Why Class Matters

Race and Class in Adult Education in South Africa





South Africa, working-class, radical adult education, social transformation, social reproduction, social theory


This article reviews the role of class in adult education practice and research in South Africa under apartheid and in the post-apartheid era. Historically adult education was orientated towards the black working-class and to oppressed black communities more generally. In the post-apartheid era, oppositional currents in adult education have continued but have shifted focus to inequalities and oppressions other than class such as race and gender. Much of the adult education literature displays a reluctance to engage explicitly with the concept of class and in many cases, class has been dislodged as the primary category of analysis. The article reviews recent sociological debates on race and class and argues that these are relevant for adult education as a field of practice and research. The article argues that class continues to ‘matter’ if adult education is to realise its potential to contribute to socialist transformation.


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Author Biographies

Sheri Hamilton, Depart. of Education and Curriculum Studies, Faculty of Education, University of Johannesburg, South Africa

Political activist and a lecturer in Education and Curriculum Studies. Most of her adult life, however, was spent working in non-formal adult education until much of that work came under the pressure of formalisation and accreditation. She is currently doing her PhD on the role of political organisation in the development of class consciousness.

Linda Cooper, School of Education, Faculty of Humanities, University of Cape Town, South Africa

Emeritus Professor in Adult Education at the University of Cape Town. She has engaged with radical workers’ education over many years as a practitioner, activist and scholar. She is author of Workers’ Education in the Global South: Radical Adult Education at the Crossroads, published by Brill/Sense in 2020 and together with Sheri Hamilton, is co-editor of Renewing Workers’ Education: A Radical Vision, published by HSRC Press in 2020.



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