Dennis Francis is a South African-based scholar and activist whose work engages with questions related to gender, sexualities and schooling. Dennis is a former Dean of Education and currently Professor of Sociology at Stellenbosch University, South Africa. Their research, located in the sociology of education, focuses on how educational structures, discourses and practices reproduce cisheteronormativity and social inequality in schools, and how these are also resisted and challenged. Their most recent books are Troubling the Teaching and Learning of Gender and Sexuality Diversity in South African Education (Queer Studies and Education – PalgraveMacmillan, 2017) and Queer Social Movements and Outreach Work in Schools: A Global Perspective (Queer Studies and Education – PalgraveMacmillan, 2020, co-ed with Jon I Kjaran & Jukka Lehtonen). Professor Francis’s next book is Queer Activism in South African Education: Disrupting Cis(hetero)normativity in Schools, under contract with Routledge.
PRECARIOUS BODIES, SPACE & EDUCATION
Research and media, including social media, have brought to broader consciousness that there are currently two pandemics – Covid-19 and the oppressive inequalities revealed by Covid 19. These inequalities are made visible along intersecting lines, across race, class, gender, disabilities, sexualities, nationalities and location, exposing the precarious nature of human lives and existence. Precarity is understood here in Butlerian terms as the differential distribution of human vulnerability which makes certain lives highly protected and grievable and others not. The first part of this paper crystalizes our vulnerability to shared social interdependency, the intersections of precariousness and the cumulative impact of social inequality. The second part deepens this conversation by examining the precarious lives of queer school attending youth who are turned toward objects around them and away from others and how this directional shifting and sorting matters, particularly in the context of Covid 19. Specifically, it tracks how cisheteronormativity orientates bodies in specific ways and explores what happens when normative lines are crossed. By interrogating how cisheteronormative cultures and ideologies are upheld and maintained in schools through structures of space and affect, the talk will attend to the many ways oppression and precarity work in and across bodies, discourses and practices to maintain social hierarchies. Suppose gaps in schooling are to be filled in the way we conceptualize and respond to precarious lives; this paper advances a framework that validates and supports the idea of education critical of normativity and those who cross straight lines. In paying attention to how the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the precarious life of school attending minority youth worldwide, the paper calls for education to step up and use this disruptive moment to offer new lines for resisting normative modalities of power that foreclose changing self and society.