by Injairu Kulundu
The following section will address the three questions below concurrently.
- Q1: Please describe how often you have met with the T-learning participants, and what the purpose of these meetings were.
- Q2: Please describe carefully what took place in these meetings from a LEARNING INTERACTIONS point of view.
- Q3: Please share dialogues from the data and/or photographic or video graphic materials which provide insights into the learning interactions and what is happening via the learning interactions.
At the end of 2016 I met with 21 dynamic Change Drivers from all across South Africa. The 21 Change Drivers were divided into three separate intakes. Each intake met for a four day residential workshop at Stanford Valley in Hermanus. The dates for each workshop were ; the 30th of October to the 3rd of November for intake 1, the 20th to the 24th of November for intake 2 and from the 4th to the 8th of December for intake 3. Change Drivers nominated themselves to be a part of this project. They were briefed that the project was essentially about regenerating liberatory pedagogy in contemporary South Africa based on the current experiences and transgressive learning of Change Drivers from across the country.
During these workshops we collectively took the time to reflect on the significant moments and experiences that have influenced the different ways Change Drivers think and practice social change in their contexts. This was a space to think about how their practice has evolved over the years and some of the necessary transgressions they have performed as part of this evolution.
We began our time together by co- defining key terms that we often use as a community of Change Drivers. The exploration of these terms was done using creative metaphors and methodologies as a way of creating a space where each person would be challenged to think carefully about what their experience around these terms has been. These creative methodologies provided strange and engaging ways to explore and express what we know to be true. The strangeness of each methodology was a deliberate tactic to get Change Drivers to go beyond the spoken word and rational deliberation as a predominant way of expressing ourselves.
The first of these terms was the word ‘Change Driver’ itself. We explored where this term comes from what it means for those who choose to define themselves in this way. We went for long walks in nature and each participant was asked to come back with something they could find in nature that represents what a Change Driver is.
Some of the definitions that came up include the definition of a Change Driver as someone resilient (like a discarded coke can, or a rock or the soil ) who purposely disrupts the status quo and creates positive change ( like many seeds) in their community. An important part of this was the courage needed to actively adapt (like water) to the situations one finds in their community in integral ways.
After this we explored the individual contexts that Change Drivers come from in great detail and how this influences the specific work that they do. As part of this we began to collectively analyze what the status quo looks like from their different perspectives. This was an interesting way to pay attention to what is showing up in the life worlds of Change Drivers as they continue to devote themselves to creating sustainable viable futures in their communities. It was interesting to witness the different features that were brought up as a part of this.
Change Drivers spoke about the impact of patriarchy, traditional culture, sexism, violence, corruption, limited forms of education and access to resources in general as being parts of how they experienced the status quo in their contexts. They also spoke about how the way that success is measured and promoted through media as an enduring feature of how the status quo perpetuates itself.
We also co- defined what it means to transgress which included ideas about how to keep oneself moving past the boundaries that society imposes upon us or even moving past more personal boundaries in response to society. We spoke about how some situations have the effect of making us shed our skins, and literally evolve forward towards other ways of being in the world.
We collectively brainstormed our ideas around what the status quo looked like and used movement in the space to jump start our ideas about what it means to transgress. From here, each co – conspirer was invited take the time to make cartographic maps of the way in which they have navigated their specific contexts, and how this has evolved over time. Everybody was asked to pay specific attention to instances in which they feel they were compelled to transgress, grow or learn something significant in response to their context. We spent a whole day making creative pieces that represented their transgressive journeys.
We kicked off the next day by inviting everyone to take a step back and look at what they had created with fresh eyes and journal what what they saw when they looked at what they created. When they looked at the pictures they created what could they say their journey had been like? What have they been learning and unlearning? What are the key transgressive impulses that they have had over time? What have they been ‘becoming’ as part of this process?
We met in groups and shared our reflections around these questions. Each person took their time to speak about what was emerging for them.
From here we raised our gaze up from our individual trajectories and tried to understand the broader social context that these stories are emerging from. We raised questions about what the current social climate in South Africa looks like based on the trajectories that Change Drivers find themselves in. What can we say is happening more broadly that is creating these responses? And what are we trying to create collectively as Change Drivers in response to this? This included a conversation about how we collectively define the common good. This was a very interesting and intense conversation across all the groups as each individual perspective battled to reconcile towards a collective understanding of what the common good sh
ould entail. It was a very useful dialogue to have within groups because it highlighted the many ways in which like minded progressive Change Drivers have very different and passionate ideas around what is the most important things to foreground when it comes to our ideas of the common good. In one group the term ‘common good’ was troubled by participants. They felt that the term has a history that did not emerge from their concerns. Learning from these questions gave us a chance to frame the conversation around establishing the meaning of ‘freedom’ rather than the ‘common good’. This was a term that Change Drivers felt much more comfortable with. The conversation that ensued was still a very long one with many silences in between. It was fascinating to have the time to think about what freedom means for Change Drivers. The conversation took us into places where we questioned so much of what we desire and wondered what it means to adequately reach for something that you have never experienced. It was also somewhat sobering to acknowledge how hard it was to respond to these questions amongst like minded peers especially because so much of the energy of young people in the South Africa right now is demanding a decolonized vision for freedom. Do we even know what that means for us collective? And how do we plan on making this happen through our actions?
- Q4: Are there any PROCESSES or MOMENTS that seem to have been particularly significant in the learning interactions process so far?
- Q6: What debates / issues are emerging from your early T-learning interactions work?
One of the interesting things that came out of these conversations was a comment about whether our definition of the common good is one based solely on the lack that we see in our contexts. We had a discussion around what it would mean for us to extend our visions of freedom beyond the problems presiding in this present moment. Does the vision of our work have the space to step outside the very urgent needs of a very limited present? Can it work to dismantle the frames of reference that created the present situation, into a far more sustainable future? This was interesting because it called into question how Change Drivers are responding. This was a concern around the broadness of our emancipatory perspectives and the impact of our creative endeavors.
This conversation linked powerfully with the theme of how we are evolving or learning to transgress in our journeys as Change Drivers. It has been interesting to look back at the journeys that each person shared. I have had the privilege of having witnessed three different groups go through this process. When each person took their time to share their particular transgressive journeys there was a sense in which some participants were on a journey in which they were claiming aspects of themselves that directly challenged an identity, or class based politics that does not acknowledge their specific emancipatory needs. To use one practical example there was a case for radical black feminism in one instance juxtaposed to a need for a deeper class analysis of the recent student movements that many Change Drivers were a part of. The relentless conversation about how we define freedom was an interesting one to bear in mind in the many instances where emancipatory claims were contesting each other in ways that seem to produce a hierarchy of emancipatory identities.
This got me thinking a lot about the importance of the work around an intersectional vision of freedom, and whether this is what lies at the frontiers of the essential reclamation around gender, class and racial affirmation that have been a necessary part of the evolution of Change Drivers at this moment. The interesting thing was acknowledging how all of these issues affect each other and are part of a broader perspective about how inequality plays our within South Africa. It felt significant to bump into the political cleavages that have been created around this, even amongst Change Drivers who are devoted to creating positive change. There was a sense of the necessity of creating spaces where we could bear witness to how all of these issues play out concurrently, spaces where we could collectively question how we could strategically work to dismantle the binary logics and hierarchical processes that undergird inequality ( May: 2015, 82). This is a question of the sense of intersectional resonance between the struggles that Change Drivers hold. I am wondering how to create spaces that can adequately open up intersectional resonance as an important thing we need to explore as Change Drivers. How can we do this in ways that challenge us to consider the collective implication of the struggles that we choose to be a part of. Is this a feeling that can be created with others? Is the sense of individualism that pervades our society a pervasive part of what it means to be human? How do we work with our great forgetfulness as human beings? A forgetfulness that obscures the reality of the way that we are interconnected? How can we unpack the levels of our great disconnection with each other, the earth and other sentient beings – especially when we think we know all we need to know?
Another aspect of our interaction that I found fascinating pertained to questions around what liberatory pedagogy could look like. I somewhat expected Change Drivers to share in ways that could give us a keen sense of some of the pedagogical content that was needed in a contemporary exploration of liberatory pedagogy in South Africa. There was plenty of information that they shared that sufficiently covered this. However, I was also struck by an articulated need for a practice of liberatory pedagogy that not only helped us reach for what we desire but could also help ground us in the utter reality of the situation that we are in. Here Change Drivers spoke of the profound contradictions they are experiencing on the ground and often how these are overlooked in their complexity towards a more future driven desire for change. In particular one Change Driver spoke of what it means to drive change in a world where many understand how inequality is perpetuated and the injustice and humiliation that people live with on an everyday basis- but they simply don’t care enough to adequately address this. What was being spoken of here are the levels of cynicism and disconnection that is so much a part of the machinery of inequality. This would be a pedagogy that doesn’t pretend that the world is any different than it is which departs from the highly motivational ‘go getter’ tone that undercuts many youth leadership projects. Instead, what is needed is a language that clearly cuts through the veneer of indifference and gives us the space to think strategically about how to transgress this in affirming, regenerative ways. Questions about the gigantic nature of the beast of neo- liberal capitalism loomed within these interactions and whether our power lies in seeking to actively dismantle it head on, or creating alternative pockets of life inside and outside of it.
I was moved by the sense of exhaustion that is part of the experience of Change Drivers. One of the many thoughts that I am playing with is thinking about a pedagogy of exhaustion – that is what it means to attend to the many ways in which Change Drivers feel burnt out by the demands their work and the resilience of an incredibly aloof system of oppression that does not validate the experiences or efforts of Change Drivers. The fact that we had four days meant that we could schedule the time that we have together in ways that could allow us to catch up with ourselves in gentle ways. When thinking about what these spaces could offer, the Xhosa word ‘Phefumla’ comes to mind. This simply means breathe and is very close to the word ‘Phemfumlo which means soul. I am currently thinking carefully about how an essential part of reimagining liberatory pedagogy in these times involves creating spaces where young people’s souls can exhale whilst they collectively corroborate the depth of their experiences.
At the end of our four days each person was given the chance to reconcile the conversations and reflections that they were having in their groups and by themselves. They did this by providing an in depth exit interview that was conceptualized as an offering that could help guide our thinking around what is most urgently needed in our conceptions of liberatory pedagogy in contemporary South Africa. Please read on some of the themes that are emerging from there in my other blog on defining matters of concern.
Q5: Please provide some reflections on your own role in facilitating the T-learning interactions
I started off this project wondering how to regenerate the praxis of liberatory pedagogy. I didn’t realize how even designing a process that could begin to even try and answer these questions would be such a journey in unlearning what it means to position oneself differently in the space. De- centering the role of the educator to one of the guide able to follow the impulses that were being shared by participants was a significant learning. I think we often think of transgressing as advancing forward. I was struck by how much reigning in I needed to do in my role as a facilitator order to try and help to create a space where we could explore the themes of the research together. I transgressed my idea of what a facilitator is in these three intakes. It was interesting to watch my impulses and muscle memory try to take over the space with my input. I had to find a way to lead from somewhere else, perhaps what endued was a feminine form of leadership that provided a held space from which we could hopefully emerge to our most important questions. Reflecting on this, I am questioning why this kind of power or holding can be perceived being as weak in society. Why it is that being opinionated and dominating space is lauded over listening and being receptive to what is emerging in the space? It got me thinking about how we perform power in the world and the power that education has in creating alternative norms that help us practice affective sensibilities that remain under-developed or under-represented in society (Braidotti: 2013,288) perhaps this is an important part of how we begin to reseed a different future for the world.
This experience has already got me thinking differently about the role of the educator or guide or facilitator in contemporary liberatory pedagogy. With the caliber of Change Drivers that we have across South Africa and the continent it feels right that we should think carefully about what Change Drivers mostly need; a place to wrangle out their ideas and a framing that allows for the critical interrogations of their current trajectories and the visions of freedom that lie within them. My role was essentially to try and find appropriate creative containers that could help us surface what it is that we already know.
It has been a great privilege to listen to the depth of wisdom and audacity that the 21 Change Drivers I worked with represent. There is so much that we need to be attentive to from what they have offered. I am excited about working in depth with these offerings and tracing important contemporary trajectories in liberatory pedagogies from their insights. Please stay tuned for an in depth report on where these Change Drivers where leading us next year.