Creepy White Gaze: Rethinking the Diorama as a Pedagogical Activity

Creepy White Gaze: Rethinking the Diorama as a Pedagogical Activity

Sterzuk, A., & Mulholland, V. (June 06, 2011). Creepy White Gaze: Rethinking the Diorama as a Pedagogical Activity. Alberta Journal of Educational Research, 57, 1, 16-27.

In this paper, Sterzuk and Mulholland use gaze theory and postcolonial theory to deconstruct a problematic photograph appearing in a Saskatchewan teachers’ newsletter. The photograph depicted a historically and culturally inaccurate diorama of “Great Plains Indians” made by a white settler student and entered in a local heritage fair. The authors want to trouble seemingly banal, everyday educational practices, such as diorama building, that reinforce hierarchies of race. They also show that such practices have been occurring for decades and have not changed much, thus challenging the self-congratulatory ethos of many schools that simply including ‘aboriginal content’ is enough.

In this paper, Sterzuk and Mulholland use gaze theory and postcolonial theory to deconstruct a problematic photograph appearing in a Saskatchewan teachers’ newsletter. The photograph depicted a historically and culturally inaccurate diorama of “Great Plains Indians” made by a white settler student and entered in a local heritage fair. The authors want to trouble seemingly banal, everyday educational practices, such as diorama building, that reinforce hierarchies of race. They also show that such practices have been occurring for decades and have not changed much, thus challenging the self-congratulatory ethos of many schools that simply including ‘aboriginal content’ is enough.The authors explore gaze theory in Foucauldian (gaze as a means of control) and Lacanian (gaze as a means of identification between viewer and object) senses. They argue that white settlers gazing or looking at both the diorama and the photograph of the diorama reinforces the settler subject’s feeling that they are entitled to construct and objectify the other.

The authors explore gaze theory in Foucauldian (gaze as a means of control) and Lacanian (gaze as a means of identification between viewer and object) senses. They argue that white settlers gazing or looking at both the diorama and the photograph of the diorama reinforces the settler subject’s feeling that they are entitled to construct and objectify the other.They then call on Willinsky’s theorizing of how “the world was made an object of the gaze through European imperialism” (p. 20). Sterzuk and Mulholland argue that in the diorama, like in the museum, “the powerful are free to display their stolen loot flagrantly and claim that the practice is an educational enterprise” (p. 21).

They then call on Willinsky’s theorizing of how “the world was made an object of the gaze through European imperialism” (p. 20). Sterzuk and Mulholland argue that in the diorama, like in the museum, “the powerful are free to display their stolen loot flagrantly and claim that the practice is an educational enterprise” (p. 21).They conclude that “the diorama (and the gaze it invites as evidenced by the image in question) is less about the study of “The Plains Indians” and more about the construction of racialized identities and dominance as well as the colonial pleasure afforded by the publication of this photograph in the provincial teachers’ newsletter” (p. 25). They call for faculties of education (and Canadian society at large) to become more aware of the relations between colonizer and colonized

They conclude that “the diorama (and the gaze it invites as evidenced by the image in question) is less about the study of “The Plains Indians” and more about the construction of racialized identities and dominance as well as the colonial pleasure afforded by the publication of this photograph in the provincial teachers’ newsletter” (p. 25). They call for faculties of education (and Canadian society at large) to become more aware of the relations between colonizer and colonized that produce situations where settlers can uncritically construct Indigenous peoples.Sterzuk and Mulholland provide a valuable critique of multicultural educational practices. As I study how settler teachers can include Indigenous ways,

Sterzuk and Mulholland provide a valuable critique of multicultural educational practices. As I study how settler teachers can include Indigenous ways, knowledges, languages and histories in the curriculum, it is useful to think about how these knowledges can be included in respectful and accurate ways. There is always a danger that marginalized voices, when included as ‘add-ons’ to the ‘mainstream’ curriculum, will be co-opted to reinforce — rather than challenge — the status-quo. For example, to reinforce white settler identities as exceptional. This article challenges us to think carefully about how and why we design lessons, activities and curriculum, and what it means to decolonize and/or indigenize schools and other institutions.Questions: What are best practices for teaching about Indigenous histories in settler schools?

Question:

What are best practices for teaching about Indigenous histories in settler schools?

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