The limitations of looking at the postcolonial as a historical period

This is my last blog entry before I go on parental leave. Hope to be back with more posts in January 2023!

My academic home, the Department of Urban Studies, has for several years organized the Open Urban Seminars and during the pandemic, the tradition continued in a combination of online and face-to-face events. In December last year, I had the great pleasure of attending one of these seminars: a fascinating lecture titled Swedish Saint Barthélemy: Colonialism, Slavery, Slave Trade and Colonial Amnesia given by the historian Fredrik Thomasson. Thomasson presented findings from his latest book in Swedish, Svarta Saint-Barthélemy: människoöden i en svensk koloni 1785-1847. In the late eighteenth century, Sweden became a slave-holding nation when it purchased from France the Caribbean island of Saint Barthélemy. Swedish Caribbean colonialism is an under-researched topic and Thomasson has done an impressive job of going over newspaper articles of the time and documents from the French National Colonial Archives, such as ship manifestos and court papers, to expose a dark chapter in Sweden’s history. This has been important since, according to Thomasson, Sweden has traditionally held a self-image of a nation untainted by the dehumanizing and violent practices of slavery and colonialism.

While I celebrate Thomasson’s contribution to widening our understanding of colonial history, there were certain arguments during his lecture that made me think about the limitations of conceptualizing the “postcolonial” merely as a historical period. It appeared to me that this approach runs the risk of preventing us from understanding that colonial practices and ways of thinking continue to have impacts on the present. I can see that the study of history does not necessarily need to reflect on the present, but a non-critical understanding of postcolonialism or the “postcolonial” can affect the methods with which history is studied and how knowledge is produced. Let me explain. The definition of  “postcolonial/post-colonial” has been one of the central debates within postcolonial studies (cf. McLeod, 2010). The discussion has centered around the following: Does the concept only refer to a historical period (that is to say what comes after colonialism)? Or does it describe a context in places that were former colonies? Or is the “post” being used in the sense that colonial relationships no longer exist (that is to say, a condition that exists beyond the colonial)? Or is the concept meant to describe a world system where colonial practices and legacies continue to play out even now in the present regardless of the “independent” status of a former colony?

Thomasson’s understanding of postcolonialism during his lecture seemed to be one based on the perception of a historical period of time that is defined by a country’s independent status from a former colonial power. This became clear to me when, for example, Thomasson mentioned that the island of Dominica is even “decolonial” because the nation has been independent for several years now. In my view, this limited understanding of “postcolonial” (or “decolonial” in this case), runs the risk of studying history through a colonial way that reproduces Eurocentric bias – despite the best intentions. This thought came to my head when a member of the audience asked what other sources could be consulted to understand the history of Saint Barthélemy. Thomasson recommended reading the accounts written by Christopher Columbus of his “discovery” of America. While I understand the difficulties of having limited resources when studying the past of certain regions, it is also important to treat certain sources with a grain of salt. (My intention is not to claim that Thomasson is unaware of this, but only to comment on the arguments developed and answers given during the lecture I attended). As argued by scholars such as José Rabasa (1993) in his book Inventing America: Spanish Historiography and the Formation of Eurocentrism, European accounts of the American continent were shaped by prejudice, a perception of superiority, a sense of fear and wonder, and a lack of ability to understand knowledge forms and ways of being outside a Christian worldview. For example, the Caribbean was named as such by European explorers because they believed the region was inhabited by lustful cannibal women (Braham, 2016). The region was also named the “West Indies” because Columbus’s misconception that he had reached India when he stumbled upon what came to be known as America. The idea of America was also a European creation: an exotic and feminized landscape that could be named and penetrated, and that perhaps even held the Earthly location of paradise (O’Gorman, 1995; Rabasa, 1993).

An obvious question comes to mind: what are the limitations of studying a historical period through Eurocentric categories and sources? (By Eurocentric I mean, biased and bounded by a worldview that believed in the supremacy of knowledge and customs from Europe). What do we lose when the other side, in this case, the conquered, does not get to tell its side of the story? José Rabasa, for example, has attempted to bridge this gap by exploring an account of the Aztecs and how they experienced the Spanish conquest in Tell me the Story of How I Conquered You. While I understand the context of the Caribbean is different, I wonder (as a scholar that is not a historian) if there are any methods to recover the histories and voices of the colonized? (Echoing Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s famous Can the subaltern speak?) Are there strategies that can be put to use to understand history avoiding the trap of Eurocentric bias? The answer might lie in understanding the “postcolonial” beyond a historical period.

  • Companion to Monsters and the Monstrous. London and New York: Routledge, pp. 17–48.
  • McLeod J (2010) Beginning Postcolonialism. 2nd editio. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
  • O’Gorman E (1995) La Invención de América. Mexico, D.F.: Fondo de Cultura Económica.
  • Rabasa J (1993) Inventing America. Spanish Historiography and the Formation of Eurocentrism. Duncan: University of Oklahoma Press.

Featured image: “abstract world map” by fronx is licensed under CC BY 2.0

My journey to postcolonial theory began in Sweden

Last fall I joined a webinar series organized by Leon Moosavi, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Sociology, Social Policy and Criminology at the University of Liverpool and Director of the University of Liverpool in Singapore. It was an impressive list of speakers and one of the lectures I enjoyed the most was the one given by Walter Mignolo. In his talk, Mignolo shared how he had become interested in decolonial theory. As an immigrant in France, and later on in the United States, Mignolo became aware he was perceived as a “third-world” stereotype: an epistemologically-deficient and ontologically-behind “other.” These experiences unleashed a migrant consciousness that also triggered an awareness of the insights that can be discovered through the body (what he would later understand as geo-body politics). Dwelling in metaphoric borders creates “power differentials” that become embodied in us. Mignolo suggested we reflect on where we sense coloniality in our bodies. Our own embodied experiences can be a powerful tool to approach decolonial theory as long as these do not come from a place of ego, but from a sense of shared history (that is to say, with an awareness that whatever has happened to you, has also happened to others).

Mignolo’s story resonated strongly and made me think about my own journey towards postcolonial theory and anticolonial concerns. I became aware of the geo-body politics surrounding my body when I came to Sweden as an immigrant. I have never experienced explicit in-your-face racism while living here (for example, being called derogatory terms or hearing racial slurs), but the polite under-the-table racism has always been there. Echoing part of Mignolo’s account, I have also felt being treated as an epistemologically-deficient and ontologically-behind “other”: a homogenous and third-world uneducated woman; a stereotypical “Latina” that is one of those migrants or brown faces. Under the white gaze of this context, I became aware my body denied me the decency to be perceived as an individual instead of a Latin American “other” endowed with the prejudices attached to the local social construction of the region. Put in my place as a brown woman because of what my body projects, I started to become aware of different “power differentials” I had not encountered before in my country of birth, Mexico (not because there is no racism in Mexico but because I was shielded by being part of the majority Spanish-speaking mestizo group). The unpleasant experiences in Sweden added to the awareness of imperialism I already perceived in the Mexico-US relation and once I began to read postcolonial and decolonial authors something clicked. Lived experience can have a powerful impact in our understanding of the effects of coloniality or colonial forces and echoes in the present.

So, for the ones interested in anticolonial concerns but do not find that postcolonial or decolonial theory resonates with them, follow Mignolo’s advice and reflect: where do you sense coloniality in your body? (If you do not sense it, could it be there is a form of privilege providing you the luxury of ignorance?)

Interested to know more about coloniality and the body? Some reading tips from Mignolo’s lecture: Gloria Anzaldúa, Franz Fanon, María Lugones and Nelson Maldonado Torres.

Featured image: “foundation skate park quarter pipe peeling paint abstract world” by zen is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The importance of theorizing from small or secondary cities

Motul, Yucatán. © Claudia Fonseca Alfaro 2015.

Early this year (January to be precise), I participated in a digital workshop on small and secondary cities organized by two talented postdocs: Susana Neves Alves and Hanna Ruszczyk. Over the course of one week, I learned about corners of the world I had never heard of as the group explored: What do we learn from theorizing from “overlooked cities”? What modes of urbanity are specific to these places? What are the conceptual and methodological challenges of doing research in “small” or “secondary” cities? What are the risks of homogenizing by using such terms?

The discussions were intellectually stimulating and connected to some of the big debates currently taking place within urban studies (e.g., the strengths and limitations of operationalizing the concept “planetary urbanization”). At the end, Susana and Hanna encouraged us to write a creative piece to reflect on our respective “small” locations of study thinking through the rich discussions that we had.

The final product is an eye-catching and thought-provoking digital magazine titled Theorising from the overlooked city: Generating a research agenda & research network on small/secondary cities.

Make sure to read my contribution, Finding the secondary or overlooked city? Some methodological reflections from a postcolonial urban scholar.

How can institutions help reduce precarious work conditions among early-career researchers?

I work as a postdoc at the Institute for Urban Research (IUR), a research program at Malmö University that aims to promote interdisciplinary interactions in order to increase our knowledge of the social, environmental, and economic challenges arising from urbanization processes. Despite its young age—the Institute was only formed in 2018—the IUR is a thriving center with more than 45 members working with issues from economics to urban ecology, and sustainability to mobilities. We have recently gone through a mid-term evaluation and the assessment we have received from the committee has been fantastic. The IUR is being successful at producing high quality research, securing external funding, collaborating with non-academic stakeholders, and building bridges across departments and faculties. Where the IUR is being less productive, though, is in its ability to bridge research and education. Facing what the evaluation committee, in their report, call an “administrative stalemate,” the IUR, despite strong efforts, has not been able to contribute to research-based learning as much as it could. This is not only detrimental to students, but also to early-career researchers who face a lack of opportunities to increase their pedagogical expertise and a path to permanent employment. In turn, this is counterproductive to Malmö University’s goals for high-quality education, global engagement, and internationalization. The IUR has been successful in attracting competent researchers with an international background, yet, it might have a hard time retaining them.

This is, of course, not a challenge that only Malmö University is facing. A report from the OECD (2021), Reducing the precarity of academic research careers, defines “postdoctoral researchers holding fixed-term positions without permanent or continuous employment prospects” as the “research precariat.” Conditions of precarity create uncertain work situations with risk of stress-related health problems because of high workloads and fierce competition to obtain permanent positions (Ericson, 2021). In Sweden, the research precariat faces even more challenges because career paths within academia tend to be unclear according to a report from SULF, the Swedish Association of University Teachers and Researchers (Besançon et al., 2021). Temporary positions such as “researcher”—which is a term often used to employ postdoctoral academics—are often not part of universities’ employment regulations or appointment rules. This, in turn, brings a sense of uncertainty and muddles the path to a permanent position. SULF (2021, my translation) suggest four concrete steps to tackle this problem:

  • “Take responsibility for creating a national system for career paths in academia”
  • “Create clear career paths with transparent requirements”
  • “Include researchers in the university’s employment regulations. Researchers must be teachers”
  • “Announce employment openly and appoint them transparently in accordance with current regulations”

Transparency and more secure working conditions can only bring benefits to early-careers, but also students, research programs, and universities as a whole.


Featured image: “Reading List” by KJGarbutt is licensed under CC BY 2.0

How do we navigate Eurocentrism? Reflections from teaching postcolonial urban studies

For the past four years I have been teaching a lecture on postcolonial urban theory within The Urban Question—a first-semester course in the international Master’s Program in Urban Studies. In this lecture, I try to explain the relationship between the postcolonial and its impacts on both the urban condition and the production of urban knowledge. (Meaning: the traces of Eurocentrism in how we learn about and teach urban studies today). I encourage students to reflect on examples of postcolonial conditions in their own countries—regardless if their country has an official colonial past or not. This opens a series of interesting reflections and questions. Last year, a student asked if trying to tackle Eurocentrism meant being at odds with the aims of modernity, for example, democracy. A few years ago, a student from Turkey wondered: what happens when ultra-nationalist governments hijack the emancipatory aims of postcolonialism to oppress their own populations by arguing “Western” notions, for example, LGBTQ rights, are “colonial” and therefore have no place in their society?

These important questions are at the heart of postcolonial and decolonial debates and are precisely two points that Kanishka Goonewardena and Tanja Winkler touched upon during their interventions in A Non-Occidentalist West: Learning from Theories Outside the Canon, workshop #1 of the Dislocating Urban Studies Series (which was also a PhD course in which I contributed). Pointing out that not all critique of the West that comes from the global South aims towards emancipatory goals, Kanishka wondered: What forms of critique of Europe and the West are then valid? What is the nature of critique of the West? While Kanishka was thinking about the ultra-nationalist governments in India and Sri Lanka, his point had echoes of the question the student from Turkey had posed in my class. Tanja, in turn, reflected how the concerns of the left had been hijacked by the intellectual political right but for negative purposes. For example, the post-structuralist concern that “all knowledge is important” had been twisted to dismiss science, support regressive standpoints, and promote undemocratic contexts. This reminded of the first student’s concern that postcolonialism could be wielded as a tool to attack democracy.  

While we have not been able to settle these debates in class, the discussions around them have stayed with me because of the important question that they raise: how do we navigate Eurocentrism? In Kanishka’s view, we need to have a dialectical understanding of binaries, (for example, center-periphery and north-south), in order to engage with thinkers that are genuine internationalists in the sense that they are not constrained by their geographical locations. The point is to look at the global North and global South as locations that both contain centers and peripheries. For Tanja, our epistemic tools need to be reclaimed. Adding to this, a source of guidance for me has been the work of Boaventura de Sousa Santos (2010) and his intervention A Non-Occidentalist West? Learned Ignorance and Ecology of Knowledge. Arguing that it is meaningless to carry out epistemological divisions across north/south, de Sousa Santos instead proposes engaging with thinkers that are anti-colonial and anti-capitalist, regardless if their work can be labeled as “Western.” In his view, there is much to learn from theories that, even though were produced within Western modernity, can nevertheless offer tools to fight capitalism and colonialism. At the end of the day, as Aníbal Quijano (1992) argues through his work on coloniality of power, what we are trying to dismantle is the colonial side of modernity, not necessarily modernity itself.  

I am eager to hear what questions students raise this year.

  • Quijano A (1992) Colonialidad y Modernidad/Racionalidad. Perú Indígena 13(29): 11–20. DOI: 10.1080/09502380601164353.
  • Santos B de S (2010) A Non-Occidentalist West?: Learned Ignorance and Ecology of Knowledge. Theory, Culture & Society 26(7–8): 103–125. DOI: 10.1177/0263276409348079.

Featured image: “Perpetual Ocean – Gulf Stream” by NASA Goddard Photo and Video is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Educating for critical thinking in urban studies: Towards an anti-colonial and anti-racist education

In this short essay, I would like to reflect on what it means to educate for critical thinking within the field of urban studies if one is attempting to nourish an education that is anti-colonial and anti-racist. I begin by first considering three definitions of critical thinking and criticality: Stephen Brookfield’s (2012) understanding, Neil Brenner’s (2009) elucidation within the field of urban studies, and bell hooks’ (2010) emancipatory interpretation. I then go on to reflect on my role as a university teacher thinking through two of hooks’ (2010) “teachings”: decolonization (teaching 4); and black, female, and academic (teaching 17). I end with a short reflection of which of my professional competences need to be reinforced in order to strengthen my performance as a teacher working in higher education who seeks to educate for critical thinking.  

What is critical thinking?

In his book, Teaching for Critical Thinking, Brookfield (2012: 38) broadly defines criticality as “a disposition to intellectual openness.” In the face of new evidence, a critical thinker is willing to revise their assumptions and reformulate long-held beliefs if needed. Delving deeper into criticality, Brookfield (2012) also explains critical thinking cannot be easily defined since—despite the general commonality of intellectual openness—different traditions understand and work with critical approaches in diverse ways. Brookfield (2012) identifies five intellectual traditions that have criticality at their core: analytic philosophy and logic (i.e., the analysis of how arguments are constructed); natural science (i.e., the hypothetico-deductive method); American pragmatism (i.e., the pursuit of “beautiful consequences”); psychoanalysis (i.e., “realizing our inner potentialities”); and critical theory (i.e., “speaking truth to power”). Out of the five traditions, critical theory is the most political since it attempts to not only uncover hidden assumptions, but also actively seeks to fight ideologies that “perpetuate economic, racial and gender oppression” (Brookfield, 2012: 48).

Zooming in to the topic at hand, Brenner (2009) explains critical urban theory has its roots in the Frankfurt School—a collective of Marxist thinkers formed in the early 20th century which includes Herbert Marcuse, Theodor W. Adorno, and Walter Benjamin as some of its most famous members. For Brenner (2009), the tenets of critical urban theory can be summarized in four points. The first one is that critical theory is theory. In other words, the tradition is not intended to serve as a strategic map for social change, but should work as a bridge between theory and practice. The second tenet is that critical theory is reflexive. Knowledge—including critical theory—is contextual, historically specific, and always embedded in power relations. The third principle is that critical theory entails a critique of instrumental reason. As such, it questions the role of knowledge and rejects maintaining and reproducing current forms of power through instrumental uses of knowledge (e.g., market-oriented understandings of the urban). Lastly, Brenner (2009) argues, critical theory emphasizes the disjuncture between the actual and the possible. Its role is to investigate the current forms of power struggle under capitalism and uncover “emancipatory possibilities” that are dormant but suppressed within the system. In having a political element at its core, critical urban theory, in short, meets Brookfield’s description of critical theory. However, there remains a missing link. How does one go from critical urban theory to pedagogy?

In my view, hooks (2010) offers helpful guidance in her book Teaching for Critical Thinking: Practical Wisdom. For hooks (2010: 9), critical thinking “involves first discovering the who, what, when, where, and how of things—finding the answers to those eternal questions of the inquisitive child—and then utilizing that knowledge in a manner that enables you to determine what matters most.” However, coming from a Black feminist tradition, her invitation to long for knowledge as an “inquisitive child” and ‘determine what matters most’ has a political quality attached to it. Putting the tenets of critical theory in conversation with critical thinking, hooks (2010) emphasizes the importance of equality, critical engagement, compassion, and “radical openness” in our teaching practices. Teachers should “educate for the practiceof freedom” through a process of “engaged pedagogy” (hooks, 2010: 22). In a nutshell, for hooks, educating for the practice of freedom involves an active process that aims to create the ability to think independently and with discernment—even when the process creates tension among students that refuse to acknowledge challenging truths related to sexism, racism or class-based discrimination. However, the challenge to step out of a passive comfort zone is not only a demand placed on the students, it also falls on teachers. Educators must also be willing to acknowledge what they do not know. This is the “radical openness” and “learning in action” that hooks refers to.

The role of the university teacher

Having these three definitions of critical thinking and criticality as a background, what does it thus mean to educate for critical thinking in urban studies if we have the goal to nourish an education that is anti-colonial and anti-racist? Thinking about my own experience as a university teacher I would like to provide a reflection with the help of two of hooks’ (2010) teachings. Let me start with Teaching 4: Decolonization.

Decolonization in urban studies

In addition to the urgent need to liberate our minds beyond racist and gendered notions, hooks (2010) argues—adding to the calls raised by postcolonial scholars—we need to also decolonize our minds. To challenge a “colonizing mentality” means learning a new language against oppression by forcing ourselves to reflect how education itself has been used as a tool of colonization. Thinking about her own context (the United States as a settler colonial state), hooks provides the example of pupils being taught that “Christopher Columbus discovered America.” This is a statement that denies the presence of indigenous peoples and erases any history previous to the arrival of European colonizers. (As if nothing existed before then when, in fact, the arrival of Columbus simply marks when “America” was named and discovered by European eyes.) Dismantling a “colonizing mentality,” argues hooks (2010), also means acknowledging that decolonization is not only a process that needs to be carried out by indigenous people. In her view, the teachings of the “dominator” or hegemonic culture reach all. I would add that decolonization is a practice that needs to be carried out even by modern-day nation-states that were never imperial powers or colonial subjects. Taking an example from Scandinavia, the historian Åsa Össbo (in Andersen et al., 2015: 241) argues Sweden has hidden behind “the blue water thesis” or the perception that “colonialism can only occur across oceans.” This thought-process renders invisible practices of colonialism against the Sámi, for example. (A second example that the authors provide is the Faroe Islands and Greenland—possessions of the Danish state in the North Atlantic even to this day).

What do these thoughts mean to the practice of teaching urban studies? The field of urban studies has a tradition of radical theory that, despite its strengths, in some ways continues to reproduce what hooks would label as a “colonizing mentality.” Audrey Kobayashi (2014), for example, argues that until recently, neoclassical urban critical theory did not consider “race”[i] and racism as important factors to discuss within the field. Scholars like Jennifer Robinson and Ananya Roy have argued Eurocentric practices continue to recreate a field of urban studies that focuses most of its attention in the EuroAmerican heartland—thus ignoring the global South and peripheries in the global North (Robinson, 2002, 2006; Roy, 2009, 2011). Robinson and Roy suggest that in order to build a decolonized (or at least postcolonial) field of urban studies more studies need to be carried out of the hidden locations of urbanization. This needs to go hand in hand an effort to carry out comparative research in novel ways (e.g., comparisons across the global North and South) (cf. Robinson, 2016). For the practice of teaching urban studies, I would argue that, just like hooks urges us, we need a “radical openness” to examine our syllabi and do the work of pluralizing the course literature to include more cases from outside the centers of knowledge production (i.e., the EuroAmerican heartland). There is also a need to include more diverse scholars (e.g., women of color) and authors that are little known within Anglophone literature.[ii] These efforts are needed as concrete actions to do the work of decolonizing the way we teach urban studies.

Brown, female, and academic

The second of hooks’ (2010) teachings that I would like to reflect on is #17 “Black, female, and academic” which I interpret as a reminder of why our bodies, backgrounds, and life histories matter in academia. Hooks describes the difficulties of being a black woman in the classroom: the prejudices attached to her body because of being female and black, and the ultimate reaction from a system of structural racism and sex discrimination — the judgment that she is an intruder in the academic world.[iii] Through this discussion, hooks (2010) reminds us that intersectionality matters in the classroom and that the issue becomes even more complex when a racialized and gendered lecturer is attempting to teach critical thinking and theory.[iv] If we take into consideration that the majority of people have been socialized in an “imperialist capitalist white-supremacist patriarchal culture” (hooks, 2010: 99), the problem for hooks has not only been to fight stereotypes, but also to deal with the conflict that some students (and colleagues) feel to see a woman of color in a position of power.[v] Echoing Sara Ahmed’s (2017) “killjoy,” hooks shares how she has been perceived as an angry and bitter troublemaker by students. When confronted with an analysis of structural racism and discrimination, the discomfort of some students turned into anger towards hooks. The strategies put in place by hooks (2010) have been to refuse to ‘know her place’ and reject “projected identities” that others have tried to put on her. In addition to this, hooks (2010: 100) has come to realize the importance of preparing students to hear “points they might not have heard before,” understand the difference between “biased and unbiased thinking,” and help them reflect that everybody has “blind spots” when it comes to discussions of race/ethnicity, gender, and class. My analysis is that this discussion connects to the practice of decolonization: we need a more diverse group of teachers and students (in terms of ethnicity, class, gender, and identity). Only a rainbow of backgrounds and life stories can facilitate a more nuanced discussion of critical urban studies.

Educating for an anti-racist and anti-colonial critical thinking in urban studies is a task that requires patience and not only intellectual but also emotional labor (especially if you are a woman of color). As a final short reflection, I have come to realize that, while I am familiar with critical theory, I need to get better at teaching critical thinking skills. Guided by hooks (2010)—without forgetting the background provided by Brookfield (2012) and Brenner (2009)—I conclude there are two professional competences that need to be strengthened. The first one is that I need to promote an “engaged pedagogy” in the classroom and make sure that I apply the skill of “leaning in action.” The second point is that, in order to not alienate students that might have several “blind spots” in regards to gender, ethnicity or class because they belong to the hegemony, I need to learn how to address tension in the classroom in a productive way when students feel challenged. Only through an open discussion can the seed of “radical openness” be planted.

[i] This refers, of course, to the social construction of race.

[ii] As Kanishka Goonewardena has suggested (Online Workshop “A Non-Occidentalist West: Learning from Theories Outside the Canon,” 18 February 2021), the point is not to simply include authors from the global South, but include authors that help us carry out emancipatory critique, regardless of their location (which could be the global South but also a periphery in the global North).

[iii] This has echoes of Nirmal Puwar’s (2004) argument in Space Invaders: Race, Gender, and Bodies Out of Place.

[iv] Something that Brookfield (2012), as a white male seems to be blissfully unaware of. For example, I suspect that his suggestion to act “a bit stupid” in the classroom to gain the trust of students would not work for a woman, let alone a woman of color. Regardless if he pretends to act stupid or not, Brookfield’s white male body already carries the authority of science (cf. Haraway, 1988).

[v] Hooks, of course, refers to the context in the United States. For a discussion of the Swedish context, see Mulinari and Neergaard (2017).


  • Ahmed S (2017) Living a Feminist Life. Durham and London: Duke University Press.
  • Andersen A, Hvenegård-Lassen K and Knobblock I (2015) Feminism in Postcolonial Nordic Spaces. NORA – Nordic Journal of Feminist and Gender Research 23(4). Routledge: 239–245. DOI: 10.1080/08038740.2015.1104596.
  • Brenner N (2009) What is critical urban theory? City 13(2–3): 198–207. DOI: 10.1080/13604810902996466.
  • Brookfield SD (2012) Teaching for Critical Thinking: Tools and Techniques to Help Students Question Their Assumptions. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated.
  • Haraway DJ (1988) Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective. Feminist Studies 14(3): 575–599. DOI: 10.2307/3178066.
  • hooks b (2010) Teaching Critical Thinking: Practical Wisdom. New York and London: Routledge.
  • Kobayashi A (2014) Neoclassical urban theory and the study of racism in geography. Urban Geography 35(5): 645–656. DOI: 10.1080/02723638.2014.920228.
  • Mulinari D and Neergaard A (2017) Theorising Racism: Exploring the Swedish racial regime. Nordic Journal of Migration Research 7(2): 88–96. DOI: 10.1515/njmr-2017-0016.
  • Puwar N (2004) Space Invaders: Race, Gender and Bodies Out of Place. Oxford: Berg Publishers.
  • Robinson J (2002) Global and World Cities: A View from off the Map. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 26(3): 531–554.
  • Robinson J (2006) Ordinary Cities. Between Modernity and Development. London: Routledge.
  • Robinson J (2016) Comparative Urbanism: New Geographies and Cultures of Theorizing the Urban. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 40(1): 187–199. DOI: 10.1111/1468-2427.12273.
  • Roy A (2009) The 21st-Century Metropolis: New Geographies of Theory. Regional Studies 43(6): 819–830. DOI: 10.1080/00343400701809665.
  • Roy A (2011) Slumdog Cities: Rethinking Subaltern Urbanism. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 35(2): 223–238. DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-2427.2011.01051.x.

Featured image: “Smashed Macbook Pro screen” by Abscond is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

This essay was submitted as a final assignment in the course Educating for Critical Thinking—a pedagogy course that I took in spring 2021.

Let’s not forget about critical pedagogy when talking about digital approaches

In the last webinar of the pedagogy course I took in spring—Collaborative Learning in Digital Learning Environments—we were asked to reflect on lessons learned and future practice. While the course managed to meet its learning outcomes and provided us with meaningful activities to develop a variety of cognitive processes across Bloom’s taxonomy, it was less successful in engaging with critical pedagogy and critical perspectives (see, for example, Brookfield, 2012; hooks, 2010). While, of course, it could be argued that the purpose of the course was digital learning environments, we can’t ignore, as Anderson (2011: 46) argues, that “online learning is but a subset of learning in general – thus, we can expect issues relevant to how adults learn generally to also be relevant in an online learning context.”

Midway through the course—inspired by Wenger’s (2010) argument that learning is produced at the intersection of social structure and identity—I noticed the lack of diversity in our syllabus. Most of the authors we had engaged with up to that point were white males from the USA and Canada. The problem, of course, was not only where had all the female authors gone, but also a lack of interaction with the work of academics of color. If a “community of practice” (Wenger in Anderson and Dron, 2014) learns from each other, what perspectives were we missing by not engaging with a diversity of authors in terms of gender, ethnicity, and geographical location? A lack of diversity in the course in question is but a symptom of a bigger challenge: the need to decolonize higher education. As I look forward to putting to use the skills that I learned in this course within the context of Urban Studies, I would like to share a few reading tips for those that also consider we should not forget about critical pedagogy when talking about digital approaches.

Reading tips: exploring critical pedagogy
Adam T (2019) Digital neocolonialism and massive open online courses (MOOCs): colonial pasts and neoliberal futures. Learning, Media and Technology 44(3):365-380.
Bhambra GK, Gebrial D and Nişancıoğlu K (2018) Decolonising the University. London: Pluto Press.
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Featured image: “See something or say something: Mexico City” by Eric Fischer is licensed under CC BY 2.0

This post was originally published in my student blog “Teaching and Learning in the Field of Urban Studies”, a project within the course Collaborative Learning in Digital Environments (spring 2021).

Getting the most out of online learning platforms through blended learning approaches

Online learning platforms are quite common nowadays in higher education (for an overview of the challenges, opportunities, and marketization of online higher education at a global scale, see Laurillard and Kennedy, (2017) and Williamson (2021)). At Malmö University the learning management system that we use is Canvas. After reading about blended learning approaches—the mix of face-to-face and digital interactions— I began to think that, until now, I have been using Canvas as an after-thought in the courses where I teach. Canvas is a tool I use to upload course literature, download the assignments that students submit, and easily e-mail course participants. However, I had never thought about it as an actual platform. One of the reasons could be that, as an early-career researcher, I have not had the opportunity to design a course from scratch and, instead, have simply contributed to designing modules following the template established by the course coordinator or have come in as a guest lecturer. Nevertheless, this does not erase the fact that, from a pedagogical perspective, I have not been getting the most out of online learning platforms.

According to the work of Vaughan et al. (2013), the point of blended learning is to improve student engagement through the use of “purposeful online learning activities.” In other words, our “face-to-face synchronous communication” is enhanced by “text-based online asynchronous communication” (ibid). The mix of on-site and on-line does not work unless there is an “organic integration” where online tools are “thoughtfully selected” in order to meet the aims of the course by creating an environment where higher-order thinking is encouraged and students have the opportunity to approach their learning in a meaningful way. Vaughan et al. (2013: 9, my emphasis) are quite clear about the need to carefully select online components,

The key is to avoid, at all costs, simply layering on activities and responsibilities until the course is totally unmanageable and students do not have the time to reflect on meaning and engage in discourse for shared understanding.

Expressed in a different way: blended learning is not only about relying on online platforms, but about using them purposefully. Here I began to think about Gilly Salmon’s work on The Five Stage Model for e-moderating and supporting online learning experiences. She makes an emphasis that teachers should see themselves as “designers” who put together a learning journey that is centered on steps that build up a student’s expertise, independence, satisfaction, sense of responsibility (to themselves and the group), and metacognition. This, of course, follows the tenets of constructivist learning theory and is a strong reminder that we cannot forget about constructive alignment even when relying on blended learning approaches.


Featured image: “mobo/map” by dick_pountain is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

This post was originally published in my student blog “Teaching and Learning in the Field of Urban Studies”, a project within the course Collaborative Learning in Digital Environments (spring 2021).