European Congress of Qualitative Inquiry 2020 – conference presentation by Zsuzsa Millei, Susanne Gannon, Iveta Silova and Nelli Piattoeva titled Reconnect, Recollect, Redesign: Refashioning collective biography to investigate Cold War childhoods

After presentation sightseeing in Malta

A FreshEd podcast about our co-edited book Childhood and Schooling in (Post)Socialist Societies: Memories of Everyday Life (Iveta Silova and Nelli Piattoeva interviewed by Will Brehm, July 2019)

Transcript available here.

Iveta Silova talks about her work and collaboration with Zsuzsa Millei and Nelli Piattoeva on memories of (post)socialist childhoods

Presidential Highlighted Panel of Comparative and International Education Society (CIES) with Iveta Silova & Nelli Piattoeva presenting ‘Interrupting the Coloniality of Knowledge and Being in Comparative Education: Post-Socialist and Post-Colonial Dialogues after the Cold War,’ Atlanta, USA, March 5-9, 2017

Towards Decolonizing Childhood and Knowledge Production in Postsocialist Contexts. XIX International Sociological Association (ISA) World Congress of Sociology, Toronto, Canada, July 15-18, 2018

Presenters: Zsuzsa Millei, University of Tampere, Finland and Iveta Silova, Arizona State University, USA

This paper builds on the conceptual foundations of our previous collaborative work that explores the coloniality of knowledge production about childhood in and about (post)socialist spaces of southeast/central Europe and the former Soviet Union after the Cold War. We pursue a particular form of decoloniality, or what Walter Mignolo terms “delinking,” to fracture the hegemony of Western-centric knowledge production about childhood and the postsocialist region. Drawing on the research traditions of autobiography, autoethnography, and collective biography to explore childhood and schooling in late socialist societies, we develop three decolonial strategies to disrupt and complicate accounts of childhood, schooling, and subjectivities framed by and embedded in the epistemologies of modernity, socialist ideologies, and postsocialist ‘Westernization’ projects. First, we highlight how memories of children’s lived experiences – situated in local and personal histories – enable us to multiply cultural imaginaries about childhood. Second, we trace relationalities between seemingly disparate spaces and times of childhoods, disrupting the linearity and singularity of time/space. Finally, we discuss how coloniality of knowledge and being affects the various subjectivities we present about ourselves as children and researchers, and how memory research (re)shapes us in return. Collectively, these decolonial strategies enable us to challenge what is often considered ‘normal’ and ‘natural’ in the historical accounts of socialist childhoods, and engage in (re) writing histories that open space for new knowledges and interconnections to emerge.

Towards Decolonizing Childhood: Researching Memories of Everyday Life in (Post)Socialist, American Education Research Association (AERA), New York, NY, April 13-17, 2018

This panel brings together theoretical and methodological insights from childhood studies, memory studies, and postcolonial studies to explore how adult generated memories may enable access to children’s lived experiences. Focusing on the memories of (post)socialist childhood in contexts ranging from Central Europe to Asia, the contributors (re)narrate their past lived experiences through autobiographic, autoethnographic, and collective biography research. They explore how children conceive the world on their own terms and as social actors, illuminating the diverse spaces of childhoods interweaving with broader political, economic, and social life. They challenge what is considered “normal” and “natural” in the historical accounts of socialist childhoods and (re)write histories that rub against traditional imaginaries of Cold War divisions between East/West. 

Chairs: Iveta Silova, Arizona State University and Nelli Piattoeva, University of Tempere

Erasure and Renewal in (Post)Socialist China: My Mother’s Long Journey
Jinting Wu, University at Buffalo – SUNY

Uncle Ho’s Good Children Award and State Power at a Socialist School in Vietnam, Violette Hoang-Phuong Ho

Towards Decolonizing Childhood and Knowledge Production
Iveta Silova, Arizona State University ; Nelli Piattoeva & Zsuzsa Millei, University of Tampere

Discussants: Susanne Marie Gannon, Western Sydney University andMarek Tesar, The University of Auckland

Towards Decolonizing Knowledge Production and Being in Comparative Education: Bringing into Focus Childhood and Everyday Experience – As part of’Knowing Beyond the Present Structure of Academic Knowledge:  Towards a Transmodern Geo- and body-politics of Educational Research Panel’ with Michael Baker, Independent Scholar, Keita Takayama, School of Education, University of New England, Australia, Dr Arathi Sriprakash, University of Cambridge, UK

Presenters: Zsuzsa Millei, University of Tampere, Finland and Iveta Silova, Arizona State University, USA

Stemming from the foundations of the Western modernity project, mainstream research in comparative and international education has played a critical role in solidifying a single (Western) horizon for educational scholarship and practice, privileging global trends, transcendent visions, ‘scientific’ methodologies, and increasingly abstract comparisons. With few exceptions, much of the field’s scholarship has been shaped by at least two major trends. First, much research has focused on comparing students’ academic achievement globally by overlooking the child, both as a construction underpinning these measurements and as a (human) being with his/her situated experiences. Second, comparative research has been preoccupied with mapping transferable “best practices” (universal Western education “solutions”) instead of re-theorizing education as epistemically bound. Such scholarship has inevitably contributed to the accelerating trend of creating ‘objective’ measures to better portray educational worlds with numbers, thus further inscribing comparative education research to follow the (Western) modernist routes towards predetermined destinations. In such comparative education, Western theorizations ripped out the subject from its epistemological traditions, leaving the ‘knowing subject’ in the discipline unquestioned, as if it is “transparent, disincorporated from the known and untouched by the geo-political configuration of the world” (Mignolo, 2009, p. 2).

Silenced in this scholarship thus has been the ‘knowing child,’ understood both as a social construction based on a singular epistemology, and a being. The colonization of the non-Western world coincided with the creation of the idea of the gendered and racialized ‘modern child’ and the development of the most commonly accepted scientific bodies of knowledge about children’s development (Cannella & Viruru, 2004). As Burman (2008) argues, the child has functioned as “an index, a signifier of ‘civilization’ and modernity,” while at the same time remaining “the key arena in which to instill such civilization” (p. 77). In contemporary neoliberal epistemologies, this kind of childhood is usually discussed in terms of producing (neoliberal) adults who are “lifelong learners,” “self-maximizers,” autonomous, and scientifically “rational” people, human capital, required for the so-called “global knowledge economy” (Popkewitz, 2008; Nicoll & Fejes, 2008; Millei, 2011; Mead & Silova, 2013; Millei & Joronen, 2016). We argue that comparative research rarely pays attention to the epistemic construction of the child, and when it does it leaves unquestioned the Western/colonial legacy underpinning its theorization and methodological work.

The Western epistemic legacy privileging accepted scientific knowledge about children also subsumed the manifold, various, and changing lived experiences of children under official ideological frameworks – whether neoliberal, national or otherwise – set out in policies and scientific measurements. It also universalized the ‘modern’ child in societies and in comparative education. To re-insert the child into comparative education, our goal is to question this universal and ‘modern’ child underpinning comparative  research  and the use of scientific measurement of achievement as the singular way to understand children. Drawing on our work with memories of childhood in (post)socialist contexts, we propose to delink from modernist ways of knowledge production by using memories of lived experiences of childhoods situated in local and personal histories. This type of renewed comparative research could strive to capture the multiplicity and complexity of childhoods set in local and personal contexts.

Aligning with decolonial projects, we introduce geo-historical and bio-graphical configurations in processes of knowing in order to de-link from formal apparatuses of enunciation (Mignolo, 2009). Bringing everyday experiences from diverse people and contexts into the conversation calls into question the modern/colonial foundation of the control of knowledge, and re-focuses on the knower rather than the known. It means decentering  the very assumptions that sustain the current locus of Western/colonial enunciation. Current and past experience can function both as a source of knowledge (Jackson & Mazzei, 2008) and a strategy to “offer a way out of the closure of modern knowledge” production (Spivak, 1976, p. lxxvii). Reflective accounts of one’s selves and experiences, and the knowledge produced creates liminal and relational spaces (Somerville, 2007). In these spaces the inevitable movement towards a singular future becomes disrupted. Liminal spaces of being and becoming reveal open-endedness, uncertainty, and unpredictability where new ways to conceptualise the ‘knowing subject’ become possible. This approach to knowledge production challenges comparative education to take seriously, listen to, and engage with those people and knowledges that have been historically marginalized by the fields’ modernist/colonial frame.

Memories of (Post)Soviet / (Post)Socialist Schooling and Childhoods Workshop. Comparative and International Education Conference, Washington DC, USA, March 8-14, 2015

Workshop facilitators: Iveta Silova, Nelli Piattoeva, Zsuzsa Millei, and Elena Aydarova

Scholarly writing on (post)Soviet schooling and childhood has been predominantly produced by cultural outsiders – those who used exogeneous categories to narrate successes or failures of (post)Soviet institutions. The examination of childhood and schooling experiences from the insider positions has been rare, yet it holds great promise for making sense of (post)socialist transformations in the current neoliberal moment (Buyandelgeriyn, 2008). At the time when global educational policies based on Western designs become widely circulated around the globe, an analysis of (post)socialist experiences can be helpful for challenging the taken-for-granted assumptions and for providing spaces for imagining alternatives (Rogers, 2010; Silova, 2010; Millei & Griffith, 2011). To this end, this workshop was designed to bring together those who had first-hand experiences with (post)Soviet/(post)socialist schooling and childhood as cultural insiders to engage in remembering and (re)narrating their experiences.

This workshop created a space for collaboration, dialogue, and critical conversation to embark on projects of collective biography, autoethnography, autobiography, or oral history. The workshop was based on critical narrative research that generates memory stories not typically acknowledged as an objective truth (Davies & Gannon, 2006). Through a collective dialogue that works with “the intensities and flows, that collectively, move us”, participants drew on personal memories, documented those and shared them for potential data analysis. Different research paradigms were used to interrogate the dominant discourses of schooling, constructions of childhoods in the narratives, as well as the subject positions made available in the stories in relation to socialist childhoods and institutions. Following research traditions that challenge the canons of positivism and empiricism, the workshop aimed to remove the distance between the researcher and the researched (Davies & Gannon, 2006; Ellis, 2004) and erase the boundaries between the personal and the political (Holman Jones, 2008).

As the continuation of the 2014 work, this workshop was dedicated to examining memories, narratives, and experiences of (post)Soviet or (post)socialist schooling and childhoods for the purpose of publishing them as a part of a special issue of a journal or an edited volume. First, it aimed to present current work in progress on this theme, including presentations and discussions of studies based on autoethnography and collective biography. Second, it aimed to bring participants together to collectively explore their narratives of (post)Soviet/socialist schooling and childhoods through the shared process of telling, listening, and writing. Activities also included brainstorming potential themes of interests and narrative sharing. The aim was to explore how childhood and schooling were constituted and experienced in (post)socialist contexts. Childhood as a socio-historical  construct provides an analytical incision into the social issues and concerns regarding historical socialism, cultural/ideological changes, and subject formation. As Gonick & Gannon (2014, p.6) argue, “rather than truth of particular lives, … we are interested in using memory stories to examine the ways in which individuals are made social, how we are discursively, affectively, materially constituted in particular moments that are inherently unstable” and to open up ways to explore “how things come to matter in the ways they do” (Davies et al, 2013). Collective dialogues and writing enabled participants to explore affective attachments and assemblages that shape our understandings of (post)Soviet / socialist childhoods and schooling. This process produced new understandings what Soviet/socialist childhoods meant as an individual and collective experience and as a historical and contemporary representation with significant implications for the global transformations in the current context of neoliberal globalization.