Ubuntu, the loving eye of an ecological feminism, post-colonial practice and influencing the education of social formations


Jack Whitehead, Department of Education, University of Bath

For a Monday Evening Conversation on 17th Nov. 2003.


In an educational conversation on the 10th Nov. 2993, Pat Finnegan responded to the original draft of this paper with the comment that she felt that I had come closer to sharing the influence of Eden Charles and Ubuntu in my writings about my learning than I had to some of the ideas from Simon Riding, Joan Whitehead, Paulus Murray, Alon Serper and Alan Rayner. In the original draft I acknowledged their ideas as influential in my own thinking. I think Pat is right and I’m going to return to these ideas later. I’m pleased that the group invited me to develop my contribution to our conversation, on the 17th Nov. What I’d like to do is to see if I can improve my communication of my meaning of Ubuntu and extend this into the loving eye of an ecological feminism and my post-colonial practice in influencing the education of social formations. I want to do this in relation to eco-feminists and post-colonial theorists in a way that doesn’t leave me open to the kind of criticism offered by Ziaddim Sardar about postmodernism:


Colonialism was about the physical occupation of non-western cultures. Modernity was about displacing the present and occupying the minds of non-western cultures. Postmodernism is about appropriating the history and identity of non-western cultures as an integral facet of itself, colonising their future and occupying their being” (Sardar, 1997, p. 13).


I will begin again by drawing on the video-clip with Eden when he said:


1) Eden Charles’ description of his visit to Africa (including Sierra Leone) and Ubuntu way of being.


Š      “When I got to Sierra Leone they took me (to work with the victims of the war). I did some of the work with the team of people who worked with the victims, particularly women who had been raped and who had had babies by the armies who were fighting against them . So, I did some work with those teams and I met some of those people. It was very, very difficult. For me, one of the things that did is that despite the fact that I call myself African  in a lot of ways, despite the fact that I have African friends there was something about being there and seeing the pain that people had been through and just seeing the complete humanity of those people in that pain and seeing the fact that it hurt them just as much as  hurt anyone else. It wasn’t another country somewhere else. It wasn’t , ‘Well they’ve always got wars in Africa so that they are used to it’. No, they aren’t used to it. It’s awesome. It’s devastating . And for me reaching somebody where she’s raising a child whose father raped her and killed her husband and this woman has got to deal with all those kinds of issues, it did something to me Jack that was deeper than all the political theory . It brought home to me at another level, the humanity thing. In a sense the unity of humanity in the way we hurt, in the aspirations for our children and dealing with the terrible contradiction of ‘I love my husband, he’s dead and I’m raising a child by the man that killed him.’”    (Eden Charles, video-taped conversation, 31 Oct. 2003)

You can download the 27.1 Mb video clip with Eden from here. The download time was 6 minutes through my broadband connection. I wouldn't recommend downloading the clip through a slow moden commection


I have drawn on Tim Murithi’s ideas on Practical Peacemaking Wisdom from Africa: Reflections on Ubuntu,  where he says that the cultural world-view known as ubuntu highlights the essential unity of humanity and emphasizes the importance of constantly referring to the principles of empathy, sharing and cooperation in our efforts to resolve our common problems. You can access Tim’s paper at http://www.actionresearch.net//monday/Ubuntu.htm


I am adding to this understanding of Ubuntu the following insights brought to the group on the 10th by Paulus from http://www.ivow.net/ubuntu.html


“Ubuntu is a Zulu word, it articulates a world view, or vision of humanity. Ubuntu regards humanity as an integral part of eco-systems that lead to a communal responsibility to sustain life. Human value is based on social, cultural and spiritual criteria. Natural resources are shared on principle of equity among and between generations.


The South African Governmental White paper on Welfare officially recognises Ubuntu as:


“The principle of caring for each others’ well-being… and a spirit of mutual support …. Each individual’s humanity is ideally expressed through his or her relationship with others and theirs in turn through a recognition of the individual’s humanity. Ubuntu means that people are people through other people. It also acknowledges both the rights and the responsibilities of every citizen in promoting individual and societal well-being “ ( Government Gazette, 02/02/1996).


I want to connect this understanding of Ubuntu to something I wrote in February 2002 for publication  (March 2004) in an International Handbook on Self-Study. The writings below and above allow me to connect the loving eye of an ecological feminism to my post-colonial practices in influencing the education of social formations through an affiliation with the African cosmology of Ubuntu:


“Adler-Collins (2003) at Fukuoka University in Japan, is extending the notion of the self-study of teacher-education practices to include the pedagogisation (Bernstein, 2000) of the healing nurse curriculum. The multi-media evidence of his assessment practices and the processes of transforming his embodied knowledge as a healing nurse into a healing nurse curriculum, through a self-study of his teacher-education practices  can be accessed from http://www.living-action-research.net . Farren (2003) has developed insights into a pedagogy of the unique through her use of web-technologies at Dublin City University.


I imagine that Adler-Collins' use of web-based communications will connect with Farren's use of web-technology for developing a pedagogy of the unique and with Laidlaw's contribution to exploring the value of s-step research in sustainable development in Guyuan Teachers College in China (Laidlaw, 2003). I imagine that the next ten years of s-step activity will take more seriously post-colonial theory and ecological feminism. In relation to ecological feminism  I am thinking of the shift of attitude from 'arrogant perception' to the 'loving eye' as being worthy of integration into s-step 'I' enquiries:


When one climbs a rock as a conqueror, one climbs with an arrogant eye. When one climbs with a loving eye, one constantly 'must look and listen and check and question…. One knows 'the boundary of the self,' where the self - the 'I', the climber - leaves off and the rock begins. There is no fusion of two into one, but a complement of two entities, acknowledged as separate, different, independent, yet in relationship; they are in relationship if only because the loving eye is perceiving it, responding to it, noticing it, attending to it. ( Warren, 2001, p. 331)


It could be that the loving eyes of s-step researchers will also engage more fully with post-colonial educational projects in the growth of educational knowledge:


…… with the construction of whiteness having been a colonial project, discriminatory and racist, the ethical imperative - necessary participation in a liberatory project - is that of affiliation with Africa. Coming to terms with these facts is one of the most important and difficult challenges for coloured people. Coloured black and African ways of being do not have to be mutually exclusive. There are ways of being coloured that allow participation in a liberatory and anti-racist project. The key task is to develop these. (Erasmus, 2001, p.16).


I am hopeful that the next ten years will show an extension of the dialogic influence of s-step researchers in contributing to the future of humanity. I am hopeful that this contribution will continue to focus on improving the quality of each s-step researcher's influence on his or her own learning and on improving students' learning. Finally, I am hopeful, given the evidence of the last ten years, that the evidence will show that we have continued to improve our contributions to the education of social formations as we contribute to the growth of educational knowledge through our self-studies of our teacher-education practices and our practices as global citizens.”




What I would like to explore, through our conversation on the 17th  Nov. is the extent to which I can share with you the meanings I am giving to the connections between the loving eye of an ecological feminism  and my post-colonial practices in influencing the education of social formations, through an affiliation with the African cosmology of Ubuntu. I am interested in understanding the extent to which these meanings are stable and comprehensible enough to act as a living standard of judgement to test the validity of an account of my learning. I am thinking of this learning in relation to the loving eye of an ecological feminism and my post-colonial practices in influencing the education of social formations (I see us as one) through an affiliation with the African cosmology of Ubuntu and from the ground of experiencing myself as a living contradiction.




Adler-Collins, J. (2003) Living Action Research e-forum. Retrieved on 11 Nov. 2003 from http://www.living-action-research.net

Bernstein, B. (2000). Pedagogy, Symbolic Control and Identity: Theory, Research, Critique. Lanham, Boulder, New York, Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

Erasmus, Z., Ed. (2001) Coloured by History Shaped by Place. Cape Town, Kwela Books and South African History Online.

Farren, M. (2003) A Pedagogy of the Unique. Retrieved March 2003 from http://www.computing.dcu.ie/~mfarren/pedagogy.html

Laidlaw, M. (2003) Action Research in China with Dr. Moira Laidlaw. Retrieved on 11 Nov. 2003 from http://www.actionresearch.net/moira.shtml

Warren, K. J. (2001) The Power and The Promise of Ecological Feminism. In Zimmerman, M. E. (Ed.) Environmental Philosophy: From Animal Rights to Radical Ecology. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

Whitehead, J. (2004) What counts as evidence in self-studies of teacher education practices? Chapter in the International Handbook of Self-Study of Teaching Practice London; Kluwer academic publishers (in Press)


Love Jack, 11th November, 2003.