The 8th International Conference of the Popular Education Network (PEN)

Feature Article


Tuesday, 26th – Thursday, 28th June 2018

Goedgedacht Farm, Outside Cape Town, South Africa

The Eighth International Conference of the Popular Education Network (PEN) will take place at ‘Goedgedacht Farm’ ( near Cape Town, South Africa, on 26 - 28 June, 2018.This is the first time the PEN conference will be held in Africa and encourages university-based teachers, researchers and activists, particularly from Africa, and others in the global South who share a common interest in popular education to participate.

PEN is an international network of university teachers and researchers and community-based activists who share a radical understanding of their work as educators and activists. One of the main purposes of PEN is to defend the radical margins of university adult and community education. Bi-annual conferences serve to sustain a sense of solidarity and common purpose. They also remind us that marginalized communities and academics should be equal partners in knowledge production inside and outside the university. PEN conferences are relatively small gatherings which bring together like-minded activist-academics for intense explorations of popular education praxis in critical support of socio-economic and environmental justice.

The theme of the 2018 conference is: Engaging (with) Power

Popular education works consciously and self-consciously to understand structural injustice –how we are dominated and oppressed not so much by individuals but by the conditions that allow some to act with impunity to serve their own, individual interests. This education is deeply political and partisan: it is based on an analysis of the nature of inequality, exploitation and oppression, and informed by clear political purposes. Popular education aims to support the struggle for a more just and egalitarian social order, and for a living planet based on a sustainable future. Through its rootedness in the real interests and struggles of people, its critique of the status quo, and its commitment to progressive social and political change, popular education of necessity must engage the multiple centres of hegemonic power and work to strengthen the struggles of exploited and oppressed people in the interests of the majority.

PEN 2018 welcomes contributions in the form of workshops, panels, participatory activities, innovative processes that stimulate dialogue  - or brief presentations of papers around the following key themes:

  • New ways of theorising and engaging with forms of structural power and structural violence, in the current era of globalised capitalism
  • The role of popular education in supporting and exploring dreams towards ‘alternative worlds’
  • The power of solidarity action – standing and acting together across cultural, national, class and ideological barriers
  • Generative ideas for and examples of education around sustainable / renewable sources of energy / power
  • Popular education strategies in the pursuit of environmental/climate justice
  • How to reclaim participatory democracy, in the context of the explosion of populist movements and surges of right-wing nationalisms
  • Dialogue between technical scientific and experiential knowledge
  • The possibilities and constraints of university-based popular educators (including students) to challenge and transform relationships of power in their own institutions, including transforming knowledge and curriculum

The 2018 PEN conference is jointly hosted by the ‘Traditions of Popular Education’ research programme (NIHSS) at the University of the Western Cape and adult education staff at the University of Cape Town. It seeks to build on the success of previous PEN conferences held in Edinburgh (2000), Barcelona (2002), Braga (2004), Maynooth (2007), Seville (2011), Malta (2014), and Edinburgh (2016).

The primary language of the conference will be English, but there will be opportunities for informal translation as appropriate. Limited resources unfortunately rule out simultaneous translation facilities.  

To assist us in planning we request expressions of interest, by 15 October 2017

Please write to

And/or go to updates on the conference.

September 2017