An institutional ethnography of a feminist organization: a study of community education in Ireland
Keywords:Class and gender, feminist pedagogy, habitus
AbstractA small Irish independent women’s community education organisation, founded to provide personal development and community education programmes for women who cannot pay for them, has experienced the struggles of surviving in a patriarchal state that no longer supports women’s community building but which funds individual capacity building for ‘labour market activation’ purposes. The organisation consists of three staff funded to work on a part-time basis, facilitators who work on an ad-hoc basis to meet the needs of groups of participants, the women who participate in different groups in the organisation, the staff of a crèche, and voluntary members. The purpose of the research is to support the need for the organisation to reconceptualise the meaning of the work of the organisation using institutional ethnography methodology to question the extent to which the work can been seen as political and feminist, and adhering to its original ideals. The research consisted of four weeks of fieldwork in the organisation with the participants, followed by a focus group of staff and facilitators reflecting on features that participants valued: making new connections, groupwork, the physical environment, the challenge and support, and the pace of the work. The provision of a space and culture that transgresses the norms of dominant cultural understandings of being a working-class woman is now understood to be the radical outcome, with the original expectation of the possibility of empowering participants to become feminist activists receding but remaining an ideal.
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