the social, political and economic drivers of lifelong learning and lifelong education

November 10, 2013 at 7:30 pm (education, essays)

much less late than usual. I even got to proof it myself!

The Social, Political and Economic Drivers
of Lifelong Learning and Lifelong Education

The educational principle of Lifelong Learning is implicated in neoliberalism. Together they seem to have taken over the world, however the self-representation of an ideology as all-encompassing must not be confused with the notion that there is only one viable economic system and one worthwhile theory of lifelong learning.

This article, the companion to Lifelong Education in the context of community organising, discusses how Lifelong Learning has come about on an international scale, its close ties with neoliberalism in the West and the potential of its alternative strands. Three countries are illustrated, to contrast with the inevitabilities projected by the English speaking West. Sweden, Japan and China have all followed different paths, with different histories, motivations and assumptions leading to different priorities.

The importance of learning throughout the lifespan is seen as an uncontroversial part of contemporary life. An overwhelming majority of people think learning is essential at all ages (Field 2006). From the richest corporation to the poorest Chinese peasant (Boshier & Huang 2007), people agree learning is an integral part of life and if learning is good, then more learning is better. However, there is a distinction between “lifelong learning as a common sense principle – of learning from the cradle to the grave – and lifelong learning as an educational principle that has to be realized in policies, programs and projects”. (Medel-Añonuevo 2002, pxx)

As shall be seen, the educational principal of Lifelong Learning is culturally situated and, while not monolithic, it is anything but value-free.

The way one looks at a concept affects what is seen. In Part 1, Edwards’ three discourses of Lifelong Learning were discussed (Boshier 1998, p12; Rogers 2006, p126). However many other theorists have attempted to draw similar lines, representing three strands of education as orthodoxy, heterodoxy and heterogeneity (Paulston in Rogers 2006), or three progressive sentiments: individual, democratic and adaptive (Bagnall in Rogers 2006). The repetition of thirds is not coincidental. Each set identifies a breakpoint between a) the current orthodoxy, a neoliberal, individualist status quo and b) the democratic work that is done to include everyone in public life, particularly the heterodox minorities who aren’t currently served by the system. The third in each set distinguishes that c) facilitating greater access to public life still only co-opts people into the status quo. For true emancipation, people must also learn the tools to adapt and transform their own worlds.

As this Part discusses policies and projects rather than broad frameworks, it will use the terminology of Rogers’ three strands: Learning for Work; Learning for Citizenship; and Learning for Social Transformation (Rogers 2006). The term Lifelong Education usually conflates programs for either Citizenship or Social Transformation, drawn from, or reminiscent of, the Faure report (1972) and counterposed to the dominant Western trend of English-speaking countries such as Britain, North America and Australia which are strongly couched in the neoliberal Learning for Work (Boshier 1998). While this Part focuses on national and international organisational levels which generally prefer work for Citizenship over the more ‘dangerous’ promotion of Social Transformation, and at best conflate the two, Learning for Social Transformation abounds in academic discourse (Field 2006) and in smaller community projects, thus the distinctions are still important to understand.

The Faure report, as discussed in Part 1, was released in 1972, a time of great change in the world. Economically, times had been good for two decades in the West, with the development of welfare and a lack of world wars. However, several crises produced a scramble to maintain economic growth even if society suffered. Several countries, the EU and the OECD promptly released their own reports on learning, which took the solutions Faure had found for ameliorating the unevenness of world development and its effects, and applied them to bolstering the economy and focussing on jobs (Field 2006).

Through the 1980s there was little emphasis on Lifelong Learning, but in the 1990s it was back again, bigger than before. UNESCO produced the Delors report in 1996, which attempted to resurrect some of Faure’s ethos while rectifying some processes of the original. However the political climate was changing rapidly and it was swamped by even more economically-focused reports than the original had been (Field 2006).

With the breakdown of Communism, the challenges facing Capitalism were no longer about winning hearts and minds but maintaining the economic stature and advantage of the corporate class (Hyslop-Margison & Sears 2008). Thatcher, Fraser then Reagan convinced their countries that capitalism was inevitable, an almost religious sole solution to contemporary fears. This was the beginning of neoliberalism as the predominant force in the industrialised world, and lifelong learning was right there. It provided the skilled labour required for continual growth, facilitated competitiveness and justified the neoliberal thesis that “the old ways of working were not enough” (Field 2006, p35): if everyone accepts that making corporations happy is the most important goal of education policy, it follows naturally that continuing government control of education will never meet that goal as well as will handing over all control directly to the corporations.

From the 1990s to now, despite many and varied changes in the world, the influence of neoliberalism and its version of Lifelong Learning has only intensified. Indeed, educational offerings are now largely dictated by industry’s demand for graduates and workplace learning dominates adult education in the English speaking West (Field 2006). Nevertheless, while this history is important and has much to say about the development of Lifelong Learning in Australia, Britain and North America, it is not the whole story.

It is telling that Sweden, Japan and China are places where Lifelong Education has been taken up by the state. Sweden is a Socialist Democracy (Larsson 2001); Japan, a Developmental State (Shibata 2008) and traditionally structured society; and China is Market Socialist with Chinese Characteristics (Boshier & Huang 2007). All three have implemented some aspects of neoliberalism, and been affected by other countries’ uptake, yet none have neglected the core of their own systems for the theory.

All three have their own adult education traditions which predate Lifelong Learning: In the seventies, Sweden was the only country which implemented Faure’s recommendations in a significant way, such as implementing Education Leave (Field 2006), however the folkbildning tradition and its Study Circles had already been thriving since they started to be set up by social movements outside of the state, in 1912. Eventually Study Circles were taken up by the state, to the extent that they received funding, though the state does not intervene into matters of curriculum. In the 1990s they suffered a decrease in funding, yet participation increased and they continue to this day. (Larsson 2001)


Japan’s pre-existing educational tradition was ‘Social Education’, run out of Kominkans or local learning centres. Unfortunately Social Education did not solve the problems in society caused by their rigid, credentialised formal education system. When UNESCO started producing reports on Lifelong Education and Lifelong Learning in the early 1970s, Japan recognised the dual problems of rigidity and the breakdown of traditional social structures. The reports were taken seriously with debates in parliament resulting in a major report in 1981. By 1990 there was a law Concerning the Development of Mechanisms and Measures for Promoting Lifelong Learning, a lifelong learning bureau within the education department and an advisory body publishing recommendations to support organisations from educational institutions to local authorities, “leading to a substantial amount of activity, particularly at local and regional level.” (Field 2006, p38)

Qualitatively, the new Lifelong Education was a rebranded Social Education, complete with the conservative overtones about Japanese culture, tradition, morality and family. There was also an acknowledgement of economic consequences of Lifelong Learning. The Bureau was dominated by non-educational agencies and ministries, the law was passed [in partnership with departments of Industry and International Trade], and there was a hope that ‘self- learning’ would allow a cut in public spending (Field 2006). What was remarkable in global terms, however, was that in 1991, when the bubble economy collapsed, they increased funding instead of cutting it like in the west. Further, the increase didn’t focus on expanding vocational education but on individual and community based lifelong learning (Field 2006).


China’s recent history of learning has been more controversial. The Cultural Revolution, which started in 1966, could be argued to have been built around an explicit policy of learning, enacted by force. Schools and universities were closed and replaced by compulsory ‘re-education’ through informal learning from peasants in the countryside. Interestingly, this informal learning was to run to a specific curriculum of ‘purity’ of thought and strict adherence to the messages of Mao’s writings in the Little Red Book and the sycophantic Diary of Lei Feng (Boshier & Huang 2007, p57).

This is certainly not learning for learning’s sake. In fact it is learning for neither work, citizenship nor transformation. Academic models of learning are not prepared to encompass a concept so far outside of the aims of most educators. However it does highlight just how education can be, and has been, utilised.

The Cultural Revolution only completely ended with the death of Mao Tse Tung in 1976. By 1979 translations of the Faure report had appeared in Shanghai, followed by a Symposium of adult education in 1984, the flourishing of work on learning organisations and, by 2004, a full-scale national campaign of learning cities and villages (Boshier & Huang 2007). Thus the process of revaluing education to the service of harmony rather than purity, ran alongside the reconstruction of society.


The table below sets out some of the differences and similarities of each country or region.

  West Sweden Japan China
Economic / political Conditions Relatively rich* neoliberal capitalist democracies Rich and stable since the 1930s; Social Democracy, with neoliberal influences since 2006 Developmental State with neoliberal influences.    1991 crash then economic stagnation End of dictatorship then rebuilding, Market Socialism with Chinese Characteristics
Goals of National Policy Leaders Economic competitiveness of corporations. Maintaining high educational standards and standards of living Increasing flexibility of society and salvaging cohesion Harmony and stability. Critically engaging the best ideas of the rest of the world.
Actions on Lifelong Learning Cuts and Privatisation. Prioritising only the most neoliberal Maintenance of LE, uptake in the 1970s, funding cuts in the 1990s Boost of spending on LE in the 1990s Implementation of LE from as soon as the country was stable, to the present

* North America is in great debt, especially to China, and is printing money every month as ‘Quantitative Easing’, but is still the most powerful economy in the world. In terms of capacity to implement educational policies if will permits, North America, Britain and Australia are all well-resourced.

Comparing the similarities and differences of Sweden, Japan, China and the English speaking West, it becomes clear that the different approaches to Lifelong Learning are not couched directly in economic imperatives, but in assumptions, motivations and priorities; in short, ideology. The English speaking West posits many arguments predicated on the supposed inevitability of neoliberal capitalism (Field 2006), however they are clearly invalid. The primacy of a free market system as the best way to enhance wealth and life; the guidance of society by the economy; the necessity of a low tax, user-pays economy; and the limit of government intervention in society: they are all couched in specific ideology, and the assertion that viable alternatives are impossible is refuted by the experiences of Sweden, Japan and China. So too with the supposed impossibility of non-corporate lifelong education, as illustrated by the table above. While links can be seen between Conditions and Goals, and between Goals and Actions, there is little logic to the connections between a country’s conditions and their actions on Lifelong Learning if ideology is not taken into account.

This article has charted the very specific courses of three national governments against what is accepted as the status quo. However the variety should be taken to indicate the presence of possibilities, rather than any attempt to navigate their breadth. More models will no doubt be found in places such as the histories of popular and radical education movements, or small communities of location or commonality, as much as from national and international policy. One thing, however, is clear: The neoliberal ideology’s sense of its own inevitability is inaccurate and is not accepted where other ideologies are dominant. This indicates that, even within heavily neoliberal states, other models are possible. Whether one looks to the grand learning projects of the country which might become the next world superpower, or to a tiny intersectional community group, the only thing preventing Lifelong Learning from flourishing into Lifelong Education is ideology.



Boshier, R. (1998). Edgar faure after 25 years: Down but not out. In J. Holford, P. Jarvis & C. Griffin (Eds.), International perspectives on lifelong learning (pp. 3-20). London: Kogan Page.

Boshier, R., & Huang, Y. (2007). Shuang yu: Vertical and horizontal dimensions of china’s extraordinary learning village. Studies in Continuing Education, 29(1), 51-70.

Faure, E., Herrera, F., Kaddoura, A., Lopes, H., Petrovsky, A. V Rahnema, M. & Champion Ward, F. (1972). Learning to be: The world of education today and tomorrow. Paris: UNESCO.

Field, J. (2006). Lifelong learning: A design for the future? Lifelong learning and the new educational order (pp. 9-43). Stoke-on-Trent: Trentham.

Hyslop-Margison, E. J., & Sears, A. M. (2008). Challenging the dominant neo-liberal discourse: From human capital learning to education for civic engagement. In M. A. Peters, A. Britton & H. Blee (Eds.), Global citizenship education: Philosophy, theory and pedagogy (pp. 219-315). Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

Larsson, S. (2001). Seven aspects of democracy as related to study circles. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 20(3), 199-217.

Medel-Añonuevo, C. (2002). Integrating lifelong learning perspectives. The Phillipines: UNESCO Institute for Education.

Rogers, A. (2006). Escaping the slums or changing the slums? lifelong learning and social transformations. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 52(2), 125-137.

Shibata, K. (2008). Neoliberalism, risk, and spatial governance in the developmental state: Japanese planning in the global economy. Critical Planning, 15, 92-118.


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Lifelong Education in the context of community organising

September 25, 2013 at 7:16 am (atheism, community, education, essays, queer)

Essay. First in several years. deadline 8.30am, submitted 6.40am. how’s that! of course that was on the second extension, but still. only nine days since the original deadline!

the sun is shining, the birds are singing – but the’ve been at it all night! i’m doing surprisingly well for having pulled an allnighter – though we’ll see how i am when i have to get up and go out at 1.30… now, i should attempt to sleep.

This is part one of two interconnected assignments – the next one is coming up soon enough. The diagram didn’t copy in, so i described it in place.

Does the analytical framework of Lifelong Education enable greater insight and understanding of learning and change in the context of community group organising?

 [figure: two axes. “Old people” up top, “Young people” below.
“Non-formal settings” to the left, “Formal settings” to the right.
Quadrants marked 1-4, clockwise from the top left.]

Dimensions of lifelong education (Boshier 1998, p7)

This paper explores Lifelong Education as outlined in the Faure report (Faure et al. 1972) and in Boshier’s analysis (Boshier 1998). It finds that, despite neglect in Lifelong Learning circles, the Faure report is still engaging, while its goal of developing learning societies and its primary aspects of vertical and horizontal integration and democratisation are relevant and adaptable.

Part One examines how the concepts of Lifelong Learning, combined with later thought on its discourses, can help understand and improve the organisation of contemporary community groups. An example is made of Sydney Queer Atheists (SQA), a small community group in Sydney, Australia which engages in non-formal and informal education and learning. Part Two considers these concepts in a wider lens.

The author is an organiser and participant in SQA, and draws on an anarchist-utopian tradition. The paper assumes that education, broadly conceived, is good for individuals, communities and societies alike.


The Faure Report, Learning to be: The world of education today and tomorrow was written in 1972 by Edgar Faure and the International Commission on the Development of Education of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). An ambitious work, it was meant to revolutionise education around the world, advising the governments of both rich and poor countries. Writing 26 years later, Boshier considered “the original report is still an excellent template for educational reform” (Boshier 1998, p5). Now, 15 years further into the neoliberal project, the document and its master concept of Lifelong Education are still relevant and illuminating.


Much as every corporation now has to be a ‘learning organisation’, in 1972 the concept of the moment, from Paris to Ontario, was the learning society (Boshier 1998, p7). In a learning society, education is a fundamental human right for all rather than a luxury, and responsibility for it is also spread throughout society (Faure et al. 1972). The main aim of the Faure report is to develop learning societies, and the vehicle is Lifelong Education.


Lifelong education is a utopian concept which arose from the social changes of the 1960s. It was influential only briefly, and implemented by few governments (Field) yet its inspiring theory has continued to have an impact as a minor tradition and has more recently been picked up by the government in China (Boshier & Huang 2007). It was, however, quickly overshadowed by lifelong learning, where learning becomes the responsibility of the individual, largely as a way to make a corporation more competitive.

There are three main facets to Lifelong Education: vertical integration, horizontal integration and democratisation. Boshier portrays the first two as axes that outline quadrants, as shown in the diagram above. The vertical axis regards learning across the lifespan; the horizontal covers the sites of learning – formal, non-formal, informal, semi-formal (Kalantzis and Cope p31) and in between. The quadrants formed by this schema would each receive equal emphasis and distribution of resources (Boshier p9) such that everyone can access a variety of education options at any age. It is important to note that the axes are permeable; individuals will, and should, participate in all segments over time. The emphasis would be on the quality of learning, not how it is achieved.



Vertical integration regards opening up education for people of all ages. Faure refutes the “traditional” idea that all education should be “provided during the first years of life, before entry into ‘active life’” (Faure et al. 1972, p190). However this is not simply about provision of educational opportunities; in a non-compulsory system, not only must structural barriers such as cost, unnecessarily restrictive prerequisites and lack of resources be dismantled to provide access, but psychosocial barriers must also be tackled, such as “audiotapes inside people’s heads [that] send negative messages about returning to education” (Boshier 1998, p10). Further, “Equal access is not equal opportunity. This must comprise equal chance of success” (Faure et al. 1972, p72).

Beyond Faure, theory on access and accessibility has continued to develop. The term ‘accessibility’ is used to differentiate the need to change systems to meet the needs of people, from ‘access’ which assists people to meet the needs of the systems. (Wright in Rogers 2006 p131). Despite predating the theory and terminology, Lifelong Education requires accessibility.


A horizontally integrated society is one which offers a diversity of settings for education and learning, from formal to non-formal to informal. Currently in western cities such as Sydney, most recognised, funded education exists in formal settings such as schools, universities and TAFE colleges. Access to formal study largely relies on accreditation from previous formal study in a structured system of prerequisites. Non-formal education is available in reading groups, learning circles, learning webs, summer camps, community organisations, prisons, workplaces and homes. However this vast array of learning opportunities often go unrecognised, unorganised and underresourced, even stigmatised. Sites of informal learning such as travel, media, listening to poets and social interaction in general are even more neglected, with the exception in Australia of public awareness campaigns. (Field 2006, Boshier 1998)

In contrast, a learning society with truly “lifewide” (Rogers 2006), horizontally integrated education  would recognise, resource and value them all as equal parts of learning. Faure did not want to dismantle formal structures, but develop and mainstream “a more pluralistic and accessible array of opportunities for education throughout the life cycle” (Boshier 1998,  p11).


Democratisation, according to Lemaresquier, “has been made synonymous with uniformity and rigidity” (in Faure 1972, p75) in an attempt to provide equal opportunities for all by lockstepping compulsory schooling. However, Lifelong Education’s concept of democratisation is very different, regarding “more widespread involvement of learners in the design and management of their educational processes.” (Boshier 1998, p11) This is integrally linked with access. Practically, this involves the multiple entry, exit and re-entry points of recurrent education, eroding the distinctions between different levels, sites and disciplines and reducing the “inordinate importance given to selection, examinations, and diplomas. The system rewards the strong, the lucky and the conformists [and] it blames and penalises the unfortunate, the slow, the ill-adapted, the people who are and who feel different” (Faure 1972, p75). However, democratisation is also an end in itself, involving a revival of humans’ “natural drive towards knowledge” (Faure et al. 1972, pXXIX) and blurring the boundaries between teacher and learner, while learning participatory democracy.


While some of the Faure report’s concepts and more terminology have entered our vocabulary, the main content was quickly overlaid with others more in line with the new order of neoliberalism Edwards  illustrates this change by separating out three different discourses that each claim Faure’s term “learning societies”, yet interpret it in radically different ways (in Boshier p12):

–          A “learning market” where learners make ‘rational’ decisions to choose educational offerings based on their own needs and the needs of employers

–          An “arena for citizenship” where an individual has a responsibility to learn in order to benefit society

–          An “arena for participation” “at the centrepiece of an active and socially engaged lifestyle for groups of learners, tribes or collectives”.

This distinction appears some decades later, once theory had progressed further. The first is the most common discourse from soon after Faure to now. The Faure report was intended to sit squarely in the second category, concerned with uplifting people for the purpose of making societies run well and cohesively for the betterment of all. However, the third and newer category has much to offer. This article proposes that, in this time of uncertainty and aggressive capitalism when considerations of citizenship are so badly restricted, the new home of utopian thought and possibilities for radical change, such as Faure once represented, is in the third category. Also, it proposes that plenty of the report and its main concepts are still relevant and useful for adapting to small groups and cultural communities.


Edwards’ third point, education for participation is tailor made for community organisations and community organisations are tailor made for fulfilling education for participation.


Sydney Queer Atheists (SQA) is a small community group in Sydney, Australia which has arisen out of the organisation of an atheist float in the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade every year since 2009. In March 2012 it formalised and started running monthly meetings, subsequently separating from Sydney Atheists Inc. and becoming autonomous. Since then, it has produced another float, one workshop at a student queer conference, one small fundraising dinner, another small dinner event and regular monthly meetings. Now, after a year of trying to anything more than running an annual float, the group is in crisis. Members have no motivation to continue running events as there is no common purpose, no vision of the potential of the group beyond hard work and a small social pool.

SQA has been known to educate the atheist community about queer issues and the queer community, as well as the general audience at Mardi Gras, about coming out as atheist. Internally, it has also encouraged informal learning and occasionally non-formal education, on many topics from minority religions to organising floats. The educational possibilities have been articulated, but have not been seen as core, or worth effort and commitment.


There are several reasons why people join a group like SQA. The biggest portion is to find social interaction with similar people and be part of a likeminded community, or even to find a partner. However most other reasons revolve around learning and education, or the activist flipside of teaching and transmitting messages to others. In the current neoliberal world the social and economic needs of individuals are foregrounded, but there are still people, groups and theories of education which buck the system.

Understanding Lifelong Education and its fate in neoliberalism also suggests why building the group is a difficult task. Not only is it an intersectional minority group, but it is a group formed around identity and difference, which have little place in a world of markets, majorities and individual responsibilities. Despite rhetorics of multiculturalism and diversity, it runs against the grain of the current dominant paradigm. Where the group really fits is within the arena of participation. Operating outside of the mainstream can be difficult, but rewarding. Being independent, the group is free to embody and enjoy it. There will still be pressure from the outside world, but there is the potential to be an oasis within it.

Once the arena of participation is embraced, Faure’s ideas may be able to help SQA by locating it within non-formal education, and thus within a broader project. In the optimistic context of Lifelong Education, SQA needs to fulfil its best possible purposes, which are the educational ones, not just the social ones that have attracted members in the past. If the group needs to find new people who are more interested in this than in current activities, then the new agenda must be publicised.


To establish a charter which clearly locates SQA within Lifelong Education would be particularly helpful, not just for orienting the group within education, but also for focussing it on what it needs to be in order to do education well. It’s not just about providing educational opportunities and hoping people attend, the group needs to work with the axes on a micro scale to create a learning community as well as working towards a learning society: recognise all ages, work with a variety of levels of formality and be democratic.

In SQA, decisions are already made as a collective, but there is a resistance where people want a ‘leader’ to show the way. Lifelong Education suggests that the democratisation is crucial to increasing involvement, so the group needs to educate people about collectives and get them on board with doing things differently from the mainstream.

SQA is mostly a group of adults who have left formal education. Queer atheists in formal education tend to have access to a variety of queer and atheist groups that fulfil their social and intellectual needs. Young people are hard to advertise to because of stigma; double stigma here.

While the intention of the horizontal axis is to map diversity in educational settings, not the instructional processes within them, (Boshier p11), applying the broad concepts down a level can also be worthy of consideration. SQA could benefit from availing itself of a variety of strategies, from the informality of a social event within a queer, atheist context, to excursions, dialogues with other groups, discussions, reading groups, forums, to the formality of a series of lectures or a structured course with a certificate of completion.


Boshier, R. (1998). Edgar faure after 25 years: Down but not out. In J. Holford, P. Jarvis & C. Griffin (Eds.), International perspectives on lifelong learning (pp. 3-20). London: Kogan Page.

Boshier, R., & Huang, Y. (2007). Shuang yu: Vertical and horizontal dimensions of china’s extraordinary learning village. Studies in Continuing Education, 29(1), 51-70.

Faure, E., Herrera, F., Kaddoura, A., Lopes, H., Petrovsky, A. V Rahnema, M. & Champion Ward, F. (1972). Learning to be: The world of education today and tomorrow. Paris: UNESCO.

Field, J. (2006). Lifelong learning: A design for the future? Lifelong learning and the new educational order (pp. 9-43). Stoke-on-Trent: Trentham.

Kalantzis, M., & Cope, B. (2012). New learning: Elements of a science of education (2nd ed.). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Rogers, A. (2006). Escaping the slums or changing the slums? lifelong learning and social transformations. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 52(2), 125-137.

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Entertainment venues as noisy workplaces: Facilitating staff to find contextual solutions to Music Induced Hearing Loss

July 7, 2010 at 4:51 am (essays)

it’s done, it’s in, it’s a pretty decent job i think, which is good because i now have to do the research. it’s also 5am past my birthday; my belated birthday present is to get my life back. first order of business is sleep. i can wonder what i used to do with my spare time, later.

Entertainment venues as noisy workplaces:
Facilitating staff to find contextual solutions
to Music Induced Hearing Loss

· Background and Significance
o Hearing Loss
o Noise Exposure
o ONIHL and Leisure Noise Research
o The Entertainment Industry
o Entertainment Staff Research
· Research Perspective – Critical
· Research Question and Objectives
· Research Locations
· Research Participants
· Research Approach – Participatory Action Research
· Research Methods – Focus Groups and Interventions
· Ethical Considerations
o Risk
o Benefit
o Consent
o Deception
o Privacy and Confidentiality
· Table of Acronyms
· References
· Attachment – Application for Adjustment to Ethics with Brief project description, Participant information form and Participant Consent form


Hearing Loss
Hearing loss is one of the most common disabilities in Western societies (Rogers et al. 2009) and it is on the increase. One in six Australians suffers from some degree of hearing loss, and this is forecast to grow to one in four by 2050 (Hear Us 2010, p. xiii). Impacts for the individual include not just the world seeming quieter, but feelings of isolation, withdrawal from society and depression as sufferers have difficulty hearing accurately in groups or where there is background noise. Furthermore, tinnitus, which is little understood but is linked to hearing damage, can range from mild and intermittent to constant and devastating (Cowan 2010).
A person’s hearing loss also affects everyone else around them, from miscommunication and having the TV up unbearably loud, to partners becoming carers and sharing in isolation. Economically, The costs of hearing loss to Australia were estimated at $11.75 billion in 2005, which represented 1.4 per cent of Australia’s then Gross Domestic Product, (Hear Us 2010, p. xiii) which includes hearing aids, implants, education, carers and support as well as lost earnings, tax forgone and welfare payments (p. 26).
Hearing loss can have many causes, for example congenital factors, age, accident, infection, disease and noise (p. 11). Noise induced hearing loss (NIHL) represents 37% of all hearing loss (p.104) and is entirely preventable (p. 105).
Noise Exposure
Noise levels, as they affect the human ear, are discussed in A-weighted decibels (dB(A)) and exposure times. Australian regulations state that exposure of more than an average of 85 Decibels over eight hours (LAeq of 85dB(A)) is a dangerous daily noise dose (NOHSC:1007(2000) 2004). 85dB(A) can very roughly be described as the noise level in which one cannot have a conversation without shouting.
Furthermore, an increase of 3dB, though barely detectible, represents a doubling of sound power which means an average level of 88dB is only safe for four hours in a day. One’s daily dose can be exceeded by a mere 15 minutes at 100dB, or an instant at 140dB.
When the ear is exposed to excessive noise, it may experience a Temporary Threshold Shift (TTS) which reduces the ability of the ear to hear quiet sounds. This can eventually translate to a Permanent Threshold Shift (PTS), as cilia, the fine hairs in the cochlea which register different frequencies, never regenerate once damaged (Maassen et al. 2001).
Previous studies of bar, nightclub, discotheque and music club staff cite average noise levels between 89dB and 107dB (‘Entertainment Noise in Western Australia’ 2005; Fleming 1996; Gunderson, Moline & Catalano 1997; Lee 1999; Sadhra et al. 2002) with staff being exposed for an average of six to twelve hours per shift (‘Entertainment Noise in Western Australia’ 2005). This suggests that staff in this industry are regularly exposed to unacceptably dangerous noise levels.
ONIHL and Leisure Noise Research
Within noise research, the two established areas include Occupational NIHL (ONIHL) and leisure noise. Much work has been done on a variety of topics in ONIHL, including measurement of noise levels in workplaces such as factories and building sites, assessment of equipment for how loud they are and how long they can be used. Studies have also investigated Hearing Loss Prevention education programs, which can involve many factors such as noise monitoring, hearing tests, training, policy, incentives, noise dampening, signage and earplugs or earmuffs (Daniell et al. 2006; Rogers et al. 2009). All this is fuelled by Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) laws which impose the 85dB rule. Exposure reduction is taken seriously, especially in many large companies which have comprehensive hearing protection programs run by OHS officers. Workcover enforces the rules and can give out fines, and there is some awareness that workers can sue companies for not protecting them.
ONIHL research focuses on the industries considered to be at highest risk, including manufacturing, construction, transport and storage, mining and electricity, gas and water supply. (Hear Us 2010, p. 15) The hospitality and entertainment industries are starting to appear as a priority, but the research is limited. The entertainment industry is usually addressed with respect to the general measurement of noise within venues, as appropriate for patrons, rather than the specific exposure of the staff. Even the few studies that concentrate on staff consider the impact on them only through the measurement of their noise levels, exposure lengths and TTSs. Unfortunately, once researchers have discovered the dangers to hearing in these workplaces, very little is done to address the problems and lessen the impact.
The Entertainment Industry
The entertainment industry, while bound by the same laws as other industries, is notorious for non-compliance and rules are rarely enforced. When such workplaces consider noise levels, they commonly think only of the limits which are enforced in the Liquor Licensing Laws. These levels, however, are calculated only to protect the neighbours from noise irritation, and can be far above safe levels for those inside the venue. Another likely reason for the disparity between this industry and others is the overall perception of noise. Rather than seeing noise as, at best, an unimportant but undesirable by-product, there is a common perception of high levels of music and crowd noise as an indicator of a venue’s popularity, quality and success. Volume is one of the main commodities that a pub or club sells and, whether true or not, is often considered synonymous with ‘fun’, an essential part of a ‘good night out’.
Little is known about how these attitudes affect workers. More research on the entertainment industry has taken place within studies of leisure noise, alongside work on such noise sources as MP3 players, shooting, concerts, motor sports, power tools and playing musical instruments (Maassen et al. 2001; Neitzel et al. 2004). These studies of music venue noise focus on patrons, rarely looking beyond issues of noise exposure and threshold shift. This body of research therefore only glosses over the impact on staff and their particular situation. Many questions remain largely unexplored, regarding the specificities of workplace cultures in this industry, whether casual and brief employment involves significant exposure time, whether staff in these environments are likely to also engage in equally loud leisure noise as patrons are (Binge Listening 2010) and whether this should be allowed for in regulations for the workplace, the consequences of being unable to come and go as patrons can, and the common resistance to earplugs by staff and management.
The literature is almost silent on the ways to remedy the situation, instead focussing on the problem at the most basic level. Therefore, there is a gap in the literature, as the good work on programs within the ONIHL studies is unlikely to be directly transferable to the entertainment industry, even with the added insights from leisure research. Workplaces in the entertainment industry are “special and different” (‘Entertainment Noise in Western Australia’ 2005, p. 4). While studies of entertainment staff can learn from both sources, this research gap needs to be examined directly.
Entertainment Staff Research
This is not to say that no work has been done on entertainment staff. Four reports are available of studies in England, the USA and Singapore from 1996 to 2002, which focus solely on entertainment industry staff. Of these, all measure noise levels in the venue, two examine audiometry and two administer questionnaires limited to questions of risk perception, attitudes to risk, availability of personal hearing protectors and information, hearing and symptoms. They all come to the same simple conclusion: these workplaces are dangerous. (Fleming 1996; Gunderson, Moline & Catalano 1997; Lee 1999; Sadhra et al. 2002).
The two Australian documents cover more ground. A study from Western Australia (‘Entertainment Noise in Western Australia’ 2005) and one from Queensland (Groothoff 1999) stand out as covering more ground, including some discussion of changes that venue managers can effect. However, most of the reports’ suggestions cannot be taken up by workers, without external resources. Moreover they are successful in conjunction with enforcement, but may not be adequate in New South Wales, where enforcing bodies do not yet focus on this issue.
Despite the paucity of targeted research, progress is being made. The recommendations and associated funding of the Hear Us report (2010) and the media attention surrounding the Binge Listening report (2010), both of which do mention entertainment workers, have recently made NIHL topical locally.
The proposed research will hopefully make some contribution towards building the momentum, which will put pressure on the industry to take more responsibility, thus attracting more research and cyclically improving workers’ conditions and capacity to control their hearing health.

While there may always be scope for measuring more venues and testing more ears, approaching all noise research in this way would leave many questions unanswered. The questions raised in this research regard not just levels, but people, their attitudes and motivations and the social contexts in which they live and work. As the goals of this project are significantly different from those of most of the discussed literature, a different approach is also required.
Epistemologically, a critical perspective believes that knowledge cannot be separated from its context and ideology (Crotty 1998, p. 157). This includes the researcher, who therefore needs to acknowledge bias rather than attempting to be value-free. In this study the researcher is employed in a research organisation, rather than an entertainment venue, hence this will be acknowledged and addressed by working cooperatively with people who actually do live within the latter context, teaching them research skills so that it becomes ‘our’ research, not ‘mine’.
Nor does critical research attempt to be directly generalisable, as it considers truth to be relative and knowledge to be political and require interpretation. Instead it attempts to make real change in people’s lives, including the power inequalities they are subject to, and the dominant ideologies they accept. Following this principle, this project does not expect to uncover, for example, the statistically largest barrier to ONIHL prevention in the targeted industry. Rather it aims to provide an outcome that makes the physical, behavioural and attitudinal changes required for it to work well in its physical and social environment, and to publish an account that can be used and interpreted by others for their own contexts.
Critical research focuses on qualitative outcomes, unlike positivist research which values quantitative data over qualitative. Another common perspective, Interpretivism does value qualitative research, yet an interpretivist study of this topic would only answer half the questions; one of Critical research’s greatest improvements over Interpretivism is its insistence on praxis (FASS 2010, p. 85). This mix of theory and practice, or resarch and action, is essential for this project to delve beyond what people do and what they think they would do in an appropriate situation, to making that situation.

The primary research question for this study is:
How do people working in noisy entertainment industry environments look after their OHS and how can they learn and organise to protect their hearing?
As the research is integrated with action and further questions will be framed by the participants during the course of the process, the following objectives will further guide the process:
1) To gain a greater understanding of knowledge, attitudes and behaviours about OHS, noise and hearing loss prevention of staff working at noisy entertainment venues.
2) To create positive changes to noise exposure, attitudes or protection within participants’ workplaces, through successful and sustainable interventions with the potential to spread beyond the targeted workplace.

The time and place of the focus groups will be decided to accommodate the participants. The venue need only be accessible, quiet and not affiliated with any of the participants’ workplaces. This will prevent dropout for logistical reasons, and encourage participants to feel involved in the process.
Interventions will take place at the relevant workplaces, and any other location deemed necessary, with data analysis and storage at the National Acoustic Laboratories (NAL), 126 Greville St, Chatswood 2067.

Participants shall be employed to work in dangerously noisy amplified environments in the entertainment industry, such as pubs, nightclubs or similar venues where the LAeq, 8h is expected to regularly exceed 85dB. Pre-testing of workplace noise levels will not be necessary, with verbal evaluation alongside comparison with available data from other venues sufficient to determine eligibility. Preference will be given to staff of venues with highest expected noise exposure if any selection becomes appropriate.
Participants will be general staff, in such roles as security and bar staff. Musicians and DJs are excluded from the first stage of research as they have been more extensively studied than general staff, and are anticipated to hold different attitudes about noise and hearing health to staff who are not directly engaged in music production. Managers will also be excluded.
As the social context is under examination, eligible participants will be drawn from communities of practice of entertainment industry workers. Managers are therefore excluded, as their engagement in workplace dynamics is expected to differ from their staff’s. This will also reduce the possibility of restricting discussion, breaches of privacy or commercial interests interfering in the process.
Optimally each participant will know and work with other, if not all participants in their group, to increase the possibility of collective power for making changes in their workplace.
As the research is to work with real contexts rather than a simulated, average scenario, participants will not be controlled, for age, gender, education, hearing knowledge, hearing health, hours worked or length of time in the industry.
Research participants will be recruited through a variety of methods in order to access as wide a variety of people as practicable, possibly including personal contacts, any available contact lists from previous research or unions, approaching staff at workplaces and through agencies with management permission. Interested parties will be encouraged to tell other friends in the industry. Notices will be put up on notice boards and leaflet stands in universities, entertainment districts and any other favourable places. Emails will be sent out on accessible email groups which cater to an appropriate demographic.
6-8 people will be sought for each focus group, with a minimum of three groups. Further groups will be optional, and may include a wider selection of people, possibly including OHS officers, external union representatives, managers, DJs, musicians, former staff or staff in related workplaces if their input becomes considered useful.
Participants in the second stage will be drawn from the first, along with others from their workplaces according to the parameters decided by those implementing the intervention.

Participatory Action Research (PAR) is an approach which intergrates research and action in a continuing cycle of planning, action, observation and reflection. While this is not so new – “There is always a new action resulting – even if it is just the same as the old” (Wadsworth 1998). PAR specifically acknowledges the cycle and doesn’t try to fit it into a linear form.
PAR requires a community of participants to take an active role in all aspects of the action and research. PAR aims to even up the power imbalance between the researcher and the participants as much as possible by valuing and trusting the participants’ ideas and opinions on their own situations. Eventually the researcher will assist in implementation of the participants’ ideas and train them in research so they can control it themselves (Dick 1997).
This approach is particularly appropriate for this project as the complex attitudes and social structures it deals with appear to be resistant to existing procedures for creating change. Staff are expected to be more likely to implement and sustain concrete and attitudinal changes when they own the process and don’t rely on external resources.

This research is planned in two stages, with scope for further continuation. The first is a series of focus groups. A short presentation will be given on current knowledge about noise and hearing loss prevention, then a series of questions will encourage participants to discuss a range of topics such as attitudes and knowledge about OHS, noise and hearing health, workplace culture, the kinds of solutions they think would be feasible in their work environments and what they would be able and willing to do to implement these ideas. The discussion will be recorded and notes taken. Beforehand, participants will fill out a consent form and short survey about demographics, knowledge and attitudes, which can be repeated further through the project. At the end participants will be encouraged to participate in the second stage of the research and their contact details recorded for this purpose.
The second stage will involve facilitating participants in staging interventions of some of the ideas generated in the focus groups. Few details can be specified until the focus groups as, in keeping with PAR, all content and methods will be planned, carried out, evaluated and reflected on collectively between the researcher and the participants. Data shall be collected from observation of the programs and examination of their sustainability, participant reflection, repeating the questionnaire from before the focus groups and any other method decided on by the participants.
Further research may be required to support the findings of the focus groups and interventions beyond the targeted workplaces, however these will only be considered further into the process. Methods may forseeably include questionnaires to establish wider appeal of ideas, ideology critique of government and workplace policy and implementation, hearing tests, workplace noise measurement, interviewing management, further focus groups with different groups of participants, or other options generated by the process.

This research is a sub-project of the National Acoustic Laboratories’ “Barriers and Enablers to Noise Exposure Reduction”. Attached is the Variation of Ethics application to allow contact details to be kept for the duration of the project.
As the project will involve participants intervening in their own workplaces, close attention will need to be paid to not jeopardising the relationships between employees and management, including not releasing identified information from the focus groups without explicit permission, even when that information is the reason why the other parties are involved.
Excluding managers from the research would not be an acceptable solution to the privacy issues. Not only can their co-operation greatly increase access to the workplace, but boundaries between barstaff and management are not always clearly demarcated, managers generally have even higher exposures than their staff (Ong & Govan 2010) so would also benefit from learning about and taking control of their hearing health, and solutions found by participants may very well involve interaction with managers.
While hostility from management is always a possibility, the project is not intended as a threat to the workplace. Even if an organisation is profiting by endangering its staff, the solutions found by the participants are likely to be healthier for the organisation than fines and legal proceedings which, though less common to date than in other industries, will become more common as awareness grows throughout society.
Benefits from participation will include increased understanding of NIHL and ability to control their hearing health. Those involved in both stages will also gain research skills, the possibility to see their ideas realised and effect change in their workplace, as well as gaining concrete improvements to their workplaces.
Incentives may also be offered for participation in focus groups, such as a meal, $20 or a pair of high fidelity earplugs.
Consent will be sought from all participants in each stage of the project. A draft information sheet and consent form for the focus group is attached.
No deception will be practiced.
Privacy and Confidentiality
Information such as contact details and test results will be stored in an appropriate secure manner at NAL until completion of the project and then destroyed. The information will not be used for any other purposes.
All data will be de-identified, except for details for contacting participants, which will be kept separately and destroyed at the end of the project.

Table of Acronyms

dB(A) Decibels, A-weighted to approximate the human ear’s reception
LAeq Average level
LAeq, 8h Daily dose, level averaged over eight hours
NAL National Acoustic Laboratories
NIHL Noise Induced Hearing Loss
OHS Occupational Health and Safety
ONIHL Occupational Noise Induced Hearing Loss
PAR Participatory Action Research
PTS Permanent Threshold Shift
TTS Temporary Threshold Shift

Reference List

Binge Listening 2010, Australian Hearing, Chatswood, Australia.

Cowan, R. 2010, ‘Tinnitus and Intelligent Hearing Protection in the Workplace’, paper presented to the Getting Heard Symposium, Sydney.

Crotty, M. 1998, The Foundations of Social Research, Allen & Unwin Pty Ltd, St Leonards.

Daniell, W.E., Swan, S.S., McDaniel, M.M., Camp, J.E., Cohen, M.A. & Stebbins, J.G. 2006, ‘Noise exposure and hearing loss prevention programmes after 20 years of regulations in the United States’, Occupational and Environmental Medicine, vol. 63, pp. 343-351.

Dick, B. 1997, ‘Participative Processes’, Resource Papers in Action Research.

‘Entertainment Noise in Western Australia’ 2005, paper presented to the ACOUSTICS 2005, Busselton, Western Australia.

Fleming, C. 1996, ‘Assessment of noise exposure level of bar staff in discotheques’, Applied Acoustics, vol. 49, no. 1, pp. 85-94.

Groothoff, B. 1999, ‘Incorporating effective noise control in music entertainment venues? Yes, it can be done’, J Occup Health Safety – Aust NZ, vol. 15, no. 6, pp. 543-550.

Gunderson, E., Moline, J. & Catalano, P. 1997, ‘Risks of developing noise-induced hearing loss in employees of urban music clubs’, American Journal of Industrial Medicine, vol. 31, no. 1, pp. 75-79.

Hear Us: Inquiry into Hearing Health in Australia 2010, The Senate Community Affairs References Committee.

Lee, L.T. 1999, ‘A Study of the Noise Hazard to Employees in Local Discotheques’, Singapore Medical Journal, vol. 40, no. 9.

Maassen, M., Babisch, W., Bachmann, K.D., Ising, H., Lehnert, G., Plath, P., Plinkert, P., Rebentisch, E., Schuschke, G., Spreng, M., Stange, G., Struwe, V. & Zenner, H.P. 2001, ‘Ear damage caused by leisure noise’, Noise & Health, vol. 4, no. 13, pp. 1-16.

National Standard for Occupational Noise NOHSC:1007(2000) 2004, in The Australian Government National Occupational Health and Safety Commission (ed.) 2nd edn, Canberra.

Neitzel, R., Seixas, N., Olson, J., Daniell, W. & Goldman, B. 2004, ‘Nonoccupational noise: exposures associated with routine activities’, J. Accoust. Soc. Am., vol. 115, no. 1, pp. 237-245.

Ong, A. & Govan, C. 2010, ‘Workplace Noise’, paper presented to the Getting Heard Symposium, Sydney.

Rogers, B., Meyer, D., Summery, C., Scheessele, D., Atwell, T., Ostendorf, J., Randolph, S.A. & Buckheit, K. 2009, ‘What Makes a Successful Hearing Conservation Program?’ Continuing Education, vol, 57, no. 8, pp. 321-335.

Sadhra, S., Jackson, C.A., Ryder, T. & Brown, M.J. 2002, ‘Noise exposure and hearing loss among student employees working in university entertainment venues’, Annals of Occupational Hygiene, vol. 46, no. 5, pp. 455-463.

Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences 2010, 013952 Research Learning Guide, University of Technology, Sydney

Wadsworth, Y. 1998, ‘What is Participatory Action Research?’ Action Research International.

Australian Hearing Human Research Ethics Committee
Application for Variation

Project no: R 4.1.3a

1. Title of project :
Barriers and Enablers to Noise Exposure Reduction
2. Principal investigators:
W Williams, M Gilliver, K Alway
3. Section:
4. Location in which proposed study is intended to be carried out:
Data to be gathered at various undecided sites with data analysis and storage at NAL, Chatswood.
5. a. Describe briefly the aim of the project:
This is a sub-project of the total project previously approved. The overall research objectives of the project are to i) increase the awareness of noise as a hearing health hazard;ii) engender a hearing safety culture; and iii) reduce actual noise exposure.This sub-project will work with individuals who work at noisy entertainment venues as described in the attached project description.
b. Proposed commencement date: July 2010
c. Projected completion date: December 2010

6. Classification of project:
o Class 2: Project with low risk
7. Description of requested variation:
The variation to this sub-project is to gather and retain personal contact information of participants so that they may be re-contacted after the focus groups for involvement in an intervention process, and after the interventions for pre/post comparison purposes.Gathering such information as is indicated by Information Privacy Principles of the Commonwealth Privacy Act No 119 of 1998 (as amended) shall be limited to only what is considered necessary; stored in a safe, secure and private manner and destroyed when no longer required at the completion of the project.
8. Does the study protocol require that “informed consent” be obtained in writing from the participant or from the person who is legally responsible for the participant’s welfare?
Yes.Copy of information and consent form attached.
9. What information will be given to participants in order that the request of “informed consent” is met?
Copy of information and consent form attached.
10. What measures will be taken to protect the privacy of individual participants in terms of the test results and other confidential data obtained in the study?
Information will be stored in an appropriate secure manner at NAL until completion of the project and then destroyed. The information will not be used for any other purposes.
11. Will direct benefits accrue to the participants from data obtained in the study?
Yes. It is anticipated that individuals will be more effective in being able to reduce their noise exposure at work.
12. Will there be benefits to the community at large from this study?
Yes. It is anticipated that as a result of the intervention overall exposure of individuals working in this industry will be reduced.
Application submitted by (name) W Williams
(Date) July 01st 2010


– Brief project description
– Participant information form
– Participant consent form

Entertainment venues as noisy workplaces:
Facilitating staff to find contextual solutions to Music Induced Hearing Loss

This project aims to reduce the incidence of hearing loss of staff in the entertainment industry by discovering and understanding the barriers and enablers that may exist to staff looking after their hearing health, and to devise, implement and evaluate specific interventions to address the issue.


1) A greater understanding the knowledge and attitudes about OHS, noise and hearing health for staff working at noisy entertainment venues.

2) To create positive changes to noise exposure, attitudes or protection within participants’ workplaces, through successful and sustainable interventions with the potential to spread beyond the targeted workplace

Description of Research:

The first stage of this project will consist of a minimum of three focus groups of people employed in dangerously loud music venues such as nightclubs. Participants will discuss a range of topics such as attitudes and knowledge about OHS, noise and hearing health, workplace culture and the kinds of solutions they think would be feasible in their work environments. Beforehand participants will fill out a consent form and short survey about demographics, knowledge and attitudes, which can be repeated further through the project. At the end participants be invited to participate in the second stage of the research and their contact details recorded for this purpose.

The second stage will involve facilitating participants in staging interventions of some of the ideas generated in the focus groups. This will run according to Participatory Action Research, which requires participants to take an active role in all aspects of the action and the research, and a continuous cycle of planning, action, observation and reflection. Interventions will be planned, carried out and evaluated collaboratively between NAL who are experts in the topic and the participants who are experts in the context, and reflection will offer the possibility of new interventions or ways of proceeding which can be explored in a further cycle of research and action.

[on NAL letterhead]

Entertainment venues as noisy workplaces:
Facilitating staff to find contextual solutions to Music Induced Hearing Loss

Information for Participants

This study is being conducted by the National Acoustic Laboratories as part of Project R4.1.3(a) Barriers to Noise Exposure Reduction, to explore knowledge, attitudes and behaviours about occupational noise induced hearing loss (ONIHL) in the entertainment industry, and possibilities for action to address the situation.

We will be asking you to participate in a two hour focus group, at a time and place appropriate for the participants. Attendees will subsequently be invited to participate in the second stage of the research, involving implementing and evaluating solutions generated by the focus group in participants’ workplaces.

Although we value your participation, you are free to decide whether you will participate, and to withdraw at any time.

Research outcomes may be published in appropriate academic and peer-reviewed journals. Privacy of information will be strictly observed. Personal information or data collected will be treated in a confidential manner. Information to be released on the research will not allow you to be identified. Under no circumstances will personal information or data that could lead to identification of the individual be released to your employer without your explicit permission.

If you have any concerns about this project at any stage, you are welcome to contact the Research Assistant, Kate Alway on 02- 9412 6754.

The ethical aspects of this research have been approved by the Australian Hearing Human Research Ethics Committee. If you have any complaints or reservations about any ethical aspect of this research, you may contact the Committee through the Secretary, Dale Treglown on 02- 9412 6862. Any complaints will be treated in confidence and investigated, and you will be informed of the outcome.

Kate Alway

Entertainment venues as noisy workplaces:
Facilitating staff to find contextual solutions to Music Induced Hearing Loss

Consent form for participation in
Entertainment venues as noisy workplaces

Date: ______________
I, ____________________________, have read and understood this Information and Consent Form. I am willing to participate in this research.
Signed: _______________________ (Participant)
Signed: _______________________ (Researcher)


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…and the other one

June 15, 2010 at 1:54 am (education, essays)

well i’m pretty embarrassed to be putting this up, but it’s my record, so i’ll deal with it. after the last article review, i got a fail/resubmit so i could put this one in too. turns out i was supposed to do this within a week, but noone told me, so i got an extra week. till now. well, an hour and a half ago. i counted down hours from midnight last night, i got something done in the morning before breakfast, then ended up asleep for another few hours; cross them all off the list. by evening i’d gotten something done, but of course not enough. i talked to lisa on chat for a while, explaining all about the article, and a bit about the questions – it was good to focus my attention, enthuse me and get my brain working a bit, but didn’t really help me with the more technical questions. a bit more got done hour by hour, but i think the last hour before my midnight deadline was spent exclusively on quiet panicking and procrastination. once the time had passed i got it together for a while again, and managed to answer some of the questions in point form. that’s good, got it nearly to the minimum word count, but i really don’t think that was all the questions – maybe it was all the small, specific subquestions, but not the overall question. i don’t know, i was at the point where i couldn’t understand the questions anymore, so i submitted it. it looks good, nice footer, no longer lacking my name! maybe, had i waited till the next hour, i would’ve been able to take things in again, see what was missing, match my remaining scraps of notes to their appropriate paragraphs or questions, and maybe even make sentences of them. maybe, but maybe not. and i’ve missed too much work that i have to make up already, i have to go in in the morning. i need my sleep, and it’ll already take too long to calm down after the distressing experience of clicking send.

i still don’t understand why i’m quite so bad with this. tonight lisa suggested motor neurone dyslexia. seems i have more to learn about dyslexia, apparently it’s not just about getting letters mixed up. maybe there’s something in that, and i’ve just always been thrown off because i can spell just fine. hmmm.

Koori Action Research In Community Health

Hughes, I., Goolagong, P., Khavarpour, F. & Russell, C. 1994, ‘Koori action research in community health’, Action Research Electronic Reader, viewed 1/6/10 .

I chose this article because I’m interested in learning about critical perspectives and Participatory Action Research.

1. What is the problematic that is addressed in the research?

The problematic of this article regards the health status of Koori people on the Central Coast of NSW, which is significantly worse than the general population, the non-uptake of mainstream health services by Koori people and the lack of health services that are culturally acceptable for Koori people.
As Action Research, this project works to both understand and change this situation.

2&3. What are the outcomes from the research and how/why are they significant? What evidence does the researcher present in support of the conclusions? What has been included and what has been omitted in this report of the research, and how does this represent strengths and weaknesses in the author’s knowledge claims?

As an action research project, there are a variety of different kinds of outcomes planned. The aims of the Aboriginal Health Action Group involve assisting and promoting the development of Aboriginal health services (Hughes et al., p6) and documenting ways of doing research suited to the special needs of Koori (p6) as well as actually conducting action research in Aboriginal health and community development (p6).

Evidence of the former is outlined, including supporting and validating overworked staff of Aboriginal organisations (p8), supporting the mobile dental service (p8) and making representations to the Area Health Service on behalf of the Aboriginal Community (p8).

Ways of research are discussed throughout the article, addressing the need for research that does not demand pure objectivity (p12), Koori community control (p13), consensus decision making (p10) and an understanding and use of Koori knowledge and views of the world (p7).

At the time of writing, concrete research outcomes were underway, including a community profile, a handbook for Koori action research and a statement of local Koori health goals. When complete, these will contain much evidence of both research and action.

4. What kinds of theoretical assumptions are embedded in the article?

· Ontological assumptions: Critical – power relations can be seen at the base of things, past injustice and the dominance of others’ systems have created how the world is today. Also, indigenous worldview different from any western categories. Distinction not drawn between culture and nature (p10)

· Epistemological assumptions: Critical – the important things are making change, working for and with the affected population, seeing past the dominant ideology. There are different truths, non-positivist. Koori knowledge.

· Relationship of researcher and researched: The researchers are the community, though others are welcomed too, including University students, local doctors and Government representatives, none of whom control proceedings. The group is not exclusively Koori, but has Koori identity (p6).

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5pm or 5am… eh, never mind

June 3, 2010 at 5:14 am (education, essays)

another essay. a week’s extension granted at the end of the class that started when the essay was due, then an extra day’s extension to go and get special consideration when i didn’t get it in or even show up to class. then three weeks of special consideration, just to be generous to myself, hoping to not fill up every last moment. then an arrangement after class, the night before it’s due, to put one of the two reviews in on time, then be asked to resubmit which will give me time to work on the second on an entirely new article i was given. so. it was due 5pm today, err last night now. i just got it in at 4.57am. eh. i’m usually bad, but frankly not this bad. i don’t really know what’s wrong, it’s not even that challenging an assignment. at least it’s done. this one.

Wasted skills: The hospitality industry and its young chefs

McDermott, R., 2008, ‘Wasted skills: the hospitality industry and its young chefs’, VocEd Highlights, May.

I chose this article because it addresses questions of training and conditions in the hospitality industry, which relates to topics I am preparing to research. It also offers considerations on the directions taken by TAFE, which are of concern in my voluntary life.

1. What is the problematic that is addressed in the research?

As an Interpretivist study, the research described in this article concerns itself with interpretation of the interaction of various parties in the social world, their opinions, needs and understandings. The problematic considers Vocational Education and Training (VET) in Australia, particularly a three-way mismatch within the hospitality industry and commercial cookery training, between available formal training and the expectations of both employers and trainees. Also considered are the effects of this on a climate of industry changes, skills shortages and a high staff turnover.

The primary stated research question is “Does the current training of chefs impact their high turnover and if so, can training offer solutions to this high turnover?” (McDermott, 2008 p2) This developed into a second question, “Can vocational education offer more relevance to the trainee and what part does the industry play in the attrition of young chefs?” (p2).

However the research is also declared to address “how large training organisations, such as TAFE and industry have responded to government reports on critical skills shortages within the industry” (p1), “what can be done to stem the high turnover of young chefs” (p1), “the composition and effectiveness of both formal and informal learning of the trainee” (p1), “the industry and training organisation’s capacity to produce long term employment prospects for the trainee to meet the industry’s need to retain skilled, productive employees” (p1), and “how practitioners understand the learning needs of trainees in the current climate” (p2)

As could be expected of an interpretivist study, the methods used are equipped to consider attitudes, opinions, expectations, possibilities and ways of understanding, but are of dubious applicability for the more concrete questions, including the stated research question, regarding effectiveness and large groups and systems. In fact, though this paper poses many questions, it does not claim findings for the more positivist-styled ones, sticking to “the quality and effectiveness of the situated workplace learning for trainees and its connection to the required knowledge and skills to deliver contextual learning” (p1), while providing some context about “current liberal practices in vocational education” (p1) and “changing socio-cultural requirements of trainees” (p1).

2. What are the outcomes from the research and how/why are they significant?

Several outcomes are discussed, although it is unclear whether many are a result of the research, or merely commentary produced by a literature review. Points that claim to be derived from the research include:

* The quality and effectiveness of workplace learning is extremely important (p3)
* Employers may often evaluate trainees based on their own training (p3)
* Workplaces are not always appropriate learning environments as there may not be competent, trained staff available with time to assist (p4)
* Difficult working conditions including long, late hours and low pay discourage some from staying in the industry (p8)

These points contribute very little to answering the research questions or addressing the problematic at all. They do, however, touch on some compelling points. The paper paints a picture of an industry which is not valuing its essential components, and is suffering for it. The suggestion that wages and conditions are prompting serious attrition from the industry, if founded, will be of serious concern to employers, who could hope to improve retention of skilled staff by accepting higher costs and improving what conditions they can. It will also be of significance to employees, who could potentially hold far more power than they currently do within the industry, recast as valuable, skilled and in demand rather than inadequate, short term and casual.

As for training and apprenticeships, the picture is of workplaces being seen as the ideal learning environment but not often enough fulfilling this promise, while TAFE, though important, can’t pick up the slack. This is partly through the perceived limitations of classroom based rather than workplace based learning, and partly because of the directions they take. It is suggested that TAFE is overlooking the students as stakeholders in their own training, and listening to short-sighted employer demands for shorter and cheaper training, rather than addressing their actual needs and the needs of the whole industry and the students themselves, for broadly skilled, happy trainees.

Such kinds of Interpretivist understandings could be very valuable at many points throughout these large, bureaucratic structures which are not known for prioritising reflexivity, or apparently, taking account of the needs and workings of their partners and generally seeing others’ points of view. If correct, these insights have noteworthy significance for employers’ groups who ought to re-evaluate their training needs, for VET providers who should consider other directions, and for students and employees who should take any chance to make their own needs known.

3. What evidence does the researcher present in support of the conclusions? What has been included and what has been omitted in this report of the research, and how does this represent strengths and weaknesses in the author’s knowledge claims?

This paper was written to present at a conference on VET research. It discusses a body of research that was still in progress, and explores some issues that had arisen to that point. Its format and purpose therefore differs from those of a paper published in a peer-reviewed journal. It would have benefited from the ability to ask the author questions, which would have been available at the original presentation. Presumably the presentation would not have been limited as the text is, by the ambiguity of the ungrammatical writing and the lack of coherence between the discussion and the quotes meant to illustrate it, all of which makes unclear exactly what is being said and who is saying it at many points and does not engender confidence in assertions made. Unfortunately all that remains now is the imperfect text version, at least until the next stage of research is published.

There are other issues however, that appear to go beyond the writing up. As it should be in an Interpretivist study (FASS, 2010 p66), context is emphasised. The responses are claimed to be “grounded in practice” (McDermott, 2008 p2) by dint of the interviewees having experience in the situation, and much of this paper is devoted to discussing current issues in Australian VET. This concern, however, does not follow through to the presentation of the actual research. No picture is painted of the interviewees to allow the reader to further interpret the findings, no details are given of why they were chosen further than them being “a broad range” (p2) and “interesting” (p2). No information is offered about what organisations or roles the interviewees come from, beyond the bare fact that some recent graduated trainees have been included (p2). While it is impossible to know if they have been included, the paper does not mention the role of stakeholders such as any unions or employers’ groups. No explanation is offered for why an unknown number of interviewees are in the UK when the project is firmly embedded in the Australian context, educationally, politically and economically. The participants are so decontextualised that all that is presented is thirteen bare quotes, coded by a system that remains unexplained to the untrained reader.

Although the author describes the research as empirical (p3), the number of participants appears much too small to answer the questions about the effectiveness of an entire industry and educational sector. The questions regarding opinions have yielded “points of consideration” (p8) yet with no idea who the participants are and what they represent, it is difficult to assess the significance of these ideas. As an interpretivist study it could be expected to focus on a specific case (Candy 1991 in FASS, 2010 p67), but with a small number of diverse participants within a large set of systems, it instead seems to fall between the two poles of case and generalisability.

There are many issues that appear due to the lack of explanation about the interviewees, that could be either omission in reporting or serious problem for the research. From the evidence presented, it appears no distinction is made between criticism of systems and criticism of such elements as the resourcing of the system, which is a frequent concern in the quotes; whether something is deemed to not work in the interviewee’s experience or to not be able to work at all can be important in assessing solutions. Further, not addressing aspects of TAFE such as workplace delivery or practice in on-campus restaurants, both of which combine VET and functional workplaces, encourages the assumption that the class-based learning discussed is universal, where the existence of these initiatives prove this untrue. Hopefully the further research does have more than this to draw on when exploring possibilities for change.

4. What kinds of theoretical assumptions are embedded in the article?

No mention is made of the relationship between researcher and subject. The interviewees were chosen and the questionnaire developed by the researcher.

Nothing about the researcher is disclosed, no acknowledgement is made of any effect of the researcher on the interviews, and even the interpretation involved in the analysis is not emphasised. The questions asked have also not been provided. The language of the article suggests it is epistemologically objectivist, although it is probably not true considering the emphasis on Interpretivist questions and heavy use of personal opinions. Ontologically, too, the language and methods seem to suggest that there is a common reality, where the opinions of a small number of people, when suitably analysed, will be able to answer quite concrete questions about the world. In a rare admission of personal beliefs, however, a more subjectivist approach is indicated by the insistence on the importance of context, despite failings to use it, and in the assertion that “this information cannot be described through a linear cause and effect” (McDermott, 2008 p2) which can possibly be interpreted, as Candy (1991 in FASS, 2010 p67) states of interpretivism, that cause and effect are not linear.

The article comes close to touching on power relations as it discusses the different expectations of trainees and employers, but as it is not critical research, this is understandably not emphasised. One aspect of the lack of context of interviewees is that focus seems to be entirely on large entities – the government, TAFE and large employers with multiple trainees. Comment is not made as to whether this is intentional, whether results are expected to be relevant to all contexts, or only in other large organisations. In the same way, all the omissions of information about the interviewees indicate the absence of parameters.

Supplementary Reference:

Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, 2010, 013952 Research Perspectives Learning Guide, University of Technology, Sydney, Sydney.

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leadership at sydney atheists

November 25, 2009 at 7:30 pm (atheism, essays)

i can’t believe it. semester is over, i’ve submitted my second assignment. it was due yesterday and i got it in at 12.45 this morning. less than an hour late, that’s pretty incredible for me. i was given less than two weeks for it, right after putting in another one in exactly two weeks. did he think the problem had disappeared because i came through once? well i guess this makes it nearly-twice, though it’s pretty substandard for an essay. i’m hoping he accepts it as an experiment, project or case study, especially since i’ve included my draft objects and rules as… what, supporting evidence? writing that was the reason i couldn’t spend time on this, oh, apart from formwork being laid for a concrete path outside my window on my last day to work on it, with no warning… so i hope he appreciates it even though i’ve given him a big rant with not nearly the referencing i expect of myself. or the coherence, and i know i’ve often put in work that just didn’t have time to be put together. oh, and it’s totally unedited. i think a majority of the text was actually written between about 10pm and 12.45am, and i’m not one of those people who can rely on that kind of thing. and i had an 8am meeting in the city this morning. so i’m very glad i’m generally pretty literate. it shouldn’t be massacred too much as i did employ my usual colour coding system to mark paragraphs which have some kind of start, finish and idea. by the time i clicked send, all i had was blue text so i’m hoping my running categorisation was at least slightly accurate. i doubt i’ll be able to read it again to find out, but it’s here just in case. as for the actual content… it’s been a very interesting exercise, but i’m not actually going to stand by what i’ve said too heavily. at least not unless i’m forced to actually read the thing and find out what i’ve said! i’m doing that nice turn where one writes in a blog things that should probably remain private – there are two people mentioned specifically and i’ve edited out the name of the one who isn’t me, but it’s not hard to tell who i’m talking about if you know the organisation. in painting the situation with a broad brush i suspect i’ve been overly harsh or at least rude to him, and in examining the situation from the perspective of what i personally can contribute i suspect i’ve exagerated my own competence. whatever my misgivings, this is my archive of essays so i’m posting it, in the assumption that nothing bad will come of it, as why would anyone want to read it if i can’t even manage to? but hah! turns out it’s within 10% of word count and i didn’t even check. had to do something right, somewhere…

Leadership in Sydney Atheists Incorporated

Sydney Atheist Action Group was formed a year and a half ago in April 2008, by members of a non-political discussion group, the Atheist Meetup, who wanted to do something beyond the scope of that group. Initially the Action Group consisted of a collective structure along with eight collective working groups which dealt with various projects and functions identified by the members in the first meeting.

Soon one member, A., was proposing structures, setting agendas, chairing collective meetings and doing a large proportion of the talking, while putting a particular viewpoint, “Positive Atheism”; encouraging working groups to set targets and report to the main collective.

In July 2008 came the group’s first big challenge and chance for exposure, responding to a papal visit and the NSW government’s corresponding financial and planning indiscretions. Priority was focused heavily on the world youth day and tshirts working groups, to the exclusion of most others. The plan was ambitious for a fledgling group, now rebranded as Sydney Atheists, including poll posters, a picnic, a small ‘greeting’ protest, and involvement in the large No To Pope protest, with a big banner and several people wearing Sydney Atheists tshirts. Overall people were very pleased with the events and the response, which supported a much grander view of the small organisation, in line with the new name and A.’s vision. A. was solidified as a leader due to guiding the planning process, much work, and being listed as the contact person and therefore being interviewed several times.

In September 2008, in line with this vision, Sydney Atheists incorporated. The organisation gained a committee structure, a legal status, a post box, restructured subcommittees run by officebearers, A. as president, and tensions over transparency, control and purpose. A. and a few others took care of the paperwork and legal aspects, a few points were hashed out in big acrimonious meetings and others were glossed over in order to meet deadlines. An executive was formed, with many office bearer positions tailored to specific candidates. Elections therefore went smoothly despite opposition to the previous process.

In the next year there were many achievements, from a stall at the Newtown Festival, a Mardi Gras float and progress on getting philosophy classes into NSW schools, to regular social events and podcasts and maintaining a functional website. Yet division was solidifying within the committee, as it began to appear that four people were running the organisation without the support of the rest of the active membership. Several members were concerned about accessibility and transparency issues, ranging from loss of membership forms and lack of minutes to closed meetings, and an assortment of questions regarding purpose and direction. A member was castigated for being aggressive while wearing a Sydney Atheists tshirt, and the president tried to install a manifesto which not only took an unpopular position, but was seen by many as inappropriate for an atheist organisation, regardless of popularity. Suspicion grew and people were attacked on all sides; in part, A.’s style was simply incompatible with the activists. His initiating of structure was seen as far too directive for a voluntary organisation full of people who wish to lead change themselves and not just follow. There were many attempts to resolve misunderstandings and come to compromises, but suspicion only increased and aggression became more vocal online, while both committee and subcommittee attendance decreased.

Currently, Sydney Atheists runs mainly through an email list, a website, monthly meetings and irregular subcommittee meetings, and unofficially through Meetup events. Most productive work is at a halt, with the latest people doing work on the education subcommittee dropping out without handovers, and the IT subcommittee overloaded and underattended. Most members of the structured committee have resigned or dropped out of communication, and while people are still confused about that structure, monthly committee meetings, scheduled two hours prior to Meetup events, are now running with acceptable attendance under the assumption that any interested person is equally entitled to attend, participate and vote. The current participants are heavily drawn from those who were involved in subgroup work and the discussions dissenting to the structure. Meetings and email discussion are now both largely calm and productive, though not all tasks required are committed to, or enforced.

The organisation seems to be cohering due to a more ideologically homogenous group remaining motivated to be active at the present time, in the wake of several resignations. In September 2009 A. announced his intention to resign as president, followed rapidly by the other office bearers. Online argument died down and meetings began to be held and attended. The first AGM was set for November, and productive discussion began on how to change the structure beforehand, to make the organisation more workable. The period between the resignations and the annual general meeting was acknowledged as important for the next stage of the organisation. After two well-attended, calm and productive committee meetings in September and October, there seemed to be a sense among attendees that there was a chance to make changes which could be ratified properly at the AGM, leading into a stable new year. People volunteered to make changes to the Objects and Rules of the organisation, and to give notice of the AGM. However lapses still existed in allocating and monitoring tasks, and after a while all discussion stopped. The pre-AGM meetings were not organised and a draft revised Objects and Rules was not written by the deadline for posting notice of AGM business.

In November 2009, the AGM was rescheduled for December and the conditions were finally met correctly, including a final draft revision being submitted for ratification. Several trenchant problems appear to have been resolved since one group ceded control to the other, though the effects of the latter’s leadership have not yet been well tested. Considering what can be anticipated from the organisation’s entire history, however, there is still much to do. If they are accepted, the revised Objects and Rules should take significant steps to providing an acceptable sense of purpose that is concrete enough for everyone to grasp, and address all identified transparency and accessibility issues.

Beyond that, the group needs to articulate whether it leans towards educating non-atheists or creating atheist community internally; in a group so similar to a social movement, these distinctions are not obvious (West 2008). It will need to examine motivations for involvement and ensure enough people see benefits which are high enough to cancel out their costs of involvement, despite having just abolished yet another personal benefit – the power and status of gaining an office bearer position. As we cut the position of President, the lack of an hierarchical leader becomes even clearer. The group must become open to emergent leadership and shared leadership (Carte, Chidambaram & Becker 2006), and it has some access to common forms of leadership substitutes; subcommittees can work like teams in some respects, members are commonly highly educated and interested in self education, and a strong use of technology allows information to be shared and decisions made over a broader base (Howell et al. 1990).

My involvement in Sydney Atheists has been varied. I started the Action Group by cultivating members and setting up email groups, putting opinions and sharing visions, calling meetings, chairing them and setting their agendas. I stepped away when A. took over, I had no expertise in the style of organisation he was establishing and, as Oliver (Oliver 1984) would suggest, the benefits no longer balanced out the costs since my work was no longer essential. I stopped attending committee meetings in pubs unless I had been specifically requested to, and concentrated instead on the working groups in which I had a particular interest; the survey group was working on a project I’ve had in mind for many years and the education group concerns issues I work with and study. I also initiated the 2009 Sydney Atheists Mardi Gras Bus Campaign float, and found a partner to help me run it. Throughout, I kept in touch with other members who shared my views, waiting for an opportunity to make changes without tearing down any good things that the current leaders were doing.

I was overseas when internal conflict started getting severe, but I was in contact with several people about the situation and when I returned I resumed active involvement. I participated in email discussions, between attempting to mediate the conflict a little and more encouraging the dissenters to align and take action. I attended all committee meetings, the first of which dealt with the resignations. I had plenty to say and supported others but didn’t take on any specific tasks. A week before the AGM was set, I realised that the legal notice had not gone out and it was too late to call the meeting for the date we had agreed on, much less nominate for positions or give notice for an agenda item. There had been no word from the people who took responsibility for policy or notices, so I alerted the email list with all the details I could find, and sat down with the Objects and Rules to make my own draft revision, which I made available as soon as possible. While absolutely no discussion of the document appeared online, I kept prompting the correspondence until the timeslot that we planned to have the AGM became a committee meeting primarily for review of the document, and the AGM was bumped back to the first date that I understood would be legal if the notice went out on the day we met.

I consider revising the Objects and Rules to be an important instance of leadership as people have been trying hard to follow them, but their density was a barrier (Oliver 1984) to involvement for many people unfamiliar with legal documents. Doing the actual work of writing of the revision was also important, as it appears the job was a sticking point, preventing progress.

The new version is written in plain English in many important places, though not everywhere. I intend to adjust even more, and offer a third version if necessary, at next year’s AGM. I have changed the vision statement to something more directed to what I believe the current active members want, including references to atheism and activism, both of which were specifically omitted from the original. I have abolished all office bearer positions except for Secretary and Treasurer, leaving leadership of different projects in the hands of the relevant subcommittee. I have made it easier to join the organisation, and based committee membership on meeting attendance, like a collective. In short, I have made the organisation’s purpose more specific, and opened up the structure so people can participate more easily while discouraging those who seek to control power or gain personal prestige.

At the pre-AGM committee meeting on November 22, I chaired the meeting. Over four hours, about ten people went through the document step by step and ended up with a draft revision we were all pleased with. Thanks to wireless internet, we put also put out acceptable official notices immediately. When we were done I took the document home to check, edit, format and make non-substantive changes that no one had wanted to linger over. It is posted on the website with three weeks before the AGM for members to read it and suggest small amendments. One has already been made. Considering that ten people were happy with the revision, which is well above our quorum requirements, I expect the revision to be ratified on November 14.

Other than working with documents, I believe I can show leadership in discussing direction, cultivating ties and ensuring I am informed enough to be able to step in as needed. I expect to continue keeping in touch with active members so that I am in a position to check up on undertakings being kept; also with the people who have moved away from the organisation over its troubles, to try to encourage them back now there is more room for them, while monitoring the membership to ensure that the cohesion we have recently achieved is not actually reliant on exclusivity. I also wish to educate myself about association rules and the incorporation act so we do not need to rely on A.’s expertise as much as we did, while still taking him up on his offer to explain the formalities. I intend to encourage making ties to other communities and demographics, not just through cooperation with established groups, but starting UTS Atheists and a Queeredge movement, supporting the fledgling Australian University Atheists, establishing Sydney Queer Atheists which hasn’t done anything since Mardi Gras 2009, and restarting work on a public survey of atheist self-identification. Each project has its own timeline, but will all benefit Sydney Atheists, helping the organisation and the atheist community in general become a more diverse and political. A final issue on which I feel I will have to wait for the right opportunity to rectify, is the lack of distinction between Sydney Atheists and the Atheist Meetup in the eyes of many, members and strangers alike.

Carte, T.A., Chidambaram, L. & Becker, A. 2006, ‘Emergent leadership in self-managed virtual teams’, Group Decision and Negotiation, vol. 15, no. 4, pp. 323-343.

Howell, J.P., Bowen, D.E., Dorfman, P.W., Kerr, S. & Podsakoff, P.M. 1990, ‘Substitutes for leadership: Effective alternatives to ineffective leadership’, Organizational Dynamics, vol. 19, no. 1, pp. 20-39.

Oliver, P. 1984, ‘”If You Don’t Do it, Nobody Else Will”: Active and Token Contributors to Local Collective Action’, American Sociological Review, vol. 49, no. 5, pp. 601 – 610.

West, D. 2008, ‘Informal public leadership: the case of social movements’, in P. Hart & J. Uhr (eds), Public Leadership: Perspectives and Practices, ANU E Press, Canberra, pp. 133 – 144.

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emergent leadership

November 12, 2009 at 3:51 pm (essays)

i’ve just put this in – on time!

well, that’s after about three extensions and five topic changes… but i’m still happy.


Eight articles around Emergent Leadership and substitutes for leadership

Examining studies of emergent leadership and substitutes for leadership with a view to informal leadership in minority communities produces no comprehensive research fitting the situation, but plenty of interesting points and directions to pursue.

Most work on emergent leadership studies the exercising of influence within an organisation where some leadership is still provided by a positional leader. In a hierarchy, emergent and shared leadership can be of great benefit but it must be supported by several other non-traditional structures and conditions.

Teamwork, training and low structure situations allow scope for emergent leadership and, at least in voluntary situations, pessimism about the likelihood of others doing the job is one reason that people are provoked to act. Yet acceptance by followers is also important; one determinant of people likely to be favoured as emergent leaders by teams is being moderate in their tendency to take control.

Supervisory and feedback behaviour can be substituted for, yet directive leadership behaviour seems to make a difference to the performance of a team. A single point of illumination in each of so many directions, are only starting to shed light on an obscure, yet important area of research. Much more study could be done on a wide range of topics from leadership in non-hierarchical, politically engaged and emerging contexts and different power distance settings, to what former experiences influence people to lead well, or to lead at all.

Many frameworks are drawn from various facets of scholarship to sketch the territory; levels of structure, power distance, categorisations of cultures and lists of tasks and considerations, behaviours and roles involved in leadership. Still, for most practical applications, the best prescription that can be offered so far is to be aware of all the pitfalls and opportunities that can be found.


1. Substitutes for Hierarchy considers emergent leadership as one of several changes that can be made in a hierarchical organisation, which can allow it to flatten its structure; broadening workers’ jobs and authority while reducing the various levels of supervisors; staff doing unnecessary jobs unrelated to its core products and services.

Leadership is contextualised, not as the peak of all processes but as one of many interdependent factors, all of which are important for making an organisation run well. The major tasks of various levels of supervisors are listed as motivation, record keeping, coordinating, assigning work, making personnel decisions, providing expertise, setting goals, planning, linking communications, training/coaching, controlling and leading. However, employing separate ranks of non-production staff is not the only way to fulfil these functions.

Several factors are listed as concerned in substituting for supervisors including systems, flexibility, ownership, access to information and control over decision making in many areas: work design, information systems technology, financial data, reward system practices, supplier/customer contact, training, vision/values and emergent leadership. The article suggests that emergent leadership, as with any other single factor, cannot be introduced alone into a hierarchical organisation and expected to make changes. Unsupported it will probably even cause problems, but new and viable possibilities arise when the right conditions are created, by encouraging it in conjunction many or all of the listed factors.

The one issue about emergent leadership which is addressed directly, is of the ‘key to the emergence of the right kind of leader’. The prescription is the same as for the wider purposes: if emergent leaders are sought in the context of all these other initiatives, they are likely to fit the environment and the goals of the organisation.

Though the article focuses on change within hierarchical organisations, these considerations appear applicable beyond situations with such an initial state, showing an image of a non hierarchical organisation and suggestions of what such an entity could viably involve.

Lawler, E.E. 1988, ‘Substitutes for Hierarchy’, Organization Dynamics, vol. 17, pp. 4-15.


2. “If You Don’t Do It, Nobody Else Will”: Active and Token Contributors to Local Collective Action examines leadership, activism and membership in the context of neighbourhood organisations.

In a study of data collected in Detroit in 1969, some interesting conclusions were made. Perhaps most strikingly, the people who do the most work in a voluntary organisation, were found to be the ones who were most pessimistic about the possibility of their neighbours doing such work. Though this will come as little surprise to those who do work in such conditions, it marks a significant difference from the characteristics of the more structured, less voluntary organisations which are more often studied in leadership literature. Other aspects of attitude and vision are not found to have the impact they do in such situations: while interest in the collective good is a significant factor in determining who will join an organisation, it is found to have very little impact on who does the work.

To understand why people are active, the article examines the various costs and benefits of various levels of involvement. While the success of community organisations involve huge benefits for the community in general, the people who do the work reap little more benefit than anyone else, while shouldering the vast bulk of the costs in terms of time, money and stress. Also considered as costs are more absolute barriers to involvement, such as lack of education or experience, which narrow the pool of people who would even consider participating.

Another interesting finding involves the relationship between activism and ties. While having many friends in the area was an indicator of membership, activists are more likely to have few strong ties and more weak ties, or acquaintances, which may possibly suggest that, while lack of acquaintances is a barrier to involvement, one of the few individual rewards that activism can offer is social interaction for those who don’t have many strong friendships in the area.

In terms of direct investigation of leadership, the study identifies some characteristics of former leaders and otherwise considers leadership as one aspect of activism. Past leaders are found to be interested in local issues and know more people than others do, however no causal relationship is established. Leadership positions are found to be widely available yet hard to fill, in distinct contrast to employing organisations; in voluntary cooperatives being a leader is associated with as bad a ratio of costs to compensating rewards as for any activist, if not worse.

Oliver, P. 1984, ‘”If You Don’t Do it, Nobody Else Will”: Active and Token Contributors to Local Collective Action’, American Sociological Review, vol. 49, no. 5, pp. 601 – 610.


3. Informal Public Leadership: The Case of Social Movements examines the conditions of leadership in politically engaged communities such as social movements, especially several differences between social movement leadership and other leadership literature.

Social movements tend to deal with emerging issues and identities. There tends to be, therefore, no established group of followers or employees for a leader to lead, which means a significant portion of leadership in social movements is concerned with creating and maintaining membership; persuading people to follow, and even just to identify as part of the movement.

Leadership in social movements is under-theorised, both in leadership literature which focuses on institutions and in social movements where there tends to be a suspicion of leadership along with a general opposition to hierarchy and authority.

Any leader in such a context must be informal. They can’t expect to control or predict the actions of the people, but must focus on inspiring, activating and empowering, both to those inclined to listen and those not. With no traditional authority to draw on, moral and social capital are the start of ways to exercise leadership within social movements, which themselves exercise leadership in the broader community.

West, D. 2008, ‘Informal public leadership: the case of social movements’, in P. Hart & J. Uhr (eds), Public Leadership: Perspectives and Practices, ANU E Press, Canberra, pp. 133 – 144.


4. Emergent Leadership in Self-Managed Virtual Teams: A Longitudinal Study of Concentrated and Shared Leadership Behaviors details a study of the messages passed between virtual teams working on a database project within an undergraduate course. Work needing to be done by a group of people in different places is becoming increasingly relevant. Dealing with actual language makes it interestingly specific, but that also means that generalising its findings to other contexts is questionable. This study claims to be unusual in that it deals with internal, emergent leadership instead of the role of an external leader. However, the context is still distinctly framed by the existence of such an external leader, a common but not universal situation for virtual groups.

Four hypotheses are proposed regarding differences in communication between high and low performing teams; that high performing teams display more leadership behaviours in general, and more each of directive, shared and concentrated leadership behaviours, and that leadership behaviours which are evident early are significant and those that develop later are not. The results supported, at least partially, each of these hypotheses.

Denison, Hooijberg and Quinn’s Leaderplex Framework is used, which lists eight leadership behaviours or roles; the innovator, broker, producer, director, coordinator, monitor, facilitator and mentor. They are divided between directive, participative and transformational leadership. Monitor and Producer behaviour, both associated with Directive leadership, were found to vary most between the high and low performance groups, suggesting that these are the areas critical to performance. However many details are not adequately explained, including how teams are designated as high or low performing.

Beyond the original research, many interesting ideas are brought up. Avolio’s E-leadership, Griffith, Sawyer and Neale’s degrees of virtualness and DeSanctis’ concerns about using student responses in studies.

Carte, T.A., Chidambaram, L. & Becker, A. 2006, ‘Emergent leadership in self-managed virtual teams’, Group Decision and Negotiation, vol. 15, no. 4, pp. 323-343.


5. Tipping Points that Inspire Leadership: An Exploratory Study of Emergent Project Leaders considers leadership as a social construction, the development of which can be influenced in individuals at various stages of life, by significant individuals and significant experiences. The study investigates such triggers to leadership by surveying university project management students who have been already identified as having performed leadership, or having strong potential.

Teachers and family members, particularly fathers were cited as positively significant by respondents. Potential mentors and inspirations were listed far more often than potential followers.

A wide range of experiences were reported, largely from work and study. The results do not indicate what aspects of the experiences are formative of leadership potential, such as whether success, opportunity or frustration is key, however many possibilities for further research are discussed.

People and experiences having negative influence were surveyed too, but these responses may be of limited value with no control group of bad leaders or non leaders.

Toor, S. & Ofori, G. 2008, ‘Tipping points that inspire leadership: An exploratory study of emergent project leaders’, Engineering, Construction and Architectural Management, vol. 15, no. 3, pp. 212-229.


6. Cross-Cultural Leadership Dynamics in Collectivism and High Power Distance Settings illustrates the importance of differences between expected and manifest culture. The example discussed is a North American manager trying to lead a Malaysian workforce; although the manager expects cultural differences, simplistic expectations can prove to produce even more misunderstandings by encouraging inattention to the actual, manifest culture.

Although this article discusses an individual entering the majority culture of a location, the frameworks used could illuminate other situations. Taken from Hofstede’s framework, cultures are distinguished as collectivist or individualist, accepting or not of unequal distribution of power (high or low power distance).

Collectivism is considered to usually be associated with high power distance and individualism with low power distance, but this is not universal. It would be interesting to apply these designations to a minority culture, for example a community or social movement with an (at least) expected culture of low power distance and collectivism, located within a majority culture which is declared to be individualist and low-moderate power distance, such as Australia.

In the example of Malaysia an extra complication is discussed, that of the miscommunications inherent in the clash of different varieties of English. The majority cultures of native English speaking countries tend to fall on the individualistic side of the framework, and many countries where English is a common second language are more collectivist. Considering even just the differences between the definition of collectivism between the article and its usage Australian social movements, the injunction to not ignore any of these differences is probably well applicable to the latter example as well.

Schermerhorn, J. & Bond, M. 1997, ‘Cross-cultural leadership dynamics in collectivism and high power distance settings’, Leadership & Organization Development Journal, vol. 18, no. 4, pp. 187-193.


7. Substitutes for Leadership: Effective Alternatives to Ineffective Leadership explores a history of leadership literature; various theories of leadership have been popular at different times but a constant has been the premise that in any problem, better leadership is a solution. Several examples of substitutes are offered, including closely knit teams of highly trained individuals, intrinsic satisfaction, computer technology and extensive professional education. The aspects of leadership which are discussed as being substituted for mainly involve feedback and supervision.

Leadership neutralisers and enhancers are also discussed. Neutralisers such as physical distance, inappropriate reward systems and the bypassing or countermanding of the leader by a higher level, are considered to reduce the leader’s influence without filling the gap like a substitute should. Enhancers, on the other hand, augment the leader’s impact. The examples given of leadership enhancers include attributes such as cohesion and strong norms of performance or of cooperation with management .

Howell, J.P., Bowen, D.E., Dorfman, P.W., Kerr, S. & Podsakoff, P.M. 1990, ‘Substitutes for leadership: Effective alternatives to ineffective leadership’, Organizational Dynamics, vol. 19, no. 1, pp. 20-39.


8. Emergent Leadership Processes as a Function of Task Structure and Machiavellianism considers an emergent view of leadership as a product of both personality and situation.

The study identified people as high, medium or low ‘machs’, indicating tendency to take over control in small groups, and situations as high or low structure; high structure involving the group being given explicit procedural instructions.

The hypotheses of the study were that people identified as high machs would exhibit more leadership behaviours and be recognised as leaders more in situations of low structure, and that low machs would do the same in high structure situations.

The results did not support the hypotheses at all; medium machs were markedly preferred as leaders in both situations.

Implications of structure difference included low structure having more scope for emergent leadership, but high structure leaving people more satisfied with the outcomes.

Gleason, J.M., Seaman, F.J. & Hollander, E.P. 1978, ‘Emergent leadership processes as a function of task structure and Machiavellianism’, Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, vol. 6, no. 1, pp. 33-36.

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June 10, 2009 at 4:22 am (education, essays)

well here it is, submitted four hours before my plane leaves. now i’d better go and pack. it’s 4am.

Does postmodernism have anything to offer you in terms

of understanding the contemporary context in adult education?

What can you learn from the adult education literature on this topic?

Postmodernism has much to offer in terms of understanding the contemporary context in adult education, by both examining new developments in the field and offering new perspectives and tools with which to delve deeper and reinterpret previous analyses. In this paper I will survey several examples of Australian adult education in postmodernity such as university and TAFE systems, lifelong learning, public health campaigns and the queer and convergence movements. In an attempt at somewhat postmodern writing, I will use question, irony, eclecticism and analogy instead of definition and certainty to discuss how the literature of postmodern adult education can enhance understanding of these educational settings I also hope to suggest some jumping off points and create a sense of possibility that there will be somewhere for education to go, given adequate deconstruction and openness to the situation. I will also be using the personal pronoun, to not pretend that my own positionality does not inform this reading.

Whenever postmodernism is mentioned, the first objective is usually to attempt to explain what it is. However postmodernism does not adapt well to such a modernist endeavor; the consensus required to define the term does not exist. Yet rather than being a failed theory, postmodernism has been described as a constellation of views (Hill 2008), a new perspective on meaning and the world which emphasises and criticises a new selection of aspects and puts forward a selection of tools, comprising an additional lens of analysis with which to do so, to supplement and adjust the previous hundreds of years worth of modernist understandings (Kaufmann 2000).

Some sections within postmodernism are easier to pin down than the whole, and serve to mark some parameters of the field. With regard to adult education theory, several authors have offered dichotomies in order to adapt postmodernism to some practical use. Radical postmodernism, according to Kaufmann, claims that the world has fundamentally changed, that postmodernity is “an era of hyperreality in which all relations are governed by images” (Kaufmann 2000). This is a challenging claim; many criticisms of postmodernism, for such concerns as nihilism, amorality and overly dense language, often appear to be directed towards such an interpretation. Yet it does have at least some explanatory power, as evidenced by the inclusion of public health campaigns as an integral aspect of adult education. The Australian AIDS awareness (Willett 2000) and anti smoking campaigns are two striking examples of heavy use of powerful imagery to change public behaviour, and both campaigns’ successes attest to the potency of image in contemporary society, and its significance in adult education.

Strategic postmodernism, which Kaufmann draws in opposition to the radical version, is a more integrated approach, a perspective where political grounding is still possible, which uses tools to be explained below to rethink and recontextualise what we know, rather than discarding it.

Addressing the era rather than the theory, Bagnall similarly refers to a postmodernity of resistance which is “a positive, constructive, adversarial postmodernity of critical opposition to the status quo”, and opposes it to a postmodernity of resignation, a “negative, passive, compliant acceptance of the inevitability of the status quo” (Bagnall 1994a), which, though possibly demoralising, nevertheless needs attention. While we scramble to find practical applications in resistance postmodernism for a strategic postmodernity, the flip-sides can explain much of our surroundings, those aspects of the contemporary context which can otherwise be interpreted as a crisis (Usher, Bryant & Johnston 1997). Bagnall lists eleven features of a postmodernity of resignation, which are evident in our world and need to be addressed, rather than ignored as we try harder to keep sailing to our original course no matter what obstacles are in our way. The features, which challenge the epistemology behind education and all of modernity, are presentism, surfacisation, fragmentation, changeability, non-progressiveness, anti-intellectualism, crude instrumentalism, consumerism, existential insecurity, despair and practical indifference (Bagnall 1994a). Between the former and Bagnall’s list of tendencies of adult education appropriate for postmodernity, one can get a reasonable feel for the subject. The tendencies are for adult education to be reflexively contextualised, indeterminate, expressive, open, participative, heterodox, phenomenal, critical and dedifferentiated (Bagnall 1994b). As with much of postmodernism, the attributes in the latter list are not exclusively postmodern or new, but together they can amount to a postmodern approach.

Postmodernism is still a new perspective, likely to transform with time and continued social change. However, we need not wait for debates over hyperreality to be won before we can find use for insights and tools that reside in various corners of the last few decades’ scholarship, as can be seen in the increasing merging of postmodernism with several important strands of education theory, born of modernity. Postmodern feminism in particular melds a consistent focus on gender and oppression with newer, sophisticated views of diverse, complex identity; deconstructing gender and power into “multiple systems of privilege and oppression and their intersections, along with people’s capacity for agency or resistance (Merriam, Caffarella & Baumgartner 2007).

Deconstruction is the tool at the heart of postmodernism and probably the aspect which garners most agreement from otherwise conflicting strands of postmodernism. It is a means of interrogating our understanding of meaning, and by extension, the world. Some aspects of deconstruction which are particularly pertinent for Adult Education include Lyotard’s suspicion of metanarratives (Peters 2000), and an incredulity towards binaries (Newman 1999).

To deconstruct binaries is not as simple as it may seem, since they are densely integrated into our lives. The most obvious manifestation of this is the suspicion of binaries. Modernist thought is heavily dependent on commonplace acceptance of dualistic categories; good or bad, male or female, normal or other, and ironically, radical or strategic and resistance or resignation. These and many more structure the way we interpret the world, until it becomes acceptable to assume that everything that does not fit in one box will conform to a second one, and that anything which does not, is necessarily insignificant.

To deconstruct binaries is to examine these assumptions and construct ideas free from such conventions, while acknowledging their use and its consequences, where they are retained. Gender is a good example as it is ostensibly one of the most stable binaries at the basis of our language and culture, and also has a concrete bearing on adult education. A binary view of gender declares every human to be either male or female. Whether determined by chromosomes, anatomy, birth certificates, presentation or some other criterion, we are all expected to be untroubled when we tick the M or the F box on a form. Our biological sex, gender identity and presentation, and often even sexuality are expected to align; all in one box, none in the other and certainly no colouring outside the lines. Secure in this assumption, we have binary gender dependent educational theories, enrolment forms, some attendance lists and classes grouped by gender. Examples and illustrations in teaching materials are clearly gendered, usually with stereotyped gender role attributes furthermore, even when the extra information is entirely irrelevant to subject being explained. Feminism has long fought for recognition of the speciousness of the role stereotypes, and indeed recent textbook illustrations are likely to carefully disturb stereotypes such as portraying female engineers and male nurses, yet this flipping of codes depends on the understood binary structure and merely reinforces the acceptability of the underlying concept of binary sex. Despite all this use, when the gender binary is interrogated, it can be seen that the lines are not nearly as clear as they have been drawn.

Nature, including all attributes used to determine human sex and gender, evolves in spectrums and bell curves rather than dichotomies. Questions of identity, though suppressed by the status quo, have the potential to be even more wide ranging. Supporting this view of gender, postmodernism sees identity as a complex, multiple and mutable collection of self-selected attributes and identifications, rather than a category, determined by others, that one is born into.

This perspective change has huge consequences in education. Throughout modernism, theories have paid more and more attention to different characteristics of individuals, their experiences and the social groups they belong to, for reasons ranging from the reduction of individuals’ barriers to learning to the forming of class consciousness and revolution. Many theories of education depend on fixed identities being a determinant of needs, as have identity politics. Yet just like the queer movement which is taking over from the gay and lesbian movement, postmodern education celebrates the productiveness of difference (Edwards & Usher 2001).

Once we accept such a view of identity, there is much to do. We suddenly find our classrooms are filled with a diversity of people that we can’t categorise, tame and manage. We already knew our picture of a good student as young, straight, white, middle class and male was erroneous, but w can no longer merely replace it with a better image. What’s more, the social positions of teacher and student become merely another aspect of people’s identities, as changeable as the rest.

This all leads to celebration of difference; acceptance is not enough. In order relinquish belief in the comforts and structures we are accustomed to and make the most of these ideas, we must find them not just right, but important. From the original example, why merely add a box marked ‘other’ and leave anyone who doesn’t step into it to keep their original problematic labels, when we can appreciate the differences between being, for example, female-to-male transgender, intersex or genderqueer, and understand how the regulation of our own identity by the status quo is a contemporary, subtle form of oppression (Hill 2004).

As well as alerting us to the needs of differently gendered people in classrooms, this one deconstruction has exploded our confidence in binaries and given us a taste of a whole new ambiguous world underneath our comfortable conventions, one that requires an entire reworking of the concept of knowledge. In today’s information-saturated society, it’s getting hard to pretend the world is neater than it is, and even harder to justify the negative consequences of adhering to knowledge that just isn’t true. We find that people in a different place, time or circumstance have contradictory views and knowledges, and we are too exposed to them to be able to conscionably assert that ‘we’ are right and ‘they’ are wrong. Without postmodernism this can leave the world, and especially education, in crisis as our confident foundations now look like shifting sands. However, rather than digging for replacement foundations, postmodernism develops a whole new architecture, adapted to building on the sands of ambiguity. “Uncertainty is not a passing state of puzzlement but an acceptance of the provisional and contingent in what we believe and do” (Usher, Bryant & Johnston 1997).

Of all the ways society has changed in postmodernity, the era in which postmodernism has come about, the availability of information is but one of several which have a direct impact on adult education. As well as facilitating reinterpretation of many extant facets of education, postmodernism can take account of the impact of newer phenomena, for example the marked increase in education at a distance, another consequence of information technology. Online learning has greatly increased access to education, but only to those who can afford the technology and [find the support required, as it becomes less the responsibility of the institution]. Looking further, this promotes individualisation of learning, but also provides opportunities for distributed forms that are actually collaborative. (Edwards & Usher 2001).

This ambivalence echoes the quandaries in a wide shift in the circumstances of society surrounding education, which can be grouped under Bagnall’s classification as consumerism. While many adult educators consider consumerism irredeemably bad and would like to prevent it impacting their classrooms, adult education has become a consumable commodity, and to pretend it hasn’t won’t make it less so, or help educators respond to the change.

As the government cuts funding from the big education institutions and encourages but regulates private providers, all education that offers qualifications has to find more of its own funding. Courses are tailored to the market; subjects are only taught if enough people are expected to pay for them, be it corporations or individuals. Content is therefore forced to the lowest common denominator too. We see for example that TAFEs are teaching only three market segments; vocational, enterprise and tertiary (Towards 2012: Strategic Plan 2009), and their funding has been opened up to private colleges. They have also lost their last free offerings, as the unemployed now have to pay $50. There’s a good reason that adult educators are suspicious; access that has so long been fought for is lost as user pays is entrenched. From this largely modernist perspective, the problems are too big to assail and the future is dismal.

However postmodernism, while not necessarily rejecting such concerns, asks different questions and suggests new directions. Why privilege these major institutions? They’re big, they have cultural cache, but they do not need to dominate adult education. Education is a foundation of modernism and the modernist project is what has made educational institutions so important. Formal education tends to rely on there being a truth, an ultimate knowledge, usually in the possession of the teacher, to be either poured into, or drawn out of the student. Many theories throughout modernism have debated the nature of this process or where knowledge resides, but they do not question the existence of knowledge and truth. A core of postmodernism, however, is that knowledge is diverse, local and contingent. Maybe it is the institutions that we need to deconstruct.

Adult education, however, can exist outside of institutions. In fact, the rise of lifelong learning which has been seen in the last decade, is very much in line with postmodernism, to the extent that it has been viewed as a postmodern condition of education due to the multiplicity of practices employed (Edwards & Usher 2001).

Postmodernism has more to offer than elevating lifelong learning to be the new hegemonic paradigm, vanquishing the educational institutions in either importance or idealism. It recognizes education as happening in many other places such as communities and subcultures. The convergence movement, for example, is heavily invested in forms of adult education which fill out the picture and stand in direct opposition to the fears of societal degeneration and lack of purpose sparked by the decline of the most hegemonic forms of adult education. It is heavily collective and committed to awareness and activism, yet distinctly postmodern as a culture of visibility through difference (Hill 2008), with a selection of goal that, while so broad as to be fractured, manage to be cooperative and strong.

Attention to these diverse sites may seem to have shifted the borders of adult education, but according to postmodernism, more than that has happened. Another postmodern term, dedifferentiation, describes the borders of things becoming less defined. In this case, adult education is bleeding into the culture, leisure and entertainment industries. Usher, Bryant and Johnston (1997) speak of confessional, vocational, lifestyle and critical practices, four different aspects of adult learning which, whether or not they are comprehensive, point to an expansion of education in several directions even as the traditional educational institutions contract their purposes.

Confessional practices, such as self-help courses popular in community colleges and the similar topics flourishing in publishing, display education as an unending process, where there is always more work one can do on oneself, as opposed to the modernist concept of mastery where competencies and levels are achieved (Edwards & Usher 2001). Similarly lifestyle practices involve consuming not only the learning but the style, image and mark of difference involved in the content, another process which continues as long as that aesthetic is valued.

Within a modernist context, Houle lists many purposes of learning; “a way of examining one’s life, a tool taken up to learn something specific, an accomplishment, a way of preserving the state, a pleasurable activity, part of a personal rule of discipline, a mandate, a way of avoiding responsibility, an emblem of elitism, a rung on the ladder of success, a personal discipline or rule of life” (Sheridan 2007)  it’s an interesting list, but where Houle saw ‘self directed study as the peak of a continuum, Postmodern consumerism and the search for identity, aesthetics, meaning and spectacle continues further. Usher, Bryant & Johnston consider “A strong case could be made, therefore, that consumption in postmodernity is an active, generative process. It is embedded in a variety of social practices that involve adult learning, thus it cannot be argued that all that is going on is simply a matter of passive an d alienating consumption of goods, services and images” (1997). In our post-full employment society, the source of meaning and identity is shifting away from the workplace, to be found in leisure, desires and the consumption of images. This is an opening which is encouraging education to change, to attend not only to people’s needs, but their wants (Usher, Bryant & Johnston 1997). Needs and wants has been a powerful dichotomy and wants has always been seen as less important, even dangerous. Just maybe, it’s time to deconstruct the binary and learn the value of desires.

At the end of the journey, postmodernism has had plenty to offer; a small amount on how we see students in the classroom, up to a whole body of analysis on epistemology and the reorganisation of the entire field of adult education. With time the theories will no doubt be honed, and unless they are severely challenged they will likely gain more and more acceptance. However even now, when the concepts are more widely feared than understood, they can at the very least encourage us to look upon the world with fresh eyes.

Reference List

Bagnall, R.G. 1994a, ‘Educational Research in a Postmodernity of Resignation: A Cautionary Corrective to Utopian Resistance’, paper presented to the Annual Conference of the Australian Association for Research in Education.

Bagnall, R.G. 1994b, ‘Postmodernity and its Implications for Adult Education Practice’, Studies in Continuing Education, vol. 16, no. 1, pp. 1 – 18.

Edwards, R. & Usher, R. 2001, ‘Lifelong Learning: A Postmodern Condition of Education?’ Adult Education Quarterly, vol. 51, no. 4, pp. 273 – 285.

Hill, R.J. 2004, ‘Activism as Practice: Some Queer Considerations’, New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, vol. 102, no. Summer, pp. 85 – 94.

Hill, R.J. 2008, ‘Troubling Adult Learning in the Present Time’, New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, vol. 119, no. Fall, pp. 83 – 91.

Kaufmann, J. 2000, ‘Reading counter-hegemonic practices through a postmodern lens’, International Journal of Lifelong Education, vol. 19, no. 5, pp. 430 – 447.

Kilgore, D.W. 2004, ‘Toward a Postmodern Pedagogy’, New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, vol. 102, no. Summer, pp. 45 – 52.

Merriam, S., Caffarella, R. & Baumgartner, L. 2007, ‘Critical Theory, Postmodern and Feminist Perspectives’, in S. Merriam, R. Caffarella & L. Baumgartner (eds), Learning in Adulthood: A Comprehensive Guide, 3rd edn, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, pp. 241-270.

Newman, M. 1999, ‘Looking for Postmodern Adult Educators’, in, Maeler’s Regard, Steward Victor Publishing, Sydney, pp. 194-202.

Peters, M. 2000, ‘Redefining Adult Education: Research, Self and Learning in Postmodernity’, Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, vol. 21, no. 3, pp. 335-343.

Sheridan, J. 2007, ‘Lifelong Learning in a Postmodern Age: Looking Back to the Future through the Lens of Adult Education’, The LLI Review, no. Fall 2007, pp. pp 4-13.

Towards 2012: Strategic Plan 2009, TAFE NSW – Sydney Institute.

Usher, R., Bryant, I. & Johnston, R. 1997, Adult Education and the Postmodern Challenge: Learning beyond the Limits, Routledge, London.

Willett, G. 2000, Living Out Loud: A History of Gay and Lesbian Activism in Australia, Allen & Unwin, Sydney.

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back to school…

May 9, 2009 at 1:43 pm (community, complex pleasures, crafty, dance, education, essays, out and about, queer)

i can’t help myself. i’m studying again. i have studied constantly since i was four years old, except for the time between february 2006 and february 2007… and half a semester at the end of the welding course last year while i was finishing off the mechanical engineering. come to think of it, in 2006 i still did the screen printing course. and the upholstery course. hmmm.

anyway, i’m now half way through my first subject in a masters of adult education; understanding adult education and training. it’s been interesting, and though i died over my first essay, i must’ve done a reasonable job, as i got a distinction for it! here it is.

Identifying Your Philosophical Orientation

This commentary is a personal response to taking an inventory on my philosophical orientation regarding adult education. Despite limitations in the instrument, I found the process and my results offered insights into both my philosophy and my practice in adult education. I found the framework to be useful, especially in conjunction with another on a separate axis, but could not locate myself firmly within any particular tradition, whichever way I tried. I was drawn to consider the breadth of purposes inherent in any instance of education, which, I believe, substantiates the broad range of theories and practices in which I find value. Ultimately, the frameworks are only guides to navigate the field in search of all the various theories which one can adapt, use, integrate and enjoy.

Zinn’s (1990) Philosophy of Adult Education Inventory (PAEI) is an interesting instrument. Consisting of a mere fifteen questions, it gives a quick analysis of a person’s philosophy of adult education, according to a framework by Elias and Merriam (Zinn 1990).

In taking the test according to its guidelines, I came out as 97% Humanist, 90% Radical, 88% Progressive, 70% Liberal and 66% Behaviourist. These results are notable for all being quite high and relatively close together as I had difficulty grading the answers. I found merit in almost all of them, and scored everything in the top half of the scale, between ‘neutral’ and ‘strongly agree’. Zinn suggests that this may indicate contradictory philosophies, however I saw answers as appropriate to different situations, rather than challenging each other’s validity.

I had difficulty filling out the inventory with regard to my general philosophy, as without differentiation, half the questions refer to specific practice, such as planning activities, while the rest demand a static philosophy. While both theory and practice are vital and I agree with Grace (2006) one cannot have one without the other, they do not necessarily stay still for examination. My practice varies widely depending on subject and context. Redoing the inventory for five different fields in which I have taught, the variety was more marked that I expected. In fact each one came out with a different primary philosophy, though the range within each was no less bunched than the original.

Burnout Workshops
The radical perspective came up second in general, and top for my Burnout workshops (All scores are tabulated in the appendix below). These workshops, dealing with prevention and management of stress and burnout, are conducted within community groups where the issue is acknowledged as important and very real, both to the individuals and to the group. They are used both to equip individuals for life and participation in the world, and to strengthen community. This is one of the few opportunities I get to confront social action directly, so I’m not surprised it came up the most radical. The humanist element is also strong with facilitation and focus on expanding potential, and working with emotions. Exercises such as role playing ‘saying no’ are effective uses of experiential learning, another focus of Humanism.

Mathematics tutoring
When I teach numeracy and mathematics, it is generally because my students perceive a general need or inadequacy. In trying to overcome their fears of the topic, I use plenty of problem solving and discovery methods to show them what they can do. Needs assessment is also very important, as I cannot rely on these students to be self-directed. These all draw on the progressive category, which scored highest on this take. I have the students’ immediate needs in mind, but I also choose my materials to connect to something wider, real issues in the students’ lives, for better learning by connecting to what students find important, for building confidence in the subject and in life, for community and world involvement and for making the world a little less scared of the subject.

Rubber workshops
Fun with Rubber and Latex scored closest to my overall outcome, in that the highest score for both was humanism. These workshops are run within the queer women’s communities of Newtown and are a forum to get a specific subculture interacting in an alcohol-free environment, to normalise open dialogue about sex of the varieties relevant to that community and to give people experience in the practical aspect of do-it-yourself philosophy. These are all dire needs in the community at the moment and I would have expected a high score in the radical column, but when I thought about it, I don’t use many radical techniques in planning or teaching, likely because there are relatively few to be found (Newman 1999). The workshops are advertised much more individualistically as an opportunity to have fun, learn skills and take home new toys that one cannot afford to buy commercially. Planning is restricted to materials and sequences of skills and learning is experiential after a short presentation, which may explain the high score for humanism.

Tatting classes
Tatting is a form of lace making that is associated with people’s grandmothers. I often run tatting classes in women’s spaces and, as with most of my teaching, they are a chance for people to connect to a community without putting themselves on display, as there is an ostensible purpose, and something to do with their hands. Tatting is a skill that people learn for learning’s sake, or to connect to women’s history, both which have a place in the liberal tradition (Zinn 1990), which came up as the primary perspective here. Mastering the skill is very important as it looks so simple that anyone who gives up goes away feeling defeated, so I put effort into finding different ways of teaching and promoting learning of the basic concepts, which come naturally to very few. I guess this is where the behaviourism comes in.

Tap dancing classes
Tap dancing came up as behaviourist, the very lowest score on my overall results. One reason I can see is that, where I generally don’t believe in practice and repetition as an important part of learning, that is what dancing is all about. There can be no rhythm in one isolated step. This class, like any of mine, has other objectives such as promoting body confidence, but the teaching is heavily systematic, building from simple step to complex sequence, with constant feedback.

These five case studies shed some light on my original score, which was supposed to position my overall philosophy and deep beliefs about adult education. They suggest to me that Zinn’s idea of purpose is simplistic as she seems to assume that there is one or two purposes behind an educational interaction, where as I can list a dozen at a time, primary and secondary, overt and incidental, cognitive or affective, individual or community, all in play at once.

Yet wherever they are placed, with recurrent themes of facilitation, interactive and experiential learning, personal growth and emphasis on affective content, it is no longer surprising that I came out as 97% humanist. I don’t always practice heavy consultation as I tend to have skills to transmit and the student has already chosen with their feet, but when I am in a classroom I do concentrate on empowering each individual student to be able to learn and connect the information, skills and attitudes to the rest of life. Theory-wise, the only aspect of humanism that came up in the PAEI as problematic is the idea that students are always capable of self direction.

My next score was radical, and I am certainly not surprised I scored high there as many theories which excite me fit into that category. I read plenty of libertarian education, critical pedagogy, postmodernist, feminist, indigenous and queer pedagogy. Yet as much of this field focuses on the organisation of education, over which I have less control than I do over my teaching, these theories have not translated as well as I would like to my practice. I have, however, opened a community space which provides resources, support and a location to all sorts of experimental educational projects. This has directly drawn on Illich’s (1971) Learning Webs.

Progressive theory has also had a significant impact on my thought. I have moved from pedagogy to adult education through the thought of such educators as A S Neill (1926), and pin hopes for schools on reducing the pressure they are under, by expanding, improving and respecting adult education. I work with students’ interests and needs and try to link content to their lives and real world problems, and make use of democracy rather than hierarchy, to model social change further than any content can go.

The liberal tradition is no longer the cutting edge of education, but I cannot ignore its achievements. I do not like to lecture and the list of topics a renaissance mind should know is centuries outdated, but I stand by the concept of a broad base of knowledge and understanding being important for interacting with the world.

Behaviourism, too, makes points one cannot afford to ignore, as it addresses a wealth of issues of how the mind works. At the very base, all the theories in the world won’t help if the student is in no position to learn, either from being subjected to a style of input that their brain cannot process, or merely not having had breakfast.

So, Zinn’s inventory has been useful in clarifying differences in my practice. However, her framework is not the only one by far. The number of similar frameworks with slightly revised categories, differences and overlaps, suggest to me that none of them are quite as comprehensive as they’d like to be, and remind me that they are all merely approximate divisions according to one set of criteria, which would easily be shifted according to another. For example, though the topics are surely related, Zinn’s philosophies of adult education and Merriam’s (Merriam, Caffarella & Baumgartner 2007) Five Orientations to Learning each have five categories, some of which overlap while the others don’t. Though each has some interesting questions on the other axis, I find nothing to recommend one over another, apart from attachment to an inventory.

However there are other ways of navigating theory, some of which can even coordinate with one of the first kind. Apps’ breakup (Zinn 1990), I believe, can enhance Zinn’s or any similar framework and make it more meaningful and flexible by providing sensible places to change category. The categories of Teacher, Learner, Content, Learning and Purpose are very real and distinct, and feel closer to being finite, while being overtly an example of aspects to be covered, rather than attributes on which to choose a category.

For example, as a teacher I tend to be a facilitator, as in the humanist tradition. I tend to treat learners in a progressive manner, working towards fulfilling their interests and discovering their experience. The widest purpose, in the back of my mind, is to bring about social change through community cohesion. I believe this is radical though the change I seek is not specifically revolutionary as some theorists require. I believe learning is incredibly broad, and find it appropriate to be very flexible in my methods. Each tradition focuses on different aspects; maybe behaviourism wins this because they focus on it so much more. And for content, I largely teach what I know, and I do aspire to being a renaissance person, as I see all sorts of weird and wonderful titbits of knowledge and understanding, especially learning from the past, can work together into something richer and more complex, that would be lost if we all stuck to the same popular fields.

To examine the original categories as capable of being broken down on these lines is a step towards seeing them as all aspects of a whole, and also to being able to appreciate theories which do not pretend to be a theory of everything. Indeed, I share many sentiments with the postmodernists, though they have severe limitations, especially in practice (Newman 1999). With a healthy disrespect for categories, they seem to support my inclination to not label myself, but to rather put together an eclectic collection of ideas, past and present, leaving room for the future as well.

Frameworks can help navigate the aisles, but what I put into my basket of theories will depend on what I come to need, what I think I can use, and ultimately, what makes me happy. So much of adult education theory takes itself very seriously, which is a pity as it is stuff on which to dream. Many theorists, and especially policy makers in this country, would do well to read bel hooks and consider how “to be changed by ideas [is] pure pleasure” (hooks 1994).

Despite limitations in the instrument, the PAEI has described my diverse views and given me food for thought on what I find useful, and what I find exciting. From here, I hope to fill some holes such as translating some of my radical theories to practice, and continue add to my – now better organised – basket of theories and practices, ideas, techniques and inspirations, all while cheerfully eluding categorisation.

Appendix: PAEI scores

_                   Liberal   Behaviourist   Progressive    Humanist   Radical
Overall        70           66                    88                    97                 90
Tatting         89          86                     84                    85                 76
Burnout      73          71                     89                    94                 95
Rubber        73          70                     85                    97                 76
Maths          84          80                     97                    90                 81
Tap              79           86                     72                    83                 65

Reference List

Grace, A. 2006, ‘Critical Adult Education: Engaging the Social in Theory and Practice’, in T. Fenwick, T. Nesbit & B. Spencer (eds), Contexts of Adult Education: Canadian Perspectives, Thompson Educational Publishing, Toronto.
hooks, b. 1994, Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom, Routledge, New York.
Illich, I. 1971, Deschooling Society, Penguin Books Ltd, Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England.
Merriam, S., Caffarella, R. & Baumgartner, L. 2007, ‘Critical Theory, Postmodern and Feminist Perspectives’, in S. Merriam, R. Caffarella & L. Baumgartner (eds), Learning in Adulthood: A Comprehensive Guide, 3rd edn, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, pp. 241-270.
Neill, A.S. 1926, Summerhill, Penguin Books Australia, Ringwood, Victoria.
Newman, M. 1999, ‘Looking for Postmodern Adult Educators’, in, Maeler’s Regard, Steward Victor Publishing, Sydney, pp. 194-202.
Zinn, L. 1990, ‘Identifying Your Philosophical Orientation’, in Golbraith (ed.), Adult Learning Methods, Kreiger, Florida, pp. 39-77.

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my philosophy of education… in 2002

December 24, 2008 at 12:45 am (education, essays)

another old essay i’ve dug up. i recall this being one of the few essays i ever enjoyed, and having lots of inspiring ideas in it, but i hardly dared read it again. i had to though, as i only had a hard copy. on reading every word so that i could type it out, i found it hard to restrain myself from tweaking grammar, explaining and elaborating, smoothing over the dogmatism and idealism, and adding whole chapters on exciting thoughts i’ve discovered in the last six years. still, not bad for a 1200 word essay, and it looks like i didn’t even get an extension; how unusual! i dug it up because i’m about to start thinking about educational philosophy again in my MEd, and besides, i’ve recently agreed to put starting a school onto the agenda at Sydney Atheists. it is, after all, my biggest life goal. so here goes…

The various perspectives relating to education and which were outlined in the first four weeks of the unit provide a benchmark against which to position our views about schooling and teaching. In truth, these views are likely to be eclectic, drawing on aspects of all four perspectives. Outlining your own philosophy of education (an aspect of your identity as a teacher) indicate, through reference to the relevant and related literature, the ways in which it reflects aspects of these various perspectives.

The current system of education in Australia swings between Liberalism and Instrumentalism, neither of which recognise the needs for societal change or individual difference. This does not mean there are no other options. This proposal is heavily influenced by the Libertarian Free Schools, tempered with Critical Pedagogy. Drawn particularly from the works of Paolo Friere, Ivan Illich and A. S. Neill, it is radically different from prevailing systems. To be adopted would require changes in societal attitudes, but the ability to critique is something it attempts to foster.

The nature of our society is largely determined by three interlinking institutions, family, church and school. In Illich’s distinction between manipulative and convivial institutions, (McLaren & Leonard, 1993) all three tend to be manipulative. The influence of family and especially church are fading, but it is both possible and incredibly important to work towards a convivial system of education.

Friere’s Critical Pedagogy (Shor, 1980) draws generative themes from the students’ lives to introduce critical perspectives on power relations in their lives, and to teach literacy as a means of empowerment. It was used teaching adult literacy in South America, but such characteristics as dialogic communication, problematisation, praxis and shared choice of content can be adapted to Australian school life. It is not enough, however, to merely apply the methods of Critical Pedagogy to traditional structures and subjects.

Once the concept is accepted that schools are not, or should not be knowledge factories, there is so much that can be done. The first step is to integrate the school into the community. At present schools tend to take advantage of the community in a very limited fashion, stylised and primarily to do with work – from work experience in high school down to excursions to the local vet and police station in kindy, the way the outside world is presented to students creates and enforces the distinction between school and the child on one side, and the professional and the workplace on the other. When people leave school they carry this view with them, and many never continue with education because of it. This is all despite the very public knowledge that this does not happen, that children cannot always be protected from life and they will be pushed through to adulthood regardless of whether they can read or any other of the multitude of skills supposed to be necessary to existence.

If we are serious about freedom, we must break down some of the distinctions between the child at school and the adult world. Some Libertarians (Spring, 1975) advocate the abolition of school altogether, but it does not need to be taken that far. To make the school a community centre where anyone can study would integrate the two worlds, to their mutual advantage.

A University or Community College style arrangement would facilitate this integration. Instead of either age grading or streaming, courses would be organised by subject, with various levels being provided as required. A wide variety of courses should be offered, not restricted to those preferred by a particular perspective. Practical, Critical Instrumentalist subjects are important, but so are Liberal subjects, the stipulation being that they must also be taught critically, instead of pretending they are value-free. If accreditation is by competency on individual units and workload is negotiated with one’s counselor, then compulsory courses become unnecessary, though some courses will naturally be strongly recommended, especially at lower levels.

This arrangement surmounts the perennial problem of streaming by allowing students to make choices – having a range of valid and acceptable choices for every student. It however requires considerable support: students are being presented with possibly frightening choice and freedom, and even in Summerhill (Neill, 1926) one can never ensure every student is equipped to make the choice. Individual care is required, in the form of counsellors, charged with the ongoing care of a small number of students. This not only ensures students have somebody to make sure they are getting the most out of their school, give advice and help with a strong knowledge of both student and school, but this kind of attention to each student and their choices also works to overcome somewhat the structural disadvantages of family (Matthews, 1980).

Another Libertarian system which could benefit the proposal is the Learning Web (Illich, 1970). Illich’s model consists of a sytem of registers, where students can find four things: peers to learn with, teachers, informants or mentors to learn from, resources to learn with and professional educators to help out when required. It was designed for a similar environment to Friere’s work, but would also be valuable adapted to the situation at hand. A school is perfectly placed to keep such registers, and access to them fills out the range of subjects and learning styles that cannot be accommodated by the regular classes, ensuring that tailoring to a student’s needs is not subordinated to the bureaucracy. Running parallel to other classes, a web would be easily accommodated within the given framework. It would be maintained by the counselors, who would interview all parties, rather than review qualifications, for suitability and readiness. The regular teaching staff would superviese and run teacher training within the school. A school is also perfectly situated to both connect students of similar needs and arrange access to resources.

Naturally each and every element requires more funding, yet considering this country has one of the lowest public expenditures on education in the OECD (Martin, 2001), a significant increase in funding is actually quite a reasonable request. In fact, it is a necessary one if even the current education system is to fulfill what is expected of it for a period longer than is being considered by those in control, who are elected every three or four years.

That brings us to another aspect of Neill’s brand of libertarianism: participatory democracy (Neill, 1926). The only way this proposal can remain authentic is if it remains responsive to the actual needs and desires of those involved. Giving students and staff members equal voices and opportunities to change important aspects of the running of the school fulfils this requirement. It also empowers students to takie responsibility, feel ownership over both the school and their lives, and learn to speak, work and organise cooperatively. This need not be a system which can necessarily be transferred to national government to be a valid way to teach people to work, nor need it imply absolute power over all aspects of the school. To accommodate all that is being asked here, the school will probably be too large to meet comfortably as one body, but the system, like much of this proposal, has been well tested and found to work (Apple & Beane, 1999; Shotton, 1993; Chamberlin, 1989), they are not reasons to opt out and elect token representatives to sit on a powerless school council.

A school with freedom, individual care, participatory democracy, learning webs and critical pedagogy would not only give each student the best possible chance to meet their individual needs, but may also prepare society to finally begin to consider its future.

Reference List

Apple, M. W., & Beane, J.A., (Eds.). (1999). Democratic schools: Lessons from the chalk face. Buckingham: Open University Press.

Chamberlin, R., (1989). Free children and democratic schools: A philosophical study of liberty and education. London: The falmer Press.

Illich, I. D., (1970). Deschooling society. London: Calder & Boyars.

Matthews, M. R., (1980). The Marxist theory of schooling: A study of epistemology and education. Sussex: Harvester Press.

Martin, R., (2001). The OECD education at a glance report 2001. Report for Australian Education Union.

McLaren, P., & Leonard, P., (1993). Paolo Friere: A critical encounter. London: Routledge.

Neill, A. S., (1926). Summerhill. Ringwood, Victoria: Penguin Books.

Shor, I., (1980). Critical teaching and everyday life. Montreal: Black Rose Books.

Shotton, J., (1993). No master high or low: Libertarian education and schooling 1890 – 1990. Bristol: Libertarian Education.

Spring, J., (1975). A primer of libertarian education. New York: Free Life Editions.

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