Power, knowledge and reflexivity : learning "from experience" in a women's refuge.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
This thesis is about recognising and analysing learning from experience in community organisations. It critically examines not only the possibilities, but also the challenges and difficulties involved in that approach to learning. The thesis documents positive and innovative strategies for learning and providing services in a particular Women's Refuge, while at the same time offering a critical engagement with those interventions. Women's Refuges exist to support women and children victims of domestic violence, and to work towards the elimination of domestic violence, but like many voluntary organisations in New Zealand, they rely on volunteers to provide many of their services. This qualitative case study focuses on the induction and training of the Refuge volunteer advocates in one particular Refuge in Christchurch in 1998 - 1999. It examines the tensions inherent in a pedagogy of learning from experience, which operates in a wider context of state funding and state surveillance of the quality of services. Within the Refuge, the notions of 'experience' and 'learning' were not neutral or value free. What counted as learning within the Refuge context was not generalised knowledge, but an ability to engage in certain practices and talk about these practices in particular ways. Throughout their training volunteer advocates were learning not just how to support women and children escaping violence in their homes, but how to manage their identities as learners and workers within the institutional regimes of the Refuge. The volunteer advocates had to learn to demonstrate reflexivity, and be 'honest,' but they also learnt to manage that honesty. They were learning about the Refuge work, what 'experience' was valuable, and how to demonstrate that they were learning in this particular environment by demonstrating a capacity for self reflective talk about those experiences. In this respect they had to engage in 'experiential learning' by overtly reconstructing their own actions, interactions and feelings.