Critical Studies in Education, Conflict and Peacebuilding

Critical Studies in Education, Conflict and Peacebuilding: Building a Network of Activists/Scholars
The Comparative and International Education Society (CIES) Conference, Toronto, Canada
Workshop Monday 10 March 2014 9:00am – 5:00pm

CIES2The CIES Conference in Toronto played host to the inaugural workshop of a new network of activists and scholars hoping to engage critically within the field of education, conflict and peacebuilding.

This day-long workshop, entitled ‘Critical Studies in Education, Conflict and Peacebuilding: Building a Network of Activists/Scholars’ attracted a larger than anticipated group of around 55 delegates, including academics, practitioners, policymakers and consultants. The aim of the workshop was to begin considering questions such as:

  • What are the challenges we all (researchers, students, practitioners of various kinds) face if we want to pursue a critical agenda for the field of education and conflict?
  • How can each of us push our institutions into critical directions?
  • What is our space for manoeuvre as ‘Education and Conflict’ ‘activists’, while acknowledging that everyone might have a different goal, ideal and approach?

Mario Novelli (University of Sussex) on “Critical Studies in Education, Conflict & Peacebuilding – Mapping a Research Agenda.”

In approaching critical studies’ potential service to this field, Mario encouraged participants to question what the drivers of the field were, and to build a picture of how the field is shaped by these. He problematized current areas of research and how research is driven as a whole, commenting on the predominantly top-down process and close linkages of research to practice, a result of time pressured deadlines that allow little time for sufficient reflection. He posed the question why, when conflict is so highly politicised is our field so depoliticised and presented as an apolitical intervention?

Mario further outlined his interpretation of critical studies and mapped out how we might move from an orthodox study to the critical, to find the time for reflection and in doing so, begin to unpick some of the issues around the drivers of this field that could have such an impact on social justice. He also raised the issue of how difficult it currently is for young scholars in this area, and called for the creation of a community of practice and scholarship to encourage young scholars to question and have a platform to speak out from.


Tejendra Pherali (Institute of Education, University of London) on “Grassroots peacebuilding – the absence of movements from below, popular education, popular movements in conflict-affected contexts.”

Tejendra presented the case of Nepal in this discussion around what grassroots movements mean for educational empowerment and the role of the pedagogue in conflict-affected contexts. In relation to global policy prescriptions, teachers are often left feeling perplexed as to what is expected of them. He asked, how can we see teachers as agents for social transformation and the school as a site of agency that is not separate from its society and community?CIES4

Attendees worked in smaller subgroups to explore this area, and to share examples of grassroots movements and popular education in conflict-affected contexts. Furthermore, they discussed how teachers can promote critical debates about the social, cultural and political domains of the learner’s world, and what transformative pedagogies might look like in conflict-affected environments.

Ritesh Shah (University of Auckland) and Mieke Lopes Cardozo (University of Amsterdam) on “Critical epistemologies and methodologies for exploring the relationship between education and peacebuilding.”

Ritesh and Mieke addressed the group about an epistemological shift in the field of education and peacebuilding, from a problem-solving approach to an approach of critical theory. Moreover, they explained the ways in which critical realism (CR), the strategic-relational approach (SRA) and cultural political economy (CPE) might be applied in the field as critical ontological and methodological tools.

Participants were encouraged to develop their own research questions on topics such as curriculum and governance and to reflect on the problem-solving and critical aspects of the questions in a group activity setting. Attendees were asked to further reflect on their critical education questions posed by applying Robertson and Dale’s (2013) four ‘moments’ of education.

Ervjola Selenica (University of Trento) presented on “education and the state in interventionary settings (fragile, conflict-affected and post-conflict).”

CIES3Ervjola discussed the growing multitude of actors in education and conflict in the last session, as well as the problematically low levels of communication between the two fields of study. She stressed that there is a growing focus on the role of international actors, yet often a failure to look at the ‘state’ itself.

Ervjola thus asked groups to reflect on different types of education and state, the relationship between the state and education, and the implications of this relationship on different types of violent conflict. For instance, how do we define and map attacks on education that take place in non-war settings?

Where do we go from here?

What emerged clearly from this workshop was that a space for critical discussion is both needed and wanted. Questions around what might follow and how this discussion will transition to impact remain unanswered, but what appeared to be broadly agreed, was that there is a benefit to this space remaining outside of any formal institutional structure which might shape the space for discussion. The presenters highlighted that this space is not meant to be in conflict to other networks or institutions. Rather, it is about encouraging a multiplicity of identities and mutually benefiting from differing perspectives

The Network for Research in Education, Conflict and Emergencies currently hosted at the Institute of Education at the University of London, was launched in December 2013, and aims to encourage scholarly activities in this field. There is currently a seminar series ongoing in education in conflict and emergencies for those who are UK based with an interest in the field, bringing together a wide range of academics, students and practitioners.

The Network for Research in Education, Conflict and Emergencies


Contact info:
For more information on this event and future events, please contact Anna Wilson (Masters student, Institute of Education) ( or Genevieve Wenger (Recent graduate, University of Amsterdam) (