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From Curriculum Theory to Theorizing  

Gabriel Huddleston and Robert Helfenbein

Curriculum theory is shaped and held within the larger field of curriculum studies, but its distinctive focus on understanding curriculum as opposed to developing it places it is stark contrast with other parts of the larger field. This focus is further distinctive when curriculum theory shifts to curriculum theorizing. Curriculum theorizing emerged in the United States, principally at Bergamo conferences and precursor conferences, in the Journal of Curriculum Theorizing (JCT), and through scholars associated with the reconceptualization. It has spread internationally via the International Association for the Advancement of Curriculum Studies and its subsidiaries in many different countries and cultures. Some scholars hold that curriculum theory includes curriculum theorizing as well as normative and analytic conceptualizations that justify or explain curriculum decisions and actions. Curriculum theorizing attempts to read broadly in social theory so as to embody those insights in dealing with issues of curriculum, and can take philosophical, sociological, psychological, historical, or cultural studies approaches to analyses, interpretations, criticisms, and improvements. This approach has built upon what has become known as the reconceptualization, which began in the late 1970s and continues into the early 21st century. Increasingly, the field has taken up analysis of contemporary education policy and sociopolitical contexts as an outgrowth of its work. Issues of race, gender, class, sexuality, and dis/ability, and the ways in which their intersectionality impact the lived experience of schools, continue to motivate and direct the field of curriculum studies. In so doing, criticism, analysis, interpretation, and expansion of such issues have moved the focus of curriculum theorizing to include any aspects of social and psychological life that educate or shape the ways human beings reflect upon or interact with the world.


Curriculum Studies, Critical Geography, and Critical Spatial Theory  

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.


Critical Perspectives on Curriculum and Pedagogy  

Ganiva Reyes, Racheal Banda, and Brian D. Schultz

Throughout the history of the United States there has been a long trajectory of dialogue within the field of education around curriculum and pedagogy. Scholars have centered questions such as: What is curriculum? What knowledge should count as curriculum? Who gets to decide? Who does not? And, in turn, what is the pedagogical process of organizing knowledge, subject matter, and skills into curriculum? While many scholars have worked on various approaches to curriculum, the work of Black intellectual scholar Anna Julia Cooper serves as an important point of departure that highlights how curriculum and pedagogy have long been immersed in broader sociopolitical issues such as citizenship, democracy, culture, race, and gender. Starting from the late 19th century, Cooper took up curricular and pedagogical questions such as: What is the purpose of education? What is the role of the educator? And what is the purpose of being student-centered? These are important questions that pull together various traditions and fields of work in education that offer different approaches to curriculum. For instance, the question of whether it’s best to center classical subjects versus striving for efficiency in the development of curriculum has been a debated issue. Across such historical debates, the work of mainstream education scholars such as John Dewey, Ralph Tyler, and Hilda Taba have long been recognized; however, voices from scholars of color, such as Cooper, have been left out or overlooked. Thus, the contributions of Black intellectual scholars such as Cooper, Carter G. Woodson, and other critical scholars of color are brought to the forefront to provide deeper knowledge about the development of curriculum and pedagogy. The work of marginalized scholars is also connected with reconceptualist efforts in curriculum studies to consider current conceptual framings of schooling, curriculum, and pedagogy. Finally, critical theories of curriculum and pedagogy are further unpacked through research conducted with and alongside communities of color. This scholarship includes culturally responsive pedagogy, funds of knowledge, hip-hop pedagogy, reality pedagogy, critically compassionate intellectualism, barrio pedagogy, youth participatory action research (YPAR), and feminist of color pedagogies.


Multiracial Curriculum Perspectives  

Sonia Janis and Joy Howard

Multiraciality is a historical reality that has existed as long as the racializing of any group, community, tribe, nation, or continent. Multiraciality is a silenced reality that has been informed by history, politics, geography, law, research, scholarship, media, popular culture, and education. In turn, the same fields have been informed by multiraciality. Multiracial curriculum perspectives provide key historical understandings to contextualize the present multiracial scholarship around curriculum. The work within multiracial studies is research addressing the implications of people identifying as two or more races. The study of multiraciality outside psychology is methodologically nonlinear, qualitative, storied, personal, and operating “in-between” multiple theoretical orientations. This type of research is not acknowledged in academia as influential enough to garner considerable attention and value. Prior to 2014, the research and scholarship associated with multiraciality was often dispersed across disciplines, such as psychology, sociology, and public policy. Historically, the two prominent fields that orientate to the cross-/interdisciplinary field of multiracial studies are psychology, where multiracial identity development is explored, and policies studies with the multiracial movement and the addition of “mark-all-that-apply” in the U.S. Census. Understanding multiracial curriculum perspectives requires a historical perspective to contextualize 21st-century discourse and scholarship around the multiracial curriculum. The use of 21st-century figures brings to the surface historical understandings germane to synthesizing what it might mean to theorize multiraciality in the curriculum. An analysis of multiracial encounters in P-12 schools, universities, and educational institutions exemplify how generations living in the 21st century are making sense of multiracial identities and curriculums.


Narrative and Curriculum Theorizing  

Petra Munro Hendry

Within contemporary, conventional, interpretive, qualitative paradigms, narrative and curriculum theorizing have traditionally been understood as primary constructs through which educational researchers seek to explain, represent, and conduct inquiry about education. This article traces shifting understandings of Western constructs of narrative and curriculum theorizing from a modernist perspective, in which they were conceived primarily as methods central to the representation of knowledge, to postmodernist perspectives in which they are conceptualized not as epistemological constructs, but as ethical/ontological systems of becoming through/in relationships. Historically, the emergence of “curriculum” and “narrative” (as phenomena) within a modernist, technocratic paradigm, rooted in an epistemological worldview, were constructed as “technologies” whose purpose was to represent knowledge. Current critiques of narrative and curriculum theorizing from the perspective of postmodern, poststructural, feminist, and new materialist perspectives illuminate understandings of these constructs as ethical-ontological-epistemological phenomena. From this perspective, narrative and curriculum theorizing have shifted from being understood as grounded in epistemology in order to provide “better” understanding/knowledge of experience, and alternatively are understood as ethical obligations to “be” in a web of relationships/intra-actions.


Critical White Studies and Curriculum Theory  

James C. Jupp and Pauli Badenhorst

Critical White studies (CWS) refers to an oppositional and interdisciplinary body of historical, social science, literary, and aesthetic intellectual production that critically examines White people’s individual, collective, social, and historical experiences. CWS reflexively assumes the embeddedness of researcher identities within the research, including the different positionalities of White researchers and researchers of Color within White supremacy writ large as well as whiteness in the social sciences and curriculum theory. As an expression of the historical consciousness shift sparked by anglophone but also francophone African-Atlantic and pan-African intellectuals, CWS emerged within the 20th century’s emancipatory social sciences tied to Global South independence movements and Global North civil rights upheavals. Initiated by cultural studies theorists Stuart Hall and Dick Dyer in the early 80s, CWS has proliferated through two waves. CWS’ first wave (1980–2000) advanced a race-evasive analytical arc with the following ontological and epistemological conceptual-empirical emphases: whiteness as hegemonic normativity, White identity and nation-building, White privilege and property, and White color-blind racism and race evasion. CWS’ second-wave (2000–2020) advanced an anti-essentializing analytical arc with pedagogical conceptual-empirical emphases: White materiality and place, White complexities and relationalities, Whiteness and ethics, and social psychoanalyses in whiteness pedagogies. Always controversial, CWS proliferated as a “hot topic” in social sciences throughout the 90s. Regarding catalytic validity, several CWS concepts entered mass media and popular discussions in 2020 to understand White police violence against Black people—violence of which George Floyd’s murder is emblematic. In curriculum theory, CWS forged two main “in-ways.” In the 1990s, CWS entered the field through Henry Giroux, Joe Kincheloe, Shirley Steinberg, and colleagues who advanced critical whiteness pedagogies. This line of research is differently continued by Tim Lensmire and his colleagues Sam Tanner, Zac Casey, Shannon Macmanimon, Erin Miller, and others. CWS also entered curriculum theory via the field of White teacher identity studies advanced by Sherry Marx and then further synthesized by Jim Jupp, Theodorea Berry, Tim Lensmire, Alisa Leckie, Nolan Cabrera, and Jamie Utt. White teacher identity studies is frequently applied to work on predominantly White teacher education programs. Besides these in-ways, CWS’ conceptual production, especially the notion of “whiteness as hegemonic normativity” or whiteness, disrupted whitened business-as-usual in curriculum theory between 2006 and 2020. Scholars of Color supported by a few White scholars called out curriculum theory’s whiteness and demanded change in a field that centered on race-based epistemologies and indigenous cosmovisions in conferences and journals. CWS might play a role in working through the as-of-yet unresolved conflict over the futurity of curriculum theory as a predominantly White space. A better historicized CWS that takes on questions of coloniality of power, being, and knowledge informed by feminist, decolonial, and psychoanalytic resources provides one possible futurity for CWS in curriculum theory. In this futurity, CWS is relocated as one dimension of a broad array of criticalities within curriculum theory’s critical pedagogies. This relocated CWS might advance psychoanalytically informed whiteness pedagogies that grapple with the overarching question: Can whiteness and White identities be decolonized? This field would include European critical psychoanalytic social sciences along with feminist and decolonial resources to advance a transformative shift in consciousness.


Sensuous Curriculum  

Walter S. Gershon

Education is a sensory experience. This is the case regardless how a sensorium is constructed. A sensorium is how a group defines, categorizes, and conceptualizes the senses, a Western five-senses model for example. Regardless of the sociocultural norms and values a sensorium engenders, animals, human and nonhuman alike, experience their lives through the senses. From this perspective, anything that might be considered educational, regardless of context and irrespective of questions of what might “count” as schooling, is a sensory experience. Sensuous curriculum sits at the intersection of two transdisciplinary fields, curriculum and sensory studies. As its name suggests, sensuous curriculum is an expression of ongoing critical educational studies of, with, and through the senses. In so doing, sensuous curriculum brings to the fore the extraordinary nature of everyday experiences in educational ecologies, from entangled sociocultural norms and values to the ways that sensory input and interpretation inform every aspect of educational ways of being, knowing, and doing. Sensoria have always been tools for understandings, particularly for continually marginalized groups whose claims are often dismissed through Western, Eurocentric framings. For the notion and instantiation of framings require both a set of universally understood constructs and their applications as well as the necessity of the act: when framing, someone or something is always framed. Providing critical tools for the interruption of such constructs and their use, sensuous curriculum is a rich site of study in ways that are theoretically and materially significant, while offering often underutilized trajectories for the exploration of educational understandings.