Troubling Epistemologies: Experiments in Entangled Co-Existence

“Boxhead” was used during the course to reflect on possible ways to “trouble modern epistemological securities.” Image: Vanessa de Oliveira Andreotti

How could university-affiliated scholars help “disrupt the universalist arrogance of dominant epistemologies”? Dr. Vanessa de Oliveira Andreotti from the Department of Educational Studies and Dr. Denise Ferreira da Silva from the Institute for Gender, Race, Sexuality, and Social Justice set out to explore such question by developing a course that sought – according to Dr. Andreotti – to “trouble modern epistemological securities.”

Cross-listed as GRSJ 503G and EDST 565F, the “Experiments in Entangled Co-Existence” course gathered 12 graduate students during three intensive weeks this past summer. The works of feminist thinkers Audre Lorde, Gloria Anzaldúa, and Jacqui Alexander guided them through a serious rethinking of prevailing epistemic categories that make people relate to each other from boxes of identity, understanding, and knowledge. The notion of “boxhead” – as the figure shows – seemed appropriately fitting to explore, disrupt, and denaturalize such separations. The course aimed instead to open up a space to reflect, seek, and conceive of ways to articulate material and psychic connections with each other.

One may ask, What did looking for other possibilities of co-existence and entanglements with each other look like? What did troubling epistemic certainties entail? In principle these questions would appear to lend themselves merely to theoretical speculation. Yet, in addition to close reading of text materials, the instructors and students sought more embodied forms of reasoning that included both experiential and experimental pedagogies. So off they went to Shannon Falls. They held a session on revolutionary dance where they danced together for 3 hours. They did body and touch movement. They had a session on dreaming. They learned to make drums. They had a sweat in the First Nations Longhouse. All of this allowed them to challenge – intellectually, materially, bodily, existentially, spiritually – dominant notions of knowledge boundaries. The senses were thus posited as a central form of reason.

Such kind of “decentering and disarming pedagogy” – as Andreotti calls it – is rare in university spaces, where the intellect prevails as teaching and learning norm. Anzaldúa said, “we are at the borders of each other’s struggles.” Accordingly, a pedagogical model like the one this course puts forward inevitably leads to recognizing entanglements and complicities – the implications and imbrications we have with each other. And it calls for a pedagogy of intellectual accountability and of real connection with one another. Dr. Andreotti proudly recognizes that, “The way the students gave themselves to the course was really beautiful. They were there not as students, but as people trying to remember this sense of entanglement. That requires a lot of risk for everybody. And they took the risk.” So, while there are no specific plans in sight to hold this graduate course again, one would that will be the case.

To learn more about counter-intuitive pedagogies like this one, visit Dr. Andreotti’s recent blog entry for ArtsEverywhere at