Opening unexpected spaces of Auschwitz: developing place-based pedagogical framework of responsibility/response-ability for Holocaust Education

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


Every year, individuals visit Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, Poland, including via schools, to learn lessons about and from the Holocaust. Despite studies exploring students’ historical knowledge following these excursions, few have explored how students learn at Holocaust sites (Feldman, 2008). Informed by Science and Technological Studies (STS), geography and performativity, this paper is
based a recent PhD which aimed – amongst other things – to evaluate what an innovative sociomaterial analysis of Auschwitz-Birkenau might contribute to theorising Holocaust pedagogies. An ‘onto-epistemological’ model for analysing Holocaust education excursions was proposed to
interrogate how pedagogy is performed relationally (Barad, 2007). An ethnographic-inspired design involved the researcher living on-site as a volunteer at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Field note-taking, photography and documentary mapping were deployed to gauge the visitors’ learning. Three case studies of Scottish and Norwegian secondary school visits were analysed, attending to the social,
material and bodily participations of students as they toured the site. Follow-up focus group ‘interviews’ enabled students to discuss their learning. Some salient empirical findings from the study suggest the prevalence of ‘lively, (dead) pedagogical spaces’ at the Museum. ‘Lively, (dead) spaces’ were places of disruption and transition that emerged through the multiple practices of the Museum
tour. An intended pedagogy of authenticity was contested by students when the spaces of the Museum tour were more ‘open’ to intervening practices, including the unexpected appearance of animals, which encouraged students to live-within Auschwitz past and present. This finding challenged previous research which suggested that students and visitors have a narrow conceptualisation of the Holocaust following their visit to the Museum (Cowan and Maitles, 2011). Moreover, where there are ‘openings’ in the Museum landscape, there are also possibilities for spaces to choreograph new knowledges that encourage democratic learning. A new place-based pedagogical framework for responsibility/response-ability is thus proposed (Henderson, 2015).
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 16 Jun 2016
Event2016 CiCea / Jean Monnet CiCe Network Conference: Education, Citizenship and Social Justice: Innovation, Practices and Research - Universidad Autonoma de Madrid, Madrid, Spain
Duration: 16 Jun 201618 Jun 2016


Conference2016 CiCea / Jean Monnet CiCe Network Conference
Internet address


  • holocaust education
  • democratic pedagogy
  • sociomaterialism
  • spatial methods


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