The personal is pedagogical (?): Personal narratives and embodiment as teaching strategies in higher education

K.L. Frizelle


This article is a piece of “self-reflexive action work”. In it, I critically explore the pedagogical value of infusing my personal narrative and embodiment as a queer person into the content of a series of lectures on sexuality and gender. In an academic culture that promotes objectivity, incorporating one’s personal narrative and embodiment into the learning space as an educator is often criticised for being excessive and disruptive. I argue that if approached strategically and with an ethic of care, infusing personal stories and embodiment into educational content is pedagogically performative with the potential to challenge dominant cultural ideologies like heteronormativity. I use autoethnographic memory work, reflections from my teaching diary and theoretical insights from various critical theorist and pedagogues to make an argument for a queer, dialogical performative pedagogy that contributes towards the possibility of students who are able to think critically about their own gendered positions and relations within a wider context of heteronormativity.


reflexivity, critical pedagogy, critical psychology, autoethnography, heteronormativity, dialogical pedagogy, performativity, queer pedagogy, higher education

Full Text:



Allen-Collinson, J. 2013. Autoethnography as the engagement of self/other, self/culture, self/politics, selves/future. In Handbook of autoethnography, ed. S. H. Jones, T. E. Adams, C. Ellis, 281‒299. California: Left Coast Creek.

Allen, L. 2015. Queer pedagogy and the limits of thought: Teaching sexualities at university. Higher Education Research and Development 34(4): 763‒775.

Butler, J. 1999. Gender trouble, feminisms and subversion of identity. London: Routledge.

Chambers, S. and T. Carver. 2008. Judith Butler and political theory: Troubling politics. New York: Routledge.

Clift, B. C. and R. T. Clift. 2017. Toward a “pedagogy of reinvention”: Memory work, collective biography, self-study and family. Qualitative Inquiry 23(8): 605‒617.

Crawley, S. L. 2009. When coming out is redundant: On the difficulties of remaining queer and a theorist after coming out in the classroom. Feminism and Psychology 19(2): 210‒215.

Darder, A., M. P. Baltodano and R. D. Torres. 2009. Critical pedagogy: An introduction. In The critical pedagogy reader, ed. A. Darder, M. P. Baltodano and R. D. Torres, 1‒20. New York: Routledge.

Denzin, N. K. 2006. Pedagogy, performance and autoethnography. Text and Performance Quarterly 26(4): 333‒338.

Freire, P. 1970/1996. Pedagogy of the oppressed. London: Penguin.

Hames-Garcia, M. 2011. Queer theory revisited. In Gay Latino studies: A critical reader, ed. M. Hames-Garcia and E. J. Martinez, 19‒45. London: Duke University.

Hook, D. 2004. Critical psychology: The basic co-ordinates. In Critical psychology, ed. D. Hook, 10‒23. Cape Town: UCT Press.

hooks, b. 2003. Teaching community: A pedagogy of hope. London: Routledge.

Karioris, F.G. 2019. An education in sexuality and sociality: Heteronormativity on campus. London: Lexington Books.

Kiguwa, P. and H. Canham. 2010. Creating a culture of thinking? Reflections on teaching an undergraduate critical social psychology course. Act Academica Supplementum 2: 62‒90.

Knowles, C. 2014. Vulnerability: Self-study’s contribution to social justice education. Perspectives in Education 32(2): 89‒101.

Kopelson, K. 2002. Dis/integrating the gay/queer binary: “Reconstructed identity politics for a performative pedagogy”. College English 65(1): 17‒35.

Loughran, J. J. 2004. Learning through self-study: The influence of purpose, participants and context. In The international handbook of self-study of teaching and teacher education in practice: Part one, ed. J. J. Loughran, M. L. Hamilton, V. K. LaBoskey and T. Russel, 7 -39. Dordrecht: Springer.

Leibowitz, B., V. Bozalek, P. Rohleder, R. Carolissen and L. Swarts. 2010. Ah, but whitey’s love to talk about themselves: Discomfort as a pedagogy for change. Race, Ethnicity and Education 13(1): 83‒100.

Madison, D. S. 2006. The dialogic performative in critical ethnography. Text and Performance Quarterly 26(4): 320‒324.

McLauren, P. 2009. Critical pedagogy: A look at the major concepts. In The critical pedagogy reader, ed. A. Darder, M. P. Baltodano and R. D. Torres, 61‒83. New York: Routledge.

Maistry, M. 2012. Using memory as a resource for pedagogy: Fashioning a “bridging pedagogical moment”. Journal of Education 54: 65‒84.

Munyuki, C. and L. Vincent. 2018. Strangers “at home”: Gay, lesbian and bisexual students’ strategies for resisting heteronormativity in university residence life. African Journal of Higher Education 32(3): 64‒80.

Nzimande, N. 2017. Experiences of challenging heteronormativity in pre-service teacher training at the University of KwaZulu-Natal: A reflective critical incident approach. South African Journal of Higher Education 31(4): 234‒248.

Pineau, E. L. 1994. Teaching is performance: Reconceptualising a problematic metaphor. American Educational Research Journal 31(1): 3‒25.

Prilleltensky, I. and G. Nelson. 2002. Doing psychology critically: Making a difference in diverse settings. Hampshire: Palgrave MacMillan.

Psychological Society of South Africa. 2017. Practice guidelines for psychology professionals working with sexually and gender-diverse people. Johannesburg: Psychological Society of South Africa.

PsySSA see Psychological Society of South Africa.

Ratele, K. 2019. The world looks like this from here: Thoughts on African psychology. Johannesburg: Wits University Press.

Rosenberg, S. 2004. Que(e)r(y)ing the teacher’s body: Femme corporeality, vulnerability, and play. Journal of Curriculum Theorizing 20(2): 87‒96.

Schippert, C. 2006. Critical projection and queer performativity: Self-revelation in teaching/learning otherness. The Review of Education, Pedagogy, and Cultural Studies 28(3‒4): 281‒295.

Shefer, Tamara. 2004. Psychology and the regulation of gender. In Critical psychology, ed. D. Hook, 187‒209. Cape Town: UCT Press.

Shlasko, G. D. 2005. Queer (v.) pedagogy. Equity and Excellence in Education 38(2): 123‒134.

Shor, I. and P. Freire. 1987. What is the “dialogical method” of teaching? Journal of Education 169(3): 11‒31.

Spry, T. 2001. Performing autoethnography: An embodied methodological praxis. Qualitative Inquiry 7(6): 706‒732.

Stahlke-Wall, S. 2016. Towards a moderate autoethnography. International Journal of Qualitative Methods January – December: 1‒9.

Starr, L. J. 2010. The use of autoethnography in education research: Locating who we are in what we do. Canadian Journal for New Scholars in Education 3(1): 1‒9.

Sternberg, S. J. 2002. Embodied classrooms, embodied knowledges: Rethinking the mind and body split. Composition Studies 30(2): 43‒60.

Tourjee, D. 2015. Why do men kill trans women? Gender theorist Judith Butler explains. Sexuality Policy Watch. Https://

Waghid, Y. 2002. Knowledge production and higher education transformation in South Africa: Towards reflexivity in university teaching, research and community service. Higher Education 43: 457‒488.

Wallace, D. L. 2002. Out in the academy: Heterosexism, invisibility and double consciousness. College English 65(1): 53‒66.

Warren, J. T. 1999. The body politic: Performance, pedagogy, and the power of enfleshment. Text and Performance Quarterly 19(3): 257‒266.

Warren, J. T. 2011. Reflexive teaching: Toward critical autoethnographic practices of/in/on pedagogy. Cultural Studies: Critical Methodologies 11(2): 139‒144.

Zembylas, M. and C. McGlynn. 2012. Discomforting pedagogies: Emotional tensions, ethical dilemmas, and transformative possibilities. British Educational Research Journal 38(1): 41‒59.



  • There are currently no refbacks.

eISSN: 1753-5913

Copyright © 2016 South African Journal of Higher Education

Hosted by Stellenbosch University Library and Information Service since 2016.

Creative Commons License -CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

This journal is hosted by the SU LIS on request of the journal owner/editor. The SU LIS takes no responsibility for the content published within this journal, and disclaim all liability arising out of the use of or inability to use the information contained herein. We assume no responsibility, and shall not be liable for any breaches of agreement with other publishers/hosts.