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Geopolitical framings of subalterity in education

Geopolitical framings of subalterity in education

Ranu Basu

As an urban, social and political geographer Professor Ranu Basu’s research explores questions of power, space and activism focusing on the urban geographies of migration and displacement; critical geographies of education; and the politics of redistributive justice.

Basu’s current SSHRC Insight project on ‘Subalterity, Education and Welfare Cities traces the geopolitical impacts of forced displacement on cities and schools through questions of conflict and displacement in Havana, Toronto, and Kolkata. The research explores the interrelationship between the quality of state-based education, the subalterity of displacement, and the implications which these issues have for the urban public realm.  State funded public education (within capitalist and anti-capitalist orientations), long valued as a critical tool for reducing inequality, promoting economic mobility and advocating for social justice, can have an ongoing transformative effect on the evolution of the public realm.

Yet the ideologies, policies and practices of state funded education distinctly shape various aspects of social justice including the way urban spaces are produced and contested by those most vulnerable. Within the context of this systemic shortcoming, displaced migrants, whose relegation to the subaltern already disconnects them politically, socially and geographically from power, face conditions of extreme precarity.  All three of these sites –post-welfare (Toronto), post-socialist developmentalist (Kolkata), and post-revolutionary communist (Havana) educational infrastructures – are in the midst of complex urban transitions deeply connected to the geopolitics of displacement that create their globalities. The research unpacks the historical conditions with theoretical links to the present through the lens of anti-imperialism and postcolonial geographies. Ongoing field work weaves visits to state-funded schools, archival work, interviews, community-based praxis, and critical GIS analysis and mapping.  

Community mapping with students in Kolkata

As the crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic spirals out of control in India, displaced migrants and other precarious workers and their children have been most severely impacted.  The role that municipal schools in Kolkata play in grappling with continuing emergencies and assuaging efforts (provision of food, medical supplies, other support) in such circumstances is even more critical. 

In the first of three in a series of papers on the “Geopolitical Framings of Subalterity in Education I: Compounding a Neoliberalized Welfare State,” in Geographies of Schooling, Basu explores how the terrain of subalterity in education through exile/refuge in Toronto and blockades/sanctions in Havana has manifested in heterogeneous ways, accentuated through the project of neoliberalism. Given the context of pressing challenges confronting global societies, the paper presents preliminary theoretical deliberations highlighting the geopolitical framings of subalterity in education and its contradictory relation with the neoliberalized welfare state. Accordingly, such framings are useful to seriously envision the geographies of nonviolence and peace within the spheres of education. While the first paper explored the compounding effects of geopolitics on the neoliberalized state; the second paper addressed the challenges for peace within the shadows of imperialism (presented in Havana); and the third paper reviewed alternative models of state-based education practiced within spaces of conflict and displacement (presented in Kolkata).

Billboard on the streets of Havana – La Revolución Es Invencible

These subaltern movements, including the variational modes of educational resistance, provide insights into the complex forms of praxis from diverse historical and geographical contexts. The role of the state and educational provision in relation to questions of citizenship, belonging, and nationhood is especially insightful in the context of forced displacement.  Basu argues that the educational apparatus, particularly as it relates to the violence of forced displacement cannot be analyzed in the absence of geo-imperial hegemony, legacies of the post-colonial condition, compounded by the logics of the neoliberal state. 

Further, visits to schools in the contested imperial territorialities of Guantanamo, Cuba; and post-partition borderlands of Kumirmari, Sunderbans in the eco-delta of the Bay of Bengal; have provided deep insight into urban regional dynamics of mobility and immobility, and the power of subaltern geopolitics. The prospects of transformative education vary within this unsettled terrain with varying spatio-political arrangements.  Internationalism and solidarity movements within and across educational and peace networks have provided alternative vision while working relentlessly for radical change.

Migrants and other workers travelling along the Gangetic-Delta of the Sunderbans

Basu has also co-authored an article on "Contesting Settler Colonial Accounts: Temporality, Migration and Place-Making in Scarborough, Ontario" in Studies in Social Justice . Using settler colonial theory to unpack the relationship between Indigenous people and migration in a settler colonial context with Scarborough as a case study, the authors argue that the logic of settler colonialism and the active and ongoing dispossession of Indigenous peoples shape scholarship on migration, race, and citizenship in Canada.

Basu is Associate Professor and Geography Legacy Coordinator at EUC. She is a research faculty at the Centre for Refugee Studies (CRS); York Centre for Education and Community (YCEC); York Centre for Asian Research (YCAR); The City Institute at York University (CITY); and fellow at the Centre for Research on Latin America and the Caribbean (CERLAC).