Professor Profiles

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Cathryn van Kessel

Assistant Professor

Education

Secondary Education

About Me

Cathryn van Kessel is an Assistant Professor at the University of Alberta in Secondary Social Studies Education.

Cathryn was born and raised in the Edmonton area, but lived and studied in Vancouver for almost a decade. Cathryn’s career as an educator began in 2005 with a move back to her original city, teaching junior and senior high social studies and Latin in Edmonton until 2015. Three of these years included serving as a vice-principal, and then subsequently she continued teaching part-time while undertaking the initial stages of her doctoral studies at the University of Alberta. She accepted an academic position in the Faculty of Education in 2016.

She holds the following degrees:

  • PhD in Social Studies and Curriculum Studies (Alberta, 2016). Dissertation: Youth Conceptualizations of Evil: Implications for Social Studies Education
  • Bachelor of Education in Secondary Social Studies (UBC, 2005)
  • Master of Arts in Ancient Culture, Religion, and Ethnicity (UBC, 2004). Thesis: Greco-Roman Ethnocentrism and Peoples of the Near East
  • Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Classical Studies (UBC, 2000).

She is an Associate Editor for the journal Canadian Social Studies, a Board Member of the Aspen Foundation, and an executive member of the Canadian Association for Curriculum Studies (CACS).


Research

Research interests include: conceptualizations of evil in the context of education, social studies education, curriculum theory, teaching for social change, philosophy in/of education, feminist pedagogy, teacher education, youth studies, popular culture, terror management theory, posthuman thought

Cathryn’s SSHRC-supported doctoral research began with a specific concern: teaching about constant recurrences of genocide, and how educators might engage pedagogically with atrocities often (and understandably) labelled as evil. Studying evil is more than just qualification or socialization; it is about subjectification—developing subjects who think and act independently from authority, but at the same time interdependently with others. Social studies education is an opportunity to arrange curriculum and pedagogy for subjectification with a driving question, how might we live together? Her research seeks to encourage teachers, curriculum designers, and researchers to engage with conceptualizations of evil in order to subvert socio-political invocations of evil that shut down thinking/thoughtfulness. How might conceptualizing evil philosophically empower us to change the status quo? Or, how might the ever-widening imaginary of domesticated or empathetic evil present in popular media add complexity to historical discussions? Cathryn is looking for ways to open up possibilities for how we might reconceptualize the past, live in the present, and ponder the future.

Following Hannah Arendt and Alain Badiou, Cathryn seeks to encourage critical thinking about human agency to counter the processes of evil present in our everyday lives. Through Jean Baudrillard and his views on Symbolic Evil, there is a potential to foster radical thought in and out of the classroom. Deleuze and Guattari (1980/1987) provide meaningful ways to rethink political literacy and action through such concepts as order-words and minoritarian politics. Finally, Becker (1973), Critchley (2008), and Thacker (2011) form a triumvirate of thought to engage with human “creatureliness” to challenge the false and arrogant assumption that the world is for us, instead of humans being merely one species of many on this planet.


Teaching

Developing and maintaining a classroom of care is vital. As a social studies educator, difficult pasts and uncomfortable contemporary situations permeate the curriculum, such as large-scale violence like war and genocide as well as systemic oppression like racism and misogyny. To engage with such situations meaningfully, Cathryn strives to create a classroom of care before these lessons begin. This involves care for all students, including those who are traditionally underserved as well as those from dominant groups who are facing the difficult knowledge of their privileges. To aid with this, Cathryn turns to scholars in education, critical theory, philosophy, and social psychology, as well as a variety of media. By educators providing classrooms of care, students have more of an opportunity to contribute to exposing and rupturing systemic bigotry, and building a shared sense of our humanity regardless of “race”/ethnicity, class, sexuality, gender, ability, language, or other sources of divisiveness.