Shifting Attention: A Feminist-Humanities Model for Social Justice Education


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Language, Literacy & Culture


Language Literacy and Culture

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I have developed a Feminist-Humanities model for social justice education that demonstrates pedagogical potency for building students' capacity for transformative social change. This dissertations presents the model, describes its theoretical framework, assesses its impact on student learning, and considers what the findings can offer to social justice educators at this critical historic moment. The Feminist-Humanities model is an epistemic project built through the confluence of feminist theory, feminist pedagogy, and the humanities ways of knowing. To move students beyond consciousness-raising and prepare them to act, the model teaches tools of analysis—knowledge, identity, intersectionality, power, structure, and affect—that connect individuals to the larger social landscape and guide students toward more expansive and more accurate knowledge about themselves, others, and the social world. My findings suggest these tools shift students' attention (Fisher, 2001) in ways that build their capacity for change. I taught the model in a one-semester general education diversity course with twenty-four student-participants. I used feminist narrative analysis to analyze four data sources: each student's first and final papers, transcripts of an end-of-semester focus group, and my teacher/researcher journal. I identified three shifts in attention related to the model's curricular goals. In shift one, students take up the epistemic project and enter a critically reflective learning mode (Fricker, 2007) to interrogate their knowledge and assumptions. In shift two, students use their new knowledge to connect the individual and the social through analyses of structure and power to recognize why people with different social identities view and experience the world differently (Gordon, 1997). And in shift three, students engage an affective analysis (Ahmed, 2004b; Gordon, 1997) that connects the head and the heart in a thrust of empathetic understanding that demands action. My analysis suggests these shifts are key to the success of the Feminist-Humanities model because they surprise students, help them look more closely at what they think they know well, and invoke their imaginations to consider what the world could be with their effort (Ahmed, 2004b). Particularly potent is the model's use of affective analysis, which critically examines the ways emotions inform our social interactions to reveal the lived impacts of social structures and their relations of power. Findings indicate affective analysis may be the bridge between consciousness-raising and action because it allows students to consider what emotions can tell us about how our society operates and what we could do differently. Findings demonstrate that social identities deeply inform the learning process, and further investigation of the complex ways students experience a social justice course could lead to more effective curricula. At this historic moment when educators are asking how best to teach the skills and tools of change, this dissertations contributes new techniques for institutions of higher education for educational pathways that prepare students to act. Findings suggest essential components of these pathways are cultivating the ability to talk across difference, a deeper recognition of the ways social identities and affects impact our attempts to change, and a better understanding of how change is made. Ahmed, S. (2004b). The cultural politics of emotion. New York, NY: Routledge. Fisher, B. N. (2001). No angel in the classroom: Teaching through feminist discourse. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield. Fricker, M. (2007). Epistemic injustice: Power & the ethics of knowing. New York: Oxford University Press. Gordon, A. F. (1997). Ghostly matters: Haunting and the sociological imagination. U. of Minnesota Press.