A Pedagogy of Discomfort: A Qualified Defense
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This thesis considers Megan Boler’s proposal for a pedagogy of discomfort, an approach to social justice education that harnesses students’ emotional responses of felt discomfort, such as anger or guilt, in order to prompt them to critically interrogate their existing beliefs, assumptions, and ways of seeing. Upon highlighting critiques of politicized curricula, I consider one potential objection that may be levelled against a pedagogy of discomfort, namely, that this pedagogy constitutes an imposition on students by the educator, infringing on students’ freedom to hold certain beliefs, assumptions, and ways of seeing. I argue that in cases where the would-be participants in a pedagogy of discomfort are the beneficiaries of the particular unjust social structure under scrutiny, this imposition is justified as a lesser evil. I then address some of the challenges that may arise from implementing a pedagogy of discomfort in classrooms in which some individuals are harmed by the particular unjust social structure under scrutiny. I suggest that two tensions arise from imposing this pedagogy on these individuals. First, subjecting these individuals to the process of critical inquiry appears to reproduce the conditions whereby they are denied status as epistemic agents. Second, the act of collective witnessing through which the process of critical inquiry takes place requires that all participants recognize one another as epistemic agents. However, I argue that this mutual recognition may not be present in classrooms in which some individuals are harmed by the particular unjust social structure under scrutiny. I argue that the presence of these two tensions gives reason for caution when imposing a pedagogy of discomfort on students who are harmed by the particular unjust social structure under scrutiny.