The Book

Creative Universities: Reimagining Education for Global Challenges and Alternative Futures will be published by Bristol University Press in September 2021.

You can pre-order the book here.

The book explores the role of creative teaching in university programs that focus on understanding and addressing contemporary social, economic and environmental challenges. I develop a critical-creative pedagogy that combines critical analysis of these challenges with experiential, active and design-informed teaching that develops not only students’ analytical thinking, but also their imagination, emotions, lateral and practical capabilities. All of these will be essential if students are to imagine, design and create the alternative responses that are so urgently needed to address the multiple crises our world is facing.


“The combination of larger arguments for the reimagining of universities and practical examples of engaged teachingis a distinctive contribution to fields where many works usually offer one or the other. The shift from critique to reconstruction is vitally needed at a moment when many debates about universities shows signs of critique fatigue.”

Tom Sperlinger, Author of Who are Universities For? Remaking Higher Education

“By inviting cross-disciplinary pedagogic infusions, Schwittay argues for the creation of alternative educational and social futures through the design of new learning environments; the development of student curiosity, introspection and imagination; prototyping activities and the taking of creative risks. This is a timely, important and optimistic book – a conceptual and practical antidote to the challenges of our times.”  

Craig Hammond, Author of Hope, Utopia and Creativity in Higher Education: Pedagogical Tactics for Alternative Futures

Book Summary

  • Chapter 1 (Invitation) begins with my personal teaching journey and a description of the research process, then lays out the book’s key concepts of creativity, imagination, hope and alternatives to present my core arguments. It concludes with proposing a ‘generative theory’ that opens up pedagogical spaces of possibilities.
  • Chapter 2 (Remaking Academic Identities) introduces the current HE context of neoliberal and managerialized universities and how critical pedagogy has resisted, as well as initiatives to decolonize the Westernized university and responses centered on epistemic diversity. I explore the subjectivities of educators involved in critical-creative teaching and then present three activities that engage students as situated subjects of (de)coloniality, as embodied individuals of whole-person learning and as connected learners in relation to their immediate environments.
  • Chapter 3 (Designing Futures) argues for the introduction of design thinking, methods and activities into the classroom to imagine and build concrete visions of alternative futures. Drawing an arc from the Bauhaus school’s transformative teaching program to Arturo Escobar’s Designs for the Pluriverse, I present teaching approaches that focus on the materiality of learning and on the importance of evocative teaching spaces and resources that invite spontaneity, improvisation, physical making and emotional responses. The chapter then analyzes a student project exploring the future of food in light of the urgent need to move to zero-emissions food production, consumption and disposal. I also present learnings from a number of design workshops where students develop scenarios of alternative futures focused on urban spaces and then design back to the present to map necessary actions.
  • Chapter 4 (Reclaiming Economies) focuses on economics teaching, beginning with a critique of neoclassical theories that still dominate many university classrooms, while also exploring the field of development economics. I then explore pluralistic teaching as one initiative that complements orthodox teaching with more diverse economic theories but show that for more radical alternatives, a more pluriversal teaching is necessary. This is inspired by decolonial scholarly movements and includes making previously marginalized perspectives part of the curriculum and incorporating teaching on inequality. I use the idea of diverse and plural economies, both in the classroom and in Bolivia, to explore teaching practices. My concrete teaching activities involve students’ creating personal diverse economy portfolios as well designing a recycling cooperative. These allow students to apply their learning and imagine economic alternatives.
  • Chapter 5 (Repairing Ecologies) reimagines education in the context of the climate emergency, by firstly engaging critiques of mainstream discourses of sustainable development and growth. I then examine the growing field of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) championed by the UN and its focus on teaching technical core competencies. Radical alternatives to these mainstream approaches include the South American concept of Buen Vivir. I also show the importance of complexity and systems thinking for students’ understanding of ecological challenges. The chapter then explores the use of serious games as well as mapping campus infrastructures as two creative teaching activities moving towards such alternatives.
  • Chapter 6 (Prefiguring Alternatives) explores the notion of practice within challenge-focused teaching. I critique instrumentalist and corporate employability agendas and argue for an expanded and more radical notion of social transformations that incorporates practices of prefigurative politics and ideas of the pluriverse. The question of whether activism can be taught in the classroom is explored through student projects designing activism campaigns on topics of their choice that begin to connect to the world outside the classroom, where student activism can be seen in the recent climate strikes.
  • Conclusion (Capstones) presents a number of utopian project ideas for how to re-imagine universities for global challenges and alternative futures.