UR – Designing Intercultural Research

COURSE: Understanding Research—UR

FORUM: Designing the Research Proposal

TOPICS: explore your research interest

Step 3 – Part 2

Keywords: intercultural communication, Intercultural research, interviewing by e-mail, culture, reflexivity

Link to forum

Link to blog


Article review

Aneas, María Assumpta & Sandín, María Paz (2009). Intercultural and Cross-Cultural Communication Research: Some Reflections about Culture and Qualitative Methods [57 paragraphs]. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 10(1), Art. 51, http://nbn-resolving.de/urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs0901519 Accessed on Dec.10, 2009 at http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1251

During the break I found this interesting article that addresses specific issues emerging in research with an intercultural slant. Considering that in the ALGC we are all one way or another going to deal with the intercultural dimension of our experience and of our relevant research project, I thought of sharing some reflections on this very issue.

What follows are my considerations. I posted them here not as a topic for discussion, but merely to share them.

Quotes are shown indented.

Content of the information being gathered (INTERVIEWING)

BHAWUK and TRIANDIS (1996, p.29) offer an interesting collection of insights and recommendations when it comes to the content of interviews. Interviewing is one of the fundamental techniques used in qualitative research on cross-cultural and intercultural communication. One of the principal concerns when conducting an interview is whether an emic or an etic approach is more appropriate—that is, whether to ask different, tailor-made and culture-specific questions or ask the same questions in all the cultural contexts being studied.

my comments:

My research won’t be about discussing, exploring, analyzing the participants’ host or original cultures; in that sense it does not take an emic approach. My research will explore the experience of the participants and the extent to which they may share similar views and experiences of processes of adaptation and intercultural competence building. In a sense, my research has an emic nature, in that it attempts an in-depth exploration of one specific culture, the culture that informs a transnational personhood/identity.

Doing semi-structured interviews through e-mail prevents the interviewer’s culturally-affected reactions to influence the respondents. See BHAWUK and TRIANDIS (1996, p.28) I believe this method has advantages that will be beneficial to my research. (see this article for more on this method).

It will also diminish opportunities for the emergence of intercultural anxiety provoked by the uncertainty typical of intercultural contexts, as defined by Gudykunst (1993) in his theory of Anxiety Uncertainty Management (AUM).

Language in the research process

In order to understand and interpret utterances or gestures in a given language, a minimum degree of language equivalence between the language of those being studied and that of the researcher is needed (LUSTIG & KOESTER, 1996; SAMOVAR, PORTER & STEFANI, 1998).

my comments:

Utterances or gestures in my e-mail interviews  will be automatically disregarded.

Language issues will be partly sidestepped by using English as the language of the research, and selecting participants who have a certain degree of fluency in English. Though this choice may introduce a level of bias, it will facilitate both the collection and the analysis of the narratives, based on the assumption that – to a large extent – the respondents share an equivalency in the meaning of the vocabulary they use.

Nevertheless, I will need to be mindful of this assumption.

Culture, analysis and interpretation in qualitative research

Mental schemas

In this same sense, according ERICKSON (1989), the base for theoretical constructions is the immediate and local meanings of action as defined from the point of view of the social actors involved. In other words, we interpret a reality, a given piece of information according to the parameters of our experience in which our culture occupies a fundamental position. Culture is the reason why a given phenomenon, a specific form of behavior can be given a very different meaning according to the origin culture of the person analyzing and interpreting the process. [47]

Mental schemas constitute a cognitive system which enables us to interpret the gestures, utterances and actions of others. Culture influences the organization of the schemas developed by individuals with the justification that different visions and interpretations of reality are culturally variable. In the same sense constructionism stresses the importance of socio-cultural background in the higher order psychological processes (VYGOTSKY, 1979) as an argument with which to demonstrate the union of culture with cognitive processes and the relation between learning, development and the contexts of personal relations.

Summing up, theories of categorization and social attribution facilitate the development of explanations concerning the perception and interpretation of the behavior of others in intercultural contexts.

Language and mental maps are cultural elements with which the researcher operates in the analysis and the construction of results.


The fallacy of the monolithic view of identity alerts us to the need for prudence and the importance of avoiding categorizing cultural studies of communication in stereotypical terms, as built on folklore beliefs and essentialist in terms of culture.

On the other hand, it is already widely accepted in qualitative research that the researcher becomes the “principal information gathering instrument,” and thus some of the objectives which have been identified for studies of cross-cultural and intercultural communication are associated with the reflexivity of the researcher (my note: see Bryman, p. 682) over her or his own cultural biases together with the associated theoretical, and even social and political standpoints.

For the outlook of researching cross-cultural and intercultural communication we would stress that

  • Culture is a “system” and not the sum of a collection of fortuitous traits
  • It is an integrated whole which cannot be understood by examining its components individually and in isolation.
  • It is a dynamic whole which is in flux, and constantly changing, and which reveals itself as being in interaction with the world in a multiplicity of complex and diverse situations and contexts.


Bampton, R. & Cowton, C.J. (2002). The E-Interview [27 paragraphs]. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 3(2), Art. 9, Retrieve on Dec. 19, 2009 at http://nbn-resolving.de/urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs020295

Bhawuk,D. & Triandis, H. (1996). The role of culture theory in the study of culture and intercultural training. In Dan Landis & Richard W. Brislin (Eds.), Handbook of intercultural training (pp.17-34). Thousand Oaks: Sage.

Erickson, Frederick (1989). Métodos cualitativos de investigación sobre la enseñanza. In Merlin Wittrock (Ed.), La investigación de la enseñanza, II. Métodos cualitativos y de observación (pp.195-301). Barcelona: Paidós/M.E.C.

Gudykunst, W. (1993). Toward a theory of effective interpersonal and intergroup communication. In Richard L. Wiseman & Jolene Koester (Eds.), Intercultural communication competence (pp.33-71). London: Sage.

Lustig, M. & Koester, J. (1996). Intercultural competence: Interpersonal communication across cultures. New York: Harper Collins.

Vygotsky, L. (1979). El desarrollo de los procesos psicológicos superiores. Barcelona: Crítica.

GLL – Body work, bioenergetics ( Nadeau)

Link to blog

Link to forum

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

Body work – Bioenergetics

Hi everyone,

I have noticed that Nadeau’s article has created an antagonized discussion. From there, we apparently have succeeded in establishing a broad dialogue on her contested views, enlarging it to a wider spectrum of issues.

I would like to go back to one of the central themes in Nadeau’s article, bodywork. I couldn’t agree more on the importance of body awareness, as it relates to the unity of body, mind and spirit. When we use the kind of bodywork advocated by Nadeau, however, we need to know exactly what we are doing and what we are dealing with. She suggests bioenergetics – as postulated by Wilhelm Reich – as a suitable approach to raising awareness. Although she recognizes that Reich was a psychotherapist, she fails to mention that the bioenergetics is known to most of us thanks to the work of Alexander Lowen, which makes me wonder how much she knows about bioenergetics. I am left with the impression that she is experimenting with any technique that can advance feminist empowerment only having minimal knowledge.

Bioenergetics is a form of therapy that is certainly used to unlock repressed emotions, including those derived from repression and oppression. This needs to be done under supervision of a competent expert, as the dynamics that may unfold may be cathartic but also violent. Doing unsupervised group bioenergetics may end up hurting more people than it really help. For all the above, I am sceptical about Nadeau’s idea that bioenergetics is a means to uncover issues of social injustice within a civil society movement, also because she does not explain how she would handle the unavoidable dynamics of “emotional release” that would eventually ensue. Finally, as someone has written in this forum, it remains to be seen whether the level of personal awareness gained through bioenergetics or any other kind of body work would lead to socially meaningful action and/or change. In Bioenergetics action takes the form of “violent release of anger” within the safe environment of the therapy. For obvious reasons, I would certainly not recommend transferring that experience of liberation to society. As for the transformative power of bioenergetics, my feeling is that this kind of therapy may help at some level, but does not depart from the assumption that interpersonal dynamics develop as a sequence of actions and re-actions to counteract outer pressure.  It is, like many other types of therapy, about adapting to hostile conditions, and certainly does not consider a circular, alchemic approach to conflict transformation.

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

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.



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.





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.


GLL – Gender in population education

COURSE: Global/Local Learning– GLL

FORUM: on Gender in Population Education

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

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

Keywords: feminism, gender, popular education, women, civil society, democracy, oppression,

Link to blog

Link to forum


Walters, S.& Manicom, L.(1996) Introduction, in Walters, S.& Manicom, L. (eds) Gender in Popular Education: Methods for Empowerment, Cape Town: CACE Publications and Zed Books

  • What are the key elements of feminist popular education?

In Walters and manicom’s words, “feminist popular education developed in the early 1980s as a critique of the male-biased popular education that was dominant in social movements.” (p.5)

The authors cite the grammar used in related studies, which includes terms such as ‘popular education’, ‘community education’, ‘radical adult education’, ‘education for change’, ‘people’s education’, ‘liberatory’ or ‘emancipatory education’, ‘transformative education’ and ‘education for empowerment’. (p.2)

They also offer a definition that stresses the two intertwined dimensions of feminist populat education -– pedagogic and political

They see feminist popular education as “a participatory, democratic, non-hierarchical pedagogy which encourages creative thinking that breaks through embedded formats of learning. It valorizes local knowledge, working collectively towards producing knowledge, the principle of starting from where people are situated, and working to develop a broader understanding of structures and how these can be transformed. It strives to foster both personal and social empowerment. Feminist popular education obviously focuses particularly on the conditions and positions of women and the renegotiation of gender relations; but, given that gender is a social category, referring to the historically and culturally defined constructs of masculinity and femininity, feminist popular education must simultaneously engage with the ways in which the social categories of race, ethnicity, culture, age, social class, sexuality and physical ability are implicated in constructions of gender.” (p.5) They also define feminist popular education as “the struggle against gender oppression. But, since gender has been understood increasingly as constructed in relation to race, class and so on, feminist popular education has been working to integrate all aspects of power inequalities structured along social identities.” (p.6)

The bottom line seems to remain the support to “the struggles of women in oppressed communities.” (p.6)

The preceeding comprehensive paragraph expresses the complexity of relevant discourses, and the difficulties that may emerge when we try to address those issues. From my understanding of the reading, I believe that feminist popular education is primarily concerned with building “solidarity between women around the world” (p.1) That can be achieved through a serendipetous educational development based on participative, collective, non-dogmatic self-reflection aimed at the production of new knowledge. (p.12) That would also entail “deconstructing and constructing gender.” (p. 2)

For such educational approach to succeed, some key elements need to be in place. “Feminist popular education is embedded with social activism and democratic organizations of civil society working for material and substantive transformation of women’s lives and conditions. (…)Questions of state and civil society, their complex integration and their career shifting formations globally, as well as critical examinations of ‘the market’, are thus central preoccupations for feminist popular education.” (p.2)

One key element in such thinking 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, as explained later, is also seen as an overarching element in feminist popular education.

  • What are the relationships between the learning (or educational) practices, the organizational strategies and dynamics, and the macro and micro political contexts?

Walters and Manicom recognize how “new economic conditions emerging over the last two decades have exacerbated the economic problems of most women in all these situations.” (p.7)

In this globalized context, “it is the gendered aspects of these global economic processes that often provide the focus for feminist popular education and organization.” (p.7) That lead to “the growth of international feminism and global feminist networks” (p.7)

One issue is “the the local applicability of feminist ideas originating in Western Europe and North America.” (p.7)

At the local level, feminist pedagogy is pursuing a model of empowerment through training aimed at the development of “poverty alleviation strategies such as micro-enterprises, income-generating and credit schemes (…) oriented towards sustainable development.” (p.8)

This also entails working with differences, which requires the development of a kind of sensitive, self-reflective educational apptroach that “has the potential to be very generative and catalysing of learning and transformation.” (p.13)

While analyzing feminist popular education, the authors identified a set of themes that constitute the basis for effective work.


Starting from where women are

Feelings and emotions



Cotidiano, meaning the daily occupantions in every woman’s life, which can be as intrinsically political, and as integrated with broader social relations and hierarchies of oppression.” (p.10) That’s why it is important to develop a notion of empowerment to gain “more decision-making capacity, to deepen(ing) an understanding of the relations configuring one’s life and to control(ling) conditions affecting one’s life.” (p.12)

All these elements are interlinked through women’s experiences, and one cannot detatch the private, personal experience from its political and social dimension.

  • Why are there commonalities in popular education practices across such diverse local settings?

I believe that the key elements of feminist popular education imply a common cause that transcends class and political borders, as explained in the first part of this post. I hope to gain more insights into this particular aspect through our discussion.



Marie   wrote:

Considered from that point of view, grounding social transformation in individual identity change is key. But, everyone’s identity must transform.  Even the faciliator’s.  Even the oppressors’.  How one is to connect all these diversities into one cooperative collective is a long range goal of popular education that I seldom hear articulated. It comes back to those 2 questions:  “who is the subject” and” what is the goal?”

Hi Marie,

It’s 1 am in sleepy, noisy Seattle, but I want to write two lines to comment on your last post.

The last paragraph reminds me of the TRC (Truth and reconciliation Commission) approach, as experimented for example in post-apartheid South Africa. The TRC entails the seeds for conflict transformation as explored by Paul Lederach. Transforming is not providing an alternative; it is to allow the emergence of something new from the alchemy of prio-existing conditions that have ceased to be of value.




This is a comprehensive article in which lederach explores the four dimensions of conflict and injustice:

  1. the personal,
  2. the relational,
  3. the structural, and
  4. the cultural.

GLL – Swedish Study Circles

COURSE: Global/Local Learning– GLL

FORUM: on Larsson’s Study Circles

TOPICS: local global learning, development, Transformation, Adult Education

Step 4 – Part 1: Adult education/learning in civil society organisations and social movements

Keywords: Study circles, Sweden, civil society, democracy, pluralistic citizenship

Link to blog

Link to forum Link to Forum 2

Larsson, S. (2001) Study Circles as Democratic Utopia: A Swedish Perspective, in Bron, A.&  Schemmann, M. (eds) 2001 Civil Society, Citizenship and Learning. Bochum Studies in International Adult Education, vol. 2. Transaction Publishers, USA/UK


In this article Larsson presents the case of the Study Circles as “a mass-phenomenon in contemporary Sweden.” (p. 1) Study Circles refer to both the content and the educational framework within which learning occurs.

Since the foundation of the first study circles association in 1912, Study Circles in Sweden were understood as a means to the advancement of education from the bottom up. Unlike traditional education, they were based on the following “grammar” derived from democratic principles of egalitarian participation:

“1) There are no examinations or merits to be gained; 2) Participation is voluntary; 3) One operates with the expectation of a limited number of persons in a circle, normally somewhere between 5 – 19 persons; 4) Time is often treated in a different way from ordinary schools – often study circles will meet for 3 hours once a week with a break in the middle. A study circle will often consist of 10 to fifteen of such meanings; 5) A circle will have a leader, who does not have to be an expert – it can be one of the participants. On the other hand, there are often experts acting as leaders.” (p. 2)

Study Circles have focussed on learning activities that would strengthen people’s active participation in democratic society by offering a plethora of topics that would represent diverse world views.

Historically, Study Circles underwent a transmutation.

Originally, their activities were entwined with the civil society movements that were the driving force behind the popular participation in the circles. In fact, “participation in study circles during the first half of the century was often part of a relatively strong, sometimes class based, relation to a specific movement.” (p. 3) From that perspective, study circles were “in sharp opposition to state and market.” (p.3)

In the course of the twentieth century, however, with the weakening of popular movements and the corresponding emerging of institutions of representative democracy within the state, Study Circles lost their relevance as loci of political activism.

Compared with the limiting effect that states exercise elsewhere on education, the role of the state in the Swedish Study Circles is ambivalent. In Sweden the state provides financial support to the study circles without imposing limits to their mission.

In discussing Study Circles, Larsson examines their relevance for and impact on today’s adult learning education in Sweden. He recognizes the loss of importance experienced by civil society movements over the last century, partly due to the emergence of a globalized society and what that entails. It seems that “the power and the possibilities of the civil society have been reduced, since there is less that is decided upon through democratic decision-making in the society as a whole.” (p.15)

This has led to a shift of focus in the activities of Study Circles. They went from being the educational arm of class-based social movements to being more and more involved with the pursuit of learning at the personal level. The effect on civil society and the state institutions is not to be found anymore in the action taken by the related popular movements, but in the small-scale influence that individuals may exert in their private political spheres.

The core pillar in the Swedish Study Circles still clearly rests on Oscar Olsson’s original view of “education for and through the people.” (p.12) He is considered the father of the study circles. In spite of their changing role, Study Circles are therefore still based on the promotion of equality, knowledge, active participation, democracy and diversity. These issues are by all means not clear cut and remain highly contested in the ways they may be achieved and by whom.


Today’s function of Study Circles

Larsson recognizes how the function of Study Circles in relation to the State and Civil Society class-based movements has changed since their inception.  In particular, the promotion of action does not appear to be any longer the driving force behind Study Circles. Recognizing this loss of political traction reminds me of our discussions on Youngman and Freire with regard to the actuality of their views. I believe many of us have recognized the change in today’s context and conditions. Study Circles appear to have been highly adaptive to such changes.

Consequently, they reflect the shift from a context dominated by popular movements to one that values participation as “individual and private rather than something that is supporting the influence and power of a civil society versus other societal powers.” (p.13) Maybe one could argue that Study Circles were never meant to be the tools for political actions. In fact, even in the past, political action was the domain of social movements. What has changed is the intensity of how the learning activities developed in Study Circles would transfer to political action.


With regard to diversity, Larsson emphasizes how Study Circles have provided an arena for the production of new identities, concluding that “the study circle tradition provides a system that is very much adapted to support diversity. We can also note that this is not only a potential but it is in fact used in practice as a place to produce and reproduce diverse identities.” (p.11) I find this specific point very important to our course and the relevant discussion on glocal education. I believe the relational nature of Study Circles provides a fertile ground for dialogue that would consider diverse narratives and discourses. That could be the prelude to the emergence of a transformative and then enactivist perspective and possibly a new holistic cultural paradigm based on Third-Culture building practices.

Global citizenship, European model.

I find Larsson’s article refreshing in its affirmation of the concept of “pluralistic citizenship.” (cited from Johnson, 1999) It reflects current approaches to people’s participation that transcend both Freire’s and Youngman’s class-based thinking. Of course, I recognize that his views are rooted in the Scandinavian tradition, quite different from the contexts discussed by the other authors. Nevertheless, his vocabulary is suitable for a comprehensive discussion of transformative education that relates to the changed landscape of the new millennium. I am saying this not because Freire’s observation on inequality and oppressions do not have merit nowadays, but because I believe we have now gained deeper, systemic insights into the relevant issues.

In Larsson’s words, the alternative to a traditional, juxtaposed idea of democracy

“will be a view, where there is no universal truth or ‘correct’ decision, but rather that democracy is about peaceful solutions of conflicting interests and world-views, in other words, negotiations and compromises between a multitude of groups in the population who have elected representatives. Possibilities to develop a diversity of opinions and form organisations based on this diversity become a prerequisite for such democracy” that would” embrace diversity and cultural pluralism.” (p. 9)

This will also entail politics of mutual recognition.

As an example of this kind of societal transformation, I would like to bring up the case of a EUROPA as outlined at http://www.euroalter.com/about-logo/ and http://www.euroalter.com/about/ . The language used in these web pages is consistent with Larsson’s findings and – in my view – also with the Cape Learning Region as conceptualized by Walters.


Cohen, J. L., & Arato, A. (1995). Civil society and political theory. Studies in contemporary German social thought. Cambridge, Mass. [u.a.]: MIT Press.

Larsson accept the definition of civil society given by Cohen and Arato. They believe that “social movements constitute the dynamic element in processes that might realize the positive potentials of modern civil societies.” Check this for more on Cohen and Arato: http://faculty.arts.ubc.ca/jbmurray/research/jbm_ayacucho.pdf




He does not mention the potential of the Internet as an opposite force to this, similar in a sense to study circles, but on a global scale.  I would argue that wikis, blogs, social networks, the diversity of web pages (self-promotional, knowledge-based, and otherwise) made available through the Internet offer similar eclectic, self-initiated, and non-hierarchical options to informal adult learning.  Because these go well beyond geographical state borders, are divorced from physical or locally situated constraints, they open up diverse knowledge building, and a kind of equality that restricts membership based on technological access alone. It remains to be seen whether this medium will reinforce collective participation in self governance or merely further fragmentation of local civil societies.

Hi Marie!

Thank you so much for your eloquent post. I found it meaningful, easy to read and well-written.

Here are some comments on the issue of changing educational venues.  On reading Larsson, I had this picture of a Swedish landscape scattered with small, self-contained communities, where people gather in cosy buildings with a very warm atmosphere to work on their social networking and personal adult education advancement. It is a comforting image, one that may reveal an aspect of Swedish society that may be hard to find in places outside Scandinavia. It is an image that may look quintessentially Swedish, and by extent is more familiar and palatable to Europeans, especially Northern Europeans, than to people in South Africa. I may be wrong, but this image may still dominate the Swedes’ approach to their adult education extension programs such as the Study Circles, because it is “culturally appropriate”, situated in the Nordic tradition. This may be a reason why immigrants are underrepresented in such context. As you point out, IT education opportunities are nowadays available. I wonder if they would satisfy the need for personal interaction sought after by the aging Swedish population. That would be the topic for another research project.

What is important here in terms of glocal education – I think – is to imagine. Let’s imagine how the learning spirit typical of study circles would work elsewhere. For example, would it be relevant to the specific context of South Africa? And let’s imagine how learning approaches from other places would benefit the Swedish adult education environment. How would that affect society? Transformation in the global age is about new ways in which we can imagine a different world.



Kathy wrote:

dear oscar and Marie

just to add to your images of fireplaces and cosy rooms – the same organisation who is using Reflect in SA has been piloting a few study circles. They are working in the rural areas of the eastern cape in one of the poverty nodes of South Africa. so the study circles will be happening in in mud huts around a fireplace. People believe that in these areas, the original home of Nelson Mandela, Ubuntu still exists.

I guess the methodology of Reflect and a study circle would complement each other as both allow people a space to explore and develop; to work without an ‘expert’ towards transforming ones own community.


Dear Kathy and Marie,

The image of people gathering in mud huts to learn is very empowering. My stereotyped image of Sweden was actually more representative of the past. I am aware that things have changed a bit (-: . My point was that, for the Swedes, that image still holds power over the way democracy may be understood as belonging to the people. It’d be interesting to hear about this point from some of our cohorters in Scandinavia.

Kathy wrote: “to work without an ‘expert’ towards transforming ones own community.”

That reminds me of how David Bohm envisioned dialogue. On this, I’d like to share the following excerpt from Klenemas (2008), which I believe reinforces the philosophical approach of the Study Circles.

(emphasis added) “David Bohm sees equality of/among the participants as an important feature of dialogue. He says that this equality can be reached through a fair hearing of all parties involved. This demands of course also a certain degree of openness among the dialogue partners and that everyone has the chance to participate.

Bohm claims that hierarchical power structures would be counterproductive to the interaction. In his eyes, a discussion – in contrast to a dialogue – aims at a win-lose situation, where the parties “play” against (i.e. not with) each other. In a dialogue, on the other hand, people aim to reach a win-win situation.

To say it differently, dialogue is not about convincing or persuading the other. (This would mean that I know everything about my opinion, but nothing or little about the others’.) It is through listening carefully to each other without judging the others’ opinions that everyone can create the “same” stock of knowledge. Bohm is not saying that you should suppress your opinions and feelings. On the contrary, talking openly about facts and feelings is also important to reach what he calls “coherence of thought”. He stresses that if there is a coherence of meaning (or thought) the process and outcome will be much stronger and more effective. Let me sum up these three features of dialogue with David Bohm’s words:

‘How can you share if you are sure you have truth and the other fellow is sure he has truth, and the truths don’t agree? How can you share? Therefore, you have to watch out for the notion of truth. Dialogue may not be concerned with truth – it may arrive at truth, but it is concerned with meaning. If the meaning is incoherent you will never arrive at truth.’ (Bohm 1996: 15f)”

This approach brings Freire’s ideas on conscientization into focus by making it the individual’s responsibility to find coherence among a diversity of thoughts and meanings. For me, as I pointed out in another post (Link to forum ), this would be a supporting pillar for a new thinking paradigm.



Kleinemas Hanne (February 2008) Excuse me, is this the way to intercultural competence, in Coyote #13, Intercultural Dialogue, Council of Europe & European Commission Youth Partnership, Strasbourg, France. Accessed on September 2, 2009 at http://youth-partnership.coe.int/youth-partnership/documents/Publications/Coyote/13/Coyote13.pdf

Bohm, D.(1996): On Dialogue. Reprint 2006. London/New York: Routledge Classics.

>>>>>>> cultural essentialist view<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<

Thank you Annika for your comments as an insider. They play well into the etic vs. emic debate. (The “emic and etic” perspective is used in anthropology and cross-cultural counseling.)

Interestingly, you confirm the lower participation of immigrants in the Swedish Study Circles, which in turn may highlight the Nordic nature of such particular approach to adult education and the difficulty in transcending its original cultural imprint. This is a good example how complex issues of glocal education are, highlighting the difficulty of applying ideas across cultural differences. With regard to Study Circles, hat many view as a well-organized approach may feel and look to others – e.g. immigrants, broadly generalizing – as constrictive and at odds with their own ideas of learning. At the beginning, in Sweden it was assumed that Study Circles would work well to address local adult education needs. It was a system that was culturally appropriate and responding to Swedish minds. Extending the system to “outsiders” may be tricky, as it may reveal that not everyone agrees on the original assumption.

On this particular point, I would like to write some considerations. Larsson says that, “Even though there was a strong tendency to celebrate scientific knowledge at the time, study circles gave in fact space for diverse world-views. In that sense pluralism was in fact supported in worldviews by the organisational structure of independent study associations with different ideological connections.” (p. 2) He continues with several examples of what this diversity of world views is about. His thinking betrays a basic essentialist view of diversity, one that is necessarily limited – at least at the beginning – to diversity as perceived within Swedish society, and therefore mostly relevant to aspects of Swedish civil society. Even when he mentions issues of globalization, he considers them from a Nordic perspective.

It would be interesting to know if non-autochthonous variations of diversity now exist along Larsson’s examples of diversity as cited in his paper, and how these levels interact.


GLL – On Freire’ Education for critical consciousness

COURSE: Global/Local Learning– GLL

FORUM: Samarbeta

TOPICS: local global learning, development, Transformation, Adult Education

Step 3 – Part 1: What is Transformative Adult Education?

Link to blog

Link to forum


Freire, P. (1973) Extracts from the essay entitled Education as the Practice of Freedom in Education for Critical Consciousness, New York: Continuum Publishing Company.


Consciousness, critical consciousness, conscientization, conscientizaçã, oppression, radicalization, sectarianism, assistencialism, fanaticism, Brazil, pedagogy of transformation, social change, education;


Freire presents the case of education as a means to achieve critical consciousness, which in turn would support the emergence from a state of oppression into a full-fledged democracy.

The excerpt is complex and deals with epistemological, ontological, economic, and social dimensions. Freire begins with ontologically defining men as separate from reality, which he sees as “objective”. He also juxtaposes men to animals, recognizing how the former are conscious being who can be critical of reality. He then proceeds to outline the epistemology of his thought by asserting that learning is the result of reflection (whereas animals learn by reflex). Men, therefore, are equipped with the capacity to critically reflect on their experience, to achieve a state of conscientizaçã that will allow them to conquer oppression and discrimination.

Freire also outlines his idea of time. To him, time is linear – past, present and future – and the perception of such progression is what makes men different from animals. This ability allows men to “enter into the domain which is theirs exclusively – that of History and of Culture.” (p.2)

Still using the analogy men vs. animals, Freire distinguishes between integration and adaptation. He sees adaptation as a form of dehumanizing passive acquiescence to the status quo, whereas integration is a form of active participation that can eventually transform reality. Accordingly, adapted people are mere objects, whereas integrated people are subjects in participative processes of personal and social transformation.

He advocates for a level of awareness that he calls critical consciousness, which will empower people to transcend their status of “oppressed” and become integrated into a new kind of democratic society. Freire recognizes the uncertainty that develops in times of transition from an epoch of oppression to one ensuing from people’s participation and critical consciousness. During such transition, people’s level of social consciousness would hopefully move through stages, from a semi-intransitive level, through naïve transitivity, to critically transitive consciousness. Politically, this latter, higher form of conscientizaçã “is characteristic of authentically democratic regimes and corresponds to highly permeable, interrogative, restless and dialogical forms of life -in contrast to silence and inaction, in contrast to the rigid, militarily authoritarian state.” (p.10) He also recognizes the danger of fanaticism, which would prevent people from developing a full-fledged critical consciousness.

“Naive transitive consciousness can evolve toward critical transitivity, characteristic of a legitimately democratic mentality, or it can be deflected toward the debased, clearly dehumanized, fanaticized consciousness characteristic of massification.” (p.11)

He sees education as instrumental to achieving political and social change through the process of conscientizaçã.

“The special contribution of the educator to the birth of the new society would have to be a critical education which could help to form critical attitudes, for the naive consciousness with which the people had emerged into the historical process left them an easy prey to irrationality. Only an education facilitating the passage from naive to critical transitivity, increasing men’s ability to perceive the challenges of their time, could prepare the people to resist the emotional power of the transition.” (p. 12)

“The education our situation demanded would enable men to discuss courageously the problems of their context -and to intervene in that context; it would warn men of the dangers of the time and offer them the confidence and the strength to confront those dangers instead of surrendering their sense of self through submission to the decisions of others. By predisposing men to reevaluate constantly, to analyze “findings,” to adopt scientific methods and processes, and to perceive themselves in dialectical relationship with their social reality, that education could help men to assume an increasingly critical attitude toward the world and so to transform it.” (p.13)

Freire uses the case of Brazil as a scenario for his argument, concluding that, in order to achieve the changes he supports, Brazil would need to re-appropriate itself of its history and autochthonous culture, rejecting the imported Eurocentric worldview that has contributed to so many problems. This final remarks reminds me of the “emic and etic” perspective used in anthropology and cross-cultural counseling.


1) Contradiction between his ontological and epistemological approaches.

I notice a discrepancy in Freire’s initial thoughts. His ontological introduction reminds me of the original view of Behaviorism and Gestalt. Behaviorists believe that reality exists externally and needs to be learned. His epistemological view, however, resonates more with constructivism, which denies the assumption that people are empty boxes, a tabula rasa, that are eager to be filled by instructors with fixed samples of an externally existing world. (in his book “The Pedagogy of the Oppressed”, Freire called it Banking Education.) Constructivism affirms that reality in not extrinsic to learners, who instead use motivation to actively and collaboratively construct their knowledge and meaning from their personal experience. Therefore learning is seen as the product of self-organization and to this end teachers’ role is that of mediators and facilitators.

2) Approach based on an either/or exclusion.

His ideas seem to develop within a dichotomous world, where themes and factors are juxtaposed to one another. This is the case with his view of reactionaries vs. progressives; men vs. animals; state-supported oppression vs. people’s needs; old epoch vs. new epoch; integration vs. adaptation. However, he also recognizes areas that transcend a dichotomous approach. For example he talks about a transition time between past and future.

In general, his world is fairly polarized, with Eurocentric, imported approaches facing off against what he sees as the natural character of autochthonous cultures. I believe that such views are strongly influenced by the contextual conditions in Brazil that he is trying to analyze.

3) His view seems at times to follows the same patters he strongly criticizes.

For example, he sees people at the mercy of “social forces” and relevant “myths”, (p.3) as if his was the only approach top make a correct sense of reality. This is also evident when he suggests that people should overcome adjustment “to become integrated with the spirit of the time.  I wonder who defines such spirit.

4) An overemphasis on rational thinking.

In a citation, the paper says that men will have to make “more and more use of intellectual, and less and less of emotional and instinctive functions.” I disagree with this. As I believe that today’s worldviews suffers from an overload for Western-style thinking based on a Cartesian world view. Transcending it would offer an opportunity for a paradigmal change.

Peter J. Smith , Workplace Learning and Flexible Delivery

COURSE: WORK AND LEARNING – Assignment 1.2 (other readings)

FORUM: Current development and discourses on work and learning


Peter J. Smith , Workplace Learning and Flexible Delivery (link to Itslearning)

I found this article very interesting, but also complex and deserving a lot of attention, as it covered a lot of ground, from a comprehensive review of concepts relating to work and learning, to practice-oriented solutions for the delivery of effective training programs at the workplace.

In this post I will focus on the relevance of collaborative learning for the flexible delivery of training programs.


Smith clearly promotes a social-constructivist view of both work training and delivery modes. He gives many examples that support such perspective. Here are some citations from the article that may be useful to develop an initial understanding of Smith’s position: (page numbers in brackets refer to the article)

Billet and Rose take a socio-cultural constructivist view on knowledge. They said that, although resource-based learning materials have an important part to play in the development of workplace knowledge, they need to be used in conjunction with the guidance that is available through interaction with others in the workplace. (p. 74)

Smith and Henry found that the vast majority of evidence supported the view that successful on-line training must include interaction between learners and between learners and their instructors.”(p.75)

Trentin proposes a network-based collaborative model that includes active dialogue.(p.75) and suggests that instructors should consider the prominent role of collaborative learning, advocating the combination of the learning of abstract “concepts with direct experience.” (p. 149)

Smith also suggests that flexible delivery of training require the learners’ engagement with both material and the learning community at large. Learning ensues also from – with a reference to Wenger – the “effective use of the community of practice to pursue learning goals.” (p. 80)

Even when discussing delivery of learning programs such as CMC (Computer Mediated Communication), the importance of a social environment is emphasized. Citing Smith and Henry, the articles reminds us that “the vast majority of evidence supported the view that successful on-line training must include interaction between learners and between learners and their instructors.”(p.75)

Stacey also remarks along the same line the importance of collaborative learning adding that “the group contributes to learners’ understanding beyond what they could achieve individually.” (p.76)


My comments on Smith’s constructivist view on learning and delivery concern the issue of “naïve constructivism,”(p.73) which Garrison defines as the perspective of educators who “have a blind faith in the ability of students to construct meaningful knowledge on their own” (cited on p. 78).

In spite of my personal interest in the social-constructivist approach presented in the article, I also realize that such perspective cannot be universally and uncritically applied across different work and learning contexts. In this article, Smith cites research by Warner et al. showing that a majority of Australian VET learners “are not prepared for self-directed learning.” Other research outcomes confirmed that learners have “a low preference for independent learning” and seem to prefer learning situations where “an instructor leads the process” and makes “very clear what is expected of learners.” Smith also cites Brooker and Butler’s research on the Australian workplace supporting the idea that “apprentices rated highly those pathways to learning that involved structured learning and assistance from another more expert worker.” (p.78-79)

My questions are:

How do we accommodate such clear learning preferences into the broader social-constructivist approach?

Could an integrated model such as that proposed by Poel et al. (see the article Learning-Program Creation in Work Organization) serve as a holistic approach aimed at overcoming issues of “naïve constructivism” by providing the necessary platform for learning programs that would be sensitive to the actors’ needs and diverse learning approaches and also to the contextual institutional necessities?

Additional resources: Preparing for flexible delivery, by Peter Smith et al. http://www.ncver.edu.au/research/proj/nr0023.pdf

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