Canagarajah – A Geopolitics of Academic Writing

Canagarajah, A. Suresh. A Geopolitics of Academic Writing. Pittsburgh, Pa.: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2002. Print. Pittsburgh Series in Composition, Literacy, and Culture.

In this text, A. Suresh Canagarajah used ethnography of literacy along with empirical methodologies, such as discourse and textual analysis to explicate the geopolitics surrounding academic knowledge production both in the West, which positions itself in the center, and the Third World, which he argued is constrained to the periphery. Because of his position as a member of both communities he was able to describe his dilemma of trying to straddle the two discourse spaces. From this experience he contextualized the tensions between not only the “center” and “periphery,” but also between print media and talk, literacy and orality, dominant discourses and  vernacular – and how these factors along with power, material conditions, and genre conventions contribute to inequities regarding knowledge production and what he calls the geopolitics of academic writing. His main focus was on the conventions leading to the publication of the Research Article (RA) in the West because of the professional capital it carries in terms of producing “new” knowledge and helping scholars achieve tenure and promotion. For Third World academic communities, such as in Jaffna, Sri Lanka, he highlighted the importance of other forms of knowledge production, such as speaking engagements, verbal discussions, and publications in local publications.
Of his positionality as a researcher he stated:
“Though I claim to represent scholars from the type of background described above [periphery], my critical insights are enabled by my work experience in some American university settings as well. My membership in the academic communities of the center and the periphery has oriented me to the differences in literacy practices of both circles and provided a peculiar “double vision” that informs the discussion in this book.” (11)
Canagarajah was also candid regarding how his position also led to his standpoint be questioned by “periphery” scholars: “It is because I moved to the center that I am able to publish about the scholarly deprivation and exclusion I suffered while teaching at UJ, but in the process of moving my status has status has changed, calling into question my ability to represent my periphery colleagues” (11).
If we were to answer Spivak’s question “Can he subaltern speak?” based on this text, the answer would be no, because 1) although Canagarajah effectively portrayed the ways in which periphery scholars are silenced through Western academic writing textual and publishing conventions, periphery scholars are likely to enjoy more voice than their counterparts outside of the academy, but then also because 2) once periphery scholars begin to gain voice outside of their local circles of influence, which occurs only through varying degrees of using Western conventions they are no longer fully periphery, nevertheless subaltern. Then, 3) while speaking, or orality is valued in Third World and periphery communities within the “center” as a primary form of knowledge production, according to Canagarajah, he argued that periphery scholars are forced to utilize print media and its conventions in order to produce knowledge that is viewed as valuable and circulated.
Despite these conditions, Canagarajah argued that there are changes that both “center” and “periphery” academic communities must make in order to create more democratic knowledge production practices. One such adjustment that Canagarajah suggested “center” journals make was to establish a common bibliography format so that periphery scholars without word processing and print capabilities would not have to retype whole bibliographies or manuscripts to tailor it for submissions to different journals. On the other hand, Canagarajah encourage Third World scholars to continue to engage with center journals and ways of producing knowledge and avoid staying local, though, he emphasized they should not abandon local literacies. He argued that these moves toward changing the geopolitics in academic writing benefit both the “center” and the “periphery”:
“The more democratic the process of knowledge production, the more significant the progress. Paradoxically, therefore, the center academic institutions themselves impoverished by their hegemony. It is important to realize that the damages in knowledge production are not limited to periphery communities.” (254)
“It is worth repeating that the democratization of academic communication can make a critical contribution to center communities themselves… An engagement with local knowledge from periphery contexts can help enrich, expand, and reconstruct mainstream discourses and knowledge. In fact, the clash of diverse perspectives is valuable for its own sake: it affords an opportunity to reexamine the basic assumptions and beliefs of a community.” (303)
In his conclusion, Canagarajah reiterated that his intention was not to lower standards, but to expand and enrich them:
“This is rather an attempt to deconstruct the bases of “excellence” in published scholarship and knowledge construction. This is an argument for changing the relationships in the publication networks so that we can reconstruct knowledge – and presumably conduct international relations – in more egalitarian and enriching terms.” (305)

Souto-Manning – Freire, Teaching, and Learning: Culture Circles Across Contexts

Background/ Context:

Author Mariana Souto-Manning approaches Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy f the Oppressed from a place of lived experience and knowledge. Being steeped in Brazilian education both as a student and educator and having attended workshops with Freire, she says “critical pedagogy has long been a reality for me” (1). As a former teacher and current teacher educator who has worked in educational institutions in both Brazil and the United States, Souto-Manning is able to theorize based on data from her own professional experiences in a variety of contexts and speak with fellow educators.

Purpose/Objective/Research Questions/Focus of Study:

In Freire, Teaching, and Learning: Culture Circles Across Contexts, Mariana Souto-Manning breaks down the theory behind Paulo Freire’s culture circles, first designed by Freire as a means to promote adult literacy in Brazil, and demonstrates how they work in practice and can be used to bring about democratic education in a multitude of contexts. In her introduction, she states her purpose is to make the process of implementing culture circles clearer and more real and applicable particularly for teachers and teacher educators. Souto-Manning seeks to arm educators with “theory-informed examples” of Freirian culture circles and problem-posing techniques across a variety of educational so that they can recreate culture circles in their own contexts thereby promoting critical, transformational, and democratic education.


Souto-Manning takes her data from several different settings and groups of people in Brazil and the United States – an American first-grade classroom, a Brazilian adult education program, an American university group of pre-sevice early childhood education teachers, a group of American public school elementary school teachers, and a lead teacher and teaching assistant in an American university college of education. Souto-Manning offers adaptations of culture circles in and out of Brazilian contexts in order to show the portability of Freirian critical pedagogy theories and methods.

Research Design: 

Souto-Manning presents five case studies of culture circles enacted in different contexts. The data were collected from ethnographic observations. At times Souto-Manning used a combination of Critical Discourse Analysis and Conversational Narrative Analysis in order to employ Critical Narrative Analysis (Souto-Manning, 2005). “Critical Narrative Analysis mirrors the process whereby teachers engage in questioning their generative stories and locations in society” (134).


From the beginning Souto-Manning is clear that education is not culturally or politically neutral. Thus, critical pedagogy is necessary in order to honor the humanity of all students and their cultural backgrounds, but this is particularly important for the oppressed. One way that critical pedagogy honors the oppressed is by focusing on generative themes that are significant to those who have been marginalized instead of the information or “deposits” from the oppressors. Culture circles, Souto-Manning says, “are based on two basic tenets: the political nature of education (Feitosa, 1999a; Freire, 1985) and dialogue in the process of educating” (18) emphasis mine. Culture circles, first conceptualized by Freire in the 1950s, are fueled by dialogue and the generative themes that come from the participants in the process:

By documenting the most urgent struggles experiences by many of the participants of a culture circle and codifying those experiences in a generative theme (e.g., a case, story, photo, drawing, document), facilitators open up opportunities for students to name, problematize and deconstruct issues which are paramount in their lives (31).

The five phases to the critical cycle in culture circles are:

  • generative themes
  • problem (or question) posing
  • dialogue
  • problem solving
  • action (32).

While this cycle alone serves to disrupt hierarchies  found in traditional classrooms, other features, such as circular seating further goes against the banking concept of education and promotes dialogue.

In addition to codifying and decodifying specific challenges faced by participants in culture circles, participants also become more aware of how their social realities are constructed. Souto-Manning says, “this process of identifying and deconstructing institutional discourses within personal narratives (Souto-Manning, 2007) makes social interaction a space for norms to be challenged and changed” (41). She gives an example of this challenge/ change and how it can translate into individual and collective agency in chapter six on culture circles in in-service teacher education. Souto-Manning shows elementary school teacher, Shante, sharing the influence of the culture circle/ teacher study group: “Something needs to change, but I can’t be the one responsible, you know. Maybe I’ll leave. But then… I had a renewed sense of purpose… We knew that we could change anything if we stuck together” (136).

On Praxis…

Souto-Manning embodies praxis; reflection and action upon the world with the goal of transformation (Freire, 1970) in Freire, Teaching, and Learning by integrating theory, her practices and observations, and the reflections of her culture circle participants. Although Souto-Manning mainly gives examples that feature childhood education and teacher education, educators across geographic locations, institutions, and disciplines are prompted and given a road map to  enact liberatory pedagogies by incorporating culture circles.

We must ask ourselves whether schools geared to preparing loyal subjects or obedient workers also build thinking, literate, active, fully developed and morally sensitive citizens who carry out their democratic responsibilities to one another, to their communities, to the earth – William Ayers, “Afterword” (194).