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Weaving the fragments of hope: social movement learning and popular education in Southwest Colombia

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posted on 2023-06-10, 01:52 authored by Patrick Kane
How do social movements learn and produce knowledge in contexts of repression and violence? And in such contexts, how can radical pedagogy form part of social movement responses in seeking to construct radical alternatives? In this thesis, I attempt to answer these questions, in order to understand the role which a radical intercultural pedagogical initiative plays in the struggles of social movements to construct and defend alternative modes of being and organising in the repressive context of southwest Colombia. The initiative is led by a small, radical human rights NGO called Nomadesc, based in Cali, Colombia. Over the course of two decades, it has brought together activists from diverse social movements and territories across southwest Colombia in order to empower them to deal with the violent context; reimagine alternatives; and strengthen and interweave their struggles. The Colombian context for social movements and their organising is uniquely intense. A country with diverse, vibrant social movements and significant levels of social protest, it is also consistently the most dangerous country in the world for activists, who are regularly targeted for assassination. Political violence has been a continuous feature of political and social life throughout the country’s history. As in other Latin American countries, Colombian social movements have a long and rich history of employing popular education as a means of generating knowledge and learning amongst activists. The underlying premise of this thesis is that the knowledge produced within social movements through their daily efforts to bring about social change is inherently valuable and of interest to activists and critical scholars. This is particularly so in the struggles of social movements on the peripheries of global capitalism in the Global South, where the knowledge of subaltern subjects has been discredited and ignored for centuries within the epistemological hierarchy of capitalist modernity (Santos, 2007). I employ a decolonial theoretical approach guided by the Epistemologies of the South framework of Boaventura de Sousa Santos, and which combines a critical realist ontology with the political economy work of Massimo De Angelis in order to lay out an ontological understanding of social movement struggles for social change. This thesis may be of interest to scholars spanning various disciplines, including critical education, social movement studies, Latin American studies, and postcolonial literature. The thesis combines two complimentary methodological approaches: the systematisation of experiences (a collaborative, participatory research technique associated with popular educators in Latin America); and an ‘engaged ethnography’ developed specifically for activist social movement research (Mathers & Novelli, 2007). These two approaches were combined in an extensive period of fieldwork embedded within the Nomadesc team in Colombia, allowing for a comprehensive data collection process with over 100 participants. This thesis is concerned with the ‘how’, the ‘what’, and the ‘so what’ of the learning and knowledge production processes which emerge from this radical pedagogical initiative: that is, it seeks to analyse the nature and content of these processes, and to explore the effects which they have upon the participating social movements and their struggles. I argue that, as an initiative which emerged from and is embedded within the social movement struggles of southwest Colombia, the Nomadesc pedagogical process is itself a continuous learning process, shaped by a dialectic of learning which exists between the pedagogical initiative and the struggles of the social movements involved. This dialectic allows for a dynamic, horizontal process of collective knowledge construction. Highlighting the central role of the intercultural knowledge dialogue between subjects of struggle, I demonstrate the potential of radical pedagogy to produce counter-hegemonic learning and knowledge processes between diverse subjects of struggle. Within this intercultural knowledge dialogue, the diversity of the movements is conceived as a container of emancipatory potential.


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