Thinking about academic hospitality when teaching about wicked problems

I’ve recently become involved in a research project looking at Academic Hospitality in Interdisciplinary Education.

I think this is important for wicked problems, as most wicked problems require interdisciplinary approaches (Barnett 2007; Cantor et al. 2015; Tassone et al. 2018). We’re using the idea of academic hospitality (Phipps and Barnett, 2007) to think about how interdisciplinary teaching and learning might go forward in practice. The basic idea of academic hospitality is that a ‘host’ (say a programme leader) might have a range of ways of inviting ‘guests’ (say students and teachers from other disciplines) and making them feel welcome in their space. Thinking about everyday practices of hospitality in education can help us understand how to achieve transformative and inclusive interdisciplinary education (Zembylas, 2020).

Academic hospitality can involve (Imperiale et al., 2021; Phipps and Barnett, 2007; Zembylas, 2020):

Epistemological hospitality – the programme leader welcomes and is open to ideas from other disciplines offered by colleagues and students.

Linguistic hospitality – the teachers speak slowly and clearly and record their lectures to help students from diverse language backgrounds grasp the complex shifting language of interdisciplinary work. The classes have plenty of time for dialogue and clarifying understanding.

Material hospitality – the programme virtual learning environment is designed to be usable by participants who have poor internet connectivity or use screen readers.

Affective hospitality – sharing online ‘gifts’ such as meaningful photographs or specially written poetry between members of an online programme.

Of these, epistemological hospitality is the form most obviously relevant to interdisciplinary education. I would argue though, that the complexity and emotional challenges of interdisciplinary work on wicked problems mean that the other forms are also important.

All of this set me thinking about how we understand who are the hosts and who are the guests in a particular setting at a given time. Hospitality implies invitation into a setting across some kind of boundaries. These boundaries might be obvious doors to houses or more tacit, as with the boundaries of academic disciplines. These settings can be virtual (online meetings, virtual learning environments) although they are nonetheless embodied and enacted in specific places (when our colleagues’ children or their kitchens appear on screen) (Imperiale et al 2021).  Some of the settings might  be better understood through metaphors like ‘network’ rather than hosting in a singular home (Ross, 2019). The time may be a single meeting or a mix of synchronous and asynchronous engagement in different time zones over an extended period.

With all this being the case, it’s not at all straightforward to label some participants as guests and some as hosts (Ross, 2019). The teacher leading a class may take on the host role for a time but the student who turns on their camera in their kitchen is also hosting. Nor are hosting relationships straightforwardly warm and friendly, they inevitably involve tension and power (Ruitenberg, 2017). Wider social inequalities shape the experience of being a host or a guest (Zembylas, 2020). Think of the impact of the UK Border Agency on how we welcome some students. So how we experience hospitality when we are in a particular learning situation is socially constructed and fluid.

I think the notion of ‘figured worlds’ from Holland and her colleagues is useful here (Holland et al. 1998). A figured world is a ‘socially and culturally constructed realm of interpretation in which particular characters and actors are recognised, significance is assigned to certain acts, and particular outcomes are valued over others’ (Holland et al. 1998, 52). So, for example, in the figured world of an interdisciplinary course we would find ways of recognising different participants as hosting or guesting depending on the stories available to us in from the subject areas – and other cultures available to us – about what being a host or being a guest involves and about who gets to take those roles. The ways of doing, stories we tell, and power relations that make up the figured world are used by learners to ‘figure’ their own roles in that setting (Holland et al. 1998; Rubin 2007; Urietta 2007).  We might think about what we could do in constructing that figured world so that all our students feel like legitimate hosts and welcome guests.

Barnett, R. (2007). A will to learn: Being a student in an age of uncertainty. Maidenhead: Society for Research into Higher Education and Open University Press.

Cantor, A., V. DeLauer, D. Martin, and J. Rogan. (2015). Training interdisciplinary ‘wicked problem’ solvers: Applying lessons from HERO in community-based research experiences for undergraduates. Journal of Geography in Higher Education 39 (3), 407–419.

Holland, D., D. Skinner, W. Lachicotte Jr., and C. Cain. (1998). Identity and agency in cultural worlds. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Imperiale, M., Phipps, A. and Fassetta, G. (2021). On online practices of hospitality in higher education. Studies in Philosophy and Education 40, 629-648.

Phipps, A. and Barnett, R. (2007). Academic hospitality. Arts and Humanities in Higher Education 6(3), 237-254.

Ross, J. (2018). Casting a line: Digital co-production, hospitality and mobilities in cultural heritage settings. Curator: The Museum Journal 61(4), 575-592.

Rubin, B. (2007). Learner identity amid figured worlds: Constructing (in)competence at an urban high school. Urban Review 39 (2), 217–249.

Ruitenberg, C. (2017). Unlocking the world: Education in an ethic of hospitality. Routledge.

Tassone, V., C. O’Mahony, E. McKenna, H. Eppink, and A. Wals. (2018). (Re-)designing higher education curricula in times of systemic dysfunction: A responsible research and innovation perspective. Higher Education 76, 337–352.

Urietta Jr, L. (2007). Figured worlds and education: An introduction to the special issue. Urban Review 39 (2), 107–116.

Zembylas, M. (2020). From the ethic of hospitality to affective hospitality: Ethical, political and pedagogical implications of theorizing hospitality through the lens of affect theory. Studies in Philosophy and Education 39, 37-50.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *