oa Critical Studies in Teaching and Learning (CriSTaL) - Teaching and learning projects as 'heterotopias'

Volume 2, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 2310-7103



This paper seeks to explore some persistent issues which impact on externally funded teaching and learning projects. The discussion considers these issues using the lens of 'heterotopias', a concept introduced by Michel Foucault. Utilising insights from Foucault's suggestive comments about 'heterotopias', the paper investigates the conceptual location of projects within different kinds of real, social and imagined space. The discussion draws on research data collected from leading participants in a longitudinal study of a sample of Centres for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETLs) in the UK. These were teaching and learning projects funded over a five year period from 2005 to 2010 by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE). Within the research sample of CETLs it is argued that examples can be found of projects which were, in Foucault's terms, 'enacted utopias', 'crisis heterotopias', 'heterotopias of deviation', 'spaces of illusion' and 'heterotopias of compensation'. The implications for teaching and learning projects are considered in the context of continuing government funding for teaching and learning projects as a means to achieve change in higher education. Using evidence from a sample of CETLs, it is argued that projects can become 'enacted utopias' - that is a short term actings out of a particular vision of teaching in universities that is disconnected from the mainstream reality of academic life. Projects become an 'illusion' that disappears when funding ends and the pre-existing academic culture continues mostly untouched by the activities within the project. Projects are designed to compensate for long-standing inadequacies but, because of their short-term funding and semi-autonomous status, they are typically not in a position to effect long term reform.

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