The Pedagogy of Dystopia

In that last few weeks, I have been reading about pedagogy and story with a view to exploring  approaches to change. These are topics that I find simultaneously fascinating and incredibly complex. We are often faced with a ‘catch 22’ situation of how to influence change from within as described in the wonderful article on Tempered Radicals by Meyerson & Scully (1995) which highlights the middle road to change by striving for incremental wins from within the established system. This is a process of inculcation into the norms of organisation, to take opportunities when presented, to make incremental changes on the road to a greater goal. On the face of it, such an approach sounds like the perfect strategy for covert radical agents to unpick the established order from within, yet it disregards another truth (as I perceive it) that such small wins are also met with other wins (often larger in scale) that wrestle the balance of power back to to dominant group (the tax relief legislation in USA is a prime example of this).

To elaborate on this thought, let’s consider the wonderful story of the victory of the suffrage movement in 1918 winning the right to vote for women (over 30 & ‘of property’). We recently celebrated the centenary of this event and a statue to Millicent Fawcett was unveiled in Parliament Square to mark the occasion. This moment in history was a significant step towards greater democratic voice for women in all global societies and had followed similar breakthroughs in New Zealand, Australia and Northern Europe in preceding years. The global watershed was in and around 1918, but it should be noted that the UK lagged behind in terms of the full right to vote until 1928. This story could be heralded as the dawn of true democracy and equal rights. However, viewing the story in that way begs the question; with such a significant advance in the equity movement 100 years ago, why do we continue to see inequity in the the leadership positions across society today? I can only speculate that the victory was also met with an equal effort to redress the balance by the dominant. Such efforts are simple to understand when considered. After all, allowing all people the right to vote, but only offering up candidates from parties who reproduce male dominance, is not really offering a meaningful choice. We must ask ourselves, where do the parties come from and who maintains them? This is a dystopian story we don’t hear about and one that would not suit the dominant to tell us.

I am reminded of a scene in the film ‘The Remains of the Day’ which perfectly encapsulates my feelings on the attitudes of many of the dominant in society towards the dominated. The scene centres on some male guests of Lord Darlington enjoying cigars and brandy while discussing foreign policy and economics. One particularly pompous man repudiates the butler and main protagonist, Mr Stevens’ qualification to vote (and that of all working class people) based on his hypothesis that working class people are ill equipped to make such weighty decisions based on their inferior knowledge of vital national interests. In a way, they are protecting the dominated from their own ignorance. He continues to ‘prove’ his hypothesis by questioning Stevens  on such themes to which Stevens (a life long butler) is naturally unable to provide any meaningful response. The questioner disregards Steven’s vast and comprehensive knowledge of the complex order and balance of this grand household, his admirable sense of duty and the various responsibilities he masters with ease and instead lends greater weight to the privileged knowledge he, as a privileged person, holds. This example of inequity in story exemplifies what I perceive to be the rationale of the dominant to re-stack the deck when new rules are imposed that aim to move society towards egalitarianism.

I can only speculate that the dominant will always find a way to remain dominant if the dominated allow them the privilege of time to adapt. However, history has also taught us that radical overthrow does not often result in better outcomes for the majority. The dystopic Bolshevik revolution in Russia proved that comprehensively. In the aftermath of collective action victories in the USA such as civil rights and second wave feminism, democracy in the USA has become owned by dystopic corporate interests, ‘Usually, US elections can be predicted pretty well by the level of funding, overwhelmingly from the very wealthy and corporations’ (Chomsky, 2004) If we accept that dominant interests will always fight to preserve their domination, what can the dominated do to change this cycle? Bourdieu taught us that we must harness the intellectual tools of the dominant, the valued status commodities of industrial progress that create economic prosperity, to carve out our own prosperity within the hierarchy of society. In my view, such destiny is doomed to reproduce a dominant power dynamic in perpetuity; to reinforce the privilege of the few with greater and greater degrees of power bestowed as more people conform to the rules of the game.

The seeds of a plan

It has become increasingly clear to me in writing this blog that persuasion, lobbying and education (upwards and downwards) are the best means of achieving meaningful change. It is the dominant story that needs to be changed, not the story of the dominated. Embedding critical thought, healthy scepticism and existential questions into our curriculum for children and adults can show people that gender, ethnicity, age, disability, sexual orientation and any other characteristics are not, and should not, be a barrier to success. I believe that focusing on raising collective awareness of equity and building an intrinsic expectation of fairness is how we can ascend to the real goal of equality for all. We have so many tools at our disposal now with instant communication enabling organising on a scale not possible 100, 50 or even 20 years ago. The influential figures who can really change minds are the teachers, parents, friends and colleagues you live with every day. Start a conversation, start a group, start a movement and change some minds. I see my role as a story teller in this movement. My research will be a conduit for a narrative to raise awareness and point towards change.  I believe that stories can be incredibly powerful in changing ideology and this is how I feel my abilities can be best utilised. We must, however, be wary of the equally powerful and dystopic use of story to maintaining ideology.

We must not be distracted!

With the royal wedding looming, the story of fantasy and escapism reigns dominant in the land. We are encouraged to bask in the pageantry and glamour of royal decadence and marvel at the benevolence of the royal couple who deign to open their special day to a few hundred special guests from the public (of course they must bring their own lunch, booze and finance their travel, clothing and accommodation for the occasion). Here we see the ultimate slap in the face for the dominated. They have their place in society branded upon them as the passive observers of privilege, while the wealthy gorge themselves on state financed delights. We do this willingly and gratefully for a mere glimpse into a lifestyle that most people can only dream of. The royal family represent the high benchmark as an example of reproduction. Maintaining their grasp on privilege and adapting to the changing world with brilliant skill. Gender dynamics in this institution have only ceded to global standards in the last decade with the changing of patriarchal royal succession so male heirs no longer trump older females in the family tree. This, apart from anything else, should highlight the snails pace of change still blighting the gender movement. These establishment rules were written and remain in force to maintain and reproduce the power dynamic. It is their dystopian story to pass down through the generations and it does not change easily. This is an exclusive story and a game that only the lucky few can play. The lucky few in society just so happen to be predominantly male…

We must remain focused on writing our own story and sharing it widely. Only when people start to enjoy and reproduce the story of equity can equality be achieved. Until then, the dominant will continue their dystopian tale, to distract, pacify and maintain their place in the hierarchy.



Bourdieu, Passeron, & Passeron, Jean-Claude. (1990). Reproduction in education, society and culture (2nd ed., Theory, culture & society). London: Sage.

Czarniawska-Joerges, B., & De Monthoux, P. (Eds.). (2005). Good novels, better management: Reading organizational realities in fiction. Routledge.

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed, 30th anniversary. Trans. MB Ramos). New York: Continuum.

Freire, P. (2014). Pedagogy of hope: Reliving pedagogy of the oppressed. Bloomsbury Publishing.

Gabriel, Y., & Connell, N. A. D. (2010). Co-creating stories: Collaborative experiments in storytelling. Management Learning, 41(5), 507-523.

Meyerson, D. E., & Scully, M. A. (1995). Crossroads tempered radicalism and the politics of ambivalence and change. Organization Science6(5), 585-600.


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