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Sarah Amsler

Associate Professor in Education, Faculty of Social Sciences

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Biography

I am an Associate Professor in Education, working at the intersections of Sociology, Critical Philosophy and Education. My research centres around the politics of knowledge and education, particularly their role in producing and normalising injustice and in generating possibilities for not-yet imaginable social alternatives in the context of global capitalism and anti-capitalist resistance, with a special interest in practices of 'learning hope'. I value radical diversity, experimental education and have an interest in processes of learning across, against and beyond socially constructed limits, borders and reifications of all kinds.

Prior to joining the School of Education, I held posts at the University of Lincoln (Education), Aston University (Sociology) and Kingston University (Sociology), and competed my PhD Sociology at the London School of Economics and Political Science in 2005. Throughout my career, I have worked in a range of formal and informal education contexts including co-operative education, early years care, museums, non-governmental organisations, popular education, schools, teacher education programmes, universities in Central Asia, Britain and the United States, and transnational educational movements for social and ecological change.

Teaching Summary

I teach 'Big Ideas in Education: Equalities, Inclusion, Rights and Justice' on the BA Education, 'Practice-based Inquiry' on the MA Education, and research philosophy and methodology on the Doctoral… read more

Research Summary

I am an Associate Professor in Education at the University of Nottingham, UK. Prior to joining the School of Education, I held posts at the University of Lincoln (Education), Aston University… read more

Recent Publications

I teach 'Big Ideas in Education: Equalities, Inclusion, Rights and Justice' on the BA Education, 'Practice-based Inquiry' on the MA Education, and research philosophy and methodology on the Doctoral Education and Training Programme. I supervise MA and PhD research projects in the sociology and politics of education, sociology and politics of knowledge, critical education studies, critical and feminist theory and pedagogy, and international and comparative educational policy and systems. Previously, I have designed and taught on a wide range of Sociology, Philosophy and Education courses at all levels of university study.

I am co-ordinator of the ESRC Midlands Graduate School Doctoral Training Education Pathway at Nottingham, co-convene the School of Education's Doctoral Education and Training Programme, and am postgraduate convenor for the Centre for International Education Research. I serve as Year-3 Tutor for the BA Education programme and hold responsibilities for researcher development on the School of Education's Research and Knowledge Exchange Committee.

Current Research

I am an Associate Professor in Education at the University of Nottingham, UK. Prior to joining the School of Education, I held posts at the University of Lincoln (Education), Aston University (Sociology) and Kingston University (Sociology), and competed my PhD Sociology at the London School of Economics and Political Science in 2005. I have worked in a range of formal and informal education contexts including co-operative education, early years care, museums, non-governmental organisations, popular education, schools and universities in Central Asia, Britain and the United States, and transnational educational movements for social and ecological change.

Across all of these contexts, I have been interested in answering two big questions: How does learning, particularly through different types of education, contribute to the production and normalisation of social injustices? And how can learning in both organised and everyday forms be a practice of resistance to social domination and a site of possibility for alternative futures? While for the first years of my career my research centred around neo-colonial education, the politics of knowledge and higher education reform in post-Soviet Central Asia, my current research focuses on understanding how certain kinds of learning interrupt the intersecting hegemony of capitalist, colonial and patriarchal rationalities, and on how movements for radically alternative social and ecological futures that work in the domain of the 'not-yet-possible' organise process of 'learning hope'.

As a critical social theorist and educator, I ask 'what's possible?' within, against and beyond the taken-for-granted (or politically imposed) horizons of possibility in a 'what works' world. My main empirical interests lie in the cracks, margins and wastages of systems of economisation, hierarchy and division - in the wealth of life and possibilities for justice that exist among the people, communities, forms of knowledge, histories and ways of being that are devalued or erased by dominant economies of value, including in education itself. Some of my research therefore explores how (and why) official educational institutions, knowledge, policies and practices diminish possibilities for justice or systemically reinforce myths that there is no alternative to accepting an oppressive status quo. This work mainly takes the form of critical policy analysis (for example, of the privatisation and marketisation of education, educational 'ranking' and pedagogical standardisation) using tools of critical discourse analysis, Open Marxist process philosophy, epistemic and ontological critique and elements of decolonial theory. It also involves the study of affective and decolonizing pedagogies. However, I also study how informal educational knowledge, practices, movements and spaces emerge and are mobilised both to resist multiple forms of domination and oppression, and to create alternative conditions for reproducing life (rather than power) and generate radical possibilities. This has led me to explore - often ethnographically - questions such as how teachers who are committed to emancipatory learning practice their moral and professional agency - and sustain themselves physically and emotionally - in oppressive educational systems (especially Anglo-European neoliberal education) and how autonomous educational movements imagine and organise learning 'for another world' in struggles against both low-intensity and high-intensity systemic violence. I have a special interest in the nature and role of prefigurative and 'concrete utopian' practices in each.

Through this research, I am also working on a number of theoretical and methodological projects. This includes, for example, the application of critical theories of hope to explore how 'epistemologies of possibility' and diverse ontological politics shape possibilities for transformational learning in different contexts. It also includes the development of creative and participatory methods of inquiry to articulate 'absent and emergent possibilities' in social processes, particularly in contexts of political or imaginal immobility. Finally, it includes a study of how modal epistemologies (ways of knowing what is real, necessary and possible) constrain and enable collective action for deep social and ecological change - both local and transnational - and how possibility-enabling practices may be pedagogically supported.

Research Affiliations

I am a member of the Centre for International Education Research in the University of Nottingham School of Education. I also belong to a number of international research-practice networks and collectives, including:

The Gesturing towards Decolonial Futures network uses 'three inter-dependent practices (of art, social cartography and pedagogy) to denaturalize colonial frames of reference and material architectures that make up the social context in which knowledge is produced within our current system. These practices aim to enable ways of doing, thinking, and being that are viable but unimaginable within the modern-colonial imaginary.'

The Women on the Verge network works to 'provide embodied and practical critiques of capital, coloniality and patriarchy at a time when the conditions for the reproduction of life on the planet are deteriorating at unimaginable speed and levels. Our critique is not contained by the words we have learned to speak under these conditions, but is attuned with life, affect, commonality, denaturalizing and nature, utopia, storytelling, possibility and prefiguring.'

I am also an affiliate member of the Critical Internationalization Studies, Creativity and Emergent Educational Futures and Decolonizing Teacher Education networks.

Past Research

2016 The Ethics and Politics of Possibility: Principles and Practices of Prefigurative Knowledge and Research, International Residential Research Workshop at Girton College, University of Cambridge (Independent Social Research Foundation) [PI].

2015-16 Practices of Possibility in Neoliberal Social Systems, Mid-Career Fellowship (Independent Social Research Foundation) [PI].

2014 Understanding Educational Inequalities in Rural Britain, Research Infrastructure Fund (University of Lincoln) [PI].

2014 Facilitating LGBT Medical, Health and Social Care Content in Higher Education Teaching, Research Infrastructure Fund (University of Lincoln) [CI, with Dr. Z. Davy].

2010-12 The Politics of 'Transformative' Culture in Popular Education and Arts (British Academy) [PI].

2009 Critical Media Literacy and Student Empowerment: The Possibilities and Limitations of Film in University Classrooms (Aston University Centre for Learning in Professional Practice) [PI].

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University of Nottingham
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Nottingham, NG8 1BB

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