University of Worcester Worcester Research and Publications

What gives life to critical pedagogy in the lifelong learning sector?

McElearney, Paula ORCID: (2020) What gives life to critical pedagogy in the lifelong learning sector? PhD thesis, University of Worcester.

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Critical pedagogy is an educational philosophy and approach to teaching and learning which challenges social and political hierarchies, and questions of power. Teachers and students co-create knowledge in order to develop an awareness of oppressive structures and forces at work in their own lives and in the wider world. This awareness leads to agency, in the form of social action, personal empowerment and transformation. It can be argued that this is vital if we are to progress morally, socially, politically, economically and ecologically, and for the development of democracy. Critical pedagogy is therefore an important area to research and develop.

In the UK, critical pedagogy has traditionally been practised in the lifelong learning sector. However, the sector has become constrained by funding cuts, instrumental curricula and accountability measures, and lecturers can feel that they have little room for professional autonomy and therefore the practice of critical pedagogy. Yet some do continue to practice critical pedagogy, often in relatively isolated circumstances, by working within the system but drawing upon their personal and professional identities. This research examines what inspires, motivates and sustains such practitioners in the face of constraints, the teaching strategies they consider to be successful, and how their experiences could be harnessed and mobilised to enable critical pedagogy to flourish.

The research draws upon the philosophy and methodology of Appreciative Inquiry to capture critical pedagogues’ positive stories of success. This contrasts with the well-documented difficulties of using critical pedagogy in the current educational climate. A qualitative research strategy was used, including twelve face to face, semi-structured interviews with practitioners of critical pedagogy across a range of lifelong learning contexts, in the West Midlands, UK. The participants’ narratives were analysed thematically, which revealed themes related to four dimensions: Society, Education System, Self and Others. Each participant acted as a conduit between the four dimensions, whereby experiences in each dimension led to praxis in the other dimensions, in an iterative process. The participants suggested a number of methods of mobilising critical pedagogy across the lifelong learning sector, including networks and connections with other like-minded people, teacher education and continuing professional development.

The research illuminates what brings critical pedagogy to life, shining a light of hope for others who wish to practice in this way. It demonstrates the need to sustain hope, and to continue to fight for the education we believe in. It calls to us to join with others to make critical pedagogy happen, enlivening our deepest yearnings for social justice and humanisation, and encourages us to reclaim our agency.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information:

A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the University’s requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy. University of Worcester, 2020.

Uncontrolled Discrete Keywords: critical pedagogy, lifelong learning policy, philosophy of education, learning, teaching
Divisions: College of Arts, Humanities and Education > School of Education
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Depositing User: Paula Mcelearney
Date Deposited: 22 Feb 2021 11:35
Last Modified: 22 Feb 2021 12:15

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