UR – reflections on feminism

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Hi Edouard,

Your post raises interesting questions that were also asked by several of us (you included, I believe) during the discussion in our last course, when the theme was education and learning for social change.

Some of us suggested that the feminist approach followed in the path of a dichotomous view of the world (Marxism vs. capitalism), and that it would be worthwhile looking outside those boxes and considering more systems-thinking alternatives. I am afraid, but of course this is just a personal opinion that the questions you have raised will keep popping up, as I believe they stem from a linear thinking paradigm based on mutually exclusive perspectives.

I had posted some thoughts on this theme on my e-portfolio webpage at:


If that doesn’t work, try this:


I find Marie Carr’s comment posted at the bottom very appropriate and encouraging.




GLL – Body work, bioenergetics ( Nadeau)

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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

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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,

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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.
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