Critical Pedagogies in Neoliberal Times / Cinema Journal Teaching Dossier Vol. 3 (2)





Critical Pedagogies in Neoliberal Times

Cinema Journal Teaching Dossier Vol. 3 (2) / Edited by Courtney Bailey and Julie Wilson

Table of Contents

I. Approaching the Neoliberal Teaching Scene

II. Tactics for Disruption

III. Towards New Pedagogical Imaginations



Courtney Bailey and Julie Wilson

This issue of the Cinema Journal Teaching Dossier is a provocation. paulofreireThe essays presented here are meant to inspire critical reflection on, and re-imagining of, teaching and learning in the neoliberal university. Providing a range of theoretical and practical pathways for remaking and reenergizing our classrooms as spaces of resistance, this collection challenges us to center our film, media, and communication pedagogies on confronting and undoing the neoliberal forces that relentlessly economize education, politics, identity, and citizenship. In their own ways, each contribution builds on the critical pedagogy of Paulo Freire, approaching teaching as a process of radical social transformation and world-building. Recognizing the myriad ways that neoliberalism ruthlessly enforces an intensified “banking model” of education, these essays call for student-teacher relationships and approaches to critical dialogue that push back against neoliberalism’s reduction of students, teachers, and learning to human capital. Indeed, all of the essays are centered on undoing what Henry Giroux, borrowing from Georges Didi-Huberman, calls neoliberalism’s “disimagination machine:”

The “disimagination machine” is both a set of cultural apparatuses extending from schools and mainstream media to the new sites of screen culture, and a public pedagogy that functions primarily to undermine the ability of individuals to think critically, imagine the unimaginable, and engage in thoughtful and critical dialogue: put simply, to become critically informed citizens of the world.


For example, Ross Adamson describes how he disrupts neoliberalism’s “measurement culture” by developing an “experience-biographic” interviewing approach to evaluation that actively engages student filmmakers in critical acts of reflection on their artistic processes and everyday lives. Shelleen Greene shows how she uses digital media production to creatively unsettle neoliberal multiculturalism and break the silences it engenders when it comes to student discussions of racial oppression in a “post-racial” world. And, Hunter Hargraves argues that teaching in a university culture of “trigger warnings” and intensified affective management may require irresponsible and uncomfortable dialogic approaches rooted in critical theory.

Critical Pedagogies in Neoliberal Times” is divided into three sections:

  1. Approaching the Neoliberal Teaching Scene
  2. Tactics for Disruption
  3. Towards New Pedagogical Imaginations

The first set of essays are more strategic in orientation, as they offer insights on how we might reanimate our critical pedagogies for neoliberal times. From David Kahl’s reflections on critical communication pedagogy (CCP) to Matteo Stocchetti’s critique of contemporary film education, these essays provide a range of ideas for approaching our film, media, and communication classrooms. Essays featured in the Tactics for Disruption section present innovative assignments, technologies, and methodologies for throwing wrenches into the disimagination machine. For example, Ellen Gorsevski shares her pedagogical practices of bringing the ethics of animal treatment into her classrooms, challenging students to confront neoliberal capitalism and its implications for humans and non-humans alike. Finally, the two essays featured in last section are more provocative, as they seek to radically expand our pedagogical imaginations and horizons. Specifically, Niall Flynn makes the case for media ecological critical pedagogies, while Holly Willis introduces the work of new media artists who are pioneering exciting public forms of critical media pedagogy outside the confines of the neoliberal university.

Approaching the Neoliberal Teaching Scene

In “The Classroom as a Space of Resistance: Disrupting Neoliberal Politics through Critical Communication Pedagogy,” David Kahl provides a useful overview of critical communication pedagogy (CCP) and discusses how CCP might help us to reorient our pedagogical practices and reconstitute the university as more than “corporate power’s apprentice.” More specifically, building on the work of Henry Giroux and others, Kahl discusses how this approach can be vital for helping students to see neoliberalism’s hegemonic power and to hold this power accountable. His piece also suggests ways of critically dialoguing with students about neoliberalism’s contradictions and impacts when it comes to their own educations and future lives.

Matteo Stocchetti’s essay, “Critical Pedagogies & Film education in Neoliberal Times: Notes for Educators who Haven’t Given Up,” takes up the challenges of critical pedagogy within contemporary film education. Stocchetti is particularly concerned with articulations of cinema and ideology within film studies and how neoliberalism’s philistinism’s threatens to hollow out film education’s subversive potential to challenge, intervene in, and transform ideological matrices of power and meaning. As he writes, “philistinism inspires the denial of the ideological relevance of cinema…Under philistine management, professional film education is typically market-oriented and theory-averse: sensitive to the “needs of the market” but blind to the risk of reducing film schools to mere training branches of production companies and film students to compliant labour for the culture industry.” Drawing on his own experiences, Stocchetti argues for the importance of critical frameworks to counter the neoliberal rationalities that permeate contemporary film education.

This section concludes with Hunter Hargraves’ call for a critical pedagogy of irresponsibility and uncomfortability. Reflecting on recent debates over “trigger warnings” and his own experiences teaching a class entitled “Uncomfortable Media,” Hargraves argues that radical critique and theory can resist neoliberalism with their capacities “to provoke affective discomfort in the classroom.” As he writes, “This should not read as a call to irresponsible pedagogies, but rather to assert that if the role of the teacher in the neoliberal university is to manage the feelings of his or her students and to funnel those feelings into the development of critical thought, perhaps we need to build in irresponsibility into our lesson plans, teaching texts that provoke and uproot calcified stereotypes and letting discomfort guide a lecture or discussion.”

Tactics for Disruption

In “‘Talking about Whiteness:’ Using Digital Pedagogy to Interrogate Racial Privilege,” Shelleen Greene presents her digital dialogic approach to teaching racial privilege and resisting neoliberal multiculturalism. Grounded in course readings by Richard Dyer and Peggy McIntosh on whiteness, Greene’s assignment does more than ask students to confront and discuss race and racism. Rather, Greene asks students to document and mediate their experiences of “talking about whiteness” through the collaborative production of a video essay. Ultimately, the aim of this assignment is “to denaturalize race, to challenge neoliberal narratives of race and racism, and to provide students the terminology and conceptual frameworks to articulate new racial paradigms.” As Greene writes, “By (re) constructing narratives of race with digital media, we hope to break silences and make visible omissions that maintain systems of oppression.”

Ross Adamson describes and reflects on his “experience-biographic” approach to student learning in “‘This is What I Was Trying to Say’: Challenging Outcome Led Filmmaking in Higher Education.” Based on intimate interviews with students, Adamson’s method is “aimed at understanding the meanings that the student ascribes to those events and encounters in the course of their ongoing lives.” As Adamson suggests, “Such a method can also prompt a re-evaluation or reflection on what happened, why it happened and the possible consequences.” Pushing back against neoliberalism’s “measurement culture,” this approach resists the commodification of student-teacher relationships, engendering relationships premised not on “performance and judgement” but rather on “dialogue and mutual exploration of the significance of educational activity.”

In her essay, “‘Humanimal’ University: Teaching To Awaken Consciousness of Human and Animal Suffering Amidst Politics of Big Business,” Ellen Gorsevski details her pedagogical process for engaging students in critical reflection on the treatment of non-human sentient beings within the increasingly corporatized and militarized university. Positioning herself as “a vulnerable, imperfect self who, just like the students, is a work in progress,” and who is also implicated in and wrestling with the ethics of animal usage, Gorsevski refigures the classroom as a space for “communicative immediacy” and collective inquiry, both of which run counter to neoliberalism’s economized vision of teaching and learning. According to Gorsevski, “Enabling students to view or ponder the reality of sentience in nonhuman animals casts a light that resists neoliberal urges toward militarized violence against both human and nonhuman animals.”

Towards New Pedagogical Imaginations

In “Contemporary Ecological Perspectives and Media Education,” Niall Flynn explores how media ecological frameworks might reanimate critical, problem-posing media pedagogies, as “they present a timely opportunity to reconfigure the form of media education.” More specifically, Flynn argues that media ecological approaches push beyond human-centric approaches to media study, demanding critical engagement with “a heterogeneous media-ontological system of entangled material agencies.” For Flynn, these speculative, non-institutionalized, anti-disciplinary frameworks point to pedagogies that dislodge and disrupt neoliberal knowledge production in fundamental ways. For, as Flynn suggests, “In this frame, students are allowed the space to think and to work through problems… It engages a space of complexity and potential resistance to be determined by the students themselves. It switches focus from being a taught and subsequently interpreted pedagogical model, to a creative and active one.”

Finally, Holly Willis’ contribution, “Projection and Modulation: Media Art and Forms of Criticality,” asks us to expand our pedagogical horizons to include the work of new media artists who are using public space to actively disrupt and challenge neoliberalism’s ongoing corporatization and privatization of public life and imagination. As Willis shows, “Media artists are creating experiences through which participants engage in powerful forms of criticality, using media and interactivity to reflect on issues of power, infrastructure, consumerism, and the body as it becomes networked… It calls attention to the infrastructures of media and communication that enable the use of myriad devices, but which grow increasingly complex and invisible, and therefore not part of a shared conversation about their regulation and future.” Specifically, Willis directs our attention to the large scale public-projections of Krzysztof Wodiczko, as well as to artists and activists pioneering new media modes of public protest through websites like “Holograms for Freedom.”

Writing amidst increasing austerity and aggressive attacks on tenure and academic freedom, as well as growing activism, these authors aim to disrupt our neoliberal classrooms and spark our pedagogical imaginations towards new political horizons.



Ross Adamson is senior lecturer in the School of Humanities, College of Arts and Humanities at the University of Brighton, UK.  He teaches a range of practice based and theoretical media studies modules focusing primarily on factual media, including ‘Documentary Filmmaking: Theory and Practice and ‘The Camera I: Personal Documentary’.  He also teaches narrative theory in documentary filmmaking at Masters level.  He was previously a research officer at the Institute of Education, University of London, on a three year project investigating children’s learning through computer game design.  His research is interested in the learning potentials of documentary filmmaking in Higher Education and he has published in media education journals.  He is currently studying for a Professional Doctorate in Creative and Media Education at the University of Bournemouth, UK.

Niall Flynn is PhD Candidate in Lincoln School of Film & Media (University of Lincoln). His primary research examines media-ecological perspectives in the context of wider debates on knowledge-formation, research methods and practices, and contemporary university conditions. Previous research includes a study of the affective dimensions of subtitled film experience.

Ellen W. Gorsevski (Ph.D., Pennsylvania State University) is an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication in the School of Media and Communication at Bowling Green State University (BGSU).  She is also affiliated faculty with BGSU’s Critical and Cultural Studies program and the undergraduate minor in Peace and Conflict Studies.  Dr. Gorsevski researches and teaches about contemporary peacebuilding rhetoric, featuring political, social and environmental advocacy for peace and justice.  Her research emphasizes undiscovered, less well known, or often forgotten rhetorical records of diverse women activists in socio-political and environmental justice movements.  Her recent articles analyzing the discourse and leadership communication of nonviolent activists for social, political and environmental justice have appeared in Quarterly Journal of Speech; Western Journal of Communication; Journal of Communication and Religion; and Environmental Communication.  Her books are Peaceful Persuasion: The Geopolitics of Nonviolent Rhetoric (SUNY Press, 2004), and Dangerous Women: The Rhetoric of the Women Nobel Peace Laureates (Troubador Publishing, Ltd., 2014).

Shelleen Greene is an associate professor in the Department of Art and Design at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. Her research interests include Italian film, race and representation, Black European studies, cultural studies, postcolonial studies, and globalization and visual culture. Her book, Equivocal Subjects: Between Italy and Africa – Constructions of Racial and National Identity in the Italian Cinema (Continuum/Bloomsbury Press, 2012) examines the representation of mixed-race subjects of Italian and African descent in the Italian cinema. Her work has also been published in Postcolonial Italy: Challenging National Homogeneity (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012) and in the forthcoming volume Future Texts: Subversive Performance and Feminist Bodies (eds. Virginia Kuhn and Vicki Callahan, Parlor Press, 2015).

Hunter Hargraves is Assistant Professor in the Department of Radio-TV-Film at California State University, Fullerton. He is currently completing a book on neoliberalism and spectatorial discomfort in millennial American television. He has published in the journal Camera Obscura and in the Blackwell anthology A Companion to Reality Television (2014).

David H. Kahl, Jr. is an associate professor of communication at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College. Kahl holds a Ph.D. in Communication from North Dakota State University. Because of his interests in pedagogy and learning, Kahl conducts research in the areas of communication education, instructional communication, and critical communication pedagogy. Kahl has published articles in state, regional, national, and international journals, with the goal of applying his research to his teaching. He has presented his research at a variety of conferences and has received awards for his work at both the regional and national levels. He currently serves on the associate editorial board of Communication Studies and the editorial boards of Communication Teacher and the Western Journal of Communication. Kahl is also Associate Editor of the International Journal of Doctoral Studies.

Matteo Stocchetti is adjunct professor in political communication at Åbo Academy and Helsinki University, and principal lecturer at Arcada University of Applied Sciences (Helsinki, Finland) where he teaches Critical Media Analysis and Critical Media Laboratory ( ). He is also the main coordinator of the research programme Media and Education in the Digital Age-MEDA ( Recent publications include Stocchetti Matteo, (forthcoming 2015) ‘Making Futures: The Politics of Media Education’. In Kotilainen S. and Kupiainen R. eds. Media Education Futures. Nordicom: Clearing House Göteborg; Stocchetti Matteo, (forthcoming 2015) ‘The Culture Industry and the Future of Film Schools: Notes For Resistance’. In Semerdjiev S. and others (eds.). The 21st Century Film/TV School; Stocchetti Matteo, (2015) ‘Film Making, Critical Pedagogy and the Experience of Diversity’. In Nathalie Hyde-Clark ed. Documentary & Diversity. Arcada Publications; Stocchetti Matteo (2014), Images and Power in the Digital Age: The Political Role of Digital Visuality. Kome. An International Journal of Pure Communication Inquiry. Volume 2 Issue 2, p.1-16.

Holly Willis is a faculty member in the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California, where she serves as the Chair of the Media Arts + Practice Division. She is the co-founder of Filmmaker Magazine, dedicated to independent filmmaking; she is the editor of The New Ecology of Things, a book about ubiquitous computing; and she is the author of New Digital Cinema: Reinventing the Moving Image, which chronicles the advent of digital filmmaking tools and their impact on contemporary media practices. She publishes a column on contemporary film schools for Filmmaker Magazine, and writes frequently about experimental film, video, design, and new media, as well as trends in higher education and new directions in teaching and learning.

Courtney Bailey and Julie Wilson are professors at Allegheny College in the Department of Communication Arts.

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