Conference Papers

The University as a Transformative Space

Although the role of the university is much contested, the fact that it offers students the experience of being a student is hard to disagree with. This experience creates an environment where learning can take place, and some might say that it offers an opportunity for transformation. This paper aims to investigate how critical pedagogues might create new, transformative spaces within the university, which can lead to experiences that productively disrupt the knowledge of students and create a space for dialogue, reflection, and critical engagement with knowledge (Aronowitz & Giroux, 1985; Savin-Baden, 2008). Using observation and interview data collected with two critical pedagogues from English universities, I will explore the idea of the university as a metaphorical ‘space’ for transformation (Hope & Montgomery, 2015), and how crisis and negative experience can be productively disruptive (Cook-Sather, 2014). The idea of crisis will be contrasted with the notion of creating a ‘safe space’ for engaging with ideas, as both pedagogues interviewed expressed a struggle between making students feel comfortable enough to engage in discussion while at the same time asking students to enter into a situation where their ideas about the world could shift fundamentally (Savin-Baden, 2008). Preliminary analysis suggests the importance of freedom within a structure, which “provides a safety in which learners may experience a greater sense of freedom and autonomy” (Hope & Montgomery, 2015, p. 288), and the acknowledgment that space exists between the teacher and the student, which needs to be negotiated and translated (Savin-Baden, 2008).

Clark, L. (2017) 'The University as a Transformative Space', paper presented to The 13th Annual Conference of the British Education Studies Association (BESA), 29–30 June, viewed 08 August 2020, <>