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LEARNING BEYOND THE CLASSROOM: GENDERED AND ETHNICISED CONSTRUCTIONS OF LEARNER IDENTITIES Friday February 26 2010. Encounters, intersections and multiplicity: women’s learner identities in post-colonial London Professor Sue Jackson, Birkbeck University of London

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Encounters, intersections and multiplicity:women’s learner identities in post-colonial London

Professor Sue Jackson, Birkbeck University of London

encounters intersections and multiplicity women s learner identities in post colonial london
Encounters, intersections and multiplicity: women’s learner identities in post-colonial London


  • Background to the project
  • Re-thinking multi-culturalism
  • Encounters, intersections and multiplicity
  • Learner identities
  • Concluding thoughts and discussion

Intersecting identities: women’s spaces of sociality in post-colonial London

  • explore commonalities and differences in the ways in which women construct their gendered and sexualised, racialised and ethnicised, identities within spaces of sociality in post-colonial London;
  • examine the ways in which women perform social identifications in private and public spaces of sociality in London; and
  • develop theoretical understandings of post-colonial intersected identities in urban spaces of sociality in London.
  • participant interviews over 2 years
  • 42 ‘white’ and ‘South Asian’, ‘straight’ and ‘queer’ women living in London
  • informal and semi-formal women’s social spaces such as knitting groups, book clubs, social groups and community centres
  • some social spaces organised on the basis of activity (eg knitting or reading) and some on the basis of identity (e.g. Asian/Lesbian group) and some a mix of both (queer knitting group).
  • Researchers:

Stage 1 : Professor Avtar Brah and her team

Stage 2: Professor Sue Jackson, with Dr Rosie Cox, Dr Dina Kiwan, Dr Yasmeen Narayan and Dr Meena Khatwa

post colonial london
Post-colonial London
  • “London is perhaps the post-colonial city (and global city) par excellence. Its population and trading relations reflect centuries’ old colonial ties as well as new forms of economic domination and negotiations. It is described as ‘hyper-diverse’ … (Its) 8 million plus inhabitants speak over 300 languages and there are at least 50 ethnic/national communities with over 10,000 members”

(Cox and Narayan, 2008).

re thinking multiculturalism
Re-thinking multiculturalism

“You know I like that you can get pretty much any kind of food that you want here. You can um, you know all of our friends are so international, um both of us just by virtue of having travelled a lot and um it is, it’s really corny the ‘we are one’ sort of thing but it’s true at the same time …”

(CLKG14, White American, Jewish, 30s).

re thinking multiculturalism7
Re-thinking multiculturalism

“Well I’m all for (multiculturalism) really, I mean pretty cheesy but um, but I love the fact that it’s a diverse place, that it’s so multicultural and that um you know the area where we live you walk up the high street … and it’s all written in different languages and different kinds of foods and you know clothing from different countries and things – I love that, that it feels so far and so near at the same time …”

(CLKG14, White American, Jewish, 30s).

re thinking multiculturalism8
Re-thinking multiculturalism

“Well there’s a lot of um different ethnic groups and I think, I’m not sure but I get the impression that a lot of them are quite recently arrived. So maybe that’s why they tend to stay within their own communities a lot. So there’s quite a lot of different religious groups. There’s lots of different churches um, mostly African-Caribbean. There’s quite a lot of African people there from different groups I think and there’s quite a lot of Afghanis as well. Um so it’s quite a you know, quite a sort of strong mix of cultures, but if feels like they’re also most of them kind of quite you know, defending their territory in a way”

(KQKG5, White European, Queer, 40s).

re thinking multiculturalism9
Re-thinking multiculturalism
  • “First of all, there’s a clash between the people of both places – language, religion, the way we conduct our daily activities, our culture, everything of ours, i.e. of Asians, clashes with theirs, especially – I think – of Muslims, because we don’t drink, there are a lot of things we don’t do, restrictions, it’s difficult to mix with them. Their compatibility of their concepts and communication is difficult, because what we consider wrong, they consider good, so there is a clash. How should we mix?”

(BC01, British Asian, 60s)

in a different voice
In a different voice?
  • “We came here and I had very hard time, one year, I live alone, my English was not that good, although I speak English alright, I learned with my children when they go to school. But the English pronunciation of these white people and mine was vast different. I can't explain them what I am going to tell you, or I don't understand when they talk. I understand few words, but then, I thought...oh... I don't know what they are saying, I had very very difficult two years, after, slowly slowly I got my life back when my daughters grow ... and everything”.

(AWG3, British Asian, 70s)

encounters intersections and multiplicity
Encounters, intersections and multiplicity

private and public

personal, political, social, cultural, economic

home, community, national, global

theoretical and conceptual perspectives

intersecting identities

commonality connectedness groupness
Commonality, connectedness, groupness

“Um I really like Pride actually or at least I like the idea of it. Brighton Pride was amazing um and I just love how it’s just like the whole city regardless of sexuality or whatever. Everybody just gets involved and they’ll stop at Preston Park. It’s so nice. So I thought I would go along even though I couldn’t persuade anybody to go with me in London. And I missed the parade ‘cause I wasn’t together enough to get out early enough um and then I had to go to John Lewis and ended up looking at the yarn sale instead [laughs]”

(KQKG6, 20s, White Scottish, Queer)

imagined communities
Imagined communities
  • Very hard life here, because risks here are by the minute, and accounts are made of every penny. You don’t have a social life here like you did in Africa either, even though for me it was not very social, I am talking about people for whom it was. Women meet up a lot, socialize and talk (AWG3, 74, British Asian).
learning through social spaces
Learning through social spaces
  • “If all learning were to be represented by an iceberg, then the section above the surface of the water would be sufficient to cover formal learning, but the submerged two-thirds of the structure would be needed to convey the much greater importance of informal learning”

(Coffield, 2000:1).

“So, one day one of the ladies said hello, hello and she showed me that there is a community centre there on {name} Road and I went there. I come across {name}. She is sewing teacher.


She was very good to me and I started sewing. I knew sewing. But for just to pass the time, I joined the class from there got so many other classes. I used to go in {name} and everywhere. I did so many classes. To socialise I do go Saturday and Sunday to my friends in {name} and also in the community centres. […] the community centres have become my parents like that. All my stay here in {name} has gone in this community centre. Because once a week, twice a week I am there in these community centres”

(AWG4, British Asian, 50s).

“You already know that there are firstly these Centres, there is the {name} Women’s Centre and an Asian Community Centre. We are involved in a lot of activities here: classes, outings, a Social Club every Monday where we all sit together, have a laugh and a chat, discuss issues and give advice. Some take recipes, some teach knitting, ask for advice about their children, we have all sorts of discussions there which are very helpful because there are people from all age groups – old and young, so the atmosphere varies. There are young people, old women and very old women like me! It’s very beneficial communicating with these different age groups” (AWG1 British Asian, 60s).
community education
Community education
  • Place – this is the most common meaning and refers to people living in a particular geographic community such as neighbourhood or village.
  • Interest – this refers to people who share the same interest or activity such as community activists or environmentalists or members of the same religious or ethnic group.
  • Function – this refers to groups with the same profession, such as teachers, or the same role, such as community representatives, who acquire a common sense of identity despite not having the same physical locus.
  • (Tett, 2006: 2).
relational capital
Relational capital
  • the capital that is acquired from familial networks, but also that which is acquired from the development of a relational understanding of different realities, of different ways of knowing and experiencing sometimes competing worlds
“It’s just saying “Oh, y'know I’ve thought through this and y'know where I'm coming from, it signifies this” and someone will say, “well actually, I can see what you mean, but from where I'm coming from, it signifies that” and I think it's really important to have those discussions ‘cause I think that people are um shy of saying things that are opposing or different, and maybe they're worried about offending, so it's nice to have a nice safe, comfortable environment, to say your opinion and listen, and actively listen to someone else as well. And I often change my mind, that's what I like about it.”

(AWG12, 40s, British/Asian/Pakistani).

  • The multiple lenses of identities are essential to further understandings of the encounters, identities and multiplicities with which we engage
  • ‘Identity work’ must engage with a critical multiculturalism which includes critiques of power and power relations
  • Learner identities: resisting, confirming, re-making multiple, intersected identities