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Publishing opportunity

Call for papers: What place for activism in, for and as education?

A proposed special issue of the British Educational Research Journal

Guest editors Laura Colucci-Gray (University of Edinburgh), Claire Cassidy (University of Strathclyde) and Donald Gray (University of Aberdeen) are seeking high-quality contributions for a proposed forthcoming special issue of the British Educational Research Journal (BERJ). 

One of the most significant changes affecting Western societies over the past fifty years at least has been the quick chain of energy transitions, first from animal power to fossil fuels in the form of coal and then, in quick succession, to liquids (oil) and gases (natural gas). People in high-income countries now consume fifty times the amount of energy of ancestral communities of hunters-gatherers (Smil, 2019); they  travel 100 times faster and eat twice to three times the amount of meat-based products (OECD-FAO, 2017; Our World in Data), a diet fuelled – literally – by a fossil-fuel-dependent agriculture (Hawkins, 2019).  

While scientific research is preoccupied with the search for alternatives to keep economy and consumption growing, the incidence, acuity and scale of current environmental crises have put into sharp focus the limits of a finite Earth; first highlighting that the future is not so certain, and that such a future, as Hannah Arendt said more than forty years ago, is clearly not the same for everyone. In ethical terms, this poses big questions for human communities as a whole, reminding us that: (i) we are both and at the same time beneficiaries and unequal accomplices in socio-ecological transformations; and (ii) that the changes we face are not intellectual or abstract, but hugely experiential, involving everyday choices and actions.  

Within this context, significant questions are also asked of education: whether it serves to perpetuate social and environmental inequalities; or whether it may be put towards the search for solutions; but most fundamentally, whether education is fit to take account of difference of human experiences and actions on, and in, a conflicted and changing world. Such questions become ever more pressing at a time when young people from across the world have taken to the streets to push back from ‘business as usual’, stepping out of the classroom to the public space. This makes it critical to understand what matters in education, and for whom, and in what ways current democratic structures are able to inform, shape and guide those decisions.   

This special issue sets out to provoke thinking about young people’s activism and its place and role in, for and as education. With the rise of populism on the one hand, and political protests on the other, the ‘activist turn’ in political geography (Chatterton & Pusey, 2020) has emerged as a means to resist the commodification of resources serving private interests, and to recognise that issues of sustainability encompass environmental problems (ecology) as well as questions of human relations and human rights (equity). Shaw and Waterstone (2021) further extend this concept by referring to alter-worlds as common spaces for more than human co-existence. Yet, such alter-worlds are not beyond the Earth but of the Earth; they exist through practices of ecological care and collective doing; activism in this sense may call for a different relation between humans and nature, embedding human work within the flesh of the world (p. 1799). 

Taking the lead on the multifaceted concept of activism, and its diversity of understandings, this special issue aims to influence current debates in education, in its widest contexts. We focus specifically on young people’s activism, as a potentially new type of educational endeavour, one that is inherently multi-purposed and deliberate in exposing the dynamic tensions between the performative, the practical and the imaginative dimensions of young people’s experiences in education. Drawing together conceptual, methodological and empirical articles, we aim to include a diversity of perspectives discussing and exploring activist-orientated approaches in, as and for education, enabling young people to make and re-make the educational offering and ‘do justice to the complexity of human togetherness under conditions of globalization, multiculturalism and differential states of technologisation or “development”’ (Osberg & Biesta, p. 58).  

The issue will welcome papers from a range of disciplinary fields that specifically strive to change educational practices – at all levels from pre-school to higher education. Examples include: 

  • Conceptual papers discussing the philosophy of activism as an educational response, and including children and young people’s activism, by drawing from a range of different theoretical perspectives.
  • Methodological accounts of community-based research and Knowledge Exchange projects, examining the potentialities of activism for reconfiguring and re-viewing assumptions about knowledge and curricula across different educational settings.
  • Empirical studies of activist experiences in educational settings, adopting a variety of research methods (ethnography; action-research; arts-based approaches, etc.), and including submissions co-authored with young people.   

Submissions 

This is a proposed special issue and it will require approval from the BERJ editorial board before it is accepted for publication. The guest editors are therefore currently seeking expressions of interest from potential authors in the form of 350-word abstracts. 

The deadline for abstracts is 15 March 2023 and they should be submitted by email to publications@bera.ac.uk. Please specify ‘BERJ special issue: Activism’ in the subject line. From these submissions, the guest editors will select approximately 8–10 articles for inclusion in the special issue, subject to the approval of the journal’s editorial board. It is anticipated that full papers will be submitted for peer review in August 2023, with final versions being agreed by November 2023.