Learning in Womanist Ways

Narratives of first generation African Caribbean women

Learning in Womanist Ways a book by Jan EtienneHow does it feel to be older, black and female and have the desire for purposeful learning? This book engages with the narratives of black women over the age of 50 who are prioritising learning for a purpose. In dramatized Acts, presented in vivid Caribbean theatrical manner, first generation African Caribbean women describe their learning motivations and argue, often ruthlessly, on the way forward for the younger generation. While reflecting on their education, the women provide revealing insights into their learning lives – lives filled with experiences of injustice, private shame and humiliation, as they look forward to a brighter, more qualified, purposeful future.

The book captures the nature of Caribbean womanist learning, a black feminist perspective where women provoke, coerce and challenge each other, often in whimsical ways, and where formidable attitudes and the originality of West Indian colloquialisms generate confidences and inspire others. In theatrical representations, the book explores the benefits of learning for a group of women who are living at a time when being black, female and older is often associated with deteriorating health, poverty and isolation. The book is about lifelong learning and active citizenship and is based on the author’s PhD thesis, a contemporary narrative study conducted across 11 UK cities and involving over 100 women learners.

The work reveals the social and cultural identities brought to lifelong learning, illustrating solidarity in Caribbean sisterhood as black women find ways to rise above the challenges presented by learning in a climate of uncertainty in which cuts to public services impact on their daily lives. It illustrates how learning in later years can transform traditional community spaces into thriving learning hubs in an attempt to increase social capital, defined by Field and Spence (2000:32) as ‘the existence of networks, norms and levels of trust that promote collective action between members of a given social grouping’. Social capital concerns the value and importance placed on social networks and the resources derived from such networks for the collective benefit of the wider community.

Learning in Womanist Ways explores the benefits of lifelong learning for black Caribbean women who came to Britain in the 1950s and 1960s in the expectation of a better life. It features interviews with these women, set out as dramatic scenes that tell us about them, their social interactions and their informal learning.
Set against a backdrop of shifting policies and diminishing resources for widening participation and adult learning, this book acknowledges the global challenge of an ageing society and shows how provision of informal learning enriches lives.