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White déjà vu: Troubling the Certainty of the English Canon in Literary Education



This paper is prompted by my experience as a researcher of English literary education in three different geographies over the past three years: Canada, the United Kingdom and now Australia. In response to the call to consider Futures for English for this special issue, I begin by thinking about the English literary inheritances I’ve experienced across these three geographies and what I’ve come to describe as a feeling of affective white déjà vu. Affect theory, as I will discuss below, concerns atmospheres, surfaces, bodies, emotions, moods, vicinities and capacities. Sometimes affect clings to a body; other times it slides past it, landing elsewhere. Drawing on affect theory, critical race scholarship and discussions of whiteness, I argue that despite continued local attempts at diversification of English literary education, whiteness continues to circulate through and cling to many of the core texts, narratives and messages that make up English literary education. This whiteness is general and specific, global and local, obvious and hidden. Rather than attempting to discuss the literary canon as a whole, I focus on a specific literary text as an example of how whiteness circulates as neutral or normal in literary education, even in a text that’s often framed as helping (white) students learn about racism.
English in Australia Volume 54 Number 3 • 2019
White déjà vu
White déjà vu:
Troubling the Certainty
of the English Canon
in Literary Education
Sarah E. Truman, University of Melbourne
This paper is prompted by my experience as a researcher of English literar y education in
three different geographies over the past three years: Canada, the United Kingdom and
now Australia. In response to the call to consider Futures for English for this special issue, I
begin by thinking about the English literary inheritances I’ve experienced across these three
geographies and what I’ve come to describe as a feeling of affective white déjà vu. Affect theory,
as I will discuss below, concerns atmospheres, surfaces, bodies, emotions, moods, vicinities
and capacities. Sometimes affect clings to a body; other times it slides past it, landing
elsewhere. Drawing on affect theory, critical race scholarship and discussions of whiteness,
I argue that despite continued local attempts at diversification of English literary education,
whiteness continues to circulate through and cling to many of the core texts, narratives and
messages that make up English literar y education (Bacalja & Bliss, 2019; McGraw & van Leent,
2018; McLean Davies, Truman & Buzacott, 2020). This whiteness is general and specific,
global and local, obvious and hidden. Rather than attempting to discuss the literar y canon as
a whole, I focus on a specific literary text as an example of how whiteness circulates as neutral
or normal in literar y education, even in a text that’s often framed as helping (white) students
learn about racism.
The event that precipitated this paper occurred directly after my arrival in Australia as a
postdoctoral research fellow in 2019. Originally from Canada, I had spent the previous year
in England also researching secondary English literar y education and was excited to arrive in
the state of Victoria, Australia, ready to learn about the Australian National Curriculum and
be introduced to some new Australian literary texts. Unsurprisingly, the texts I encountered
on recommended reading lists and interview transcripts of teachers echoed a similar canon
I was used to seeing in both Canada and the UK. However, I was surprised to learn that To
Kill a Mockingbird is still widely taught in Australia. While the book is regarded as a ‘classic’, it
resonated as odd that in 2019 it would feature in schools here in Australia when surely there
are Aboriginal texts or texts by Australian writers of colour that address racism (because
surely that was its purpose, not merely ‘literary merit’)? I asked a colleague who researches
Australian literar y education why she thought the text is commonly taught at Year 10:
Colleague: Ironically, it remains a popular text because of its perceived ‘universalism…’
Me: But it is written from a white perspective during Jim Crow Alabama and the Black
characters have no agency.
Colleague: It’s regarded as an enduring classic.
Me: I have an over whelming feeling of white déjà vu.
Colleague: That’s the canon.
I’ve since found the text on recommended text lists (Board of Studies NSW, 2012) and
English in Australia Volume 54 Number 3 • 2019
affective feelings do not affect all bodies in the same
way (Palmer, 2017). Affect is frequently theorised as
the capacities of bodies to act or be acted upon by
other bodies, or as the forces at work in an encounter
(Seigworth & Gregg, 2010). Such forces can build
capacity and debilitate capacity as part of relational
exchanges circulating through and transversal to
individual bodies. Affects can be intimate (Springgay,
2018) and sticky (Ahmed, 2004) and cling to bodies
(or texts); affects can also be deflective and slippery,
and glide past particular bodies (Truman & Shannon,
2018). The feeling of what I call white déjà vu that I
experienced through confronting the literar y canon in
Australia was affective: I felt the mood of ‘I’ve seen this
before’, while at the same time the familiarity of the
canon felt so certain that the affective moment could
have glided past me and been forgotten. The feeling I
experienced that particular day as a white scholar is
likely quite different from what a student of colour
sitting in a secondar y literary classroom might feel
when confronting the ongoing whiteness of the literary
The historical White Australia Policy was an overt
example of the attempt to create and maintain a white
state through immigration policies. While the policy
is no longer in effect, whiteness continues to function
as an affective force that suffuses institutions such as
schools and universities (Ahmed, 2012). As Bhopal
(2018) argues, ‘In such white spaces, whiteness and
white Western practices are the norm and those which
do not comply with these are seen as outsiders and
others’ (p.25). Ahmed (2007), when discussing what
she frames as the phenomenology of whiteness, considers
whiteness as an ‘ongoing and unfinished history,
which orientates bodies in specific directions, affecting
how they “take up” space’ (p. 150). Ahmed draws on
Black theorist Franz Fanon to articulate how a Black
body moving into a space becomes racialised through
limitations on what it can access and through not
quite belonging. A world historically, materially and
literally shaped by colonialism is a ‘white’ world ‘… a
world “ready” for certain kinds of bodies, as a world
that puts certain objects within their reach’ (Ahmed,
2007, pp. 153–154). Indigenous scholar Kim Tallbear
(2018) discusses how whiteness does not only refer to
phenotype or skin tone but also to the Euro-Western
‘rational’ humanism that circulates as the ‘correct’ way
of performing science, or cultural practices. Literacy
discussed its continued use in metropolitan Victorian
schools with secondary English teachers on research
projects (McLean Davies, Truman & Buzacott, 2020).
Further investigation revealed an email from VATE
in 2012 charging educators to suggest other texts
that might be appropriate or challenging for Year 10
English, entitled ‘Anything but Mockingbird – what
texts to study in years 7–10’ (VATE, pers. comm.,
March 2012). Rather than suggesting texts to replace
To Kill a Mockingbird, however, two of the responses in
Idiom were from teachers outlining why the text should
stay in schools, citing a variety of reasons including
literary merit and the text’s enduring ability to teach
about racial injustice (Albrecht, 2012; Scholten, 2012).
Debates around text selection are ongoing in English
literary education. However, my aim with this paper
is not to count how many times To Kill a Mockingbird
is still being used in Australian schools, nor criticise
teachers who may be teaching the book using an anti-
oppression framework. Rather, I aim with affect theor y
and critical race theory to consider To Kill a Mockingbird
as an example of how whiteness circulates and clings
to the literary canon and literar y education as if white
experience were universal. Before I do, I’d like to
stress that for decades Black scholars have pointed
out the whiteness of the English canon’s narratives
(e.g., Achebe, 2016; Morrison, 1992; Walcott, 1997),
and academics in Australia and abroad have troubled
the continued use of To Kill a Mockingbird because of
its tendency to centre white experience, often at the
expense of racialised bodies in the classroom (James,
2019; Spires, 1999), so this is not a new argument.
Nor is To Kill a Mockingbird the only canonical text that
might centre whiteness – although encountering its
continued use in Australian schools in 2019 did force
me to consider how whiteness reproduces itself around
the globe through the texts we foreground. Indeed,
perhaps, as my colleague says, the feeling of déjà vu is
what we’re supposed to experience when confronting
the canon as something static, known, reproduced
across continents: what is English literature if not a
recognisable group of texts telling universal stories
from predominantly white people’s perspectives?
Literature is affective: it generates moods, emotive
responses, agitated moralities and inspiration. Across
academic disciplines, affect is understood in different
ways (Truman et al., 2020). What most scholars
agree on is the idea that affect is not neutral and that
English in Australia Volume 54 Number 3 • 2019
the authors we celebrate, the narratives we continually
return to in teaching English and how those narratives
are framed. The affective structure of whiteness works
on multiple levels through language use, through
narratives that tug on emotions and centre white
characters and ideals and allow white readers to feel
particular ways. Many of the narratives we continue
to teach are written by and for white people and taught
in ways that continue to centre white experience
(Borsheim-Black, 2015; Haddix & Price-Dennis, 2013;
Spires, 1999; Stallworth, Gibbons & Fauber, 2006) and
in the service of whiteness.
What do I mean when I say the books are written
for white people in the service of whiteness: isn’t
literature for everyone (isn’t it ‘universal’)? To explain,
I’ll return to the book that precipitated this paper, a
book that’s featured on recommended text lists and
taught in Australia, Canada, the UK, and USA: To
Kill a Mockingbird. After fifty years it continues to be
framed as a novel that can help teach students about
racism (Macaluso, 2017) as well as being an example
of literar y writing. Because of how familiar the book
is to many readers it’s a good example of how affective
whiteness circulates and centres itself in canonical
literature and interpretations of canonical texts, and
perhaps why my feeling of déjà vu was so strong at
seeing that it is still often recommended and praised as
a text here in Australia.
To Kill a Mockingbird has been read in schools for
generations. I read it in high school English in Canada
in the 1990s, and it’s still used in schools globally in
2019, although increasingly less so (Sampathkumar,
2018). To Kill a Mockingbird’s protagonist is a white
lawyer called Atticus Finch. Finch has taken on the
task of defending a Black man called Tom Robinson
who is wrongfully accused of raping a white woman.
Although Robinson is wrongly accused, he is found
guilty. He tries to escape prison and is killed.
Affective whiteness permeates this story on several
registers. Firstly, there’s the banal whiteness that clings
to everything in the story, always re-centring itself
through prioritising white characters and perspectives.
Pointedly, there’s also the white moralism of the story
that depends on Black suffering. What do I mean when
I say the stor y re-centres whiteness? Significantly, the
story isn’t about Tom Robinson. The story is about
Atticus Finch, as told through the narrative of his
white child. Atticus’ character is presented as a moral
guiding compass for his white kids (and for the benefit
of the white reader). Tom Robinson is nobody. He’s
and literary practices taught in secondar y English are
rooted in and remain tethered to this Euro-Western
humanism and enacted through the texts privileged,
prescriptivism and assessment strategies (McLean
Davies, Doecke, Gill & Hayes, 2017; Mishra Tarc, 2015;
Truman, 2019a; Truman et al., 2020). I’m going to stop
this paragraph right here, because already it sounds
like what I’m saying makes perfect sense (of course
English and the texts we study are rooted in humanist
ideals!). My point– and the point that other anti-racist
scholars make – is that the ideals of humanism rely
on practises of othering that are historically tied to
trans-Atlantic slavery, ongoing settler colonialism and
a rejection of those who did not (or still don’t) ‘count’
as fully human, e.g., Black people, Indigenous people,
people of colour, queer, trans, and disabled people, and
their stories (Hartman, 1997; Jackson, 2016; Wynter &
McKittrick, 2015; Yusoff, 2018).
This white humanism is tethered generally to
the English canon’s ‘great works’ (typically British or
American) as well as specifically to the geographies of
settler states (like Australia and Canada) where, when a
literary heritage is acknowledged, it comes in the form
of white settler narratives rather than foregrounding
Indigenous authors or authors of colour (Leane, 2016;
Simpson, 2011).
Sarah Cefai (2018) draws from Lauren Berlant’s
notion of ‘optimism’ to describe how the cultural
production of whiteness operates as an affective
structure in the creation of nationhood in Australia.
Cefai describes how affective whiteness is expressed
as a surface that can be both absorptive and deflective
simultaneously. In being absorptive, whiteness forces
Indigenous people and other people of colour, and
anyone or anything that does not uphold white
optimisms, to be absorbed or assimilated, while in
being deflective, it operates as a surface that ‘non-white’
people or ideas are occupying (which necessitates the
need to preserve and promote the white state and
its ideals). In both instances, whiteness is normal,
ordinar y and the basis of nation– and any person or
cultural practice that is read as ‘not-white’ is used to
reinforce whiteness through being ‘Other’, or through
being assimilated into whiteness. Whiteness is always
Thinking with Cefai and looking at the const ruction,
circulation and upholding of the literary canon in the
form of the secondary English curriculum, I see a
similar affective ordinary whiteness clinging to the
kinds of texts we value and measure others against,
English in Australia Volume 54 Number 3 • 2019
for culturally responsive pedagogies. Significantly, the
students reported feeling uncomfortable reading To Kill
a Mockingbird: they didn’t like how the Black characters
are treated in the book, and they didn’t like the
continual use of the racial epithet (n-word) in the book
(James, 2019). Cultural analysis of whiteness aside,
this knowledge forces me as an educator to consider
why we would continue to teach a narrative that
Black students who are consistently marginalised in
mainstream schooling have explicitly stated is hurtful
to them. School boards in North America are removing
the text for precisely these reasons, or asserting that
it can only be taught through an anti-oppression
framework which may require specific training on the
part of educators (Llana, 2019).
This leads me back to my colleague’s comment at
the beginning of this paper: that we persist in teaching
To Kill a Mockingbird and other ‘classic’ texts due to
its ‘perceived universalism.’ The book is set in a ver y
different time and place from contemporary Australia
(or Canada, or the UK): the American South, during
Jim Crow and before the civil rights movement.
Focusing on narratives about racism from a different
time and place does not necessarily translate into
critical reflection on the existence of racism in a specific
time/space. There’s no ‘universal’ narrative of racism; it
is constantly re-produced locally as well as being part
of larger racialising technologies or assemblages of
oppression and supremac y (Euro-Western humanism).
Another recent example of To Kill a Mockingbird
being used to re-centre whiteness culturally is an
article by an Australian English teacher (O’Farrell,
2020) that compares the racial prejudice Tom Robinson
experiences in To Kill a Mockingbird to white Catholic
Cardinal George Pell’s experience of being accused and
convicted, and then acquitted, of the sexual abuse of
children. Allegorically equating a powerful white man
who is a senior official of one of the most powerful
religious institutions on earth to a poor Black man
condemned and killed for a crime he didn’t commit
both erases and instrumentalises the institutionalised
racism Black people experience. However, such
allegorical equivalencies of experience are common
teaching techniques in English – after all, English is
often touted as a subject where we read fiction and put
ourselves into other people’s shoes, or use fiction as a
way of understanding larger social or historical issues.
Scholars have argued that using pedagogical tropes
such as asking students to draw parallels between their
own experience of being falsely accused of something
a prop, or an incidental character at best. Robinson
could have been any Black man – and I mean any in
at least two senses. Robinson could have been any
Black man because we don’t learn much about him at
all as a character, and he could have been any Black
man because any Black body will do as a prop for
progressing the white narrative. I know the story in
part is supposed to teach readers that racism is bad.
But what the subtext, and the absence of character
development for Robinson in the plain text, also
teaches is that Black people are available as props for
whiteness to re-affirm itself– in this case a particularly
sticky moral whiteness that relies on Black death.
These paragraphs will perhaps raise furor among
readers who may feel bad about how horribly Robinson
is treated and are confident they would not be like/
are not like the racists in the book. Or make the case
that white readers need to learn about racism through
stories like Tom Robinson’s. However, Patel (2016)
has argued that ‘… the creation and consumption of
Black suffering is as old as the project of racism, and
coloniality has relied heavily on visible suffering and
its consumption to deepen the strata between man and
human’ (p.82). As such, in our contemporary milieu,
as educators, we must consider whether Black and
Indigenous students and students of colour need to
read To Kill a Mockingbird to learn that racism is deadly?
Do they need a novel that re-centres whiteness through
Black death (again/still!)?
While I do not want to con flate Black North A merican
youth’s experience with Indigenous Australian youth’s
experience, it is important to point out that in an
Australian context, there are a number of texts authored
by white people about Indigenous people’s experiences
that are also taught in schools, such as Deadly, Unna?,
The Secret River and Jasper Jones. To Kill a Mockingbird,
like these texts, is a book written by a white person,
quite likely for white people; as such, its use in English
classes might attempt to critique racism but does so by
re-inscribing a narrative where a moral whiteness reigns
and Black people pay the cost. If I historicise it that’s
the case. And if I present-day contextualise it, it’s still
the case.
Tellingly, in July 2019 Professor Carl James at York
University, Canada sent a report to Peel Board of
Educat ion (the place I went to sc hool in Ontario, Ca nada
and read To Kill a Mockingbird in Grade 10) regarding
an ethnographic study he completed with Black male
secondar y school students. The study focused on Black
student attainment across subject areas and the need
English in Australia Volume 54 Number 3 • 2019
know it’s there. I’m saying this as a white middle-class
academic who has been schooled in the canon. English
literary education has created a white echo chamber,
where white voices are prioritised, white feelings more
important than any others, and everything is calibrated
and measured against European humanism. Hence
this overwhelming feeling of déjà vu on confronting
the secondary English curriculum in Canada, the UK
and Australia; but particularly through seeing To Kill a
Mockingbird still touted as a recommended ‘classic’ text
to teach in secondar y schools. And yet, I’m not saying
we shouldn’t teach it. I’m saying we need to think
about who and what we serve in teaching it, and most
importantly how it is taught.
Although I have used To Kill a Mockingbird as an
example in this paper, I don’t think that the text itself
is the problem. For the purposes of this paper, the
book has been a catalyst for considering how a beloved
text that did a particular job in the past might not be
the kind of text/narrative we need for the future of
English. Or at least how we must re-evaluate the risks
and impacts that are concomitant with retaining and
teaching ‘social justice texts’ that centre whiteness not
only in the narrative, but also through pedagogical
practices of drawing false equivalencies of experience.
We know from research that many English teachers
have expressed how they would like to bring culturally
responsive pedagogies into their classrooms and engage
with te xts that are reflective of cultural diversity, but
often cite lack of time and resources as barriers for
implementing change (McLean Davies, Truman &
Buzacott, 2020). These are material realities that must
be acknowledged; however, in order for the future of
English to rupture the certainty of the canon and the
primacy of white experience, we have to stop centring
it. One way to approach this is to change up text lists,
and invest in teachers and allow them time to read and
develop new materials for teaching. We also have to
allow teachers (who remain predominantly white) time
to develop more understanding of systemic structures
of racism and settler colonialism. Additionally, teacher
education and school hiring practices should invest in
and acknowledge Indigenous teachers and teachers of
colour and cultivate their experiences and expertise
as literary educators (Hogar th, 2020; Skeeter, 2001).
We also need to take a situated look at the students in
English classes and their interests, as well as assessment
regimes and bureaucratic structures that continually
constrain the work that teachers do. English teachers
know that stories have material effects on readers
and Tom Robinson’s experience can ‘trivialize the
realities of systemic oppression [and]… may actually
reinforce normative notions about Whiteness rather
than interr upt them’ (Borsheim-Black, 2015, p.409).
While I believe that allegorical and speculative
readings can be effective tools in English education for
promoting empathy or affirming different futures, such
endeavours must not be at the expense of actual human
children in a classroom– particularly students who are
already marginalised by mainstream schooling– and
must not instrumentalise systemic racist oppression
in the service of whiteness. White teachers, school
boards, and nostalgic parents telling Black kids that To
Kill a Mockingbird is an important text to teach about
racism, or an important universal narrative that white
people can use to draw parallels about being falsely
accused, are quintessential examples of whiteness
centring itself.
Disrupting white déjà vu
I’ve been focusing on To Kill a Mockingbird as an
obvious example of how whiteness circulates through
the English canon and literary education, and how it
is mobilised in schools and beyond. As I said at the
beginning of the paper, critiques of the whiteness of
the English canon are not new, particularly critiques
by writers of colour (Baldwin, 1961; Hartman,
1997). In 1975, Chinua Achebe delivered a lecture in
Massachusetts that critiqued Conrad’s Heart of Darkness
(another text that’s still frequently taught in high
schools), pointing out the ‘preposterous and perverse
arrogance’ of the text for reducing the continent
of Africa to a mere backdrop for Kur tz’s (the white
European protagonist’s) decent into madness (Achebe,
2016, p.21). While it is possible to do a ‘post-colonial’
reading of Heart of Darkness and demonstrate that
the text highlights the flaws of imperialism, Achebe’s
critique of the text’s racism renders any re-cooperative
attempt at a ‘post-colonial’ reading moot. Achebe
(2016) draws attention to the text’s ‘dehumanization’
of Africa and African people, and asks whether a novel
that ‘depersonalizes a portion of the human race,
can be called a great work of art. My answer is: No, it
cannot’ (p.21).
Achebe ’s ref usal to call Heart of Darkness a ‘great’ work
of art strikes at the heart of debates around the English
canon, and the persistence of whiteness as an affective
force in literary education. It’s so per vasive that I think
in many ways white people cannot even see it: we don’t
question the certainty of whiteness because we don’t
English in Australia Volume 54 Number 3 • 2019
Achebe, C. (2016). An image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s
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Ahmed, S. (2004). The cultural politics of emotion. Edinburgh:
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Ahmed, S. (2007). A phenomenology of whiteness.
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Ahmed, S. (2012). On being included: racism and diversity in
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Albrecht, A. (2012). In defence of To kill a mockingbird. Idiom,
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Bacalja, A. & Bliss, L. (2019). A report on trends in senior
English text-lists. Parkville: University of Melbourne.
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society. Bristol: Policy Press.
Board of Studies NSW. (2012). Suggested texts for the English
K–10 syllabus. Retrieved from https://syllabus.nesa.nsw.
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Cefai, S. (2018). Mediating affect in John Pilger’s Utopia:
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(Truman, 2019b), and that the methods we bring to
analysing texts and the comparative texts we put them
in conversation with can have radical effects on textual
reception and underst anding. A renewed critical literacy
perspective for the future of English might require not
just different stories that foreground diverse characters
perspectives, but methods of analysis and reflection
that do not reproduce dominant worldviews, regardless
of the texts being analysed; otherwise we will continue
to reproduce this white déjà vu in literary education.
1 Déjà vu in French means to have already seen
something. It is often used in English to express a feeling
of having lived through something before.
2 In Australia, To Kill A Mockingbird remains a tex t
recommended by cur riculum authorities (Board of
Studies NSW) and the Premier’s Reading Challenge
Victor ia (, and
argued for by teachers in Idiom (Albrecht, 2012; Scholten,
2012), and it has been consistently mentioned to me
in discussions with my tertiar y colleagues, secondary
teachers, and students.
3 Black scholars of affect have drawn attention to how
when there is a ‘subject’ in affect theor y, they are a
transparent subject ‘endowed with the capacity to affect
and be affected’ (Palmer, 2017, p.37). Palmer (2017),
following de Silva, argues that while the transparent
subject, or Man, is endowed with a capacity to affect and
be affected, a Black body ‘stands as endlessly affectable
but unable to “affect” or have agentive power within an
affective economy’ (p.37).
4 A current discussion about media and the viral shar ing
of the video showing the murder of Black jogger
Ahmaud Arbery in broad daylight relates to this ongoing
practice of ‘consuming’ Black suffering and its affects
on racialised people. See
5 In many ways this paper is written to enable white
people to think about how whiteness circulates in the
curriculum and at what cost. Black scholars have been
calling out the whiteness of the canon and curriculum
for decades.
6 I know that this book has the potential to be taught
through an anti-racist lens, and I’m not suggesting it be
banned– I am suggesting that we consider why we still
think it’s a ‘go-to’ text for talking about racism or literary
merit when there are a lot of other current, local books
that address racism written by racialised authors.
7 The ongoing murders of unarmed Black youth on
American streets– most recently the killing of Black
jogger Ahmaud Arbery mentioned above– demonstrate
how the racial logics of white supremacy continue to
operate in America and globally.
English in Australia Volume 54 Number 3 • 2019
Springgay, S. (2019). ‘How to Write as Felt’ Touching
transmaterialities and more-than-human intimacies.
Studies in Philosophy and Education, 38, 57–69. https://
doi-org.ez p.lib.u nimelb.e du .au/10.1007/s11217- 018
Stallworth, B.J., Gibbons, L. & Fauber, L. (2006). It’s not
on the list: An e xploration of teachers’ perspectives on
using multicultural literature. Journal of Adolescent &
Adult Literacy,49 (6), 478 489. ht tps://
Tallbear, K. (2018). Kim Tallbear on whiteness. Retrieved from
Truman, S.E. (2019a). Inhuman literacies and affective
refusals: Thinking with Sylvia Wynter and secondar y
school English. Curriculum Inquiry, 49 (1), 110–128.
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SarahE. Truman is a Postdoctor al Research Fellow at the
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and writing. She is a member of the Literar y Education Lab,
co-director of WalkingLab and one-half of the electronic music
duo Oblique Curiosities.
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... English literature of all subjects in school has helped develop the argument that the white cis-usually-male protagonist's story is the universal story. As stated above, this certainty has been questioned by many anti-colonial literary critics, yet his stories continue to dominate literary study in high schools (Patel, 2016;Truman, 2019b). English literature as a school subject has inscribed the logic of the human (Man) since its inception. ...
... Instead, Wynter emphasizes that our species evolved alongside storytelling; it was through stories that we became/become who we are, narrating ourselves into being through the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, rehearsed over time. English as a subject discipline foregrounds the materiality and weight of stories and (master) narratives in creating an understanding of the workings of the world (Mishra Tarc, 2015;Singh, 2018;Snaza, 2019;Truman, 2019b). Although the prevailing cultural imaginary we inhabit in English literary education has been storied, re-storied, and reified throughout literary history and euro-western history, there are other stories happening, stories that break from this order: it is crucial to tell different stories and recognize that they have always been told and continue to be told outside the logics of the prevailing 'civilization' (white capitalist heteropatriarchy). ...
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This paper argues that the contemporary climate crises we see around our planet correlate with a colonial crisis of (literary) imagination. The author engages with Caribbean literary scholar Sylvia Wynter and other anti-colonial scholars to trace how the colonial literary imagination is rooted in the euro-western humanism and racial capitalism that governs the west, the stories and literary forms that frame it, and whose logics continue to be rehearsed across the disciplines—particularly in English literatures taught in school. The paper then argues that to understand the histories of this crisis of imagination and its link to climate crises, and perhaps paradoxically access literature’s speculative potential to imagine different climate futures, literary educators and scholars need to prioritize literatures and literary critiques that are embedded in a different relationship to the imagination and ecology.
... The teaching of English in Australia, as in other colonised countries, was mobilised as an apparatus to draw students, as citizens, closer to the empire, a politicised practice that continues to dominate English curricula in many schools across the country and erase local stories. In light of the textual practices of colonisation, much recent research has shown that Australian texts, particularly those by Indigenous writers, women, or people of colour, are poorly represented on official lists set for study in the senior years of schooling (Bliss & Bacalja, 2020;Truman, 2019b). This is despite the fact that Australia's first national curriculum, implemented in 2008, attempted to address this issue by mandating the teaching of Australian literature (something that would not be required in other national, particularly imperial, contexts) and made particular note of the need to include the literatures of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander peoples (Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority, n.d.-a). ...
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As a curriculum area, English has been foundational to empire, invasion, and colonisation of Indigenous peoples the world over. It therefore requires considered scholarship to reimagine how to engage with and teach literature in English. In this article, we explore the enduring problem of English and its inheritances, as well as the ways in which Indigenous voices are currently manifest in classroom contexts. We then propose Indigenous relationality as the foundation and frame for new ways to read literature and understand the world. We consider the ways in which Indigenous cli-fi texts refuture relations and invite new modes of reading, focussing specifically on the way the concepts are taken up in Wright’s Carpentaria.
... Ethnographically, the students immediately reported how much they enjoyed walking as part of reading-writing, how the fresh air helped them think, how the freedom to move and the sun on their faces made them feel more creative. All of these elements were important and fed into the project's aim to utilizing our time in English class to push toward more emergent, affective, ethico-political orientations to language, pedagogy, and practice while continuing to challenge how school curricula generally reflects and reproduces Eurowestern humanism (Mishra Tarc, 2015;Truman, 2019c). Within this Eurowestern white framework of assessing 'norms' of literacy, some students invariably appear more successful than others because the school-based practices taught them to mirror (and reproduce) the ways of communicating they already experience at home (Truman, Hackett, Pahl, McLean Davies, & Escott, 2020). ...
Feminist Speculations and the Practice of Research-Creation provides a unique introduction to research-creation as a methodology, and a series of exemplifications of research-creation projects in practice with a range of participants including secondary school students, artists, and academics. In conversation with leading scholars in the field, the book outlines research-creation as transdisciplinary praxis embedded in queer-feminist anti-racist politics. It provides a methodological overview of how the author approaches research-creation projects at the intersection of literary arts, textuality, artistic practice, and pedagogies of writing, drawing on concepts related to the feminist materialisms, including speculative thought, affect theories, queer theory, and process philosophy. Further, it troubles representationalism in qualitative research in the arts. The book demonstrates how research-creation operates through the making of or curating of art or cultural productions as an integral part of the research process. The exemplification chapters engage with the author’s research-creation events with diverse participants all focused on text-based artistic projects including narratives, inter-textual marginalia art, postcards, songs, and computer-generated scripts. The book is aimed at graduate students and early career researchers who mobilize the literary arts, theory, and research in transdisciplinary settings.
English remains the only subject mandated throughout the years of schooling in Australia. The compulsory nature of this subject reflects its responsibility for the personal, and literate, development of students. Literature has often been charged with the social and moral dimensions of English. Increasingly, in Australia and elsewhere, literature that disrupts colonial, patriarchal and heteronormative canonical narratives, that presents what might be understood as ‘difficult’ knowledge, is being selected for study. Drawing on two case stories from current research, this paper explores how text selection and pedagogical practices mediate diverse students’ engagements with difficult knowledge in subject English. It explores the challenges teachers face when attempting to disrupt dominant textual meaning-making practices and the decisions they make regarding the kinds of knowledge students encounter in English. We suggest an alternative paradigm– relational literacy– to assist English teachers to reconceptualise students’ textual experiences and knowledges in secondary school English.
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The authors considered the capacious feeling that emerges from saying no to literacy practices, and the affective potential of saying no as a literacy practice. The authors highlight the affective possibilities of saying no to normative understandings of literacy, thinking with a series of vignettes in which children, young people, and teachers refused literacy practices in different ways. The authors use the term capacious to signal possibilities that are as yet unthought: a sense of broadening and opening out through enacting no. The authors examined how attention to affect ruptures humanist logics that inform normative approaches to literacy. Through attention to nonconscious, noncognitive, and transindividual bodily forces and capacities, affect deprivileges the human as the sole agent in an interaction, thus disrupting measurements of who counts as a literate subject and what counts as a literacy event. No is an affective moment. It can signal a pushback, an absence, or a silence. As a theoretical and methodological way of thinking/feeling with literacy, affect proposes problems rather than solutions, countering solution‐focused research in which the resistance is to be overcome, co‐opted, or solved. Affect operates as a crack or a chink, a tiny ripple, a barely perceivable gesture, that can persist and, in doing so, hold open the possibility for alternative futures.
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Despite ongoing attempts to disrupt the white cis-hetero-masculine nature of the literary canon the secondary school English curriculum remains tethered to its lineage. In conversation with feminist new materialist scholars who argue that the stories we read and write have material affects on who we are becoming, this paper argues that in order to mobilise change in the secondary years of schooling, interventions into the canon must move beyond (re)forming text lists or providing teachers with readymade pedagogical resources. Drawing on the Australian context, the authors outline some of the contemporary challenges teachers face in diversifying and decolonising the curriculum. Drawing on their Literary Linking Methodology the authors discuss a pilot project that seeks to unsettle the canon by supporting teachers to undertake extended immersion with both contemporary literary texts and archival research. Accordingly, this paper contributes to understandings of the tensions and challenges teachers face in introducing contemporary Australian texts into the curriculum and offers insights into the ways in which professional learning might be (re)imagined so that English teachers might draw on available cultural resources as researchers and literary knowledge producers in the twenty-first century.
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This paper considers how literacy and education more broadly reflect and reproduce world views and communicative practices rooted in the western epistemological conceptualization of what Sylvia Wynter calls “Man”. I frictionally think-with Wynter’s hybridity of bios and logos (mythoi), and more-than-human theories in relation to an in-school study in a secondary English classroom. I focus on how affect and refusal have the potential to operate as inhuman literacies that can unsettle the humanism of normative approaches to literacy education. Finally, I engage with Wynter’s homo narrans, which is the idea that we became who we are as a species in part through storytelling. While this storying capability has been used to uphold and reinforce the dominant world order, it also has the potential to rupture humanism from within.
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This article draws on Donna Haraway’s call for feminist speculative fabulation as an approach to qualitative research methodologies and writing praxis in schools. The first section of the article outlines how I conceptualize speculative thought, through different philosophers and theorists, and provides a brief literature review of speculative fiction used in secondary English curricula. The article then focuses on an in school creative writing project with grade 9 English students. In the student examples that I attend to, speculative fabulations and situated feminisms (race, gender, sexuality) are entangled, rendered complex, and in tension. In the final section, I discuss the Whiteness of mainstream speculative fiction and argue that speculative fabulation must be accountable to situated feminisms in how we read, write, and conduct research.
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Walking in nature has long been associated with creativity. Yet walking’s associated research and artistic practices remain dogged by representationalism. Concomitantly, intersectional concerns of race, gender, and dis/ability determine what kinds of bod- ies are allowed to walk where (and in this case, the where is Brexit-era Britain). This article attempts to navigate the complexity of these tensions, contextualizing a five- day walking research-creation project along St. Cuthbert’s Way that we called Queer Sonic Cultures. As academics and artists interested in the relationship between walk- ing and composition, our initial propositions are to become affectedas we walked and to create sonic cultures (songs) using whatever affected us along the way. In using research-creation as a research methodology, we understand our artistic composi- tional practice of co-creating lyrics-melody-harmony-production-arrangement as the research. Unlike some forms of arts-based research that use an artistic form to disseminate research findings, in research-creation the artistic practice is the research and the theory. In the interests of continuing to make this apparent, we shall prefer to describe this contextualizing article as Academic Liner Notes. The Academic Liner Notes begin with a brief description of the location of the walk, contextualized within the tradition of walking and composing in the British landscape, and the use of sound-based methods and literature to represent such landscapes. Following this, we will introduce research-creation as a methodology contextualized within affect studies. We argue that the resultant sonic cultures (nine in total) rather than representing the walk, in fact, more-than-representationally intensify the affective dimensions of the relations we were part of along the way.
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In this paper, I invoke various matterings of felt in order to generate a practice of writing that engenders bodily difference that is affective, moving, and wooly. In attending to ‘how to write as felt,’ as a touching encounter, I consider how human and nonhuman matter composes (Haraway in Staying with the trouble: making Kin in the Chthulucene, Duke University Press, Durham, 2016). This co-mingling that felt performs enacts what Alaimo (Bodily natures: science, environment, and the material self, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 2010; Exposed: Environmental politics and pleasures in posthuman times, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 2016) calls transcorporeality. Connecting felt with theories of touch and transcorporeality becomes a way to open up and re-configure different bodily imaginaries, both human and nonhuman, that are radically immanent and intensive; as an assemblage of forces and flows that open bodies to helices and trans connections (Springgay and Truman in Body Soc 23(4):27–58, 2017b). My contribution to this collection on ‘humanity in a posthuman age’ is experimental and performative. Felt is activated not as a metaphor but rather poses questions about what writing does at the interstices between research and creation.
In this paper we report the results of an analysis underpinned by a critical orientation seeking non-heteronormative representations of sexualities in an official English curriculum text list. Content and thematic analyses were conducted to establish the extent to which diverse sexualities are represented in the ‘sample text list’ for the Australian Curriculum: Senior Secondary English. Only two of the fiction texts on the list were found to substantially contain non-heterosexual protagonists, named characters, experiences, or relationships. We contend that creators of authorised text lists should seek to more overtly address the persistence of heteronormativity in Australian schools by listing texts that represent diverse sexual identities and issues of sexual difference and diversity, and texts that are equitably accessible to a wider range of students in English. © 2018, AATE - Australian Association Teaching English. All rights reserved.
Why and how do those from black and minority ethnic communities continue to be marginalised? Despite claims that we now live in a post-racial society, race continues to disadvantage those from black and minority ethnic backgrounds. Kalwant Bhopal explores how neoliberal policy making has increased rather than decreased discrimination faced by those from non-white backgrounds. She also shows how certain types of whiteness are not privileged; Gypsies and Travellers, for example, remain marginalised and disadvantaged in society. Drawing on topical debates and supported by empirical data, this important book examines the impact of race on wider issues of inequality and difference in society.