Four dispositions for crossing borders

GCE Otherwise:
4 dispositions for crossing geographical, intellectual and affective borders

This tool was originally developed as an educational evaluation tool for student exchange projects in Europe (e.g. Erasmus).

We use the idea of ‘travel’ as a metaphor for crossing the border between what is familiar (what we are used to and comfortable with) and what is not familiar (that can both instigate curiosity and provoke discomfort). Travelling with one’s mind (as well as heart, body and spirit) is an integral part of education, this applies both for teachers and students alike.  In this sense, travelling can happen between countries, in the shower (when you suddenly see something anew) or when you cross the street into an unfamiliar place down the road.  Travelling involves the desire for expanding imaginaries to include different spaces, forms of living, and ways of knowing and being in the world.

However, this expansion in itself does not necessarily mean a widening of possibilities for social relations or social change. Depending on how it is done, an increase of knowledge can mean precisely the opposite. Our argument is that, our patterns of thinking, feeling and being are already conditioned (but not determined) by our social, cultural and historical contexts and the knowledge we produce tends to carry these traces with it.

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This becomes an issue when we try to engage with and produce knowledge about ‘others’ using our own frames of reference. The difficulty lies in the fact that we cannot simply get rid of frames – even spotting the backbones of these frames is extremely difficult. On the other hand, education in the best sense of the word can be understood as precisely that: wrestling with the challenges of engaging with the world in all its complexity, plurality, uncertainty, and (unfortunately) severe levels of inequality, in order to enlarge possibilities for thinking and living together – in a finite planet already in crisis.

In this sense, this educational tool can help you identify the kinds of dispositions that may play out in particular contexts. The tool consists of three dispositions of traveling and one of refusal to travel: fenced house, campervan, tent and straw hat. Each disposition has specific cognitive, affective and performative configurations and they offer different scopes of possibilities for recognition and engagements with complexity, plurality, uncertainty, and inequalities.

Different from ‘competencies’, dispositions do not guarantee behavioural patterns. In fact, the tool suggests that we carry all these dispositions (and more) with us at any time and when we face a concrete encounter with difference (which highlights plurality, complexity, uncertainty, contingency and/or inequality) a combination of dispositions will manifest itself (in ways that we often cannot control) in response to contextual characteristics and qualities both internal and external to ourselves.

4 dispositions

The fenced house disposition indicates that we are trying to defend our territory and refusing to leave (often as a result of a situation where we perceive we are threatened or under siege). The caravan disposition indicates that we are willing to travel as long as we can bring our home with us, so that we can look at the world outside through the window of our references (we cannot hear the noise outside) and protect our comfort and safety (sometimes, this is the safest and only way available to engage with a situation where we feel we are in danger). The tent indicates that we have stepped out of the comforts of our home into a campground, where others are invited into our own tent (and unpleasant things are to be kept out) – we attempt to reconcile the perspectives of others with our own, trying to expand possibilities within our frames of reference and get a more complete picture of one diverse world. The straw hat indicates that we are prepared to be ‘disarmed’: to sleep in the rain if necessary and face the difficulties and joys of engaging with different worlds that will be messy and outside the possibility of complete understanding (no one frame of reference can be definite). You are still wearing your frames of reference, but the straw hat won’t last forever, you will need to re-weave it. The straw hat provides some shade to help us learn from our own responses to what is happening, but they do not prevent us from being exposed to the world and taught by what is unexpected and unintelligible.

The straw hat requires an attitude of attentiveness, of being present and of reverence to ’being taught’  that may seem counter-intuitive to the direction formal schooling has taken us (focusing on compliance, ‘safety’ certain knowledge, tests, etc.). Therefore, the tool suggests that, in order to genuinely enlarge possibilities, schools should teach about all dispositions, as well as the contexts where the dispositions are most useful (and when they might not be), having in mind that the straw hat is probably the most difficult to teach, possibly the most relevant (given the intensification of global crises) and certainly the least practiced in educational institutions (especially in  our given our historical context).


  • Fenced house: staying home and protecting the house – perception of real or illusory threat (defensiveness)
  • Caravan/RV: crossing borders carrying the comforts of your home with you and looking at the world from tinted windows that reflect your own image more than what is outside (ethnocentric projective empathy )
  • Tent: getting out of the caravan into a campground (glamping) that makes you feel like you have “arrived” somewhere and that you re open because your tent is unzipped, but you can only allow inside your tent what fits the tent’s structure and keeps it relatively comfortable for you: no mosquitos or dirty shoes inside! (selective openness and curiosity)
  • Straw hat: encountering the world in its plurality and indeterminacy with only a thin script of knowledge as protection from the weather (the hat); sleeping in the sun and the rain; being naked and open to discomfort (decentered and disarmed “presence”)

See also: Andreotti, V., Biesta, G., & Ahenakew, C. (2015). Between the nation and the globe: Education for global mindedness in Finland. Globalisation, Societies and Education13(2), 246-259.