GLL – on Populism and Adult Education, Frank Youngman

COURSE: Global/Local Learning– GLL

FORUM: Samarbeta

TOPICS: local global learning, development, Third Way, Education

Step 2 – Part2: on Populism and Adult Education, Frank Youngman

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Youngman, F. (2000). Adult Education and Development Theory in The Political Economy of Adult Education & Development, (Chapter 4). London: Zed Press.

What political and economic agendas inform this development perspective?

The populist approach reflects the discontent emerging from criticism towards modernization theories. It developed in the 1980’s as a sharp departure from typical First – Third word dichotomies to embrace a new creed based on the self-reliance that would lead to the establishment of people-centered development policies. This new agenda was seen as an alternative to existing failing approaches to development, one that would encompass issues of feminism, environmentalism and ethnic diversity.

What do you think are the key ideas and assumptions that inform this development perspective?

As mentioned above, Populism was premised on a change in both emphasis and values of development policies and ideals. I believe that the idea of people-centered development was central to this new approach. In another post I cited two paragraphs from a book by David Korten (People Centered Development) in which he defined people-centered development as follows:

“It is an approach to development that looks to the creative initiative of people as the primary development resource and to their material and spiritual well-being as the end that the development process serves.” (p.201)

“People-centered development places substantial value on local initiatives and diversity. It thus favors self-organizing systems developed around human-scale organizational units and self-reliant communities.”(p.300)

Another key issue in the Populist approach to development was Sustainable Development, which considers environmental factors as being fundamental in any development-related discourse. Natural resources are not only viewed as limited, but also vulnerable to the damage of reckless industrialization processes.

Such ideas were summarized in the philosophy of The Third Way, which Alvin Toffler described as bringing “with it a genuinely way of life based on diversified, renewable energy sources; on methods of production that make most factory assembly lines obsolete; on new, non-nuclear families; on a novel institution that might be called the ‘electronic cottage’; and on radically changed schools and corporations of the future.” (Toffler, A., The Third Way)

In other words, like evidenced in Youngman’s chapter, A Third Way is about living in harmony with the environment, cooperation and zero economic growth. It is also about development defined more in terms of personal, ecological, community and cultural welfare and progress than in terms of the mere accumulation of economic wealth.” (Trainer)

What is the role of the state in adult education, in this development context?

Populism is very critical of the role of the state in education.  As in the populist approach towards development, that opposed the whole idea of development as a process premised on industrial and technological modernization, the populist approach to education is premised on “non-governmental and voluntary associations” that would work to establish a broader educational spectrum based on the direct participation of the beneficiaries. The idea is to empower people, and to that extend I believe that the Populist approach echoes what T. Fenwick in “Experiential Learning: A Theoretical Critique from Five Perspectives calls a “radical experiential learning perspective” (as discussed in a previous course. Please forgive my habit to cross-reference), which views the teacher as a promoter of consciousness. From my understanding of the readings, I feel that dependency theory and populism are not as distinct as presented by Youngman, as they both aim at overcoming current paradigms of development and education.

What is the role of civil society in adult education, in this context?

Civil society is viewed as the pillar of the Populist perspective. See above for additional comments


Fenwick, T. (2001) “Experiential Learning: A Theoretical Critique from Five Perspectives” Information Series No 385, ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult, Career and Vocational Education now located at the Centre for Education & Training for Employment at Ohio State University, accessed on June 2, 2009 at

Trainer, F. E. (1989). Developed to death: Rethinking Third World development. London: Green Print.

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