GLL – Learning in social action (Foley)

COURSE: Global/Local Learning– GLL

FORUM: on Learning in Social Action (Foley)

TOPICS: local global learning, feminism, empowerment, Popular Education

Step 4 – Part 2: Adult education/learning in civil society organisations and social movements

Keywords: Marxism, popular education, civil society, democracy, oppression, informal learning

Link to blog

Link to forum

Reading:
Foley, G. (1999) Introduction (chapter 1), in  Foley, G., Learning in Social Action: A Contribution to Understanding Informal Education. London: Zed Books.

  • How does Foley conceptualise ‘education’ and ‘learning’?

Foley presents a similar approach to adult education as we saw in Walters (2006). Walters distinguished between Adult Education and adult Learning, with the former being the hardware of education, and the latter being the software for a more personal, community-related process of knowledge building. Similarly to Walters’ “adult learning”,  Foley recognizes how “some of the most powerful learning occurs as people struggle against oppression, as they struggle to make sense of what is happening to them and to work out ways of doing something about it.” (p. 1) “This conception stands against the received body of adult education theory in the English – speaking world, which focuses on individual learners, educational technique and course provision,” (p.1) basically the premises of Walters’ “adult education”.

In his view of education, Foley recognizes the core role of social and cultural processes. “Adult education is not just a technical process, nor is it value-free. Like any human endeavour, adult education is a complex social and value-creating activity, one, which is shaped by, and which shapes, social structure and culture, and which inevitably involves ethical judgements and choices.” (p.2)

Based on the preceding consideration, Foley suggests a theoretical framework (see below for more comments) that results from the interplay of learning processes, local politics and social forces.

Foley gives preference to informal, incidental learning as a means to uncover and redress oppression through a process of conscientization that reminds me of Freire’s thinking. He writes that, “For people to become actively involved in social movements something had to happen to their consciousness – they had to learn that social action was necessary and possible.” (p.4) The goal of such process of awareness building is the unlearning of dominant ideologies. I would say that this is the primary goal in Foley’s model of learning for social action. It is well summarized in the following quotes:

“The unlearning of dominant, oppressive ideologies and discourses and the learning of oppositional, liberatory ones are central to processes of emancipatory learning.” (p.3)

“These relationships of domination are learned, and can be unlearned.” (p.3)

  • What in your view are the key theoretical (ideological?) perspectives that inform Foley’s conception of the relationship between ‘struggle’ and ‘learning’?

Foley’s ideas are deeply rooted in an anti-capitalist discourse, as he himself writes in his article:

“I argue that the received notion of economic ‘restructuring’ constitutes a myth that masks the actual processes of capitalist reorganization. The current phase of reorganization of the economy, workplaces and education has been misrepresented by policy-makers and many intellectuals, who are promoting simplistic technical solutions to complex social problems. To understand this restructuring and the role of education and learning in it, it is essential to understand capitalism.” (p. 3)

He later restates that “a critique of capitalism must lie at the heart of emancipatory adult theory and practice.” (p.4)

Based on these premises, Foley’s theoretical framework recognizes “the widespread and powerful informal and incidental education and learning that occur around social and political struggle.” (p. 4) He suggest a set of variables that are – in his opinion – concurring in the development of learning and education practices and policies that would eventually dismantle the capitalist exploitative system.

Even if I can agree with him on his list of grievances on the structural and ideological building blocks of capitalism, I disagree with his (and others’) dichotomous view of socio-historical-cultural-economic scenarios. I believe his antagonistic view of history – as it transpires from his article (pp. 4-5) – is not accurate. History was not a sequence of black and white situations. It was full of shades. In my view, Foley re-proposes a trite essentialist interpretation of human history and relevant processes of affirmation. Again, as I wrote with regard to Youngman, (Link to forum ) I prefer a different, more refreshing, systems-based, experimental approach that would leave “old” diatribes behind, not because they cannot be supported by relevant discourses, but simply because it’s time “to move on.”

At the end of his article, Foley makes a concession, in an attempt at opening up his Marxist approach to more serendipitous possibilities: “I also still believe that socialism and the working-class movements are central to this project. But I have come to understand the complexities and problematic nature of popular struggles and movements must be recognized, and that only democratic means can generate emancipatory ends.” (p. 7) His statement does not sound very convincing. Just a few paragraphs later he re-states his position with very strong words: “Marxist political economy, history and cultural analysis are fundamental to my thinking. The Marxism that attracts me is reflexive and empirical. Dogmatism and excessive abstraction in Marxism or in any other problematic repel me.” (p.7)

  • Think about how the authors see the relationship amongst the learning, political, and organisational aspects of the education and training practices they are discussing.

Both articles reflect a participatory idea of education based on the acquisition of a level of conscientization that will eventually liberate the oppressed and lead us into a brighter future.

In both articles, Civil Society is the locus of the necessary learning experience linked to such societal transformation. While Walters and Manicom emphasizes the feminist aspect of the liberation struggle through education, Foley returns to existing class-based discourses of political emancipation. When reading these articles, I am reminded of the danger inherent in what Usher and Edwards (1005) defined as Confessional education: “practices such as journaling, life planning, self-evaluation, portfolios, and counseling that are commonly associated with experiential learning.” They believe that people become “objects of scrutiny” as they follow their educators’ advice on issues of identity definition. (Fenwick, 2001, pp. 41-42) Extensively, when we engage in learning activities to address social and economic imbalances, we should be mindful of the danger of indoctrination, even when that is not intentional. For example, when Foley (p.4) brings up Zimbabwe’s national struggle for “democracy and socialism,” he clearly fails to mention what came out of that struggle.

Oscar

>>>>

Marie wrote: (link to forum)

Foley, (1999) states that all analysis is partial and partisan.  Phenomenologically, this can be seen as huge advantage if the action outcome is to create something whole, not oppose something partial.  The more diversity, the deeper and broader the learning. There doesn’t have to be a winner and a loser.  Foley argued that the most significant learning comes from the struggle to overcome oppression.  Extrapolating from what Walters and Manicom are saying though, if you stick very closely to female experience, then really the most significant learning comes from acts of accommodating conflict and diversity within a larger creation.  The only way to get beyond the strait jacket of context (say in a fundamentalist, gender-biased culture), is to create something even bigger, but still, in some way, inclusive.  Women have been given the role of creating nurturing environments for centuries.  We are good at this.

I think the whole Freirian concept of transformative learning has been hijacked by a masculine bias towards seeing conflict as a polarity, as a problem to be solved.  (Despite the language he expressed his ideas through, I don’t think he actually lived his own teachings that way.)  By contrast, if I think about it, women, (in the way we often ventilate about our problems without necessarily seeking immediate solutions, for example), actually seem to find a kind of energy through conflict that we incorporate into our creativity.

I apologize for how garbled this must sound….

Hi you all,

From what I have seen, I believe it’s ok to comment across groups, so please allow me to say that I found Maries’s comments very relevant to our discussion. They definitely do not sound garbled in any way, as they are trying to break through the dichotomous views that I and several others have criticized.

Marie argues in favor of the creation of “something new.” That is what transformation is all about. Bear with me if I sound repetitive, but sometimes out thoughts – scattered as they are across several forums – need to be re-stated. I feel that there is confusion in the way the concept of “transformation” is understood and presented. It is certainly a contested term. Often it’s used in lieu of “change” and “alternative”. I believe transformation goes beyond that. Obama’s campaign slogan was “we want change.” And in fact, he is now trying to change a few things, but he is not going to transform the U.S.. I believe that for transformation to happen we would need an alchemic process that would allow for the elaboration of a different thinking paradigm. Like Marie wrote, “there doesn’t have to be a winner and a loser.” In another forum (link) I have mentioned the TRC, the truth and reconciliation commission as an example of democratic, transformative learning experience. It involved the participation of several layers of civil society, with the support of state agencies, and its outcome – so I believe – was liberatory both at the personal and at the collective levels.

Thanks for reading this. I am really enjoying all your interesting comments.

Cheers,

Oscar

>>>>>>>>>>

GEOFFREY wrote:

It feels like we are at a crucial phase in modern history. Pure capitalsim and free market economics have taken a hefty blow over the past 12 months. I understand that this won’t have the slightest influence on the majority of neo-liberal and conservative thinkers, but it has given more credibility and weight to the voices of those who are fighting for an alternative. I also believe that awareness regarding environmental issues is reaching a point of critical mass as well. We shall see whether it’s all “too little, too late´´, but at least global consciousness is starting to reach serious levels.

Hi Geoffrey,

Your post was what you said..empowering, and I thank you for writing such stirring words  that show how the way we perceive things can also make a difference. When reading Youngman, my reaction was different from yours, and not because I like to wrap myself in pessimism and gloomy thoughts. I believe it’s important that we discuss a lot of perspectives, Youngman’s included. As I mentioned in several posts, my take is that his is just one kind of analysis, one that reiterates existing discourses based on the juxtaposition of capitalism vs. Marxism, Somehow, and this is a very personal response of mine, his thread of thoughts does not touch me as deeply as it does touch others. In a sense, without detracting from the value of his analysis and the contribution that that has made to our understanding of issues of oppression, to me it sounds a bit like “politics as usual.” I hope my remarks are not upsetting anyone. I would also like to say, as it was written in several of our forums before, that whatever approach we are looking at, we need to frame it both contextually and temporally. That applies to Freire as much as it applies to the other writers we are studying.

Oscar

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