Refugee and Indigenous Comics: 'Decolonizing' the English Classroom

Candida RifkindMCRl

This session will explore the role that comics and graphic narratives might play in current efforts to ‘decolonise’ curricula in English Departments in both the UK and Canada, paying especial attention to the contrasting implications of the word ‘decolonise’ in those comparable but different contexts. Dr Dom Davies, a Lecturer in English at City, University of London, has written and published widely on graphic narratives, focusing especially on their relationship with infrastructures, borders, and stories of post/colonial violence and displacement. Professor Candida Rifkind is a comics scholar and Canadian literature specialist whose current research focuses on Indigenous comics and migrant/refugee comics as graphic interventions that unsettle dominant narratives of settler colonial and post/colonial displacements and dispossessions.

Together, they have recently co-edited a collection of sixteen essays and three comics, Documenting Trauma in Comics: Traumatic Pasts, Embodied Histories, & Graphic Reportage, which will have been published with Palgrave by the time of this conference.

In this session, Dr Davies and Professor Rifkind will each give a short presentation, on which we include more details below, before leading a short sample workshop/lesson on how comics might be used in decolonising contexts. Plenty of time for questions and discussion will also be scheduled into the session.

Teaching (with) Refugee Comics (Dr. Dominic Davies)

Dom has been both teaching, and teaching with, refugee comics at several different academic levels for over two years, from Widening Participation programmes to BA first and third-year levels and, most recently, through to MA modules. In this short presentation, he will discuss some of the different teaching environments in which he has used refugee comics and comment on their intersection with his (and his Department’s) commitment to decolonising their curricula. Dom will discuss the use of refugee webcomics to expand both primary and secondary school students’ understanding of what a degree in English Literature can and might involve; the use of canonised graphic narratives of displacement, such as Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, to engage English students with the sometimes daunting analytical lenses of postcolonial and decolonial studies from the very first year of their degree; and his design and delivery of, as well as early student responses to, a whole MA module in which students study a cohesive body of refugee comics – from canonised graphic novels such as Maus and Palestine through to more recent and experimental works – alongside a range of theoretical texts that raise questions about the ethics and politics of regarding violence, from Susan Sontag to Nicholas Mirzoeff and Ariella Azoulay.

Place and Pedagogy: Indigenous Comics in/and English (Dr. Candida Rifkind)

Candida is a settler (non-Indigenous) scholar who has been researching, teaching, and organizing campus events around Indigenous comics for over four years, teaching them from the first year level to graduate studies, collaborating on the first Indigenous Comics Annotated Bibliography, and co-organizing the inaugural “One Book UW” mass reading event at the University of Winnipeg in Fall 2019, in which over 1000 students read a collection of Indigenous history comics, This Place: 150 Years Retold (HighWater, 2019). In this presentation, she will discuss the politics of reconciliation in the Canadian university, with reference to institutional and departmental Land Acknowledgements, and the surge of interest in teaching Indigenous writers and artists in order to ‘decolonize’ the settler colonial English curriculum. Drawing on her own teaching and research, students’ insights, and Indigenous theorists (Daniel Heath Justice, Eve Tuck, Elizabeth LaPensée), she will discuss the scholarly, pedagogical, and administrative tensions that emerge when ‘decolonization’ becomes sanctified by settler colonial institutions, and traditionally devalued and disruptive forms, such as comics, move into positions of prestige.

Sat 2:15 pm - 3:30 pm