Panel E.01 — Adult education for social justice: is teaching to transgress still possible?

Convenors Howard Stevenson (University of Nottingham, United Kingdom); Aileen Kennedy (University of Glasgow, United Kingdom)

Keywords adult education, critical professional learning, transformative education, praxis


In her seminal work ‘Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of freedom’ bell hooks (1994) built on a long tradition of radical adult education to make the case for an adult education that confronts intersecting inequalities and offers the prospects of a much more hopeful and optimistic future. It is a pedagogical philosophy with social justice and emancipation at its core – seeking to confront inequalities in all aspects of life.

While hooks’ work offers a pedagogy of hope, we live in a world that can seem hopeless. Specifically, we live in an age of crises (Stevenson, 2024), democratic, economic, ecological and geo-political, in which the old is dying, but the new is not yet born. In such circumstances it can seem increasingly difficult to adopt pedagogical practices that ‘teach to transgress’. Many of the spaces where radical educators and critical pedagogues have sought to work have been progressively closed down, while authoritarian and populist governments seek to assert ever more control of what teachers teach, and how they teach it. Within education systems, teachers’ experience of professional learning and development is that it is often used to enforce conformity and compliance. rather than encourage transformation (Kennedy and Stevenson, 2023).

In this panel we will seek to rediscover, and reassert, a pedagogy of hope in relation to all forms of adult education – professional development, community projects, vocational training and trade union/political eucation. In particular the aim is to rethink the nature of radical pedagogic praxis in an age of crises and to consider how critical adult education, in its many and diverse forms, can help navigate the challenges posed by today’s organic crises.

Drawing on the work of bell hooks, but also Gramsci (1971), Freire (1972) and others, the panel is a space to share ‘resources of hope’ (Williams, 1989), and to re-think how educators connect pedagogical practice with industrial, community and cultural struggles in a praxis that connects theory, practice and resistance (Giroux, 2022). The intention is to re-visit what we mean by transformative education (Mezirow, 1997) – in an age of crises, and to reassess how a genuinely radical praxis can contribute to what Gramsci (1971, p. 333) described as ‘the practical transformation of the real world’.


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