Lessons from Feminism for Environmental Education


Endeavors to create conditions that will develop an awareness of context, political consciousness and the potential for social action have a long history in adult education. The remarkable shifts in women’s rights in the late twentieth century were the results of over a century’s worth of struggle by feminists, a struggle that became institutionalised in universities in the 1970s with the emergence of women’s studies. This radical education transformed the daily lives and political realities of thousands of women. 

In a 1975 American nation-wide study of women’s education Jack Mezirow identified ten phases often encountered during consciousness-raising process within women’s education and developed the theory and practice of transformative learning. Transformative learning has now been developed into a practice that helps learners critically examine assumptions and as well as develop social capacities to put new perspectives into practice. This practice is a powerful tool with the potential to help learners cross the infamous value / action gap in environmental education. I recently presented a slideshow on transformative learning at the Design Research Society’s SkinDeep 2011 conference on experiential knowledge and multi-sensory communication.

An understanding of the connections between oppression of women and the destruction of nature has deep reaching implications for the environmental movement and adult education. Feminism, with its legacy of struggle to pull half of the human race out of oppression, has a comprehensive critique of the conceptual framework sanctioning domination and exploitation. Strategies that informed women’s struggles for liberation and helped women to develop critical consciousness should now be used towards helping us recognize the needs and rights of the natural world in adult education.

 Mezirow, J. (2003). Transformative Learning as Discourse. Journal of Transformative  Education, 1, pp58-63.
Plumwood, Val., (2002) Environmental Culture. Oxon: Routledge.
Shiva, V., (1988). Reductionist Science as Epistemological Violence. In Ashis Nandy (Ed.). Science, Hegemony and Violence. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Spretnak, C. (1997). The Resurgence of the Real. New York: Addison-Wesley.
Sterling, S. (2003). Whole Systems Thinking as a Basis for Paradigm Change in Education. Phd. University of Bath.

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