Brock University

Embodiment, Pedagogy and Decolonization: Critical and Material Considerations I

These sessions will feature contributors to an edited collection entitled Embodiment, Pedagogy and Decolonization: Critical and Material Considerations. The intention of this book is to consider how embodiment and embodied learning are taken up in pedagogical and decolonization theories and practices. This volume explores whether and how to develop and express embodied ways of teaching, learning and knowing in educational contexts; it features work that critiques educational frameworks from beyond academic settings as a way to re-think western liberal education. Attention to the material aspects of the topics addressed, particularly decolonization, pushes forward a key concern in embodiment scholarship; that is, the importance of addressing more than solely discursive approaches to experience and knowledge production. Just as knowing is more than solely cognitive, and decolonization is not simply a metaphor, the contributors to this collection take up the symbiotic relationship between discursive and material observation and meaning making.

This collection was initiated by Roxana Ng and Sheila Batacharya. On January 12, 2013, Roxana tragically died from cancer. Sheila has been joined by Renita Wong as co-editor. This book honours the important contributions that Roxana Ng made to embodied learning and critical feminist, anti-racist and anti-colonial approaches to embodiment studies.

Session Organizer: Sheila Batacharya, Victoria College, University of Toronto, ; Yuk-Lin Renita Wong, School of Social Work, York University,


Decolonizing Education: Indigenous Approaches to Identity and Embodiment through the Yoruba Concept of Ori (Destiny)

Temitope Adefarakan, University of Toronto,

While Canada is often imagined as a sanctuary for progressive politics and ‘multicultural’ social institutions, it nonetheless is also an inequitable space where especially educational institutions are c/overtly anchored in Euro-dominant hegemonies. This paper involves discussion of how Yoruba Indigenous knowledges are exemplary of empowering African-Centred approaches which resist and subvert conventional practices of teaching and learning in education. Cartesian informed pedagogies (which have been normalized in too many educational settings) dichotomize the mind and body, thereby rendering spirit untenable because such models are fixed in the hierarchical binarized model and therefore limited. In contrast to narrow Cartesian models of education, this paper asks educators to consider spirit, and spirituality as fundamental to one’s teaching practice, and offers contributions from the development of African-centred theory as a relevant approach to diversity and socially just pedagogy.

As a site where spirit and matter are interdependently merged, the Indigenous Yoruba concept of ori (head/destiny/purpose) is a salient multilayered element of Yoruba worldsense (Oyewumi, 1997) where it is believed that one’s identity is shaped by alignment with their ori. This paper discusses Ori as a counter-hegemonic entry point for decolonizing pedagogical practices which fragment the body from the mind, and, instead provide an affirming space for conceptualizing oneself as the purposeful fusion of body, mind and soul in order to heal from the dislocation and oppression prevalent in mainstream teaching and learning. The central focus of this theoretical discussion is the articulation of Yoruba (African) Indigenous spirituality and cosmology as foundational to particularly African students’ self-esteem, awareness and success, and can also offer empowering decolonizing possibilities for all students’ learning.


Embodied Writing and Decolonizing Knowledge Production: The Social Production of Pain in Lata Mani’s Interleaves

Susan Ferguson, Writing & Learning Centre at OCAD University,

This paper explores the possibilities of embodied writing for social research and its implications for decolonizing knowledge production about and of the body. While there has been considerable interest in issues of subjectivity and embodiment in social research, much academic writing about the body, health, and subjectivity maintains the normative orders of Western academic knowledge production through its reliance upon dominant understandings of embodiment and writing practices that (re)produce disembodied relations to text. Beginning with the understanding that writing is a key, but contested, site of knowledge production in Western society, I treat writing as a social and bodily practice. Using an examination of the social production of bodily pain to exemplify my approach, I bring together disability studies, feminist autobiography, and phenomenologically-informed interpretive sociology to develop an understanding of embodied writing and consider how it can support a project of decolonizing knowledge production through the recognition of embodied difference and the cultivation of different ways of knowing. In particular, I am interested in exploring how our epistemological locations shape knowledge production about and of bodies in pain, and, how a conversation between disability studies and transnational feminist theory can disrupt the material and discursive boundaries which discipline and contain knowledge production about pain, disability, and embodiment. Through a close reading of Lata Mani's memoir of pain and disability, Interleaves, I explore the potential for transnational health knowledge to shape embodied knowledge production that treats the experience of pain as a social activity mediated by discursive and material processes. I argue that through her use of mindfulness meditation, embodied narrative strategies, and textual practices which disrupt Western academic writing conventions, Lata Mani's work represents the possibility of writing through pain and disability towards a space of decolonizing and liberatory praxis.


Class and Embodiment: Making Space for Complex Capacity

Stephanie Moynagh, OISE/UT,

This chapter aims to discuss the importance of valuing emotional and spiritual ways of knowing. In delving into some of the complex roots that condition and strengthen these forms of intelligence, I examine how social class experience relates to somatic knowledge. The discussion explores the embodied experiences rooted in poverty-class cultures and speaks to how these knowledges are devalued by white supremacist, capitalist and hetero-patriarchal structures, which define and privilege dominant presentations of knowledge. Though emotional and spiritual capacities are shaped and mediated by a myriad of factors, this chapter looks at the ways that class-based experiences give rise to particular competencies. It is recognized throughout that systemic and interpersonal traumas stemming from conditions of poverty can result in both embodying and disembodying experiences. I place this reality in conversation with the complexity of honouring survival, valuing the existing array of poverty-class knowledges and calling for counter-hegemonic change at the same time.


The journey to you, Baba.

Devi Mucina, Dept. of Child & Youth Study Mount Saint Vincent University,

Fred D’Aguiar (1994), in The Longest Memory, states: “Memory rises to the skin then I can’t be touched. I hurt all over, my bones ache, my teeth loosen in their gums and, my nose bleeds….My memory is longer (pp. 2, 4, 50.” But to center our stories and memories is to engage our patterns of negotiating marginality from the Diaspora and to the Diaspora. Our scholarship must make us matter while also making others matter to us. My Ubuntu methodology embodies the African orality structure of engaging sociological encounters. This means as I tell my story about how colonialism has fragmented my African family I start to engage how other African families have been affected by colonialism. Centering my decolonizing dialogue with my family makes the political personal and the personal political. The journey home to Africa from my other home in Canada makes me see the social landscape of embodied race, colonialism, sexism and politics anew. I hope re-entering this social space, through an Ubuntu philosophical framework of relational dialogue, will leave us all with new stories that will help us all matter to each other beyond nice political words.


Poetry: learning through embodied language.

Sheila Stewart, OISE/UT,

My paper will explore how I use poetry to dwell in the complex space of connection and disconnection between body and word. I write poems to inquire into the relationship between body, mind, emotions, and spirit, as an invitation to integration and healing. The fragmentary, imagistic nature of poetry allows me to work with material beyond the rational, such as the unconscious and the partiality of memory. Poetry draws on the visceral, emotional, and a sense of spirit and uses rhythm and experimentation attempting to take language to and beyond its usual limitations. In this way the process of writing poetry can work with more fluid thinking- feeling states and embrace embodied forms of learning. Writing poetry helps me reclaim disembodied parts of myself.

I draw on poetic inquiry (Thomas, Cole, & Stewart, 2012; Guiney Yallop, 2010; Prendergast, Leggo, & Shameshima, 2009), a form of arts-informed research (Knowles and Cole, 2008), to inquire into the ways that shame, grief, and silence can permeate learning. I examine threads of my experience with church, family and school to understand more about the dynamics between learning and authority.


Embodied Learning, Decolonizing Experience: A Student Reconsiders Illness and the Western Body.

Wendy Peters, Nipissing University,

The course, “Embodied Learning and Qi Gong” taught by Dr. Roxana Ng, introduced me to Qi Gong, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and the imperative to consider the body as a social construction and a source of knowledge. While these ideas are not new, they were new to me in 2001. Dr. Ng’s course was instrumental in making salient Western knowledge and ways of knowing that I implicitly rely on inside and outside the classroom. Learning about embodied ways of thinking and knowing provoked a deeply personal final paper in which I revisit my own experience of having a pituitary tumour surgically removed from my brain in 1997. In my paper, I return to the only journal I have ever kept in my adult life; one that documents my experience of learning that I had a brain tumour, up until my post-surgery recovery.

In light of the course material I re-read my own illness narrative, examining how Western constructions of the body – previously beyond question in my mind – informed my experience, emotions, and actions. To illustrate, at the time of my diagnosis, I felt particularly shocked and terrified that I had a brain tumour and would be having brain surgery. There was something distinctly and – to my mind – self-evidently ominous about these word combinations. After Professor Ng explained that within Traditional Chinese Medicine the brain is conceived of as “a gelatinous mass” that is not of particular importance relative to other organs, I realized that my sense of having a brain tumour was constructed relative to Western discourses. It was only through learning about Traditional Chinese Medicine that I could re-read my fear as steeped in Western conceptions that place the brain as the seat of personality and cognition, while simultaneously elevating these faculties above other abilities. Encountering differing conceptions of the brain – its meanings and consequences – highlighted how Western knowledge imbued my experience with certain emotional and experiential effects while ruling out other outcomes. Learning about differing paradigms enabled me to examine my original illness narrative as a constructed and embodied text.


© Canadian Sociological Association ⁄ La Société canadienne de sociologie