SAPT seminar: TT21 wk 2: Reconstructing a ‘good’ school: Materials, affects, and meanings of education in post-earthquake Nepal

Conveners: Pratinav Anil, Pratim Ghosal, Benjamin Graham

Speaker: Uma Pradhan (CSASP/OSGA, University of Oxford)


When the earthquake hit Nepal in 2015, it affected the government schools disproportionately; accounting for 92 percent of the total damage in the education sector. This presentation draws on fieldwork in one such government school - Sunaulo School - and explores the construction of a ‘good’ school by paying close attention to this connection between the materialities of schooling and its affective experiences. Experiences of pride and hope generated by the new school building and fear and anxiety invoked by the old earthquake-damaged building were not necessarily the enactments of vain affective attachment to material things. Instead, they reveal the ‘structure of feeling’: feeling prompted by the context of the structural relations of power and status that elicit them. This presentation argues that the (re)construction of a ‘good’ school is, therefore, a socially constituted process where the school building was at once a marker of an effective state and a promise of good education for its students. The analysis presented shows that, in the context where the uneven provision of infrastructure marks social inequality, the shift in resource allocation for the school also constitutes negotiation over the social meanings of education. These new school buildings, thus, were utilized to perform claims of effectiveness by the Nepali state and claims of social prestige by parents and students. The new school buildings presented particular visions of high-performing ‘model schools’ to tackle the crisis in public education, as well as to foster a feeling of nation-building amidst all the destruction. The tangible materials of education such as buildings, classrooms, and other school infrastructures also played an important role in students’ self-formations and in creating specific types of schooled subjects.

About the speaker

Uma Pradhan is Leverhulme Early Career Fellow (OSGA - South Asian Studies) and Junior Research Fellow (Wolfson College). Uma is also the Principal Investigator for GCRF funded project 'Visions of Education' (2019-2020) and Public Engagement with Research Seed funded project 'For the better future' (2019-2020). Her research focuses on power-laden dimensions of education.

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