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Violence and hope are two sides of the same coin known as Latin America. We often associate violence in the region with the authoritarian regimes and internal armed conflicts of the 20th century, but it is actually present in a variety of forms every day. From gender-based violence and racial discrimination, to poverty and inequalities, not to mention the historical wounds of colonialism, violence permeates all aspects of public and private life in Latin America.
Despite this predicament, or perhaps because of it, esperanza (hope) is a key feature of collective identity in Latin America, especially among the underprivileged. Just to be clear, this hope is not daydreaming or wishful thinking, but a call for action to build another world right here and now.
The EdJAM projects in Mexico, Colombia, Peru and Argentina, are excellent examples of how alternative futures can be fostered through critical pedagogies and the creative expression of hope. Each project challenges systems of oppression, marginalisation and exclusion that (re)produce violence in these countries.
In 2022, our colleagues in the region met twice online to share their experiences in their projects and to get to know each other, which helped to create a sense of community. The fact that the meetings were in Spanish, made the conversations both highly productive and enjoyable. For me, this was an opportunity to learn from like-minded professionals and make new friends!
From the start, one of the things I noticed about this group was their interest in alternative modes of education and ways of producing knowledge collectively, which reflects the rich tradition of non-formal education in the region. Their aim is to create spaces for dialogue and enquiry that can unsettle hegemonic narratives about the violent past in their countries, not an easy task by any means.
The EdJAM projects in Latin America are also based on the idea that learning and knowledge production are more than a cognitive process; they involve our emotions, senses and capacity to relate to other beings. I find this aspect of the projects fascinating and very much connected with current debates about the relationship between education and the arts, especially in the UK, as the increasing number of partnerships between universities and art institutions is prompting some interesting conversations about the very nature of research and its methods.
The group also identified some important challenges, none of which has a simple answer. Firstly, how to reach those who are not sympathetic to their work. The focus of EdJAM on teaching and learning about violence and injustices is likely to attract the criticism of conservative sectors of society. There is consensus among our colleagues in Latin America that being open is essential to bringing unconverted people into the conversation; however, there is a limit to what one can do, and sometimes it is better to save our energy and enthusiasm for those who are willing to examine their own assumptions.
The second challenge is how to engage academia in a discussion about knowledge production beyond conventional methods of enquiry and research. By acknowledging the affective, sensorial and relational dimensions of knowledge production, these EdJAM projects are inviting us to consider alternative ways of approaching our object of study, especially through art and heritage practices. Moreover, our colleagues in Latin America believe in the need to contest the position of the researcher and support methodologies for collective knowledge production, a central aspect of any decolonising agenda in higher education.
Finally, a third concern of this group is how to disseminate the outputs of their projects at the local, national, regional and international levels. One of the ideas we have been discussing is the possibility of mounting an itinerant exhibition, both in Latin America and the UK. Although we are still in the early stages of planning this activity, some key questions have started to emerge: how to find a language to express the fluidity of memories and the constellation of experiences in these projects; how to move beyond the (reductive) lens of trauma without dismissing it completely; and how to think about possible futures with new generations.
We all look forward to continue working together and developing new ideas in 2023, watch this space!
Blog written by Dr Raúl Valdivia-Murgueytio, EdJAM Research Associate, University of Bristol