PEN 2018 Conference

The 8th International Conference of the Popular Education Network (PEN)

Wednesday, 27th – Friday, 29th June 2018

Goedgedacht Farm, Outside Cape Town, South Africa (27 - 29 June)

The EighthInternational Conference of the Popular Education Network (PEN) will take place in at ‘Goedgedacht Farm’ ( ) a rural development programme outside Cape Town, with a pre-conference day on 26 June, at Community House, Salt River, in the City.

PEN 2018 invites university-based teachers, researchers, students and activists particularly from Africa and other countries in the global South, who share a common interest in popular education. PEN is an international network of university teachers, researchers, students and activists who share a radical understanding of their work as educators and activists. One of the main purposes of PEN is to defend the radical margins of university adult and community education. Bi-annual conferences serve to sustain a sense of solidarity and common purpose. This PEN conference places particular emphasis on the important link between marginalized communities and academics as equal partners in knowledge production and the struggle for meaningful change.

PEN conferences are relatively small gatherings which bring together like-minded activist-academics for intense explorations of popular education praxis, in critical support of socio-economic and environmental justice. In 2018, there will be a pre-conference day held at Community House which is home to several worker and civil society organisations and movements.  This event will offer valuable opportunities for dialogue with local popular educators and will serve an important contextualizing role for the deliberations at the conference that follows.

We invite you to submit short proposals (500 words) for workshops, panels, participatory activities, innovative processes that stimulate dialogue  - or brief presentations of papers.  Deadline: 30 January 2018.

The theme of the 2018 conference is: Engaging (with) Power

Popular education works consciously and self-consciously to understand structural injustice –how we are dominated and oppressed but by the conditions that allow some to act with impunity to serve their own, minority interests. This education is deeply political and partisan: it is based on an analysis of the nature of inequality, exploitation and oppression, and informed by clear political purposes. Popular education aims to support the struggle for a more just and egalitarian social order, and for a living planet based on a sustainable future. Through its rootedness in the real interests and struggles of people, its critique of the status quo, and its commitment to progressive social and political change, popular education of necessity must engage the multiple centres of hegemonic power and work to strengthen the struggles of exploited and oppressed people in the interests of the majority.

In many parts of the global South,  some of those who were ‘part of the struggle’ have ‘shifted position’ and re-aligned themselves with (as opposed to against) powerful forces. Thus, popular education must enable us to strategically analyse the possibilities and drawbacks of engaging (with) those who have entered the corridors of power - either as potential allies, or as what Newman called ‘the enemy’.

The 2018 PEN conference will, for the first time, take place in Africa, and so a key issue to be explored is: what does Popular Education mean in an African context, and what forms has it assumed? Also, as a response to recent student struggles in South Africa and elsewhere, the critical issue of ‘decolonising knowledge’ will be foregrounded.

PEN 2018 welcomes contributions around the following key themes:

  • New ways of theorising and engaging with forms of structural power and structural violence, in the current era of globalised capitalism
  • The role of popular education in supporting and exploring dreams towards ‘alternative worlds’
  • The power of solidarity action – standing and acting together across cultural, national, class and ideological barriers
  • Generative ideas for and examples of education around sustainable / renewable sources of energy / power
  • Popular education strategies in the pursuit of environmental/climate justice
  • How to reclaim participatory democracy, in the context of the explosion of populist movements and surges of right-wing nationalisms
  • Dialogue between technical scientific and experiential knowledge
  • The possibilities and constraints of university-based popular educators (including students) to challenge and transform relationships of power in their own institutions, including transforming knowledge and curriculum.

The 2018 PEN conference is jointly hosted by the ‘Traditions of Popular Education’ research programme (NIHSS) at the University of the Western Cape and adult education staff at the University of Cape Town.

The primary language of the conference will be English, but there will be opportunities for informal translation as appropriate. Limited resources unfortunately rule out simultaneous translation facilities. 

The cost of the conference will be kept low (approx. ZAR 2000, including 2 days accommodation at Goedgedacht and meals) and we will subsidise accommodation for those who cannot afford it, upon request. Further details about travel from Cape Town to Goedgedacht and possible ‘solidarity accommodation’ within Cape Town will follow. Visitors who prefer alternative accommodation may check out B&Bs / hotels in nearby  Riebeek-Kasteel  (