Radical adult learning from below : the learning processes of direct action animal activists

  • Lara Star Drew

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This research explored the learning processes of animal activists in Australia as they engaged in direct action activism and disrupted and protested the institutional exploitation of nonhuman animals. Direct action plays a key role in social movements making it crucial to examine the learning processes of animal activists in these settings. Research on social movements as sites of learning are limited, and the learning processes of animal activists have not been explored in Australia. The learning processes are embedded in the action taken by activists so they are not always identified or articulated. Therefore, a primary aim of this thesis is to make visible the activists’ learning processes within the practice of direct action activism and by so doing make a contribution to the field of radical adult education. The research design was informed by a narrative inquiry process. A series of in-depth dialogical interviews were conducted with six animal liberation activists from across Australia. Short vignettes were constructed to highlight the key learning processes of the activists. The vignettes reveal the social, political and ideological meaning-making of the activists that underpin their learning processes. The in-depth description shows the dimensions and complexity of social change activism. The research then examines individual and social factors in relation to learning during the major events that were recounted by the activists. The analysis drew on ‘storying’, ‘co-construction of meaning’, and ‘contextualisation of meaning’ with each activist as a means of facilitating a joint construction of social knowledge about activists’ learning processes. The learning processes of the animal activists were multi-faceted. They were learning on the move and run while immersed in crisis oriented or risky modes of action. This learning was underpinned by instrumental methods of learning. ‘Being an organiser’ was an intrinsic part of the learning processes with the diverse organising ‘styles’ arising from prefigurative, ideological and practical learning environments. Embodied learning processes were attached to affect, emotions, feelings, the physical body and the nonhuman animals themselves. After the array of learning processes was conceptualised as a whole, a ‘witness–feel–think–analyse–learn’ process became visible. As the animal activists rejected dominant cultural ideologies and actioned their concern for nonhuman animals through ‘law breaking’, ethical and moral dilemmas were amplified in practice. Hence, transgressive learning processes were dominant. The analysis showed that through transgressive and witness-feel-think-analyse processes a radicalised consciousness was deepened, expanded and reinforced. This thesis extends our understanding of the learning processes in a direct action setting and has the potential to inform the animal liberation movement as it works towards radical social change for both humans and nonhuman animals.
    Date of Award2017
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorBarbara Pamphilon (Supervisor), Katja Mikhailovich (Supervisor), Sandra Heaney-Mustafa (Supervisor), Affrica Taylor (Supervisor) & John Mcintyre (Supervisor)

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