Conde Aller, Laura (2017). 'Transgressing from matters of concern to capabilities with expansive social learning methodologies amongst women in rural catchment management.' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Cape Town 2017.


In South Africa, Catchment Management Forums (CMFs) are being promoted as networked spaces to address the aspiration-justice tensions that still exist in the democratization of water resources, particularly for the voiceless rural poor and marginalized. The Capability Approach alerts us to social choice theories and public deliberations as processes in the search for identifying and weighing contextually situated value beings and doings as the first building block for evaluation of social states and human development. Here education and learning is recognised as a contributor for people to best participate in such deliberative processes through informed engagement and reflections. Despite the participatory methods employed in this process, there is still a need to bring together transformative pedagogy and methodologies that go beyond equipping people to choose and reflect but also to mobilize transformative agency, sustainable human activity and social justice.


This paper shares insights into how transformative and transgressive pedagogies shaped by reflexive social learning processes and cultural historical activity theory (CHAT) can expand learning learning-led engagements at the aspiration-justice interface. An expansive learning process or cycle was undertaken with a group of rural women situated in the Mzimvubu Catchment of the Eastern Cape (South Africa) with the aspirational goal of becoming better home-based food growers in a water insecure environment. A series of “change laboratory workshops” based on Engeström’s expansive learning cycle took place in order to mediate and follow up on the characteristics of capability expansion and transformative agency pathways emerging from collective matters of concern and aspirations to water-freedoms manifested in improved sustainable agricultural practices and social-ecological well-being. The expansive learning process, or interventionist research investigated derives from activity theory and has its roots in the Vygotskian method of dual or double stimulation in which subjects are placed in a situation from where matters of concern are co-defined, new tools co-constructed and reflexions mediated to solve the concerns or aspiration-justice tension. Here the mediation becomes the intervention from which positive change could evolve and new capability expanded. The change laboratory workshops took the form of:  1) questioningcurrent food production practices and assembling matters of concern with ethnographic and historical evidence; 2) deep analysis of cultural & historical origins of current practices and ‘unfreedoms’ leading to more detailed & better articulated practices and freedoms; 3) modelling an alternative way of working expressing functionings, aspirations and capabilities; 4) examining the model to understand its dynamics, strengths and pitfalls considering conversion factors; 5) implementing the model and monitoring the processes and impact of implementation in the dispositions and actions as ongoing self evaluations in context;  6) drawing on these data to reflect on the processes and outcomes; and 7) consolidating new practices, capabilities and sustainability.


This paper reflects on expansive social learning processes, supported with developmental work research methodology of cultural historical activity theory involves processes that enable the transformation of resources into functionings in the women’s group.


Methodologically, the paper shows that Engeström’s methodology of expansive and reflexive social learning provides a methodological and theoretical opportunity to strengthen the operationalization of the capability approach at local level inasmuch as it:

-       allows to define what matters as value beings and doings in a social space through public deliberations and consensus encompassed in the visioning of a common good that supplements the foundation for the individual aspiration and capability to emerge from (e.g. water-freedoms and sustainable livelihoods);

-       follows a process of co-construction of new knowledge ( or hybrid knowledge) and praxis from where on-going self-evaluation and reflexivity finds purpose and new social states and human development strengthens and emerges; and

-       fosters careful analytical processes and cautions and intuitive mediation capabilities in order to sensitively unravel the cultural and historical auras that shape the aspiration-justice tensions and thus the level of transgressive capability needed to free structural dominances and power dynamics from controlling the aspiration-practice relationships.


Contextually, the paper shows that Catchment Management Forums in South Africa, if supported with meaningful social learning processes, have the emerging potential to become local niches for engagement spaces and networks for water-freedoms and human development to emancipate.  



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