Call for papers for a special issue titled "Sylvia Wynter, the Human, and Curriculum Studies"

Guest Editors: Nathan Snaza and Aparna Mishra Tarc
Deadline: August 31, 2017

The Editors of Curriculum Inquiry in collaboration with the Guest Editors are seeking manuscripts for a special issue, titled “Sylvia Wynter, the Human, and Curriculum Studies.” The special issue aims to explore how curriculum studies can benefit from sustained engagement with the work of black theorist Sylvia Wynter. In particular, Wynter’s scholarship marks a crucial point of departure for concatenating two currents of debate permeating curriculum theory today.  The first is articulated in challenges to the whiteness of the field, especially in terms of its institutional structures, conceptual genealogies, and bibliographical narrowness. The second interrogates fixed ontological conceptions of “the human” as it functions as a normative and unquestioned category of existence anchoring educational philosophy and theory in the global North. Our special issue aims to explore how these two currents are, or should be, inseparable given that dominant conceptions and categories of the human—as duly critiqued by post-informed theory, posthumanisms, new materialisms, and some ecologies—are ones articulated around whiteness, heterosexism, ablism, and a profound Eurocentrism.

Wynter’s writings, spanning over five decades of social and cultural thought, offer a rigorous conceptualization of the differences between Man (the white, masculinist, Western, imperialist version of the Human) and an understanding of “the human” as always plural and an always emerging process. Wynter constructs her account using anti- and decolonial theory (especially Frantz Fanon and Aimé Cesaire), Foucaultian genealogies of biopolitics, and second wave cybernetics (also called Systems Theory).

This special issue comes at a time when humanities and social science fields are seeing an explosion of interest in Wynter’s writings. The reasons for this renewed interest coincide with debates on the status of the human in curriculum studies. There is a growing body of literature critiquing the concept of the human as it is operative in educational thought, and Wynter’s work offers an alternative conception of the human that builds its conceptual critique of Man through sustained attention to the power dynamics of colonialism’s globalization. We seek to return to Wynter’s work to offer new ways of thinking about how curriculum studies can address the question of the human in the work of education.

While we are open to multiple approaches to Wynter’s writings to expand curriculum discourse, two general approaches stand out to us. The first is largely critical, examining the ways that curriculum discourse has presupposed the operational necessity of what Wynter calls “Man” as the “descriptive statement of the human.” These essays might track how educational institutions, pedagogical practices, and curricular designs build “Man” into their workings, actively participating (without necessarily being consciously aware of this) in disavowing or suppressing non-Man ways of being human. This may take the general form of practices of dehumanization, or “whitenization,” or more simply racism, sexism, or ableism. It may also function through positioning Man’s knowledge production practices (via Western scientific and social scientific methods) as the only proper ways of understanding the world, thus participating in epistemicide or working to discredit or disavow indigenous knowledge practices.

The second approach is creative, experimental, and affirmative. Using Wynter’s critique as a starting point, we imagine work that takes up her elaborations of Fanon’s concept of “sociogeny” in order to analyze what she calls “the modes of subjective experience defining what it is like to be human within the terms of our present culture’s conception of what it is to be human.” By taking as a point of departure the idea that dominant narratives, ideologies, and concepts actively shape the emergence of human beings—in “our present culture’s conception” this means shaping some being into “Man” while others are dehumanized, scholars and activists can begin to imagine and experiment with alternatives.

For this special issue, we invite manuscripts that take up any aspect of Wynter’s work in relation to curriculum studies. Wynter’s work challenges us to create new stories—“new ceremonies”—that will authorize different ways of performing humanness as a verb, and hence new ways of theorizing and practicing education. As part of this creative, activist work, she calls for us to recognize that what seem like disparate struggles based on race, gender, sexuality, class, ecological awareness, and so on, converge in challenging the hegemony of Man as the descriptive statement of the human. While these struggles coalesce in attacking the dominance of Man, they do not need to present any unity in terms of alternatives because, “after Man,” what we might see is not a unified “humanity” authorized by a single narrative, but rather a proliferation of different ways of being human as a verb.  Along with directing our attention to systems and structural logics and genres of knowledge through which humanness is constructed and massively distributed, this issue will draw attention to pedagogical dynamics of human relation that make knowledge of self, other, and the world dynamic and renewable.

We invite papers that analyze curriculum theory and pedagogical practice by drawing on Wynter’s work, including analyses of:

  •  How educational systems are structured by imperialism and dehumanization (what Wynter calls “No Humans Involved” ideologies)
  • The relations between contemporary ideologies and practices, especially those of knowledge production, and the imperial politics emerging from the encounter that Wynter names “1492”
  • The sociogenesis of the human as it pertains to education, including analyses of how literary, artistic, and other cultural texts shape “what it feels like to be human” 
  • Experiments with new forms of community, activism, and education that seek, against Man, alternative “genres of the human”
  • Generative ways of linking, without flattening, anticolonial, antiracist, queer, feminist, and ecological struggles
  • The ways that Wynter’s work can enable us to re-vise curriculum theory, gathering scattered threads in order to weave accounts of the field that re-orient it against Man in praxes of decolonial education

The Guest Editors welcome and encourage interested scholars from curriculum studies or any disciplinary perspective who are substantively engaging Wynter’s work to contact them with queries and abstracts before the deadline for submission, which is August 31, 2017. Please email or