Women, adult literacy education and transformative bonds of care

Vicky Duckworth, Rob Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (journal)peer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)
181 Downloads (Pure)


Drawing on a research project: ‘FE in England – Transforming lives and communities’ (sponsored by the University and College Union) to explore the intersection between women, literacy and adult education, this paper argues for the place of research in affirming localised understandings of education that cut across the grain of contemporary educational reform. In the context of the increasing dominance of a ‘skills’ discourse in education in the UK and reductions in funding targeted at adult education, this research project exposed how further education can still challenge and address hurt and often spoiled learning identities and counteract the objectification of the skills discourse through creating catalysing bridging bonds of care. The research data illustrate that further education offers organic transformative tools for consciousness-raising (Freire, 1995) and a caring space where hope can act as a change agent that fuels women learners’ lives and teachers’ practice (Duckworth, 2013; Duckworth & Smith, 2017, 2018b). To support the discussion, our paper draws on a range of learners and teachers’ narratives to expand on the conceptualisation of adult education as a bridging space for a curriculum informed by an ethic of what we term dialogic caring. We also develop a theoretical position that anchors the research in learners and practitioners’ experience as an empirical antidote to the simulations (Baudrillard, 1994; Lefebvre, 2004) conjured up by the decontextualised knowledge production activities that marketisation has imposed on educational institutions. We position education research as having an important role to play in revealing powerful often hidden social practices and lived human experience beneath the neoliberal, globalised ‘grand narratives’ of international competition. To that end, we mobilise the term transformative teaching and learning to signify educational experiences that are not only student-centred, but which defy, counteract and work against the neoliberal educational imaginary. We align our research approach with adult literacy education and critical pedagogy as working towards social justice and against deficit generating educational structures that marginalise women, their families and communities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)157-183
Number of pages27
JournalAustralian Journal of Adult Learning
Issue number2
Early online date31 Jul 2018
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 31 Jul 2018


  • Adult literacy
  • bonds of care
  • female empowerment
  • transformation. Adult education
  • Transformative teaching and learning
  • Dialogical care


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