Sunday, May 2, 2010

Learning to Read the World through Other Eyes

The methodology of Through Other Eyes is partly based on the principles of the  OSDE Methodology.
This section introduces the theoretical and conceptual frameworks of TOE as they address an audience of student teachers and teacher educators in England. TOE’s theoretical framework is based on 6 metaphors related to the construction of identities, difference, positionality and power. TOE’s conceptual framework consists of four types of learning: learning to unlearn, learning to listen, learning to learn and learning to reach out. TOE’s methodology includes 6 learning components that employ deconstructive strategies to open up possibilities for new interpretations of the concepts addressed in the project. These 6 types of learning activities are mapped against four different levels of engagement: ego-centric, ethno-centric, human-centric and world-centric. However, given space restrictions, the learning components will not be presented or discussed in this article .


The approach to identity construction adopted in TOE attempts to go beyond culturalism by challenging essentialism and emphasising hybridity. In TOE identity is conceptualised as one’s perceptions and relationships (in relation to the self, to others and to the world). In terms of identity construction, in line with Bhabha’s argument, TOE has adopted the notion that identities are constantly constructed and reconstructed in the different social groups that people belong to in people’s interactions with others. In other words, our identities are ‘written’ in our social contexts, which means that what we know is marked by where we come from . However, we can also participate in this construction and reconstruction by re-writing things ourselves, so we can also ‘rebel’ and choose to be something different or to create perceptions and relationships that are different from those of the different social groups we belong to .  In addition, we also participate in the construction and reconstruction of the identities of others when we relate to and communicate with them. 

Hands writing human figure

As it is often difficult to notice or examine the hands that are writing us, TOE was designed so that learners can develop  tools to enable them  to notice and analyse these hands more easily . These tools should also enable learners: to ‘write’ (their own perceptions and relationships) with more confidence; to think more independently and to examine the effects their writing has on other people and in the world, so that they can decide (for themselves) whether or not they should change their writing . 

The second metaphor used in the project refers to the construction of difference. The colonial notion that difference is defined as deficiency is based on assumptions of individuality grounded in a notion of a self-sufficient individual who is ‘the same’ as other individuals in his/her community and therefore dispensable. In TOE, we use the metaphor of a hand  to re-deploy a notion of difference based on the idea of different, inter-dependent individuals who, like fingers of a hand, are insufficient in themselves, but indispensible in their communities (as they offer a unique contribution to this community). This metaphor aims to open the possibility for learners to look at difference as a source of learning and not as a threat and to appreciate people for their unique contribution.

Fingers as different people

The third metaphor refers to positionality and the impossibility of putting ourselves in the shoes of others while we still have our own shoes on. On the one hand, we cannot really take our shoes off - as we cannot simply forget all of our own experience, language and concepts and we lack other people’s experience, language and concepts to see 'exactly' what they see. On the other hand, it is really important that we understand that different people will have different shoes and will be coming from different experiences, languages and concepts .  Looking at different people’s shoes (even though we cannot walk in them) reminds us that cultures are context-bound as all shoes are ‘coming from’ somewhere. By engaging with different shoes, despite the difficulties of putting them on, we might understand better where our own shoes might be coming from and where they might be leading to in order to check if we are happy with the ways and paths we are walking.


The fourth metaphor refers to four possible lenses to frame otherness that reinforce unequal relations of power: of the missionary, the teacher, the tourist and the anthropologist. These are related to Spivak’s ideas of the colonial heritage to frame otherness in ways that ‘subalternise’ difference. The lens of the missionary frames engagement with otherness or difference around the motif of ‘salvation’ and increased privilege for the ‘saviour’. The teacher frames engagement with otherness around the motif of ‘enlightenment’ and increased privilege for the holder of knowledge. The tourist, frames engagement with difference around the motif of ‘consumption’ or ‘entertainment’. And, finally, the lens of the anthropologist’ frames engagement with difference around the motif of ‘preservation’. The first two lenses favour intervention for ‘positive’ change defined by those who are intervening. The third and fourth lenses favour ‘preservation’ defined by those who observe. These lesnses tend to block possibilities for equal grounds for meaningful dialogue where the self is open to challenge and be challenged by difference.
Different lenses
The fifth metaphor refers to past and present imbalances in power relations, in the distribution of resources and in the worth attributed to knowledges, cultures and individuals. It invites learners to think about the epistemic violences  inherited from colonialism and its implications in modern competitive societies. It also highlights the complex negotiation of power on the part of indigenous groups and raises the question of what can be learned from different ways of knowing.


The sixth metaphor refers to the partiality of perspectives, the importance of situateedness and the context dependency of language. It draws from poststructuralist theory that informs some of the postcolonial theoretical strands described in the first part of this article,  and the Incan trilogy of perspectives of the condor, the serpent and the jaguar.  This metaphor invites learners to see a village through the eyes of each of these three animal ‘seers’, to explore the limitations and partiality of each way of seeing and to imagine a conversation where these perspectives are brought together. What would happen if one or more of these players decided to claim they could see the whole picture? What languages would be used to communicate each perspective? Would they be able to understand each other? Would they be able to arrive at a consensus? Would their own perspectives change after this conversation? Would they have a better idea of the ‘whole picture’ through this conversation? This questioning process reflects the pedagogical process that TOE aims to facilitate.
PDF version of this section


Spivak’s work provided the insight for the structure of TOE’s conceptual framework of learning to unlearn, learning to listen, learning to learn and learning to reach out.

Learning to unlearn is defined as learning to perceive that what we consider ‘good and ideal’ is only one perspective and this perspective is related to where we come from socially, historically and culturally. It also involves perceiving that we carry a 'cultural baggage' filled with ideas and concepts produced in our contexts and that this affects who we are and what we see and that although we are different from others in our own contexts, we share much in common with them. Thus, learning to unlearn is about making the connections between social-historical processes and encounters that have shaped our contexts and cultures and the construction of our knowledges and identities. It is also about becoming aware that all social groups contain internal differences and conflicts and that culture is a dynamic and conflictual production of meaning in a specific context.

Learning to listen is defined as learning to recognise the effects and limits of our perspective, and to be receptive to new understandings of the world. It involves learning to perceive how our ability to engage with and relate to difference is affected by our cultural 'baggage‘ - the ideas we learn from our social groups. Hence, learning to listen is about learning to keep our perceptions constantly under scrutiny (tracing the origins and implications of our assumptions) in order to open up to different possibilities of understanding and becoming aware that our interpretations of what we hear (or see) say more about ourselves than about what is actually being said or shown. This process also involves understanding how identities are constructed in the process of interaction between self and other. This interaction between self and other occurs not only in the communities in which we belong, but also between these communities and others.

Learning to learn is defined as learning to receive new perspectives, to re-arrange and expand our own and to deepen our understanding – going into the uncomfortable space of ‘what we do not know we do not know’. It involves creating different possibilities of understanding, trying to see through other eyes by transforming our own eyes and avoiding the tendency to want to turn the other into the self or the self into the other. Therefore, learning to learn is about learning to feel comfortable about crossing the boundaries of the comfort zone within ourselves and  engaging with new concepts to rearrange our 'cultural baggage': our understandings, relationships and desires.

Learning to reach out is defined as learning to apply this learning to our own contexts and in our relationships with others continuing to reflect and explore new ways of being, thinking, doing, knowing and relating. It involves understanding that one needs to be open to the unpredictable outcomes of mutual uncoersive learning and  perceiving that in making contact with others, one exposes oneself and exposes others to difference and newness, and this often results in mutual teaching and learning (although this learning may be different for each party involved). Learning to reach out is about learning to engage, to learn and to teach with respect and accountability in the complex and uncomfortable intercultural space where identities, power and ideas are negotiated. This process requires the understanding that conflict is a productive component of learning and that the process itself is cyclical: once one has learned to reach out in one context, one is ready to start a new cycle of unlearning, listening, learning and reaching out again at another level.


TOE’s methodological framework was piloted with groups in the UK, Brazil and New Zealand as it was developed. It is mapped against a conceptual tool that makes a distinction between ego-, ethno-, human- and world-centric domains of engagement . Each domain focuses on a way of thinking that emphasises certain perspectives and excludes others. The ego-centric domain highlights one’s own framings, narratives and representations; the ethno-centric domain highlights the framings, narratives and representations of one’s social groups; the human-centric level highlights the framings, narratives and representations of ‘other’ social groups and the world-centric level highlights ‘other’ possible framings, narratives and representations, including those that are non-humanist, non-anthropocentric and non-logocentric.
Ethno-world diagram
Each learning unit, consisting of six components, was designed to develop the capacity of learners to articulate complexity, to be exposed to different perspectives, to position themselves in relation to different views, to make connections to different contexts and to develop reflexivity.

The ‘getting started’ component was designed to prompt a brainstorm of individual perspectives and to invite learners to relate these perspectives to dissenting perspectives in their social groups. This component is associated with ‘learning to unlearn’ and operates at the ego-/ethno-centric domains of engagement. In the unit about education, the getting started component invites learners to think about whether education reflects or is reflected by society, to write their own definition of education in their learning journals and to consider different understandings of education in their own social groups.

The ‘mainstream perspectives’ component is an analysis and deconstruction of mainstream notions of the target concepts. It exposes learners to the heterogeneity within the ‘ethno-centric’ narrative and offers an outline of different strands in the debate about the topic. This component is also associated with ‘learning to unlearn’. In the TOE unit on education, learners are invited to examine the assumptions and implications of different ‘mainstream’ perspectives on education and to reflect on key questions in the educational debate related to otherness, such as: who should be involved in the decision making process about the type of education and/or schooling for a specific community; who should education or schooling be primarily accountable to; and the reason and implications of trying to impose a standardised curriculum and qualifications worldwide.

The component ‘different logics’ employs metaphors to enable comparisons between two different possible and logical ways of thinking about the target issue. It aims to illustrate how different ontological choices affect the understanding of the target concept. The ‘alternative’ perspective in this component is the authors’ interpretation of common threads in the interviews with members of the indigenous groups who participated in the baseline research for the project (but it is not represented as a specific indigenous perspective). This component is associated to ‘learning to listen’ and addresses the ethno-/human-/world-centric domains of engagement. In the TOE unit on education, participants are invited to analyse the possibilities and problems created by an understanding of education based on the metaphor of ‘bonsai for sale’ (where individuals are pruned according to pre-dertemined parameters) and education as allowing a forest to grow (where education is about nurturing and supporting the individual to develop its unique contribution to society).

The component ‘through other eyes’ offers excerpts from the interviews with members of indigenous groups related to the target topic that illustrate the depth and complexity of their thinking. Participants are invited to reflect and comment on different aspects of these perspectives. This component is associated to ‘learning to learn’ and addresses the ethno-/human-/world-centric domains of engagement. An example of an excerpt from the unit on education is as follows:

We have an African saying that it takes an entire village to educate a child and when this child receives Western oriented education, he or she meets contradictions between the school and community offers. He or she learns to navigate and negotiate through the school and community cultures all the time. At school, the message is alternative knowledge to school knowledge is ignorance. The child finally becomes a stranger to her or his own community. Our elders have come up with an acronym for this schooling education. It is PHD – permanent head damage (Banda, 2006 cited in TOE, 2008)

The ‘case study’ component was designed to prompt an examination of the perspectives ‘in practice’ focusing on the complexity of issues related to coloniser-colonised relationships. This component is associated to ‘learning to reach out’ and operates at the world-/human-/ethno-centric domains of engagement. In the unit on education, participants are invited to analyse a case study with statements from 1888 to 2007 related to the education of indigenous children in New Zealand. The journal task prompts learners to transfer the analysis to their own contexts by creating a case study which has parallels with the case study presented.

The ‘reading the world again’ component invites learners to examine the definition of education they wrote in their journal entry in the ‘getting started’ component and to comment on what (if anything) they have learned from the exercises about themselves, indigenous knowledges or learning and teaching. This component is also associated to ‘learning to reach out’ and it brings the learner back to thinking about the ego-centric domain of engagement, hopefully incorporating the lessons from the other domains.