GLL – On Nadeau, D. (1996): Embodying Feminist Popular Education in Global Restructuring

COURSE: Global/Local Learning– GLL

FORUM: Case Study on Embodying Feminist Popular Education in Global Restructuring

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

Step 4 – Part 3: Adult education/learning in civil society organizations and social movements

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

Link to blog

Link to forum

Case Study 1
Nadeau, D. (1996): Embodying Feminist Popular Education in Global Restructuring (Chapter Two), in Gender in Popular Education: Methods for Empowerment, Cape Town: CACE Publications and Zed Books

Instead of answering each question, I have written a comprehensive post that will touch on the issues raised in the questions.

Definition of popular education

Nadeau defines popular education “as a method of group education and organizing that starts with the problems in people’s daily lives.” (p. 3) This idea parallels concepts outlined by Walters and Manicom (1996). One key element in their model is experience. “Women’s experience is seen as the point of departure for feminist popular education.” (p.10) Pre-existing experiences closely interact with processes of experience building. (p.12) Experience  is also seen as an overarching element in feminist popular education and one cannot detach the private, personal experience from its political and social dimension. They introduced the concept of Cotidiano, meaning the daily occupations in every woman’s life, which can be as intrinsically political, and as integrated with broader social relations and hierarchies of oppression.” (p.10)

Role of society and political stance
Nadeau also emphasizes that “Feminist popular educators quickly recognized that women, youth, the urban poor and indigenous people were playing central roles in building popular resistance and in creating alternatives located not in political parties but in the social movements.” (p.3) The potentials of her idea of feminist popular education is therefore rooted in popular resistance movement, and in women’s movements in particular.

Emphasis on the connection of body, mind and spirit

In her article, she often refers to such connection as being the means through which liberation from oppression can be achieved. Particularly, this approach seems to offer itself as an alternative to male-dominated discourses. However, her argument transcends the opportunity for an attitudinal transformation and embraces a polarized crusade, as explained next.

A mixture of apparently unrelated approaches

Parts of Nadeau’s article reads to me like a Greek salad of several “techniques” for which she does not clearly define how they relate to one another. I hope I do not sound too disrespectuf when saying that her narrative betrays the kind of enthusiasm that many Westerners show when coming in contact with non-western customs and traditions. Some people have called that “going native.”

She offers a blend of guided imaging, bioenergetics, Augusto Boal’s “theatre of the oppressed”, and several forms of body work as a way for women to promote the mind-body-spirit connection that is necessary for the development of awareness with regard of their oppression and relevant course of action. Unfortunately, she presents these “techniques” acritically, as if they could provide some kind of miraculous panacea to the many problems faced by women.

With regards to bioenergetics, for example, I would like to make a comment, having done individual bioenergetic therapy myself for three years. The tenets of such therapy is indeed on “letting go” of emotional blocks that have become engrained in muscular tension. However, recent studies are critical of the actual benefits that may derive to someone who – through this kind of therapy – forcibly takes out her/his anger with the therapist’s assistance. A discussion on bioenergetics would certainly require more time and knowledge than I have. I just want to point out that the way Nadeau describes it is very superficial and denies possible complications. (Many years ago, in Amsterdam, I joined a group for a week-end of bioenergetics. The experience was very distressful, as I found myself dealing with a level of intolerable anger that was thrown around at whoever was there to take it. There was nothing liberating in that experience. It was traumatic, to say the least).

She also talks about Augusto Boal’s “theatre of the oppressed.” In 2005, as part of a Master’s on Peace Studies, I spent two days with Boa. Even though the experience was interesting, I could not say that I was hooked on it. Honestly, I barely remember what it was all about. To me, that was another case of lack of contextualization, a theme we discussed in the thread on Freire.

Walters and Manicom (1996, p.13) mentioned the connection between feminist popular education and psychotherapy. I certainly understand how – to many women – their experiences can be very traumatic, and believe that a therapeutic approach to that is appropriate. I am not sure – however – that the same approach should be employed in “education/learning” for the society at large.

Criticism towards other views of popular education; assumption on ACTION; essentialist perspective

Nadeau believes that “traditional popular education had failed to address the reality of women’s domestic and community lives: the invisible ‘private’ sphere and the specific problems and possibilities of women as worker both inside and outside the home (Fernandez et al., 1991).” (p.4) That seems to be enough justification for her to affirm the better position of her approach. To that end, she suggests Gender and Development (GAD) theory as the good approach towards the analysis of issues of oppressions:

“GAD analysis has shown how the intersection of multiple oppressions – race, class and gender as well as colonial history – has shaped women’s economic subordination. It also uncovers how the exploitation of women’s unwaged domestic and community work is built into the dynamic of global restructuring.” (p.4) Such approach, sustained by emerging conscientization, should lead to action towards change. But apparently increased awareness does not necessarily convert into action. (p.4) This sounds like a contested statement. In fact, it neglects to consider the assumption that action is indeed the desired outcome. I am thinking of the Taoist concept of wu-wei, which refers to

“behavior that arises from a sense of oneself as connected to others and to one’s environment. It is action that is spontaneous and effortless. At the same time it is not to be considered inertia, laziness, or mere passivity. Rather, it is the experience of going with the grain or swimming with the current. Our contemporary expression, “going with the flow,” is a direct expression of this fundamental Taoist principle, which in its most basic form refers to behavior occurring in response to the flow of the Tao. We heed the intelligence of our whole body, not only our brain. And we learn through our own experience. All of this allows us to respond readily to the needs of the environment, which of course includes ourselves. And just as the Tao functions in a manner to promote harmony and balance, our own actions, performed in the spirit of wu-wei, produce the same result.”


Interestingly, the principles stated above seem to be consistent with Nadeau’s view on the body-spirit-mind connection. They differ – however – in their lack of forceful advocacy for action.  From my perspective, enforced action follows the path of a mainstream Western approach to problem solving. I personally disagree with this approach, as I favour instead processes of societal and personal transformation that are not entrenched in dichotomous discourses. These thoughts lead me to what I perceive as Nadeau’s Essentialist view.

In my opinion, the following quote from her article clearly express the limitation of her approach, by positioning it firmly inside a specific camp.

“Women are involved daily in maintenance and care of the body: in nurturing their families, transmitting culture, providing health-care, preparing food and generally sustaining body and soul in family and community. Much of women’s work whether reproductive work, productive work, or community work, revolves around the body and its needs. The political economy of women’s bodies revolves around women’s work as consumers, sex partners, sex trade workers, and as reproducers of workers in their roles as mothers, teachers, nurses, day-care workers and so on. This labour is so critical that church and state try to manage women’s bodies – their reproductive capacities and freedoms and their sexualities. Men as individuals and groups try to discipline women through rape, beatings, disappearances and murder, that is, through the body. In many ways the body is the key site of struggle for women.” (pp. 4-5)

The language in this paragraph presents a string of gender-specific roles that strongly remind me of essentialist views. She talks about “women” and “men” as if she was referring to all women and all men. Having spent many years of my life trying to overcome similar schemata, I find a discussion premised on such stereotypes not very productive. I believe in the power of learning and education as tools and contexts for transformation, and not as means towards a self-perpetuating “alternative”. (An alternative implies replacing something with something else; transformation implies transmuting something into something new).

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>FORUM DISCUSSION

Ginger wrote:

Hi Marie,

Thanks so much for your break down of Nadeau’s views.  It was so helpful to push my thinking.  I wonder if the gender based duality is more ‘masculine/feminine’ than ‘men/women’, recognizing, as you say, that both men and women can be located in our bodies, but masculine socialization has disembodied lots of men as well as women. Accentuating a more feminine approach, with respect for emotions, non-verbal communication, personal experience, then can help both women and men to embrace more holistic learning, combining emotions and feelings with rational thinking and analysis.

Anita wrote:

A resounding “Bravo!”, Oscar. I agree. I have been a little perplexed throughout these reading that authors do not seem to feel the need to define what they mean by action, or the range of actions that they might consider successful results of their popular education efforts. Conscientization, to use Freire’s word, results in changes to one’s identity, and therefore to how one lives one’s day-to-day life, which is a powerful action individually, and unstoppable if there is a critical mass.


I agree with Oscar that this paragraph from Nadeau essentialized both women and men. I am not denying that some men, acting as individuals or as a group, control women through violence. But as the paragraph begins with what is clearly intended to be a generalization about women, the statement about men is either also intended as a generalization about men (which seems unreasonable), or is an example of very careless writing. In either event, the over-generalizations lead to both the essentializing and polarizing of experience. This, and treating ‘church’ and ‘state’ as monolithic, has the effect of erecting boundaries to thinking that are limiting and therefore unhelpful if the goal is social change.



Thank you for reviewing my post and for all your comments above. You eloquently reinforced many of the points I was trying to make.

Like Ginger, I also believe that the issue is not to try to draw a line between men and women, but it is to try to understand the nuances that abound between the masculine and feminine. It’s more about attitudinal perspectives than gender-ascribed roles.

The concept of Yin and Yang comes to mind as a useful metaphor for what I tried to express in my post. Academically speaking, instead, I think of the definitions ascribed vs. avowed identities, which I discussed in another course. (see this link to view my reflections on this)

The terms highlight issues of essentialist definitions of identity, which I believe relates to Nadeau’s discussion on “women vs. men.”  Needless to say that, like Anita and others, I do not share such entrenched views, which remind me of a movie called Classified People about racial profiling in Apartheid-era South Africa.




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