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Journeys across Difference: Pre-Service Teacher Education Students’ Perceptions of a Pedagogy of Discomfort in a Digital Storytelling Project in South Africa

Daniela Gachago
Eunice Ivala
Janet Condy
Agnes Chigona


Understanding and managing diverse classrooms is an important competency for teachers in South Africa today. Critics of the dominant approach to teaching on and with difference in pre-service teacher education argue that it mostly promotes de-contextualised celebrations of diverse cultures without addressing critical issues of power and social forces. One of the reasons that educators shy away from engaging with issues of power and privilege in the classroom is the fear of highly explosive emotions that might emerge. However, proponents of the „affective turn‟ (Berlant, 2008; Ahmed, 2004; Ahmed, 2010; Clough and Halley, 2007; Gregg and Seigworth, 2010) in the Social Sciences argue that it is important to work with the emotions that govern our classrooms for social transformation in students to happen.
This study pilots an innovative approach for teaching on and with difference in a South African pre-service teacher education classroom, combining a digital storytelling process with participatory learning and action techniques and a reflective essay. Framed by Boler and Zembylas‟ (2003) work on the politics of emotions and feminist writings on the role of affect and public feelings, we explored how students experienced and negotiated their cognitive and emotional journey in this project. An interpretive analysis of data collected through focus groups with selected students revealed that this classroom was a divided, complex and contested space, but through interplay of emotional and cognitive labour as part of sharing and listening openly to each others‟ stories, students began to critically engage with unspoken emotional rules and power dynamics governing the classroom and their lives, disrupting some deeply rooted beliefs and assumptions.

Keywords: affective turn, digital storytelling, higher education, pedagogy of discomfort, politics of emotions, social engagement, South Africa, transformation.