Remembering Hunter


Hunter, tricolor Beagle and Basset mix. And Molly, tan color hound mix. Lying lazily on the bed. Molly is curled up on the pillow. Hunter is hanging his head down from the side of the bed.

Hunter, tricolor Beagle and Basset mix. And Molly, tan color hound mix. Lying lazily on the bed. Molly is curled up on the pillow. Hunter is hanging his head down from the side of the bed.

There was pet hair on the floor. I hadn’t been able to vacuum for the past week. As I run the vacuum cleaner, I realize that some of these are Hunter’s hairs. Some of the last remains of his physical body. I didn’t request to get Hunter’s ashes. It didn’t make much sense to hold on to the physical remains. I have his memories.

Hunter was our second dog, my ex’s and mine. We had gotten Molly an year ago, and were worried that Molly might be lonely when we were both at work. We wanted Molly to have a playmate. When we went to the SPCA, I was kinda taken in by a beagle. But he didn’t gel as much with my ex. We came back another day, and got to play with Hunter. He seemed really friendly, and so decided to adopt him. Hunter had a previous owner, but we didn’t know too much about his history.

That first night. I knew that he is kind of stressed out — being at the shelter, and now these new surroundings and new people. He was just pacing on the floor. And refused to sleep. At one point, I just lifted him onto the bed and cuddled him. And he … just fell asleep. In literal seconds. He made me cry that night. Such a sweet little dog, and it hurt to imagine what he might have been through.

Hunter (tri-color beagle/basset mix) and Molly (tan hound mix) are sitting in the sun, on the deck of the house in Baltimore, looking up at the camera. You can see the white tip of Hunter’s tail.

Hunter, through his life, had a rebellious streak. He refused to obey orders. And he had the big puppy droopy eyes – reminders of the beagle and basset in him. Long floppy years that flew comically in the wind or when he would run. A white-tipped tail that he held high in the air as he ran.

I kinda thought that was a tiny bit stupid. Until I realized it’s all a show. When I first tried to crate train them, Hunter would figure a way out of the crate in 5 minutes flat! Then came the puzzles. He was really great at solving puzzles when a treat was involved. One day, I just happened to have a Styrofoam cup in the house, and I thought – why not try if the pups can figure out how to get a treat from inside the cup. The cup was long and narrow enough that they couldn’t just get the treat by sticking their mouth in it. Hunter kept at that puzzle for many minutes. Trying to tilt the cup. Trying to reach inside at various angles. Trying to roll the cup on the ground. Trying to turn the cup upside down (his own mouth prevented the treat from rolling out! lol). And then at one point, one of his teeth went right through the styrofoam. Hunter just stopped. Perhaps surprised? He looked at me. And then went to work tearing out a part of the styrofoam cup to get at the treat. But he refused to obey anything I asked of him, almost on principle.

He was described as an “escape artist” on the form from SPCA, Baltimore. And indeed, a few months after he had been with us, one day, we had left the front door accidentally open, and Hunter runs out. He had a good run around the neighborhood. And made us have a good run around the neighborhood before deciding to come home with us.

After running around in the snow, Hunter loved sitting in front of the hot air vent.

Hunter loved playing in the snow, diving his nose deep into the snow








He loved sniffing everything. And for a decent bit of time. Savoring that blade of grass, all the passage of different creatures recorded in the odor profile of that grass. Or who knows why? Maybe he was just a junkie for grass smell. He had all his regular spots, along the 3-4 regular walking paths, where sniffing needs to be performed like a ritual. I used to be irritated at that. Until, one day, I was both amazed and curious at his curiosity. There was just something so intense about his experiencing that blade of grass with such attention and focus. I wondered if I have ever experienced a sound, a smell, a touch, a sight with that intensity. What would it be like to do so? It is hard to sustain that feeling every time he needs a good 1-min sniff, though. So, I started jogging in-spot when he stopped to sniff. That worked out excellently! He would get his sniff uninterrupted, and I could feel good about putting in a bit of exercise. Hunter was more accomplished at the practice though. I needed to remind myself every once in a while to reframe the stopping as an interesting moment to jog rather than a boring moment waiting for Hunter to move on, and that made any irritation evaporate.

Hunter, in the basement rental, when I first moved to College Park from Baltimore. He found another comfortable mattress to nap on.

Hunter loved to be comfortable. In any given place, he would seek out the softest mattress and sink in. New beds were especially dear to him. When I bought a new IKEA day bed, Hunter was the first to try it out. It met his approval. But the Purple mattress was his favorite. He would lay there with the head on the pillow. And he loved being on my side of the bed, on my pillow. That was his favorite spot during the day. At night, if I would get up to use the bathroom, I would invariably find Hunter in my spot when I returned. And it took coaxing, cuddles, scratches, and sometimes scolding and literally rolling him over, in order to reclaim my spot.

Hunter, sleeping, curled up.

He didn’t follow my around the house. But somehow he always knew where I was. Like, if I step out to get the mail, he knows: I would find him at the door when I enter. If I changed rooms – especially to one where there was access to a couch or mattress, he would leave the Purple mattress and come sleep on the couch/mattress. And if he heard me open a can or perhaps smelled it, he would come running to the kitchen, ‘cuz it’s dinner time. He loved dinner time. When I first got him, I was worried that he scarfs his food down too fast, and I need to make him eat more slowly.

If I entered the room while Hunter was napping, he wouldn’t fully wake up, but just follow me around with his eyes, making sure I wasn’t having too much fun without him.

He hated eating medicines. First I tricked him using peanut butter, then he grew out of it and started hating PB. Then he grew out of cheese that had a pill in it (he could tell if the cheese is hiding a pill or not). At the end, he was mostly ok if the pill was embedded in a chunk of wet food. Though sometimes, he figured out a way to eat everything and spit out the pill. Always keeping my at my wits’ end!

He had separation anxiety. He hated being left alone. He gradually learnt how to not be too anxious when I would go to work, as long as Molly was with him. Once I left him alone for an hour to take molly to the vet. He had turned that room upside down by the time I was back. I never left him alone after that.

This also meant he barked at other dogs. A lot. Walking him was challenging for me, and I had to improvise walks based on whether I see another dog walking ahead or a clear road. He loved playing with doggies off the least, but when on the leash, he would bark.

Hunter was a medium sized dog. But I think he had, in his mind, size-altering ability. As soon as I would come back from work, and if I were to sit on a futon-couch or the bed, he would jump into the lap and become a tiny lapdog. But if he saw a dump truck, the large one with scary noise, he would try to attack it and bark at it, as if he was some giant monster dog who would take on this dump truck opponent. Dump trucks were evil and meant to be vanquished. School buses were suspicious, to be monitored until they were far enough away that they couldn’t cause damage. Cars were boring and to be ignored. And bicycles were pests, to be run after and eradicated. And kitty cats fit into that hierarchy somewhere, on some days. If it was an interesting enough kitty.


Hunter was the naughty one. Once he tried to hide a piece of chicken wing under his tongue after picking it up on his walk. I make them spit out if they eat anything off the road during walks. I only noticed when he acted like he didn’t pick up anything, but was later chewing when I stopped looking at him. Once he ate a whole 8oz bar of cheese (or maybe shared it with Molly). He loved eating tissue paper.

And he was my companion through so much in my life. breakup, heartbreak, depression. Once when I was going through a strong depressive episode, I lay on the day bed, unable to really get up and do things, and Hunter and Molly came up on the bed and snuggled one on each side, demanding scratches. They made me smile, reminding me of how simple love could be if I let myself experience it.

Hunter is no more. In a way. I won’t cuddle him again, or try to rush him on a walk, or jog while watching him sniff a blade of grass. I won’t try to ask him to drink water slowly. Worry about him eating something off the road on his walk and getting a stomach upset.

As I sit on the porch, watching the fall unfolding in front of my eyes, I see life and death in everything. The leaves dying, falling gracefully. The squirrels busily scurrying around. Birds flying around, chirping, hopping, picking out worms and crickets from the ground. The worms die as a bird eats them. There are some trees with brilliant colors, before they drop the leaves. So much beauty all around, it’s almost overwhelming to the senses. And I am reminded, it’s all temporary. I can feel in my very core how everything I experience is temporary, almost momentary like the splash of a raindrop in a puddle. And so is all emotion that’s associated with it. So much beauty. in life. in death. in pain. And knowing it’s all temporary just makes it so much more intense.

The memories will fade in time. But right now, I want to experience them all.

PS: My journey with Hunter was made much easier because of the help and support of Mark and Millie (who used to walk them, board them when I was on travel, and basically, be second parents to Hunter and Molly), and the doctors and staff at Light Street Animal Hospital (in Baltimore) and Lynn Animal Hospital (in Riverdale), and Beth Roberts who groomed them.

My niece, Mihika, when she visited my place in 2015. She is crouching down beside Hunter, while Molly looks at the camera.

My brother, Pankaj, and nieces, Aditi and Mihika, on a walk with Hunter and Molly. When they visited in the summer of 2015.

Mihika hugs Hunter while Molly looks at the camera

Hunter sniffing a spot on a neighborhood yard, tail in the air

Hunter and Molly leading me on a walk

Hunter and Molly on a walk in the neighborhood

Hunter had to sniff through what I was packing for my India trip

Hunter is inspecting toiletries for my India trip

While Molly just wanted to pose like a queen and watch over all the packing activity for my trip

On being brown, immigrant, queer, scholar: Part 1

When I was growing up, I didn’t really think about being brown. Well, not in the way that I think about it now. Growing up, I was quite aware that I wasn’t fair skinned, which was highly prized within the communities I grew up in. Fair-skin was the pathway to praises, sexual opportunities, relationship opportunities, it seemed. (And as I would learn later, fair-skinned was entangled in oppressive systems of caste, class, misogyny, and also an internalization of colonization.) I wasn’t fair skinned and in subtle ways, I was made aware of it.

Then, I resisted being aware of my queerness. I had no exposure to LGBT literature, terms, concepts, people. But it isn’t as if I needed all that for knowing my own desire along lines of sexuality and gender. It took time to let myself be aware of it.

I did desire to be a scholar. Which is what made me an immigrant and brought me to the USA to pursue a Ph.D. Later, I would come to realize that too as entangled with colonialism.

My parents and I went to a travel agent to book a flight to the US. Three of us friends were coordinating our flight tickets so we will be on the same flight. The tickets felt exorbitantly expensive, I think they cost about Rs 30,000 for the one way British Airways flight. When we were booking the tickets it didn’t quite dawn on me that I was taking a one-way flight. When will I ride the second half of that journey?

I had two large Samsonite suitcases, and a large backpack that I had bought two years ago during a trip to Nepal with college friends. It felt like so much stuff! We were scared of the luggage getting lost during the flight. And so, the backpack needed to have all the basic necessities for the first few days after arrival. Mom and papa helped pack the suitcases and backpack. How many suitcases would I pack on the second half of that journey? Who will help me pack it?

My parents came to see me off at the airport. My mother tied my shoes – I had always been terrible at tying shoes up until then. The shoe-tying was like a ritual between us. The one way flight required me to grow up ultimately and be more independent. Later I would learn how my mother fell sick after I departed; how my mom and papa didn’t tell me that for years after that, so I wouldn’t be emotionally encumbered by that knowledge.

I remember crying on the flight. It just felt, that I don’t quite know what I am losing, leaving behind. I was scared. I stuffed a handkerchief – I stopped using handkerchiefs in the US, replacing them with disposable tissue – in my mouth so I won’t make audible sounds as I whelped. My friend, who was in the seat next to me, looked at me with sympathy, helplessness, and acknowledgement.

The flight took a break at Heathrow airport. It was all very confusing and scary to navigate. But one feeling I remember distinctly. It was quite different from anything I had felt before. Amongst the sea of white people, for the first time in my life, I saw myself as brown, as an ethnic minority. And just the seeds of a feeling that it will never be the same again. I wasn’t alien to the feeling of not fitting in: I often did not fit in, in school, in family. (I did enjoy an enormous amount of capital since I was good at doing school, and that helped me navigate this not fitting in.) But all that was uniquely distinct from the feeling I had at the Heathrow airport. It was a moment of clarity. It felt like a realization of what is now, distinct from what was, and nothing to do about it. Just to observe that sense of being brown.



How tension arises and disperses during group-work in physics

I have been rather fortunate to be able to work with Erin Ronayne Sohr in the past few years, first in her role as a graduate student and now as a post-doc. Erin joined our project on how students learn quantum mechanics in 2014 or so, and we got to design some tutorials together. As she conducted focus groups with students, she started noticing that some of the interactions between students were really tense. And she noticed how the work of learning was not only in focusing on the content of physics, or even on their manner in which they approached problem-solving in a moment, but also in managing interpersonal interactions and attending to one another’s emotions. Sometimes, as the tension in a group grew, some participants would want to curtail that discussion, even if they haven’t resolved the conceptual issue at heart. Sometimes, students would say things that, to us, seem epistemological: for example, someone would note that we just have to do the math, and that’s that. Erin was making the case, that while these statements look like they are about the nature of math in quantum physics, they arose in moments of interpersonal tension and functioned to disperse that tension. We dubbed that phenomenon, “Escape Hatch.” It was, as if, when things got too heated up, folks would abandon that discussion (take an escape hatch) to protect their interpersonal relations.

We did some really close analysis of participants’ gestures, posture, aspects of their speech (content, but also hedge words, how they took turns to talk, who cut of whom, intonations, etc.) to try to map out the ups and downs of tension (and emotion more broadly), of conceptual ideas, anything they said about math or the nature of physics, and, of course, interaction patterns. And we make the argument that these aspects of people’s reasoning during group-work are really entangled. If we do not attend to the entangled nature of it all, we could mis-attribute why someone is saying what they are saying, or acting the way they are.

It might seem like taking an escape hatch would be unproductive – that they abandoned the conceptual inquiry – but sometimes, doing so actually helped the group in relieving the tension and allowing them to revisit their conceptual inquiry.

We ended up writing a lot about what this might mean for instruction and curriculum design, but unfortunately, this had to be cur down a lot in the review process to fit the manuscript within acceptable word limits.

I feel so grateful that I get to work with Erin and with Andy Elby (also co-author on this work) and get to observe and learn from their humility and grace.

(And yes, part of the purpose of telling this story is also to highlight the manuscript itself. In part, it is shameless promotion, but I am owning it 😀 So … .here’s the link:

Taking an escape hatch: Managing tension in group discourse
Erin Ronayne Sohr Ayush Gupta Andrew Elby
First published in Science Education: 28 May 2018

Reason and emotion

In 2008, Andrew Elby got funded a new grant to study mathematical sensemaking with students in introductory physics classes for engineers and in a couple of their followup courses in engineering. Andy, Eric Kuo, Brian Danielak, Michael Hull and I started working on the project. As part of the project, we were doing interviews with students. We used to also meet regularly to look at the interview videos and do some close preliminary analysis playing with lots of different kinds of ideas.

Even kind of early, we were tuning into how working on physics/engineering problems brings up lots of different kinds of emotions. And these emotions would come up in lots of different situations — when stuck on a problem, or if the interviewer tried to probe some aspect of a problem more deeply, or at the resolution of some issue that led to an intuitively satisfactory solution. It was starting to inform a bit about how we were understanding the task of problem solving but initially it was kinda not very prominent in our thinking. (Andy and I published a case study on a student, Jim (pseudonym), where we modeled some of Jim’s feeling of “this is hard” as part of the what was making him feel stuck at a point in problem solving but kept epistemology as the central focus of our writing – this was published in International Journal of Science Education in 2011).

But it was in the preliminary analysis of some interviews that Brian Danielak did that we could not tear our attention away from emotion. Brian, being amazingly sensitive, would explore these issues with the student participants in our study, even when that wasn’t part of the initial protocol. In looking at an interview with a student, Judy (pseudonym), I distinctly remember when we were trying to model some of the data in words. We were playing with naming some candidate epistemological elements (such as seeing a divide between real-life circuits and their idealized models; or seeing limited utility in working with idealized models) and their connections. And noting in words how Judy’s annoyance was really important to understanding why these epistemological elements were stable in the moment. In a hoot, Andy (if I remember correctly), threw in annoyance as an element in the visual model we were drawing. It was a game-changer! We started to model how epistemological bits of the mind were connected to emotional bits.

At that time, we were still playing pretty firmly in the cognitive space. We had been noticing aspects of the students’ course contexts that mattered, and we would talk about it, but that still remained un-modeled except in our conversations. In 2010, I gave a talk at the first TRUSE conference, where I presented the Judy case study. I was kinda scared — people had warned me about talking about emotions — but I had the support of co-conspirators Brian and Andy 🙂 Perhaps it was my nervousness, I finished a 40 min talk in 25 min! And I was a little bit dejected at the reception of the argument. But post-session, Ricardo Nemirovsky encouraged me that this was important work that I should keep pursuing.

That encouragement has been a huge source of support for me ever since. Because the road to try to pursue research on emotion-cognition entanglement was not going to be easy. I tried to get some postdoctoral fellowship funding to study this and it kept getting rejected, again and again and again. And the Judy analysis sorta kinda languished a bit (even though we did do a conference paper in the meantime). Being on soft-money means that it is really difficult to pursue unfunded ideas! By the time the Judy-analysis was getting to a point where we would consider a journal submission, our project funding had already ended. It was also difficult to refine this analysis. We got some mixed feedback, and we second-guessed ourselves a lot – we felt that what we are seeing is perhaps too subtle to capture in a paper; we did not have good models for theory or methods to adapt (the literature on emotions is messy!); the story wasn’t quite as neat …

During these years, a few of us who were all tuning into our interest in emotions (Lama Jaber, Jessica Watkins, Vashti Sawtelle, Luke Conlin, Jennifer Richards, and a few others who joined later) started a group we called Affect Gang. We would meet regularly and discuss papers, emerging analysis etc on emotions. That group was what sustained me in keeping some hope alive in pursuing this line of inquiry.

Finally in 2014/15, (with a lot of reminders from Andy :D), we (Andy, Brian, and I) submitted an article to Physical Review PER on the Judy case study. The reviews were amazingly thoughtful and engaging, but also very critical. They questioned some of the basic ways in which we were modeling the data. As disappointment gradually gave way to renewed determination, I basically started doing an overhaul of how we were thinking about it. Instead of building a model that lives more closely in the knowledge-in-pieces ontology, we allowed our analysis to breathe more freely. We started structuring the analysis around the idea of co-occuring variations in epistemology and emotion. Instead of picking out “patterns” of epistemology or emotion that we see in the data, we started to focus the analysis on segments of data and messy stories of unfolding reasoning that involved epistemology, emotion, conceptions, experiences in past, hopes for the future. And I felt that this messiness somehow is more honest towards the lived experience of those moments for Brian and Judy.

The manuscript went a major overhaul and went back to PR-PER in 2016. The reviews were again amazingly thoughtful, but also critical – but thankfully allowed for revising/resubmitting rather than a reject. Some of the ways in which we were interpreting and thinking of responding to reviewer comments were pulling us back towards a more knowledge-in-pieces kinds of thinking and I struggled with that a LOT. I had tasted the messiness! I didn’t want to fit the data into a model where we only represent emotion and epistemology. The words, while long winded, allowed us to be honest to the class contexts, future aspirations, past experiences that were being shared in the interview. Those mattered! They allowed us to think about how Brian and Judy were both part of the interviewing experience. And anything we could think about as a ‘model,’ especially a visual one, hid away all that messiness. Made it reductionist. It felt to me like in trying to expand our arguments from conceptions and epistemology, we just reduced the emotions and emotional contexts into “resources” – which was deeply unsatisfactory.

It had been 7 years of working with this data. I wanted so badly to publish this, and yet felt like by telling a cleaner story, I would be doing violence to the data and to the people who created those moments that I had the privilege to watch and analyze. I was sharing all this with Chandra one day in her office. And Chandra was just like – why don’t you draw a more messy representation? I didn’t know how! So Chandra started showing me stuff that Michael Cole had drawn to represent the flow of time and linking events in time. And Chandra and I started playing with some drawings on her blackboard. For me, that was another game-changer. The diagram we drew on Chandra’s board changed a bit as Andy and I kept thinking and talking about it. … and finally after 8 years, this paper is now published!

It takes a village to get a manuscript done!

(Exploring the entanglement of personal epistemologies and emotions in students’ thinking. Ayush Gupta, Andrew Elby, and Brian A. Danielak. Phys. Rev. Phys. Educ. Res. 14, 010129 – Published 25 May 2018)

how engineering culture constructs “not cut out for engineering”

I like telling stories about papers, stories that aren’t captured always in the text of the paper.

a little less than a decade ago, i was teaching myself about socio-cultural theories by running a journal club at UMD. and some of the rhetoric in papers against anything to do with the mind was turning me off! and then we read ray mcdermott’s work, the paper titled, “adam, adam, adam, and adam.” That struck a chord. I could see the socially transformative potential for work within socio-cultural traditions. and yet, it seemed like a far place to reach. Mcdermott was talking about learning disability, and that wasn’t the immediate sphere of our work. McDermott’s work was inspirational, transformative, and yet, just a bit out of reach!

Cue: Stephen

right around 2014, Stephen started working with us (Andrew Elby and me) on a project structured around some curriculum development and research on a programming course. Stephen (being Stephen), started noticing how some students were recognized as expert programmers and others weren’t. That research (while initially focused on epistemology) turned into a study on how the engineering culture constructs people are cut out or not for programming, and by extension, engineering. It was a foray into applying McDermott’s framework of “cultural construction”  in the context of engineering classrooms. And in doing that work, we were transformed too.

This was difficult work: deep, ethnographic, data collection and analysis. How do we measure the productivity of all those hours spent? Did we publish enough? Did we disseminate (ugh! on that word) enough? but doing this kind of work also challenges us to question words like “productivity” and “disseminate”. What if, instead, we talked about meaningful work. Meaningful towards what? Towards transformation of self and with the potential for transforming the material and symbolic conditions in the world around us. It gave us new eyes, in helping us “see” how the mundane features of engineering classroom and culture enacted by hundreds of actors (students, instructors, institutional leaders, national policies, educational rhetoric, values like meritocracy and technocracy, to name just a few), close to the ‘scene’ and far off, unknowingly are acting in concert towards the construction of people as being cut out or not for engineering. It transformed that which we might see as an artifact of self as distributed across people, across vast swathes of settings, across time.

And once we do this in engineering, it helps us see how “facts” of our own life might be cultural constructions, emergent from the dance of a deeply connected and entangled world, situated in the history of the world, and extending into its future. In thus opening up our vision, I experience this work as the Buddhist practice of vipassana (to see differently). Research thus flows into meditation, and past experiences of meditation guide some parts of research.

And it urges us to change the material and symbolic conditions through changes in how we act in our own environments: if the mundane can construct conditions I find troublesome, the mundane also holds the potential to transform those conditions. And learning through the process of this particular research has enabled me to change various practices in my own engineering design classroom, towards challenging problematic (in my opinion) constructions.

It is strange though, this cultural construction … of abilities, of hierarchies, of power. Doing this work has brought some recognition — ERM Best Diversity paper at ASEE, SIG-LS Best Student paper at AERA, publication in a prestigious venue such as JEE. But what do we make of these awards as actors that construct ability and hierarchies within the landscape in which we work? Especially, because as authors, we benefit from such construction. This is still something I am struggling with.

Zooming Out from the Struggling Individual Student: An Account of the Cultural Construction of Engineering Ability in an Undergraduate Programming Class

Where am I from?

Where am I from?

Where are you from?

I am from Tollygung

Where are you really from?

My family is from Delhi

Where are you from?

I am from Delhi

oh! a bania who does well science and math!

Where are you from?

I grew up in Kolkata

Ah! I thought you look Bengali

No, my family is from Delhi

huh! your hindi does have a bengali accent

Where are you from?

I am from India

Oh nice! I really want to visit India …

Where are you from?

I am from India

ah! Namaste!

Where are you from?

I am from DC

Where are you really from?

I am from India

Huh! you have been in USA for 5 years, but your skin color is hasn’t brightened

Where are you from? Your english has an american accent

Where are you from?

Indian-American. South Asian. I lived for 22 years in India before immigrating to US

 Where are you from?

Nowhere. I can’t tell. I feel strange everywhere

Where are you from?

I need to find a place to call my own

Where are you from?

From the hyphen in between labels, the space between borders

I am immigrant

I can’t vote anywhere in the world

I *am* the hyphen, the pause between labels, the line that joins spaces.

Thoughts on Tuck & Yang: Decolonization is not a metaphor

“My stance is undoubtedly my stance right now.” Patel (2014). As I learn more about and grow in my understanding of colonialism, my stances will undoubtedly change. (Is this a disclaimer? Is this an understanding of positionality? Can I separate them from the sense of saving face in case I say insensitive or ill-informed things next? Who is this post for? What is this post for? And can there be multiple answers for all these questions? Why did Patel write this? Did they* wonder about these questions?

I feel derailed before I have begun).

I have been making my way through Tuck and Yang (2012). It kinda felt apt to do this over the holiday that is known as the National Day of Mourning (or as Thanksgiving).

The article was deeply unsettling. Powerful, thought-provoking, and leaving me with more questions than answers: but perhaps that was the purpose of the article. Here are some points that I think the article was making:

  1. There are a variety of ways to engage in social justice in education. These arise from the varieties of injustices in education: racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, ableism, capitalism, imperialism, militarism, colonization, etc. Justice movements take on one or more of these foci.
  2. But lumping them all together is problematic. It leads to loss of meaning. It leads to loss of meaningful engagement. Especially, with respect to colonialism, it can serve to reify the settler-colonial position rather than challenge it.
  3. Tuck and Yang say that these different foci for social justice in education can fit under the umbrella term of “social justice” — but voice alarm for the growing trend of scholars just throwing the term “decolonizing” around to capture all of these.
  4. They lead us to understand the different forms by which colonization operates: external, internal, settler. Not all forms of colonialism are the same. Settle colonialism functions through acquisition of indigenous land through violence/genocide and by changing its ontology to property. It disrupts indigenous relationship to land. Ultimately, its goal is to deny land its indigeneity and deny indigenous peoples their existence. This is the colonialism that Tuck and Yang are talking about, while acknowledging how the different forms of colonialism are entangled, and how colonialism in one place benefited from colonialism in another.
  5. “Decolonizing” – for Tuck and Yang, then, means the repatriation of land – from settlers to indigenous people. They distinguish this from “anti-colonial” stances that can include resisting the by-products and tools of colonialism such as racism, sexism, heterosexism, militarism, etc.
  6. Anything else, they argue would be another “move to innocence” – a term they borrow from Mawhinney (1998) — ways in which settlers seek to insulate themselves from historical and ongoing colonization.
  7. Decolonization then cannot simply be a metaphor for resisting any and all oppression: In the American context, they argue for reserving the term for undoing settler-colonialism, specifically by repatriating land from settlers to indigenous peoples.

Tuck and Yang leave a very narrow path to follow, unyielding to any but one direction in how they conceptualize decolonization. I find myself intrigued yet unsettled. For one, Tuck and Yang make me very conscious of my own positionality as settler, as benefiting from and advancing the settler colonial enterprise. And they urge awareness of this positionality within settler colonial structure as education scholars pursue their work.

Tuck and Yang’s version of decolonization raises immediate questions: What will this even look like? But they note that any such question centers settler futurity, rather than indigenous futurity. I find this confusing. How can I engage with an idea if I don’t understand it fully? And what would repatriation that centers indigenous futurity look like? Repatriation can mean so many different things. In a literal sense are they saying that everyone who is not already part of the indigenous community through membership in first nations should leave the americas? If that is the literal sense of repatriation and asking any question about how/what is assumed to center settler futurity, then does that mean that decolonization would mean no empathy for those who currently are in this land (yes through settler colonialism and by active or inactive support of it). Tuck and Yang reject Freire’s notion of liberating the oppressed and the oppressor. While Tuck and Yang are conscious that decolonization itself can reproduce the indigenous-settler-slave triad and reject the simple shuffling of who occupies which role, it is not clear to me how turning the clock back by hundreds of years will not reproduce a new class of the oppressed?

How can we repatriate land in a way that we do not borrow the settler-colonial ontology of land as property? Isn’t that precisely the problem in how I have interpreted repatriation in the paragraph above: that repatriation would mean transferring “ownership” of land to indigenous peoples and the displacement of all those functioning as settler-colonizers in the present? Maybe this is where I am missing the point that Tuck and Yang are making.

Here, I find another way to interpret Tuck and Yang: Maybe by repatriation they mean restoring the relationship of people with land, undoing the ontology of land as property, as source of exploitable resources rather than as a nurturing mutually-ecologically bound being**. If that’s the case then Tuck and Yang mean repatriation as a metaphor (which kinda would be surprising given that the argument is against using decolonizing in a metaphorical sense). But I am limited in my reading of Tuck’s extensive scholarship, where I might find more clarity.

Right now, I find myself most drawn to how Tuck and Yang define anti-colonial: because it helps me see how the different ways of oppression are linked between themselves, and how they are intricately intertwined in historical and ongoing colonization. It also makes me think more about how colonization in different places is linked. And so it makes me more aware of how various oppressive practices of sexism, racism, classism, capitalism, militarism, etc were woven together to produce the british colonization of south asia. And then, anti-colonial takes on the meaning of resisting these practices in a unified manner, addressing not the symptoms resulting from these oppressions, but challenging the very tenets of the system that produces it. And thinking about how such violences have structured education, and in that, think about anti-colonial approaches to education. This is kinda running similar to the opening pages of Patel (2014). And I look forward to reading the rest of Patel (2014).

At this point, I do wanna think clearly what anti-colonial means though. And even as my own thinking will certainly evolve, at this point, I kinda feel certain about one thing: not all work around race, gender, etc is anti-colonial. In fact, there is large effort around stuff like gender gap, race gap, and increasing access for black and brown and female bodies to simply participate in the capitalist-militarist-sexist-racist enterprise without questioning the tenets of that system, or “lite” versions of challenges that simply mean to incorporate “cultural practices” within regular schooling in ways that do not challenge the very target of what counts as learning/education, or question towards what purpose, and towards whose purpose that learning/education is aimed. These efforts, for me, wouldn’t count as anti-colonial. (To be clear: as long as the system exists, I value attempts for greater diversity and inclusion. But I think I can live with the dual positions of valuing them, while still thinking about how these efforts can get folded into the colonization enterprise.)


* I am using the pronoun “they” for authors if I do not specifically know their preferred pronouns, so that I do not make gender-binary assumptions based on the name of an author.

** In my very limited understanding, I find a lot of commonality between the ways in which the relationship between land and peoples is discussed by indigenous scholars in america and how I have understood the relationship with land in india (through movies and literature).

Patel, L. (2014). Countering coloniality in educational research: From ownership to answerability. Educational Studies50(4), 357-377.

Tuck, E., & Yang, K. W. (2012). Decolonization is not a metaphor. Decolonization: Indigeneity, education & society1(1).

Mawhinney, J. (1998). ‘Giving up the ghost’: Disrupting the (re)production of white privilege in anti-racist pedagogy and organizational change. Masters Thesis, Ontatio Institutue for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto. Available at:

Displacement as a tool

There are at least two ways in which displacement – physical, cultural – has played a role in my own learning and growth.

  1. through helping me re-conceptualize my past
  2. by providing me resources for understanding the present and the future

Growing up in kolkata, I didn’t really think about myself as brown, and didn’t have any strong identity as an ethnic minority. After coming to the US, these senses have been heightened. Over time, I have learnt more about race and racism: mainly through some (but very limited) reading/understanding of the racial history of the US, and through reading/learning from current movements (such as BLM) and authors such as TNC. As a brown-bodied person in the US, immigrating with tons of privilege in terms of education, job, class, the displacement has, over time, made me aware of my own positionality in the middle of structures: thus participating in social institutions as the oppressed and as the oppressor.

This has helped me look back at my past in Kolkata (and those yearly visits to Delhi): and to better understand how regionalism, casteism, communalism, and racism are functioning in india (both as individual prejudice and institutional racist policies that reproduce/maintain dominant power hierarchies and structures that marginalize folks). One thing that I was aware of dimly but have come to become more aware of (through my experiences in the US), is the ways in which I experienced marginalization in kolkata on account of being “non-Bengali.” Another thing (that I was aware of perhaps even less during my life in Kolkata) that this displacement has helped me realize is the ways in which I also participated in various acts of marginalizing towards other communities such as “sardars” or “madrasis” … the very language and terms we use are infused with prejudice and ignorance.

There is yet another way that displacement has been a powerful tool for me to think with. What displacement did was throw me in the borderlands – of culture and ethnicity. There was no choice but to grapple with it. This has helped me grapple with other ways in which my life has crossed traditional boundaries: sexuality, gender, research. It is difficult for me to tease apart when precisely these different boundary-crossings happened, and in what order, since some of this was simultaneous. I came out as “gay” in 2003, when I was still trying to make sense of my experiences in the US as an ethnic minority. These things have melded together into some sense of being an immigrant in multiple spaces (not just the meaning of “immigrant” as defined by geopolitical boundaries). Or maybe a better way to say is: having migrated from multiple spaces but not really. I don’t quite have the language here because immigrating and migration imply movement from one place to another. While what I want to say is that I moved from one space (cultural, ethnic, sexual, gender, research) into other spaces such that the previous space still remains with me: For example, my indianness is not erased, and as such my americanness is different. Or that traditional notions of gender co-exist with gender transgressions. So, like, the best way to describe it is in what Anzaldua calls “borderlands” But displacements – cultural, ethinic, sexual, gender – have helped one another, in bringing a sense of understanding of what each movement is and in being increasingly more comfortable in living in the borderlands, not yearning to cross over into another box.