Reflective Practice

Episode One: An Old Struggle with New Hope

A movie poster-style picture with Casssian Andor, as depicted by actor Diego Luna, under two moons and imperial space ships in the background. Text at the bottom of the poster reads Star Wars: Andor.

CC-licensed Star Wars "Andor" poster courtesy of buckyj at Deviant Art.

by Kristine Riley

This is part one of a four-part series on abolitionist pedagogy, Star Wars’ Andor, and aspirations for teaching and learning at CUNY.

Throughout team meetings, workshops, and events at the TLC, I am inspired by the way my colleagues create opportunities for others to learn that are both inviting and steadfastly centered in socially just pedagogies. Some of those conversations have explored how abolition can inform our pedagogical praxes and offer different learning environments for our students.[1] Rooted in the legacies of movements to abolish slavery and the prison industrial complex, abolitionist pedagogy asks us to imagine and engage in pedagogical praxes “beyond carceral logics of the current penal and criminal justice systems.”[2] The shift in public consciousness around the criminal legal system and recognition of abolition over the last several years make me incredibly hopeful; however, as an educator, that hope is also tied to a deep sense of responsibility to create and support opportunities for others to discover and engage with abolitionist theory and practice.

In addition to challenging and rejecting the instructors’ complicity and facilitation of the school to prison pipeline and investments in campus safety through law enforcement presence, abolitionist pedagogy informs how we approach our work and relationships with students in ways that foster political consciousness, translate theory into practice, and look for opportunities to break from punitive approaches to teaching and learning by using our radical imaginations to build new possibilities with and in our learning communities. This can be difficult to engage with in academia, where many of us are taught to demonstrate mastery and critique—or hedge the critiques of others—as primary strategies of knowledge production and validation. Moreover, standard methodology courses, competitive classrooms, and traditional forms of assessment and evaluation can fail to encourage radical imagination, creativity, or vulnerability among students to discover new pathways toward liberatory education.

These challenges are even greater when confronting the carceral state. From blockbuster movies, to primetime television, to entire television networks, to most watched  media on streaming services, sensationalized conceptions of crime are so ubiquitous in popular culture that, for many people, they serve as stand-ins for people’s political  reality.[3] In Are Prisons Obsolete?, Angela Davis (2000) argues that “[w]e take prisons for granted but are often afraid to face the realities they produce” (p 15), in part, because of “the way we consume media images of prison” (p 16). Davis (2000) explains:

“The prison is one of the most important features of our image environment… The prison has become a key ingredient of our common sense. It is there, all around us. We do not question whether it should exist. It has become so much a part of our lives that it requires a great feat of imagination to envision life beyond prisons” (pp 18-19).

The paradox of prisons’ obscured realities and overwhelming (mis)representation in popular culture is one of the reasons I always ask students in our discussions and debriefs: Did you unlearn anything? I have met many academics who take for granted that ignorance may not just be about a lack of awareness or failure to do the reading, but the result of concerted efforts to create a false consciousness through robust propaganda within systems that encourage and reward superficial analyses and disengagement, so long as it reinforces existing power structures. This is not to take away from the responsibility we all have to engage critically and recognize reading as part of “the work”; however, acknowledging these tensions and complexities, we are able to create opportunities for students to take accountability, demonstrate agency, and feel empowered as their social consciousness evolves.

In Criminology Goes to the Movies: Crime theory and popular culture, Nicole Rafter and Michelle Brown (2011) argue popular culture can be an expansive and inviting pathway toward understanding, analyzing, and innovating cultural theory, especially with criminology. They claim acknowledging the phenomenon of popular criminology[4] and the ways it interacts with not only academic approaches to criminology, but also public policy, and can facilitate new approaches to critically analyzing social and structural frameworks. Many are starting to call out copaganda[5], but there is also an opportunity engage with art in ways that help facilitate our analyses, imaginations, and hope. As social justice movements shift public discourse and consciousness, I believe there’s an opportunity to use critical media studies to analyze popular culture in ways that confront the carceral state’s hegemonic dominance and create intellectual on-ramps to abolition for our learning communities.

A recent piece of popular culture that has sparked my radical abolitionist imagination is Andor. Andor is a prequel series to the recent Star Wars movie, Rogue One (which for the record, is my favorite Star Wars movie, let’s fight about it!). When we meet our series’ protagonist, Cassian Andor, for the first time, he is very, very different from his future self in Rogue One.[6] In the first few episodes, viewers see an individual deadest on escaping his present circumstances on Ferrix by any means necessary. We learn that Cassian is looking for his sister, who he grew up with on Kenari, in what appears to be an all-youth tribe. He met the woman he now calls his mother when she essentially captured him while he was out with other youth on a reconnaissance mission, separating him from his people, including his sister, up until present day. Despite theses and other political implications of his background and circumstances that unfold in the first half of the season, Cassian’s path toward rebellion is born out of a series of chaotic events as he tries to evade authorities, deal with betrayal by a comrade, and escape capture under seemingly impossible circumstances. However, at each of these critical moments, someone offers Cassian an opportunity to engage in struggle and solidarity for a bigger purpose beyond his immediate goals.

As my good friend and comrade Nico put it, Cassian’s journey—from his background, to the setbacks and detours, and especially his key moments of radicalization—is a beautiful representation of how political consciousness and values of solidarity develop in complex, messy, and unexpected ways. I am so incredibly thankful for my friends, former clients, teachers, mentors, colleagues, and students who have shared and trusted me with such knowledge, as well as extended me love[7] and grace[8] to persevere through my own ignorances and toward commitment to collective struggles. Developing an abolitionist pedagogy, in part, is an attempt to honor these knowledges and relationships because, as Nemik’s manifesto so beautifully states: “the frontier of the Rebellion is everywhere and even the smallest act of insurrection pushes our lines forward.”

This piece is the first in a series of four posts that will explore themes from Andor that I believe can help us explore, imagine, and practice abolitionist pedagogy. I’d love to one day structure a syllabus around an episode-by-episode analysis of power, or contribute to a future anthology about Star Wars and abolitionist resistance, but for now, I want to share 3 takeaways from Andor that I believe are helpful for thinking through abolitionist pedagogical praxis. I hope the coming posts invite readers to engage with more of TLC fellows’, past and present, work on socially just pedagogies and inspire educators to share what they discover with their learning communities.

Kristine Riley is a PhD candidate in Sociology and a Fellow at the Teaching and Learning Center.


[1] For more Visible Pedagogy posts on topics likes abolition and prison pedagogy, see Feliciano, Talisa. “The Case for Abolitionist Pedagogy.” Visible Pedagogy, 12 May 2021, https://vp.commons.gc.cuny.edu/2021/05/12/the-case-for-abolitionist-pedagogy/; Hildebrand, Sarah. “Managing Trauma in the Prison Classroom.” Visible Pedagogy, 18 Feb. 2019, https://vp.commons.gc.cuny.edu/2019/02/18/managing-trauma-in-the-prison-classroom/; Hildebrand, Sarah. “Pedagogical Risk in the Prison Classroom.” Visible Pedagogy, 1 May 2019, https://vp.commons.gc.cuny.edu/2019/05/01/pedagogical-risk-in-the-prison-classroom/; Hildebrand, Sarah. “Prison Pedagogy as Bricolage.” Visible Pedagogy, 18 Mar. 2019, https://vp.commons.gc.cuny.edu/2019/03/18/prison-pedagogy-as-bricolage/; Hildebrand, Sarah. “The Vicarious Trauma of Being a Prison Educator.” Visible Pedagogy, 14 May 2019, https://vp.commons.gc.cuny.edu/2019/05/14/the-vicarious-trauma-of-being-a-prison-educator/; and Sprauve, Chy. “Restorative Evaluation: A Reparative Approach to Assessing Student Work.” Visible Pedagogy, 11 Dec. 2020, https://vp.commons.gc.cuny.edu/2020/12/11/restorative-evaluation-a-reparative-approach-to-assessing-student-work/.

[2] Feliciano, Talisa. “The Case for Abolitionist Pedagogy.” Visible Pedagogy, 12 May 2021, https://vp.commons.gc.cuny.edu/2021/05/12/the-case-for-abolitionist-pedagogy/.

[3] For research on the influence of media and television on people’s perception of the criminal legal system, see Barak, Gregg. “Between the Waves: Mass-Mediated Themes of Crime and Justice.” Social Justice, vol. 21, no. 3 (57), 1994, pp. 133–47. JSTOR, https://www.jstor.org/stable/29766830; Boda, Zsolt, and Gabriella Szabó. “The Media and Attitudes towards Crime and the Justice System: A Qualitative Approach.” European Journal of Criminology, vol. 8, no. 4, July 2011, pp. 329–42. SAGE Journals, https://doi.org/10.1177/1477370811411455; and Kort-Butler, Lisa A., and Kelley J. Sittner Hartshorn. “Watching the Detectives: Crime Programming, Fear of Crime, and Attitudes About the Criminal Justice System.” The Sociological Quarterly, vol. 52, no. 1, 2011, pp. 36–55. JSTOR, https://www.jstor.org/stable/23027459.

[4] “Popular criminology refers in a broad sense to the ideas that ordinary people have about the causes, consequences, and remedies for crime, and the relationship of these ideas to academic discourses about crime.” For a more comprehensive definition, see Kohm, Steven. “Popular Criminology.” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Oxford Research Encyclopedia, 26 Apr. 2017. oxfordre-com.ezproxy.gc.cuny.edu, https://doi.org/10.1093/acrefore/9780190264079.013.158..

[5] For a detailed explanation of copaganda and how it operates in society, see Palika Makam. “Copaganda: What It Is and How to Recognize It.” Teen Vogue, 5 Aug. 2020, https://www.teenvogue.com/story/what-is-copaganda-explainer.

[6] For a good summary on the connections between Rogue One and Andor, see Rory Pinata. “Star Wars: How Andor Made Rogue One Even Better.” Movie Web, 8 Jan. 2023, https://movieweb.com/star-wars-how-andor-made-rogue-one/.

[7] bell hooks argues love is a verb, characterized by care, commitment, knowledge, responsibility, respect, and trust, extending beyond myopic romantic definitions to describe how we can relate to one another in revolutionary ways. See

[8] For a thoughtful exploration on political grace and revolutionary movements that are inspired by the work of Paulo Freire, see Darder, Antonia. “Political Grace and Revolutionary Critical Pedagogy.” Rizoma freireano, vol. 21, 2016, https://www.rizoma-freireano.org/articles-2121/political-grace-21.

1 Comment

  1. As someone who frequently writes about the connections between pop culture, fantasy, and teaching, I am very excited to read this series. This is a critical topic and needs to be discussed. More please!

Leave a Reply

css.php