revolutionary aims. At the centre of this paper is a focus on the ways that two English educational experiments (Birmingham Radical Education (BRE(A)D) and Peoples’ Political Economy, an Oxford based project) outside formal institutions are guided by critical pedagogy insights.  The extent to which these projects do and could further realise these insights is explored and implications for their further development and for other projects are considered.


Professor Canaan’s recent work concerns questions of critical pedagogy and popular education, learning and teaching in higher education, and higher education in an era of neoliberalisation. She has also done extensive research on working class masculinities, feminist perspectives, pedagogy and Cultural Studies, students’ perceptions of higher education, academic accountability, and academic activism. She is currently researching several interrelated topics. These include: challenges that students and lecturers face in seeking to engage with class as a process rather than as a foundational category (Jenkins, Canaan, Filipou and Strudwick 2011) so that these foundational assumptions can be challenged and reworked (Canaan, forthcoming, 2013); how critical pedagogy can serve praxis at the levels of both personal and collective transformation (forthcoming, 2013); how students’ can reconsider the significance of the current crisis in higher education and the opportunities offered by the emergent alternative universities in England at present. Professor Canaan is part of a recently formed group BRE(A)D—Birmingham Radical Education, whose motto is, ‘We shall rise!’.

Professor Canaan co-convenes the Midlands Critical Pedagogy Collective, which produced the volume Why Critical Pedagogy and Popular Education Matter Today (co-edited with Sarah Amsler, Stephen Cowden, Sara Motta and Gurnam Singh, C-SAP, Birmingham University 2010) and is shortly to publish Acts of Knowing: Critical pedagogy in, against and beyond the neoliberal university (Bloomsbury, 2013). She recently co-produced with Gurnam Singh, a colleague in the Critical Pedagogy Collective, two podcast interviews on Critical Pedagogy in the Neoliberal University (2009).

Professor Canaan has published extensively on critical pedagogy, and learning and teaching in higher education and the neoliberal university. She recently co-edited Structure and Agency in the Neoliberal University (with Wes Shumar, London: Routledge, 2008), which examines how the neoliberal university is reconfiguring students and lecturers and that explores progressive responses to it. Other works include Common Culture (with Paul Willis, Simon Jones and Geoffrey Hurd, Milton Keynes: Open University, 1990), A Question of Discipline:  Pedagogy and Power in the Teaching of Cultural Studies (co-edited with Debbie Epstein, Oxford: Westview, 1997), Learning and Teaching Social Theory (co-edited with Jon Cope, and David Harris, C-SAP, Birmingham University, 2007). She also co-edited a journal special issue of International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education on Locating Higher Education in the Webs of Globalization (with Laura Montgomery, 2004).


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