Volume 2: Unsettling Pedagogies
थोड़े से पैसे के लिए
जो अपना ईमान बेचते हैं
वे क्या समझेंगे
पहाड़ों के लिए कुछ लोग
क्यों अपनी जान देते हैं।
Those who sell their honesty
For bits of money
Can hardly understand
Why some people give their lives
For the mountains.
– Jacinta Kerketta, “पहाड़ों के लिए” (in forthcoming collection of poems, ईश्वर और बाज़ार/ God and the Bazaar); translated to “For the Mountains” by Richa Nagar
Today, when the so-called developed world or the mainstream is fissured by extreme hatred along such lines as caste, class, race, and religion; when the greed of human beings is devastating our planet… when the relationships between people are increasingly superficial, there is much to learn from the Adivasi communities who have never stopped fighting to maintain the precarious balance between conservation and utilization, and for the healthy sustenance of the human alongside all that is other than human.
– विशाल जामकर और ऋचा नागर/ Vishal Jamkar and Richa Nagar, “जसिन्ता को पढ़ने पर/ After Reading Jacinta”
So I draw my own picture, and invent my own grammar,
I make my own tools to fight my own battle,
For me, my people, my world, and my Adivasi self!
Prefiro desenhar meu próprio retrato e inventar minha própria gramática,
Faço minha próprias ferramentas para lutar minha própria batalha,
Por mim, meu povo, meu mundo, meu ser Adivasi!
– Abhay Xaxa, “I am not your data”; translated to “Não sou seu dado” by Antonadia Borges
AGITATE! Unsettling Knowledges presents our second volume, “Unsettling Pedagogies.” Forever cognizant of our limitations as a journal that relies on a ‘domain’ based in a R-1 University in the United States, we highlight unsettling lessons in creative co-learning. We rearticulate AGITATE!’s commitment to building learning spaces where radical pedagogies for sociopolitical and epistemic justice are at the front and center of our praxis. Here, our agitations are both inward- and outward-facing. We, as a community of agitators, are not merely agitating; we are also being agitated and unsettled. It is through this process of perpetual scaffolding of unequal terrains of languages, locations, and ways of knowing, that important lessons emerge.
As a different ‘classroom,’ in substance and form – one where the ‘room’ seeks to be free of all walls – we invite you in to learn with and against what we offer in this second volume. Here, our authors and co-learners concern themselves primarily with how we know, access, or learn to give up our claims to place and the ways in which we build situated solidarities, embodied genealogies, and grounded materialities (Sophie Oldfield; Ola Saad; Sarah Almeida, Matheus Caetano, Raquel Chaves, and Josinelma Rolande). The contributors variously grapple with the manner in which we bring together fractured stories and bodies marked by class, caste, race, indigeneity, and religion (Jacinta Kerketta and Richa Nagar; Vishal Jamkar and Richa Nagar; Katayoun Amjadi). Several of them offer deep meditations on, and critiques of, the processes and practices that allow us to weave together unequal bodies, divided languages and scripts, and incommensurable narratives while being acutely aware of the stakes involved in such undertakings (Zaynab Asmal; Abhay Xaxa and Antonadia Borges).
What lies at the core of AGITATE!’s “Unsettling Pedagogies” are the representational, embodied, and material politics of storytelling. The embodiments of our own editorial collective and our contributors invite a delicate dance of risk-taking, trust-building, and radical vulnerability among and between our stories and selves. It is from within the fissures of this porous process of collaboration that inevitably fractured ‘we’s emerge, a productive pause pregnant with creative possibilities. It is between fluidity and friction, then, that our learning and dreaming unfolds, inviting us to trace where, how, and why our reading and communication practices take a particular form. This process urges us to reflect on the many instances when such practices reinscribe the very practices of expert knowledge-making that we seek to disrupt. It plants a desire in us to think intentionally about the webs of powers and inequalities that we find our collective, contributors, and readers entangled within.
Entre espaços vazios,
O próprio vazio em CONCRETO.
Entre espaços cheios,
pessoas que se veem vazias.
O desencontro é SÓLIDO.
O contraste é RÍGIDO.
Prisioneiros da Instituição,
viajantes na ILUSÃO.
Between empty spaces,
The void itself in CONCRETE.
Between full spaces,
people who see themselves empty.
The mismatch is SOLID.
The contrast is HARD.
Prisoners of the Institution,
travelers on illusion.
– Nathália, Nelma, Raquel e Matheus, Quatro estudante da Universidade de Brasília/ Four students from the University of Brasilia, “TORRE DE MARFIM”/ “Ivory Tower”
In search of myself,
In search of this city,
I take a step.
-Sophie Oldfield, “Step, step, breathe”
Look around the café. Every detail in this place calls you to be part of it. Embraces and contains you. I saw the door of time crack open, and I entered with my right foot. Like the museum of innocence, the walls were so telling. Each picture tells a thousand stories. The walls exposed and vulnerable, fragile and precious. I hugged the walls to keep the stories from falling apart.
-Ola Saad Znad, “Teleportation | عَبْرَة”
In this classroom of AGITATE! – a place without walls that never ceases to remind us of the ways in which our own lives are circumscribed by our degree-granting institutions – we meditate on ‘unsettling’ as an agitating praxis of activism and research in, but not of, the University. In putting together this volume – in our recruitment of pieces, our building of relationships, and our ongoing collaborations, readings, and revisions – we continuously ask: what, if anything, is unsettling about what we are doing? in ourselves? in this work?
In our second annual editorial retreat in May 2019, Khoi Nguyen pressed this editorial collective with these still-reverberating questions. Khoi challenged us to consider what radical work is possible through an online open-access journal affiliated with and sponsored by the University of Minnesota, an R-1 Settler North American Land Grant University that stole and continues to occupy Dakota homelands. Khoi asked, “What does it mean to participate in the act of unsettling something that does not exist within one’s realm of material reality? And yet, it is very real…”
In this sense, AGITATE! cannot and does not claim to literally unsettle the higher learning institution, insofar as doing so meaningfully requires a different battle on other(ed) grounds. The terrains of AGITATE! exist somewhere between the big and small cracks of our multiple material realities: the ‘immaterial’ shatterings of creative unsettling…
For us, turning to creative possibilities of unsettling means grappling with many kinds of settler-spaces and practices. In our May 2019 retreat, Julie, a member of the editorial collective, recalled one such settler-space – the then-ongoing Keystone XL Pipeline water permit hearings before South Dakota’s Water Management Board in Pierre, South Dakota:
“Meals prepared and served, coffee poured, smoke circles formed, prayers whispered, deep breaths taken, laughter shared, phone calls made, public testimony given in courts of law so twisted and far from anything that could be called justice–these are the sites and spaces of learning for me right now. Sometimes, often, including as I write this, the settling REALLY feels like it’s going nowhere and I can feel that and it sits in a tangled ball in my chest–I could call this agitation.”
“I noticed a sign,” Julie continues, “and it read ‘Wapka’ rather than ‘Wakpa,’ and I thought out loud, “oh, I’ve been saying it wrong, all this time I’ve been saying ‘Wakpa.’” A Lakota friend responded, “Haven’t you been listening? It’s ‘Wakpa.’ You haven’t been saying it wrong–they spelled it wrong.” I trust my eyes reading more than my ears hearing. In my haste to invalidate my own instincts I also discounted what friends had shared with me … So the settling does not go away. And I am learning slowly: patience, to listen and hear, to speak when it’s time and to know when that time is.”
How do we hold in tension what we’re trying to do differently with the inevitable violences we are made from and live out? How do we keep dreaming differently and address that dreaming as one necessarily violated or bound by the nightmares stemming from our institutionalized existence?
Unsettling: questioning, disrupting the commonsensical in order to create alternative spaces for otherwise ways of being, creating, and learning. For AGITATE!, this also comes with a commitment to process and to unsettle dominant expectations around what is ‘publishable,’ ‘raw,’ or ‘polished.’ We strive to unsettle values and value systems around what gets to count as valid work or valuable knowledge.
But what is the ‘un’ modifying? Can anything ever, really, be undone?
Unsettling: as disruption and rethinking; as a commitment to creating spaces for knowledges that have been excluded, pushed down, or rendered invisible. Also, a commitment to experimenting with ever-evolving priorities and unfolding practices of co-creation that might emerge in the gathering of contributors’ political and intellectual visions and priorities: their languages, journeys, energies, and memories.
The impending shatter of the clay body presents a sense of contingency and precariousness, the anticipation of fracture. Here the systemic failures, fragilities and unpredictability of living in this historical moment is felt bone-deep before the truth of it is fully, mindfully apprehended. This work calls to you, presses against you with a sense of urgency to act, to place your affective agency into the breach.
– Katayoun Amjadi, 2019, The Garden: Recalling Paradise, p. 25
Each character was a conversation I had with someone… I wanted it to be open to interpretation, to be interpreted. I used metaphors… I also used the metaphor of a web and spider. I have always thought of history as weaving narratives together. There was a movie I saw as a kid, The Last Mimsy, and there was a kid who used music and spiders to build a gorgeous bridge. The image has never left my head – these spiders spinning these different narratives together.
-Zaynab Asmal, interviewed by Koni Benson, “A Conversation I was Missing: Illustrating Learning Curves that Refuse a Straight Line”
As we prepared this volume, we asked ourselves: what is the relationship between agitating and unsettling? Here are some ponderings that emerged:
To agitate is to unsettle the reigning imaginations associated with knowledges and their making, remaking, mingling, and meandering.
To agitate is to jar settler scripts and settled assumptions about who makes knowledge, to ask from which sacrifices does knowledge emerge, and to honestly grapple with the unequal meanings of unequal sacrifices that form our knowledges.
To agitate is to meditate tirelessly on what that unsettling and anti-settling knowledge looks like, sounds like, feels like–and to do this meditating without assuming that we will be able to fully, or at times even partially, understand, recognize, or feel any of this.
To agitate is to learn to gracefully accept our slips and falls (including in the form of our own greed, pride, and pettiness) to struggle to flow differently in the ripples and waves of the storms of unlearning all that might have given us stability and familiarity.
To agitate is to give up our entitlement to know or feel that which is not meant for us.
To agitate is to learn to live with the acute realization that those of us who come from locations that have perpetrated settler violence – in many forms, in many worlds, including as humans – will likely never be in a place to claim expertise or authorship of knowledges that move, shift, undo, and redo the grounds we stand on.
To agitate is to creatively move, with our bodies and stories, against settler boundaries and borders, including of past-present-future, of mind-body-soul, of human and other than human.
We hope you, our readers, will join us on this path. We look forward to your energetic engagements with this second volume.
AGITATE! Editorial Collective
At the University of Minnesota, we acknowledge the support of the University Libraries; the Digital Arts, Sciences, and Humanities (DASH) program; the Interdisciplinary Center for the Study of Global Change (ICGC); the Office of Research and Graduate Programs in the College of Liberal Arts (CLA), and a Beverly and Richard Fink Professorship provided to Richa Nagar by CLA.
A special thanks to Khoi Nguyen for their contributions to our discussions during our May 2019 retreat.