The Pedagogy of controversy in the field of China Studies: teaching the Cultural Revolution

Kevin Carrico

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


How can we as educators address complex and controversial topics in the social sciences without encouraging simplistic responses and self-reproducing binary oppositions? Drawing upon an ethnographic analysis of a first-year writing seminar on the history of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, this article proposes novel approaches to overcome instinctive reactions to contentious topics. Arguing that the experience of controversy produces self-reinforcing binary oppositions that become autopoetically abstracted from the actual topic of discussion, I build upon specific seminar experiences to propose two novel and practical concepts for the pedagogy of controversy: (1) deidentification, which refers to a process of disengagement from the binaries and thus identities that structure and reproduce controversy, and (2) humanisation, which refers to a process of moving beyond abstractions to reidentify with the fundamentally human experience of contentious historical moments. The pedagogy of controversy, I argue, must teach against our conventional identificatory responses to controversy to promote a more nuanced understanding of inherently complex issues.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)28-57
Number of pages30
JournalLearning and Teaching
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • anthropology
  • China Studies
  • controversy
  • history
  • identity
  • pedagogy


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