Talking about whiteness: Adult learning principles and the invisible norm

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    lt is well-known that adult education programs operate in the teeth of a system for whom racism and sexism are primary, established, necessary props of profit (Audre Lorde, cited in Thompson 1983, 133). In this chapter, rather than explicate the effects of this system on the Other, I examine how the notion of Whiteness is central to, and embedded in the discursive and material practices of this system. Yet talking about Whiteness is risky business, theoretically, politically, and practically. It runs the risk of reifying and privileging the (White) self at the very same time when social theorizing promotes understandings of identity as complex, historical, contingent, and located. It also runs the risk of maintaining a hold on that public space where other stories could be (hooks. 1990). However, I think explicit discussions of Whiteness are necessary to fore­ground the paradoxes of Whiteness described as everything and nothing, literally overwhelmingly present and yet apparently absent (Dyer 1997, 39; see also Morrison 1992). Moreover, these paradoxes are themselves situated and contingent; and who is named or names themselves White, for example is open to change over time. In this chapter I show how recent writing within the fields of feminism and cultural studies detail the discursive strategies that enable Whiteness to be positioned unquestioningly as the invisible norm, a norm that appears to have no tangible effects on pedagogy. I maintain that these strategies are assisted by dominant discourses of liberal (adult) education and are central to the notion of adult learning principles. To demonstrate this, I explore three conceptual frames commonly deployed in adult education literature: debates about andragogy and pedagogy; the abstraction of the neutral facilitator; and the notion of target groups. The latter is a common policy and provision technology (Butler 1999) used in Australia to address the funding and pedagogic needs of disadvantaged groups. while generally remaining silent on the ongoing needs of those advantaged by skin color (but also by gender, sexual preference, physical mobility, geography, and financial security).
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationMaking space
    Subtitle of host publicationmerging theory to practice in adult education
    EditorsVanessa Sheared , Peggy Sissel
    Place of PublicationWestport CT
    PublisherGreenwood Publishing Group Inc.
    Number of pages42
    ISBN (Print)0897896017, 0897896009
    Publication statusPublished - 2001


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