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Robert Helfenbein and Gabriel Huddleston

During the late 20th and early 21st centuries, spatial terms have emerged and proliferated in academic circles, finding application in several disciplines extending beyond formal geography. Critical geography, a theoretical addition to the home discipline of geography as opposed to being a new discipline in itself, has seen application in many other disciplines, mostly represented by what is collectively called social theory (i.e., sociology, cultural studies, political science, and literature). The application of critical spatial theory to educational theory in general, and curriculum theorizing in particular, points to new trajectories for both critical geographers and curriculum theorists. The growth of these two formations have coincided with the changes in the curriculum studies field, especially as it relates to the Reconceptualization of that field during the 1970s. In terms of critical spatial theory especially, the exploration of how we conceptualize place and space differently has allowed curriculum studies scholars to think more expansively about education, schools, pedagogy, and curriculum. More specifically, it has allowed a more fluid understanding of how curriculum is formed and shaped over time by framing the spatial as something beyond a “taken-for-granted” fact of our lives. The combination of spatial theory and curriculum studies has produced a myriad of explorations to see how oppression works in everyday spaces. The hope inherent in this work is that if we can understand how space is (re)produced with inherent inequities, we can produce spaces, especially educative ones, that are more just and equitable.


The work known as critical geography, a distinct yet varied subfield of spatial analysis, seeks to understand how the social construction of both space and place interact with, resist, and reinforce structures of power and the work of individual and collective identity. A critical geography approach to qualitative educational research privileges inquiry that includes how the lived experiences of schools (i.e., students, teachers, schools, communities) are defined, constrained, and potentially liberated by spatial relationships in both discursive and material ways. That is, a critical geography approach includes how such understandings may be used, for example, to critically examine how spaces are used, by whom, when, and how in the process of learning and not learning; what spaces mean (and mean differently) for different people inhabiting the spaces of education; how spaces are used to construct identities, allegiances, and bodies; how they act pedagogically to position bodies to know and be known; and the kind of pedagogies they help make possible and intelligible for both teachers and students in classrooms.


Boni Wozolek

Critical geography, as it is studied in North America and parts of Europe, has been growing since the 1970s. However, focusing on gender, sexual orientation, race, home language, or the like, was not a primary concern of the field until the mid-1980s. As radical critical geography shifted toward cultural and critical geography, marginalized voices could be heard in and across the field in local and less-local contexts. As critical geography began to intersect with education in the mid-1990s, it became a tool for studying marginalization across layers of scale. Fields of geography are impacted as much by contemporary sociopolitical dialogues as they are by educational research and its related historical boundaries and borders. Finally, it is significant to consider what a critical gender-queer geography might mean as the field continues to grow.