“the beach”

“The beach” has been used in our collective as a cartography that attempts to articulate different affective investments that people bring to engagements with global challenges and global justice. It emerged as a response to the need to talk about our fears of “drowning” as we face the complexities, complicities, paradoxes, uncertainties, inequalities and contradictions of social and global justice work.

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The “splashing” position is one where people are just testing the waters in relation to a specific issue – they need basic information and are motivated by whether or not they feel comfortable and confident to have a positive experience in facing the breaking waves of a particular beach. In global justice education, people in this position would be asking informational questions like: What is the problem? What is the way forward? How does it affect me? Why should I do something? How can I start to contribute to make it better?

The floating position evokes aspirations for a comfortable spot beyond the breaking point of the waves, where one is in control of a situation and can relax. This position is where people seek tested models and solutions that can be systematically implemented to deliver pre-determined results that can be effectively measured. The general idea is that a correct, unambiguous and authoritative definition of an issue will provide the clarity for solutions to be found and policies to be made. These solutions and policies will then be interpreted and implemented in a seamless way, producing the desired outcomes determined from the outset. Most funding mechanisms operate under the premise that this is both possible and desirable, which is counter-productive as it restricts analyses and horizons of intervention and encourages cosmetic narratives of effectiveness and success, which prevent people from admitting to and/or learning from failure. Questions in this position tend to be methodological (related to ways of doing):

What strategies are effective? What outcomes are expected? How can outcomes be objectively measured? How does/will it work? How to improve effectiveness? What obstacles prevent success? What knowledge/expertise/data/ is missing? What policy is needed or not being implemented correctly? How does this compare to what happens in other contexts?

The ducking position is where people start to put their head under the water and open their eyes to realities that significantly challenge what they had expected (or wished) to see. In this position, there is a tangible fear of drowning in the murkiness of complexities, complicities, ambivalences, paradoxes, inequalities and uncertainties of an unfamiliar “larger picture”. As we learn to develop the capacity to spend more time under the water, we also have to use floating techniques to come to the surface to breathe. Questions in this position tend to be epistemological (related to ways of knowing):

Who decides which direction forward is? In whose name? For whose benefit? How come (i.e. historical/systemic forces)? How are dissenting voices included (or not)? Who would disagree with our solutions? Whose terms of dialogue/inclusion are in operation? What collective traumas are present? Why? Who has been historically and systemically wounded? Whose vulnerabilities are visible/invisible? What notions of authority, merit, credibility, normality and entitlement are at work? What is being opposed and proposed as replacement? How am I complicit in harm? How am I part of the problem? How am I reading and being read? How can I enact ethical solidarity? What truths are we not ready, willing, or able to speak or to hear? What assumptions are we taking for granted? If there is no one right answer but absolute relativism is not the answer either, then how can we learn to practice discernment and contextual choices? How can we work across difference/collaborate without requiring consensus?In what circumstances is theorizing relevant/useful/helpful and in what circumstances does it get in the way?

Moving from ducking to diving the questions tend to focus on the depth of acknowledged and unacknowledged affective investments and foreclosures or sanctioned ignorances (related to ways of feeling and relating):

What are we deeply attached to? Why? What do we get our of it? What social tensions are we failing to recognize? What cultural ignorances are we continuing to embody? How can we remain accountable for our ignorances while recognizing that we will not be able to address them all at once, or possibly ever? How can we work within imperfect or even violent systems and institutions in meaningful ways, while knowing that we may be contributing to harm? What important questions are we not asking? What fantasies/delusions are we invested in? What are our perceived entitlements? Where do they come from? How do they get in the way? What prevents us from listening deeply without fear and without projections? Do we know how to listen? Where are we stuck? What is keeping us there? What do we need to give up/let go to go deeper? How can we distinguish between distractions and important stuff? How are we being accountable to future generations? What do we need in order to uphold our individual and collective wellness as we continue?Are we still being driven by the desire to ‘get it right’, and if so, how can we interrupt this desire and what else might drive us?If we are not driven by the need for immediate answers, but don’t want to spend our time on efforts that will lead to neither healing nor learning, how do we decide what is worthwhile? How should we respond to/defend ourselves from violence? Is it possible for our modes of self-defense to break the cycle of violence, or is that asking too much? What can trigger us into unproductive defensive states? What insecurities do these states expose or try to hide? What are our fragilities? Whose bodies are carrying the weight of the emotional labour necessary for our learning?

As people develop the stamina, breathing capacity, visual ability and diving techniques to spend more time under the water, they start to ask ontological questions (related to ways of being), such as:

Who are we beyond our perceptions, self-images and categories of thought? How can we presence the world without identifying or dis-identifying with it? How can we disarm and de-center in order to be able to “be with” where we are and what is in front of us? If what matters is what still matters when we are no longer in these bodies, how do we recognize and honor that? How can we be naked and vulnerable before each other without fear? How can we respect the pace and readiness of people’s learning while being accountable to the individuals and communities negatively affected by this learning and its pace? Who is bearing the costs of my learning and its pace? What are the non-human ‘people’ around us teaching/showing/reflecting back? What and how are our ancestors (those who have come before and will come after us) communicating with us? How can we support each other when we fail or make mistakes? How can humour, art, eros, tricksters, the non-human and the divine be welcome and respected as important teachers? How do we un-numb? How do we awaken other senses? How do we reason beyond time and form (organic temporalities)? How do we make space for the land to imagine/dream/design through us? What can we learn from the failures, limitations and successes of this experiment? How can we stop this new learning from solidifying into a dogma? How can this learning be passed on to others so that mistakes may not be repeated? “Who is this really about?”

The article “The educational challenges of imagining the world differently” (Andreotti 2016) presents a more detailed analysis of why these questions are important in educational work. Further ideas on how these questions relate to global justice can be found in the books “Ambiguities of Activism: Alter-Globalism and the Imperatives of Speed” (Hoofd 2012) and “Against Purity: Living Ethically in Compromised Times” (Shotwell 2016).



  • Andreotti, V. (2016). The educational challenges of imagining the world differently. Canadian Journal of Development Studies/Revue canadienne d’études du développement, 37(1), 101-112.
  • Hoofd, I. M. (2012). Ambiguities of activism: Alter-globalism and the imperatives of speed. New York: Routledge.
  • Shotwell, A. (2016). Against purity: Living ethically in compromised times. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.


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