Policy & Practice - A Development Education Review



Finding the 'Historically Possible': Contexts, Limits and Possibilities in Development Education
Autumn 2014

Guest Editorial: Finding the 'Historically Possible': Contexts, Limits and Possibilities in Development Education

Fionnuala Waldron

 “Throughout history one does what is historically possible and not what one would want to do” (Freire, 1985: 171).

One of the characteristics of development education (DE) which makes it a complex and multi-layered area of education is that the contexts it engages with are multiple, diverse and sometimes contradictory.  This diversity is evident in the range of target groups and sectors with which DE programmes engage and the multiplicity of settings in which DE occurs, settings which range from the high visibility of public billboards to the intimacy of classrooms, from settings that are constrained by the demands of state curricula to those that are premised on the more open spaces of informal education.  Development education can also be differentiated by its providers (non-governmental organisations [NGOs]/formal education), its sources of funding and by its geographical location, all of which can serve to limit or expand its possibilities, depending on how it is defined and what its purpose is perceived to be.  Given this level of differentiation, it is perhaps not surprising that questions have been raised regarding its coherence with its core mission in different contexts.  Some have questioned whether the project of education for transformation which lies at the heart of development education, can retain its integrity in the context of a dominant and all-pervasive neoliberalism (Bryan, 2011; Selby and Kagawa, 2014).  Does the policy environment in education, for example, which is seen as increasingly instrumentalist, inevitably compromise DE as a radical, political project? Does dependence on state funding inexorably lead to the individualisation and domestication of the concept of social action in development education contexts? McCloskey (2014: 6) suggests that while state agencies might envision social action as the desirable outcome of DE, it is likely to be conceptualised as individualised consumer-oriented responses such as fair trade rather than the potentially radical responses envisaged by Freirean pedagogy.

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