Paradoxes of Solidarity: Democracy and Colonial Legacies in Swedish Popular Education

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Magnus Dahlstedt1 and Henrik Nordvall1 Abstract

Adult Education Quarterly 61(3) 244–261 © 2011 American Association for Adult and Continuing Education Reprints and permission: http://www. DOI: 10.1177/0741713610380445

Over the years, there have been several attempts to spread the “Swedish model” of popular education, that is, study circles and folk high schools, to countries in other parts of the world. In this article, the authors analyze the large-scale project of establishing folk development colleges in Tanzania in the 1970s and 1980s, by emphasizing the ways in which Swedish popular educators have described the folk development college project. Theoretically, the article is based on a postcolonial framework, highlighting the continuing importance of the legacies of colonialism in today’s society. One of the main conclusions in the article is that in the process of “exporting” the idea of popular education to other parts of the world, there is an ongoing formation of national self-images in contrast to images of the Other, where there is a constant risk of reproducing ideas from a colonial past.


popular education, postcolonial theory, folk high schools, Sweden, Tanzania, folk development colleges

The purpose of this article is to discuss adult education in the context of international solidarity work and to critically analyze the ways in which the notion of adult educa- tion may contribute to the formation of national self-images influenced by the legacies

1Linköping University, Sweden

Corresponding Author:

Magnus Dahlstedt, Institute for Research on Migration, Ethnicity and Society (REMESO), Linköping University, SE-581 83 Linköping, Sweden

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of colonialism. Several key concepts and ideas in the field of adult education, as well as in philosophy of education in general, have been racialized, that is, based on an unspoken norm of Whiteness and a range of Eurocentric views (Abdi, 2008; Brookfield, 2003; Kapoor, 2009). As Brookfield (2003) underscores, these assump- tions have rarely been problematized in research on popular and adult education. Our intention in the following article is to contribute to such problematization by analyzing the establishment of folk development colleges (FDCs) in Tanzania, a large-scale attempt to disseminate ideas of Swedish adult education through interventions of foreign aid (Rogers, 2000), as described by Swedish popular educators.

When it comes to adult education, Sweden is in several respects quite unique com- pared with many other countries, in terms of volume as well as form, especially when it comes to adult education in civil society. Most significant are the study circles and folk high schools, often referred to as folkbildning in Swedish (roughly translated as “popular education”), which receive substantial state subsidies and involve a large part of the population in Sweden.

In Sweden, folk high schools have historically been an alternative educational path- way for groups who have not gained access to universities and other established edu- cational institutions. The pedagogy developed at the folk high schools is characterized by horizontal relationships between teachers and students. In Sweden, and even more so in its home country Denmark, the school form has had an identity of being an alter- native to the established educational system, focusing on competition and formal mer- its (Arvidson, 1989; Canfield, 1965).

This form of adult education has historically been emphasized as an important force in the emergence of democracy in Sweden, often characterized by its strong popular movements and a relatively extensive welfare state (Micheletti, 1995). During the past century, democracy and popular education became more or less key elements of the Swedish self-image. According to this self-image, Sweden stands out as a dem- ocratic role model for other countries (Ehn, Frykman, & Löfgren, 1993). According to the national self-image, vigorous popular movements are one of the factors that make Sweden unique.1

Such national self-images are not only reproduced within Swedish borders, how- ever, they are also distributed outside Swedish borders. In Sweden and among Swedish popular movements, there has long been a great willingness to share “Swedish experi- ences” with countries in other parts of the world. In this effort, popular education has played an important role through the years.

In this article, our aim is to analyze the formation of national self-images vis-à-vis images of the Others in the process of “exporting” the idea of “Swedish popular educa- tion” to other parts of the world. With a postcolonial approach as theoretical point of departure, the article draws attention to the risk of reproducing a colonial legacy with such an “export.” Empirically, the article focuses on how Swedish popular educators describe the process of establishing and supporting the FDCS in Tanzania, inspired by the folk high school in its Swedish version.

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Our ambition in the following article is not to analyze the multifaceted activities in the establishment of FDCs in Tanzania. The actual work carried out in establishing and supporting the FDCs, which started in the latter part of the 1970s, has been described in previous literature (see, e.g., Albinsson, Norbeck, & Sundén, 2000; Rogers, 2000). The starting point for our analysis is, rather, the way in which Swedish popular educators describe and interpret the various processes and relationships in this work.

The article is organized as follows: We start by presenting the postcolonial frame- work used in our analysis. After that, we describe the empirical material that the article draws on. This is followed by a brief historical background of the FDCs. Thereafter, we present the main findings of the study. Finally, we discuss some of the paradoxes in international solidarity work, in adult education and in general.

Theoretical Perspective

Folkbildning—or popular education—is a contested concept (see Bergstedt & Larsson, 1995; Laginder & Landström, 2005). When it was first coined, during the 19th century, the linguistic structure of the concept, consisting of folk (people) and bildning (education), could be seen as revolutionary in the sense that it put together two supposed opposites. Education had been seen as a privilege for the established classes, which by definition was not the same thing as the people, in the sense of the broad masses (Larsson, 1995). What is usually referred to as the first initiatives of popular education, however, were not at all intended to bring about revolutionary social change. During the second half of the 19th century, so-called social pacifist popular educators argued that popular education among the broad masses was a way of preventing the rise of rebellions and the attraction of socialist ideas (Skoglund, 1991). With the rise of the labor, Salvationist, and temperance movements, another notion of popular movements emerged, emphasizing the need to strengthen the move- ment by training its leaders and disseminating its culture. It is primarily popular edu- cation of this kind, aiming at societal change, which has been associated with Swedish democracy (Arvidson, 1989; Larsson, 2001).

One of the critical questions raised is what actually constitutes “the popular” or “the people” to be educated. An important theoretical point of departure here is the idea that the category of “the people” is not given but rather defined in an ongoing struggle over meaning, reflecting as well as affecting power relations and hierarchies in society (Hall, 1981). Critically analyzing categories such as “the people,” with its historical connections with notions of race, ethnicity, and nation in the shadow of colonialism, has been an important challenge for the wide range of researchers working in the field of postcolonial theory. This theoretical approach has a great potential to make impor- tant contributions to research on popular education, democracy, and social change, not least by highlighting issues of global relations of power and the construction of iden- tity on the basis of inclusion and exclusion (see Brookfield, 2003; Nordvall, 2005; Osman, 1999).

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Postcolonial researchers have argued that today’s society is still influenced by the history of colonialism (see, e.g., Anthias & Yuval-Davis, 1992; Gilroy, 2005; Mohanty, 2003). This is also true in the case of contemporary Sweden. “Sweden was never a colonial power, but the colonial mentality is very much present in the Swedish history of ideas” (de los Reyes, Molina, & Mulinari, 2002, p. 18). In the postcolonial tradition, there is a desire to closely analyze the complex chain of processes and social relations, structural conditions, and lines of thought that have taken shape in the wake of colo- nialism. The postcolonial approach draws attention to Eurocentric features in the thinking about Enlightenment and modernity, development, and democracy, of which Sweden has also long been a part (de los Reyes et al., 2002; Pred, 2000).

Departing from such a critical approach, a number of postcolonial scholars have highlighted how the image of the West as enlightened and modern was based—and continues to be based—on descriptions of “alien” continents and peoples as outdated, mystical, and traditional (Mohanty, 2003; Said, 1979, 1993). Race, culture, ethnicity, nation, and religion are some of the markers of identity used to make distinctions between Us and Them. The relationship between “the West and the Rest” is described consistently by the use of binary oppositions (Hall, 1992), where Europe and the West is associated with culture and reason, whereas Africans, Orientals, and other peoples, on the peripheries of the world, are associated with nature and emotionality. In these dichotomies, one side appears to be more desirable—or at least more enlightened— than the other (Said, 1979, 1993).

In the public imagination in the West, Africa has long been described as different and underdeveloped. This has helped to legitimize the idea of the “White man’s burden,” the idea of Westerners’ responsibility to “bring[ing] light to the dark places and peoples of this world by acts of will and deployments of power” (Said, 1993, p. 33). However, the representation of Africa as being at the earliest stage of develop- ment has not been used only to underline the barbarity and chaos of the continent. The representation of Africa is not one-dimensional. The African Others have been also portrayed as bearers of characteristics sometimes highlighted as desirable and lust filled in the West. In time, “the African” has come to be represented as natural, spontaneous, and unspoiled. However, both the exoticism and the explicit condemna- tion of the Others help to reinforce the image of Them as fundamentally different from Us (Julien & Mercer, 1996; Said, 1993).

Swedish popular movements, as well as Swedish popular education, emerged and developed in the context of Western modernity and the tradition of the Enlightenment. Although the roots of the various movements go far beyond Swedish borders, they soon, step by step, become carriers and administrators of what was seen as specifically national Swedish values, ideals, and traditions (Edquist, 2001; Linderborg, 2001). As in the case of a number of popular movements in Sweden, a nationally rooted self- image, where the popular education is primarily understood as something “typically Swedish,” has emerged historically in popular education. In the self-image of popular education, people, democracy, and nation were woven into a natural trinity. With the

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logic that a democratic spirit can be a fundamental feature of a certain “people,” it follows that other “people” can be fundamentally undemocratic. Democracy thus becomes a marker that somehow distinguishes “us Swedes” from certain “other peo- ple” (Edquist, 2001; Nordvall, 2005).

With the interweaving of people and popular education, nation, and democracy, “educated” and “uneducated people” tend to appear as each other’s absolute opposites. For Them to be able to “lift themselves” to Our previous “level,” they need—in short—to undergo a radical transformation. This means that the idea of popular educa- tion may in some sense be understood as part of a broader colonial project (see Jonsson, 2007). According to several postcolonial scholars, the colonial legacy does not belong to the past. Rather, the echo from a colonial past can be heard well into our own times (Gilroy, 2005; Said, 1993). A number of studies also show how movements engaged in solidarity work around the world are still strongly shaped by the global divisions and inequalities developed in the wake of colonial projects. The colonial legacy can be identified, for instance, in the striving for global solidarity in foreign aid (Eriksson Baaz, 2005), the women’s movement (Mohanty, 2003), and the trade union movement (Sjölander, 2005), as well as in adult and popular education (Brookfield, 2003; Nordvall, 2005; Osman, 1999). A postcolonial approach helps draw attention to the fact that a well-meaning defense of “democratic values” can also rest on colonial ideas, which, even today, too often tend to be uncritically taken for granted (Begaye, 2008; Wickens & Sandlin, 2007). In studies using this kind of approach, it is therefore important to critically examine the assumptions and underlying lines of thought glimpsed in the pictures and narratives also used in our own thinking about people, democracy, and popular education.

Research Method

The empirical material on which this study is based consists of documents from the voluntary association Karibu (which means “welcome” in Kiswahili), a Swedish “friend association” for the FDCs, formed in 1982. In particular, the article draws on material from the Karibu Kontakt, the official member journal published by the asso- ciation. The project to establish the FDCs represents the most large-scale attempt to disseminate Swedish popular education abroad. In other words, this project consti- tutes a reasonable empirical basis for studying the research problem addressed in this article. Karibu was an important actor in the process of developing the extensive exchanges between folk high schools in Sweden and FDCs in Tanzania. As a result of Karibu’s efforts, a number of schools across Sweden are still involved in formal- ized friend relations with Tanzanian FDCs.

When it comes to the FDCs, Karibu is by no means the only link between Tanzania and Sweden. For example, Linköping University, the Swedish Association of Folk High School Teachers, and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency have all been highly involved in the FDC project (Albinsson et al., 2000;

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Rogers, 2000). However, within the framework of this article, it is particularly interesting to study Karibu in greater detail, as one of the main aims of the association has been to disseminate knowledge in Sweden about theFDCs.

In this study, we have analyzed material from the first 10 years of the association, when a network of friend–school relations was established and knowledge about the FDCs was introduced in the Swedish context. The material analyzed consists of 13 issues of the journal Karibu Kontakt, published between 1982 and 1992, covering altogether 210 A4 pages of text (mainly articles, news items, and editorials). The authors are generally members of the board and members who have visited Tanzania. In addition, mass correspondence with members, activity reports, and information material have been taken into account. The material is available in the collection of documents found in the Karibu archive.

In accordance with a theoretically informed methodology (see Willis & Trondman, 2002), the empirical material has been read and interpreted on the basis of the post- colonial framework presented above. Inspired by the “decolonizing” approach devel- oped for instance by Norman K. Denzin and Yvonna S. Lincoln (2008), the aim of the analysis has been to problematize taken-for-granted assumptions about Swedish national identity and its relation to the Tanzanian “other” as a way to challenge “hege- monic structures that have traditionally and historically neglected and impeded the intellectual, social and cultural contributions of African . . . knowledge” (Dillard, 2008, p. 278). Obviously, different theoretical perspectives may shed light on other aspects in the material. Accordingly, we do not claim to present the only possible or definitive interpretation. Based on the theoretical perspective presented, the following questions have guided our analysis of the material. What characteristics are attributed to the Swedish popular educators and their Tanzanian partners? How is the relation- ship between Swedes and Tanzanians described in the FDC project? In this context, how are binary oppositions, such as nature and culture, reason and emotion, modern and traditional, construed? The results of our analysis are presented together with a number of examples (translated from Swedish by the authors) illustrating central pat- terns and lines of thought in the material.

The Background: Folk Development Colleges

Before going into greater detail about the results of our investigation of how self- images of Swedish popular education/Swedish popular educators and images of the Other are constructed in the material from the Karibu association, we first need to say something about the background of the establishment of FDCs in Tanzania.

Between 1975 and 1980, 51 FDCs were established in Tanzania, as a result of a large-scale project in Swedish foreign aid policy. Since then, a few more have been established. Today, there are a total of 58 FDCs. The model for these colleges was initially the Swedish folk high school, and they have sometimes been called “the Tanzanian folk high schools.” In addition to financial support to the colleges, Sweden

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assisted with a number of counselors with a background in Swedish popular educa- tion, who helped to design and establish the FDCs.

The country of Tanganyika, which later, together with Zanzibar, formed Tanzania in 1961, had gained its independence from colonial Britain. In the building of the new state, Julius Nyerere, President and leader of the ruling party Tanganyika African National Union (TANU), launched a Tanzanian version of socialism (ujamaa), where adult education played an important role. Nyerere, who had good personal contacts with Swedish Prime Ministers Olof Palme and Tage Erlander, was familiar with Swedish popular education and expressed an ideological affinity with Swedish Social Democracy. These ideological and personal connections with Swedish Social Democracy were an important reason for Sweden’s extensive foreign and develop- ment aid to Tanzania, where FDCs were a large part (Rogers, 2000; Sellström, 1999).

What has often been highlighted as the starting point for the establishment of FDCs is a visit to Sweden in 1971 by a delegation from the Tanzanian Ministry of Education to examine Swedish adult education more closely. This visit was followed by a formal request by the Tanzanian government for Swedish assistance in the construction of 100 schools in Tanzania based on the folk high school. Within a short period of time, around half of these schools were set up with economic as well as educational and consultative support from Sweden.

However, relations between Tanzania and the Nordic countries go even further back in time. Swedish missionaries had worked in Tanzania long before independence. In an early study of the international spread of folk high school ideas, Jindra Kulich (1964) mentions Kivukoni College, an important training institution for the TANU Party, as an example of schools influenced by the Nordic folk high schools. The entire FDC project was also preceded by significant Swedish foreign aid activities in Tanzania and a striking presence of Swedish adult educators in the country. But it is not until Sweden had received an official request for special aid for building folk high school–like institutions from the Tanzanian government that the establishment of FDCs took off (Albinson et al., 2002; Rogers, 2000; Sellström, 1999; Vestlund, 1998). In addition to financial and educational support on the ground in Tanzania, headmas- ters and teachers have on several occasions attended courses on popular education in Sweden. The support from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency provided directly to the FDCs ended in 1996 (Rogers, 2000). But FDCs are still supported by cooperation of various kinds between schools in both countries and the Swedish Union of Folk High School Teachers (2005).

There was thus a request from the political leadership in Tanzania, which had acquired a positive image of folk high schools and popular education in Sweden, for Swedish assistance in establishing educational institutions for adults in Tanzania. This is fully in line with the aspirations expressed in the ujamaa ideology of Nyerere and the TANU Party as well as the large investment in adult education in Tanzania. We can also note that this request was preceded by a long period of Swedish presence in and assistance to Tanzania and some “missionizing” for Swedish popular education.

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There was early a clear interest among popular educators and foreign aid workers from Sweden in disseminating the idea of folk high schools. This determination, often rooted in a strong democratic pathos and commitment to issues of solidarity (see, e.g., Albinson et al., 2002), will be problematized in the following subsections.

The Challenge: Educating

Autonomous Tanzanian Democrats

The interest among Europeans in contributing to the “civilization” of people and countries, considered to be in certain respects “underdeveloped,” has a long history. For most popular educators, this historical legacy, closely associated with the colonial project, is now regarded as both oppressive and disgraceful. Hence, the ambition among Nordic popular educators has been, rather, to fight colonial relations and fan- tasies. Here, popular education has been seen as an important force in the process of decolonization, making it possible, for instance, for the former colonies to “reclaim” their “own” culture and language.

The explicit anticolonial ambition is evident also in the case of FDCs in Tanzania. In recent decades, there has been an ongoing discussion about the necessity of critical awareness of the history of colonialism in the establishment of the FDCs. For example, in the mid-1980s, Johan Norbeck (1985), one of the pioneers in the FDC project, talked about the risk of spreading popular education through foreign aid turning into a neoco- lonial project. When the history of the FDCs is described in the material from Karibu, we can also see that anticolonial ambitions are clearly stressed.

Tanzania wanted to liberate themselves from the educational traditions of the colonial powers and in the Swedish folk high schools they could see a form of adult education pretty much matching the ambitions of the young State. Folk Development Colleges are inspired by the folk high school—but they are no copies. FDC has been developed according to Tanzania’s own conditions and needs. (Mossige-Norheim, 1986, p. 2)

The quotation above, describing the historical background of the FDCs, clearly high- lights the anticolonial aspirations among the popular educators involved in the FDC project. It is clearly stressed that the schools are designed independently by the Tanzanians and on their own terms. However, the accounts of the Swedish popular educators about their relationship with the FDCs are somewhat contradictory. Although it is maintained that the schools should be designed according to local preferences, and that it is not a matter of creating a copy of the Swedish folk high schools, a number of issues repeatedly reported concern a serious lack of “folk high school–likeness” at the FDCs. The kind of problems reported in the material are most often related to the pres- ence of authoritarian structures in the educational institutions, which is claimed to make the development of a folk high school ideology according to the “Swedish

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252 Adult Education Quarterly 61(3) model” very difficult. To deal with these difficulties, emphasis is placed on the

importance of training teachers and headmasters in Tanzania.

For the folk high school idea to have a reasonable opportunity to develop, the teacher recruitment and training of teachers is of fundamental importance. (Vestlund, 1991, p. 2)

This kind of training has been organized continuously since the establishment of FDCs, in Tanzania as well as in Sweden. These efforts are continuously reported in both the journal Karibu Kontakt and information material from the association.

The most important for the development of the FDCs in a “folk high school-like” direction is the contacts with the headmasters and teachers. Fortunately, there is now a large number, perhaps 70-80, who has been in Sweden and is beginning to understand the idea behind the folk high schools. (Vestlund, 1991, p. 4)

Throughout the material, the descriptions of the relationships between Sweden and Tanzania are based on the assumption that there is one folk high school idea, which can be understood—and misunderstood. It was thus important that teachers and prin- cipals should learn how a folk high school works, which was encouraged through training and visits to folk high schools in Sweden. According to this line of argument, knowledge—about the idea behind the folk high school, about its practice and history— would function as a kind of marker of identity, as a basis for distinguishing Us from Them. According to the line of reasoning found in the material, there seems to be two parties: the Swedes possessing the desirable folk high school knowledge and teaching it and the Tanzanians who do not have this knowledge—and are consequently in need of learning it.

The Time Machine: Democracy, Popular

Education, and (Under)Development

The desire to disseminate an understanding of how Swedish folk high schools work, which is highly visible in the material, can also be linked to notions of modernity and development, which several postcolonial scholars have highlighted as key coordinates in a colonial world view (Mignolo, 1999; Young, 2001). Here, we can see a parallel with a study by Kerstin Wallin (2000) of trade union foreign aid activities in Chile, involving among other things, the introduction of study circles in Chilean trade unions. The solidarity work carried out by the Swedish trade unionists was most often informed by the idea, Wallin writes,

that the comrades in the developing countries face problems similar to those in Sweden at the turn of the century: a need of knowledge so large that it can not

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Dahlstedt and Nordvall 253 be satisfied within the existing education system, with limited resources and

generally difficult working conditions. (p. 33)

Thus, the suggested “solution” to the problems facing the Chilean trade union move- ment was to follow the “Swedish example,” where popular education was seen as one of the most important features.

Similar ideas about modernity, development, and the exchange of experience can be found in literature discussing the importance of folk high schools as well as adult education in general in so-called developing countries (see, e.g., Kulich, 1964; Simon, 1989; Wickens & Sandlin, 2007). This chain of arguments is also present in the mate- rial from Karibu. The following quotation, taken from the journal Karibu Kontakt, is a telling example of a way of describing Us and Them in terms of different “levels” of development:

Being at a Folk High School in Tanzania gave a sense of having access to a time machine. Despite the different conditions, it must indeed have been like this here, when the Swedish Folk High Schools were established. (Kihlén, 1984, p. 14)

They thus are considered to be in the same situation as Sweden was a century ago. Following this line of thought, it is imagined that if folk high schools functioned as a road to democracy and prosperity for Us, they could also provide a way forward for Them. Using the metaphor “time machine,” learning and democratic education are described as an evolutionary process, whereby the Other is explicitly transferred to another time (see Dahlstedt, 2009). The idea of a parallel between Our history and Their present time was widespread in the Swedish and Danish folk high school debate during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s (see Bugge, 2001; Kulich, 1964). In the Karibu material, this is visible for instance through reports from events such as the 1980 con- ference in Bakkerne (Denmark) about “the Possible Use of the Nordic Folk High School Idea in the Developing Countries.” According to a report in Karibu Kontakt (“Workshop 83,” 1983), the conference concluded that

there were certain similarities between the situation in the Developing countries of today, and the situation in the Nordic countries of the past, in the first half Centrury in the life of the folk high schools. (p. 21)

There are further indications on the presence of this evolutionary idea also among other Swedes in the process of spreading the Folk high school idea to Tanzania. One of the Swedish pioneers behind the FDCs, Johan Norbeck (1996), has made self-critical remarks about his own motives and desires in his initial work:

I was burning with a fervour to spread the Swedish folk education ideas, which, I had no doubts, would contribute a great deal to accelerating the development efforts of the Tanzanian people. If the Tanzanians had the opportunity of hearing

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about the birth of the Swedish folk movements and how people at the grassroots level in Sweden took education into their own hands and became a strong force in the development of the Swedish society, if they could only have this opportu- nity, they would surely benefit much. (p. 118)

This way of reasoning is based on the same kind of linear notion that has long dominated the public debate as well as research on the Third World. In recent decades, this notion of development has increasingly been questioned as both simplified and Eurocentric, not least by postcolonial scholars (Mignolo, 1999; Mohanty, 2005). According to these scholars, the linear notion of development is based on the idea that it is the historical development of Europe that constitutes the ideal model for how the development of society is to be understood generally. This particular idea does not take into account the various relations of power and dependencies that create condi- tions for countries in contemporary Africa dominated by agricultural production that differ from the conditions for agricultural communities in Europe during the 19th cen- tury. The linear notion of development creates an illusion that Europe and large parts of Africa exist in two completely different worlds and eras, when they are in fact part of the same global world system, in the same historical era, where the economic and political subordination of one party is directly related to the dominance of the other party (see Wallerstein, 2004).

The idea that We can help Them follow our path in the development of democracy and prosperity, by introducing the notion of popular education, is also based on another assumption. It presupposes that there exists among Swedish popular educators some kind of inherited knowledge, which is possible to teach, of how folk high schools can contribute to social development and democracy in an environment like that of the agri- cultural society in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Although there may in fact exist an idea that folk high schools have had such a historic role among many Swedish popular educators, of course none of them here and now have this kind of practical experience or knowledge. It is, rather, the case of a self-image based on a particular interpretation of history, according to contemporary ideas, interests, and needs. Obviously, the ideas about ways of organizing folk high schools that dominated during the period studied in this article do not necessarily have much to do with the way in which folk high schools were actually organized in Sweden in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The Dialogue: The Metaphor of Mutual Learning

Although most of the descriptions of the exchange between Swedes and Tanzanians in the material seems to be based on the assumption that We (the Swedes) know something They (the Tanzanians) might benefit from, it is repeatedly emphasized in the material that the relationship between the two parties has to be characterized by equal and mutual learning. In the following quotation from the journal Karibu Kontakt (“Karibu-Seminarium om Tanzania,” 1985), we can see an illustrative exam- ple of this idea.

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When we build and develop a good contact between the FDCs in Tanzania and the Swedish FHS, we must remember that this contact shall be on equal level, i.e. we must be aware that it is not only we who have something to give them, we also have much to learn from them. (p. 23)

The parties are described as equal, but fundamentally different. What, then, should be learnt from one another? As mentioned above, there is an explicit ambition in the FDC project that Swedish popular educators should actually learn from the Tanzanians. However, what the Tanzanians should actually learn with regard to Swedish popular education is not always made clear. In the material there are glimpses of what it might be. The quotation below, also from Karibu Kontakt, gives some examples of what it might be.

Our friend-school-contacts are needed, and in particular the dialogue between Swedish and Tanzanian folk high schools is needed, to strengthen the Tanzanians in terms of discussions about democracy, participation, “folk high school-pedagogy,” etc. They need our solidarity, not primarily material things. It is our own commitment as popular educators they need to meet, all the enthu- siasm that makes us tirelessly working for the ideals of popular education: democracy, social equality and gender equality, community, responsibility, solidarity. In the same way that we ourselves need to take part of the Tanzanians’ culture, warmth, pride and joy. We have much to learn from each other. (Marcusdotter, 1992, p. 4)

In the quotation, we can see a self-image of Swedish popular education appearing, which contrasts with the Tanzanians and their imagined characteristics and assets. Swedish popular education is related to the pathos of “democracy,” “equality,” and “responsibility”—historically associated with the White, enlightened, male European and his intellectual abilities. This is, in turn, contrasted with the Tanzanians, who are associated with “warmth, pride, and joy,” which are abilities that relate to more emo- tional abilities. In line with a chain of ideas resembling the kind of exoticism that postcolonial scholars have drawn attention to, the picture emerges of the natural and spontaneous Africans contrasted with the intellectual Europeans, pressured by their responsibility.

In other examples of what the Other is claimed to represent, images of spontaneous and natural joy or social skills are highlighted in a positive way in contrast to the more broody and rigidly organized Swede.

And probably many Tanzanians are a bit like social geniuses. No matter how much a group of Swedish colleges would have thought and planned, we would never be able to create a week like the one we received on Mamtukuna, so full of friendship, joy and an obvious concern. If only we could learn. (Kihlén, 1984, p. 15)

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Another proposal for what kind of learning the Tanzanians could offer the Swedish popular educators is disseminating knowledge about the situation in other parts of the world.

And let us not forget the importance that the Tanzanian guest lecturer at Nordic folk high schools may have among other things for the understanding of condi- tions in the third world! (“De tanzaniska folkhögskolornas framtid,” 1982, p. 15)

Here, and elsewhere in the material from Karibu, the Tanzanians are described as representatives of the “Third World.” They may, among other things, share their insights into and experiences of economic vulnerability with Us in the relatively pros- perous part of the world. Referring to the postcolonial scholars Isaac Julien and Colin Mercer (1996), one could say that the Tanzanians bear the “burden of representation.” They not only have the right to speak, in a way they are required to speak, not for themselves, but as spokespersons, “ventriloquist[s] for an entire social category” (p. 454)—the “Third World.” In the descriptions of the establishment of the FDCs, mutual and equal learning is repeatedly emphasized as a pedagogical ideal. However, the picture emerging in the material indicates the following logic: We teach Them popular education and democracy, whereas They teach Us social and emotional skills. In addition, They are in themselves living examples of underdevelopment, which may be useful for education in folk high school courses in international relations. In other words, there is a tendency to construct the Tanzanians as a collective group, character- ized by their emotionality, lack of economic assets, and democratic skills. In contrast, the Swedish collective is imagined to be a collective characterized by its specific knowledge and democratic values and preparedness to help.

The description of Us and Them, and the self-images of Swedishness and Swedish popular education constructed in this relationship, is thus based on the principle that one party represents the Enlightenment and what is intellectual, whereas the Other represents what is natural and emotional. This description very much resembles a Swedish national self-image, imagining the “Swedish people” as the vanguard of Modernity (Ehn et al., 1993). In a broader context, this also has similarities with the descriptions of the meeting between the “West and the Rest” problematized by post- colonial scholars.

Concluding Remarks

With postcolonial theory as our point of departure, we have analyzed the way in which popular educators from Sweden have described the establishment of FDCs in Tanzania and the relationships between Swedish popular education and “the Tanzanian folk high schools.” The analysis in several respects points to a contradic- tory picture. The way in which the establishment of the FDCs, the relationships between the different parties, and the learning that takes place between them is

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described in the material clearly shows, on one hand, a strong anticolonial desire among popular educators to break with the colonial heritage and to share the lessons learned as well as the experiences of practicing popular education in Sweden. On the other hand, there is a colonial legacy present in the description of the FDC project, visible in a series of ideas and notions of identity and belonging (what is seen as “Swedish” and “Tanzanian”), democracy and modernity (the “level of development,” “developed” vs. “backward”). We can thus talk about a kind of paradox of solidarity in the FDC project. From a Swedish point of view, the ambition seems to be to share one’s lessons and experiences in order to “liberate” a former colonized “people” from the various hardships they have had to suffer. However, in the material, “liberation” is understood to mean that it is “We Swedes” who essentially define the conditions and set the framework for success and failure, based on specific “Swedish” premises and interpretations.

However, the issue of representations of Sweden and Swedes in relation to certain Others is not specific to the Swedish popular educators and the case of “the Tanzanian folk high schools.” It is more general in nature. In a way, it has to do with the forma- tion of “imagined communities” (Anderson, 1983) in the meeting with the Other in a broader sense. As we noted earlier, in this process, “civilized people” have tended to associate themselves with Enlightenment and democratic ideals, which has been con- trasted with the Others, uncivilized and foreign peoples on distant continents, who are also on the “dark peripheries” of the host society (Sibley, 1995). Such notions are, often unconsciously, still present when we orient ourselves in the world. National stereotypes of the genuine “democratic Swedes” do not in any way belong solely to the past. In popular education, myths about Swedes as “the most curious, concerned and enlightened people” (Swedish Adult Education Association, 2007) still belong to com- mon sense, a characterization very much reminiscent of national mythologies of ear- lier times. The postcolonial approach applied in this article is fruitful when trying to critically reflect on how contemporary thinking may still retain colonial patterns, regardless of intentions.

Given this, the question is whether it is in such a context even possible to create relationships that are not characterized by colonial patterns. Exchanges between North and South, either cultural/ideological or economic, always bring to the fore the impor- tance of global hierarchies still marked by a colonial past. This applies also to those democratic and emancipatory endeavors trying to transcend these global conditions (Eriksson Baaz, 2005). This does not mean, however, that such efforts are doomed to failure. Nor does it mean that it is possible to draw simple conclusions about the actual effects of the work carried out within the FDC project at different levels. In this article, we have only focused on one, albeit important, aspect of a complex problem in work involving international solidarity, such as foreign aid or cooperation in the field of popular education. To further understand the significance of the FDCs, for the forma- tion of identity and wider social change also, in both Sweden and Tanzania, additional knowledge and research including a wider range of voices and perspectives, capturing further nuances, is required. In research on adult and popular education, there is still a

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lot to be done in studying the role and importance of FDCs in the local context, where attention is drawn to the complex connections between global, national, and local processes—and where also the voices of the Others are heard.

Hence, further research on the importance of anticolonial political efforts in Tanzania, parallel to the implementation of the FDCs, would be relevant for under- standing the complexity of transferring emancipatory adult education ideals in a North–South direction. Although traces of colonial legacies may be found in the Swedish identity formation related to the development of FDCs, the FDC project as a whole needs to be further investigated in relation to a social and historical context, if conclusions are to be drawn about its role in transforming and/or reproducing colonial structures. One important issue to be addressed in such an investigation is of course the active role of President Julius Nyerere in initiating the FCD project, as mentioned initially in this article. In the light of the issues discussed in this article, there is every reason to believe that contemporary researchers as well as internationally engaged popular educators are still facing the same kind of challenge, that is, both to further develop the understanding of the complex terrain of global solidarity work and to establish conditions for joint action that may contribute to a change in the prevailing global order.

Declaration of Conflicting Interests

The authors declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the authorship and/or publication of this article.


The authors received financial support from the Swedish Research Council for the research and authorship of this article.


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Magnus Dahlstedt is associate professor in ethnicity at the Institute for Research on Migration, Ethnicity and Society, REMESO, Linköping University, Sweden. Among his primary research interests are the politics of inclusion/exclusion, multiculturalism, democratic education and social movements.

Henrik Nordvall has a PhD in educational research and is a research fellow in the Department of Behavioural Sciences and Learning, Linköping University, Sweden. His research interests include social movements, popular education, pedagogy and political mobilization.

Document Type: 
International article
Date of publication: 
Magnus Dahlstedt and Henrik Nordvall
Adult Education Quarterly 61(3) 244–261