Skip to content
BY 4.0 license Open Access Published by De Gruyter Open Access June 1, 2021

Pandemic Education: Dissensus, Achievement, Enclosure

  • Matthew Chrisler EMAIL logo


Alongside a crisis of public health, COVID-19 has also engendered a crisis of social reproduction in the domain of public education. Drawing on conversations and collaborations with K-12 education advocates in the Phoenix metropolitan area, this essay deploys an activist methodology to identify political struggles and turn the ethnographic lens onto the publics and political economies that shape them. After situating contemporary Phoenix schooling in the regional history of the southwest-turned-sunbelt, I examine emerging features of pandemic education in 2020: managed dissensus, caretaking achievement, and education technology enclosures. I retool the concept of “managed dissensus” to argue that, in polarizing debates about the pandemic, conservative politics shifted from consent to coercion in order to maintain priorities of privatizing education and “reopening” the economy. Further, as districts pursued virtual schooling, I show how an institutional project of caretaking achievement produced new patterns of alienation, disengagement, and punishment among teachers and students. Third, I consider how technology created unequal enclosures of parents and students in new gendered, racialized, and ableist regimes of education. As the pandemic continues into 2021, anthropologists should continue to examine public education and social reproduction as sites where state power, racism, and colonialism are expressed and transformed.


Altavena, L. (2020, April 15). How will my kids be graded? Will extracurricular fees be refunded? Answering coronavirus school questions. The Arizona Republic. in Google Scholar

Altavena, L. & Price, J. (2019, February 22). Arizona’s at-risk students go to ‘alternative’ schools. Then the system fails them. The Arizona Republic. in Google Scholar

Amerman, S. (2010). Urban Indians in Phoenix Schools, 1940-2000. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.Search in Google Scholar

Arizonans for Charter School Accountability. (2018). District schools go unrepaired and teachers underpaid… To finance charter real estate empires. in Google Scholar

Benjamin, R. (2019). Introduction: Discriminatory Design, Liberating Imagination. In R. Benjamin (Ed.), Captivating Technology: Race, Carceral Technoscience, and Liberatory Imagination in Everyday Life (pp. 1–22). Durham: Duke University Press. in Google Scholar

Brown, W. (2006). American Nightmare: Neoliberalism, Neoconservatism, De-Democratization. Political Theory, 34(6), 690–714. in Google Scholar

Cabrera, N. L., Milem, J. F., Jaquette, O, & Marx, R. W. (2014). Missing the (Student Achievement) Forest for All the (Political) Trees: Empiricism and the Mexican American Studies Controversy in Tucson. American Educational Research Journal, 51(6), 1084–1118. in Google Scholar

Chandra, S. Change, A. Day, L. Fazullah, A. Liu, J. McBride, L. Mudalige, T., & Weiss, D. (2020). Closing the K-12 Digital Divide in the Age of Distance Learning. San Francisco: Common Sense Media. Boston: Boston Consulting Group.Search in Google Scholar

Cooper, M. (2017). Family Values: Between Neoliberalism and the New Social Conservativism. New York: Zone Books. in Google Scholar

Craven, C., & Davis, D.-A. (2013). Introduction: Feminist Activist Ethnography. In C. Craven & D.-A. Davis (Eds.), Feminist Activist Ethnography: Counterpoints to Neoliberalism in North America (pp. 1–20). New York: Lexington Books.Search in Google Scholar

Ducey, D. (2021). Governor Doug Ducey Delivers the 2021 State of the State Address [Video]. in Google Scholar

Echevarría, D. V. (2014). Atzlán Arizona: Mexican American Educational Empowerment, 1968-1978. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.Search in Google Scholar

Fennel, C. (2015). Last Project Standing: Civics and Sympathy in Post-Welfare Chicago. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. in Google Scholar

Fine, M., & Ruglis, J. (2009). Circuits and Consequences of Dispossession: The Racialized Realignment of the Public Sphere for U.S. Youth. Transforming Anthropology, 17(1), 20–33. in Google Scholar

Foucault, M. (1995). Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (2nd ed.). New York: Vintage Books.Search in Google Scholar

Fraser, N. (2017). Crisis of Care? On the Social Reproductive Contradictions of Contemporary Capitalism. In T. Bhattacharya (Ed.), Social Reproduction Theory: Remapping Class, Recentering Oppression (pp. 21–36). London: Pluto Press. in Google Scholar

Governor’s Task Force on Educational Reform. (1991). Reform, Restructuring, Rededication: A report of the Governor’s Task Force on Educational Reform to the people of Arizona. Phoenix: Governor’s Task Force on Educational Reform. Retrieved from Arizona Memory Project: in Google Scholar

Hale, C. (2006). Activist Research v. Cultural Critique: Indigenous Land Rights and the Contradictions of Politically Engaged Anthropology. Cultural Anthropology, 21(1), 96–120. in Google Scholar

Hall, S., Critcher, C., Jefferson, T., Clarke, J., & Roberts, B. (1978). Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State, and Law and Order. London: The Macmillan Press Ltd. in Google Scholar

Harris, C. (2018, August 22). Primavera charter CEO gets $8.8 million despite having Arizona’s third highest dropout rate. The Arizona Republic. in Google Scholar

HoSang, D. M., & Lowndes, J. E. (2019). Producers, Parasites, Patriots: Race and the New Right-Wing Politics of Precarity. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.10.5749/j.ctvdjrrcqSearch in Google Scholar

Katz, C. (2008). Cultural Geographies lecture: Childhood as spectacle: relays of anxiety and the reconfiguration of the child. Cultural Geographies, 15(1), 5–17. in Google Scholar

Leachman, M., Masterson, K., & Figueroa, E. (2017). A Punishing Decade for School Funding. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Washington, D.C.: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities; Retrieved from in Google Scholar

Meeks, E. (2007). Border Citizens: The Making of Indians, Mexicans, and Anglos in Arizona. Austin: University of Texas Press.10.7560/319659Search in Google Scholar

Meyerhoff, E. (2019). Beyond Education: Radical Studying for Another World. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. in Google Scholar

Milem, J. M., Salazar, K. G., & Bryan, W. P. (2016). Arizona Minority Progress Report 2016: The Transformation Continues. American Minority Education Policy Center. Tucson: The University of Arizona; Retrieved from in Google Scholar

Muehlebach, A. (2012). The Moral Neoliberal: Welfare and Citizenship in Italy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. in Google Scholar

PXU [@PhoenixUnion]. (2020, March 21). Hey Phoenix Union Family! Dr. Gestson has issued our district, and other districts, a #ClosedNotClosed challenge. See his brief video. [Video attached] [Tweet]. Twitter. in Google Scholar

Sabato, J. (2020, August 18). How did Arizona schools track attendance last spring? They didn’t. 12 News. in Google Scholar

Shange, S. (2019). Progressive Dystopia: Abolition, Antiblackness, and Schooling in San Francisco. Durham: Duke University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Shermer, E. T. (2013). Sunbelt Capitalism: Phoenix and the Transformation of American Politics. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. in Google Scholar

Singh, N. P. (2017). Race and America’s Long War. Oakland: University of California Press. in Google Scholar

Stevenson, L. (2014). Life Beside Itself: Imagining Care in the Canadian Arctic. Oakland: University of California Press. in Google Scholar

Whitaker, M. (2005). Race Work: The Rise of Civil Rights in the Urban West. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.Search in Google Scholar

Valenzuela, A. (1999). Subtractive Schooling: U.S.-Mexican Youth and the Politics of Caring. Albany: State University of New York Press.Search in Google Scholar

VanderMeer, P. (2013). Valley of Fear: Political Change, Housing Reform, and Anticommunism in Phoenix, 1950 to 1970. Journal of Urban History, 39(6), 1027–1044. in Google Scholar

Received: 2020-07-30
Accepted: 2021-04-29
Published Online: 2021-06-01

© 2021 Matthew Chrisler, published by De Gruyter

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Downloaded on 30.9.2023 from
Scroll to top button