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Without and within: inclusion, identity and continuing education in a new Wales.

Ian Davidson and Brec’hed Piette, University of Wales, Bangor, Wales

Paper presented at SCUTREA, 30th Annual Conference, 3-5 July 2000, University of Nottingham

There appear relationships between ideas of identity and social inclusion and exclusion. Those possessions and objects we gather about ourselves, ideas we might have about ourselves, the things we know and can do, will all relate to the extent to which we feel included or excluded by particular groups. After a brief discussion of ideas relating to the construction of identity and the complexity of the idea of inclusion within a bi-cultural environment we reflect on the role that adult and continuing education might, and does, play. In particular we try to develop ideas about identity within the context of post-assembly Wales, and particularly the way in which involvement in adult and continuing education might affect an individual’s sense of personal, cultural and national identity.

Changing ideas of identity

Recent theoretical work assumes the constructed, rather than inherent, nature of identity. This is evident in cultural and aesthetic representations of individuals, communities and nations. This interest in ideas of identity and the ‘subject’ crosses disciplinary boundaries from archeology to the arts, and includes sociology, psychology and history. This section brings together a number of ideas primarily from literary theory, yet they are ideas which have been used within a range of disciplines.

Structuralism developed ideas of meaning as shared systems of signification and in which the ‘isolated individual as the fount and origin of all meaning took a sharp knock’ (Eagleton 1996: 93). Identity, rather than being something which existed prior to and outside of language, becomes something produced by it, evidenced by the individual traces within the structures of language. Roland Barthes in The Death of the Author refers to writing not as a process of personal expression, or of finding or revealing oneself, but as ‘that neutral, composite, oblique place where our subject slips away’ (Barthes 1982: 142). Foucault also refers to writing ‘freed from expression’ (Foucault 1991: 102) and advances Barthes ideas by asserting that:

it is not enough to repeat the empty affirmation that the author has disappeared. Instead we must locate the space left empty ... follow the distribution of gaps and branches, watch for the openings. (Foucault 1991: 105)

For Foucault therefore it is not the single death of a single author but its dissolution into the text. Henri Lefebvre in The Production of Space stresses the duality of identity and refers to the mirror in which the reflection becomes not ‘what I am but the sign of what I am’, (Lefebvre 1991: 185) a sign with a multiple range of signifiers and connotations and which implicitly does not have inherent content and meaning but rather an arbitrary signified.

As the possibility of a single secure identity, inherited at birth and developed within a personal and social narrative of progress, disappears over the horizon along with the utopias that such a possibility suggests could exist, the notion of identity as a construct, however dehumanising that may seem, gathers pace. David Harvey in The Condition of Postmodernity refers to the past as the foundation of individual and collective identity (Harvey 1990: 86), Lefebvre in The Production of Space to the monument as a symbol of collective and national identity (Lefebvre 1991: 220). Within postmodernism, however, the past is increasingly recycled as nostalgia, national identity is rolled out as a brand name for supposedly ethnic commodities (the Irish pub, Indian caftans) and the monuments which symbolise that past are repackaged as heritage. Oppositional political movements often cling to a place based identity as locations for resistance, yet in that process become part of the very fragmentation upon which mobile capitalism can feed (Harvey 1990: 303). The postmodern, fragmented subject, has been adopted by both the left and the right; by the left as able to wriggle free of the hegemony of global capitalism and a particularly western, white and male perspective, and by the right as a natural consequence of the deregulated free market. Identity is not something one is born with but something constructed or adopted.

This interest in the construction of identity and identities, underpinned by a rhetoric of consumer choice, can be perceived in representations of contemporary western life. Individuals choose to buy goods, clothes and cars with a particular brand name, they will make certain ‘lifestyle choices’ about housing and schools, they will select certain holiday destinations, all of which will construct, and project, a certain identity. In our professional lives the training in health and education, encourages a process of reflection, of projecting the self as another, a reflective practitioner, which can be studied and its behaviour modified.

The whole idea of a single perspective on anything, supported by the notion of a stable and singular identity, has become attached to a reactionary politics. Pierre Joris in ‘Nomad Poetics’ goes a step further and exhorts people to free themselves from ‘the mummy/daddy language’ (Joris 1998: 16), and asks ‘why should that oedipal choice be the only possible or legitimate one’. Leaving aside the rhetorical flourish, Joris is making a very real point, that bi and multilingualism is more of a global norm than monolingualism, and positing that decision to use other languages as an available choice through which ‘the author has multiplied, has lost its/his/her identity as a single subject’ (Joris 1998: 14).

Welsh identity and inclusion

Issues of identity and inclusion in Wales have been topics of discussion and debate at various times over the last century but the question of what constitutes Welshness has become of wider concern and interest in recent years, particularly in the context of the opening of the Welsh Assembly in 1999. Those writing on the issue e.g. Fevre and Thompson 1999, Bowie 1993, generally agree that there is no single Welsh identity (and therefore no single culture within which to be included) but that it is based on diversity of experience, culture and language. Bowie says:

one is left not so much with a coherent notion of Welshness as with a sense of many conflicting and interlocking definitions of identity which actively compete for symbolic space and public recognition (Bowie 1993: 169)

This article is not the place to review that substantial literature on Wales and Welsh nationalism produced this century, but the 3 Wales model put forward by Balsom in the early 1980s demonstrates the complexity of the issues. In this model the eastern part of Wales (and south Pembrokeshire) is dubbed British Wales, the industrial valleys of south Wales and the nearby towns of Swansea and Port Talbot are Welsh Wales, and the western part of Wales is ‘Y Fro Gymraeg’ (Welsh speaking Wales). In general, most of the inhabitants of ‘British Wales’ were assumed to see themselves as British rather than Welsh, and to be resistant to an increase in the use of the Welsh language. Those living in or coming from Welsh Wales, particularly the valleys, were seen as having a strong Welsh identity and a sense of a separate i.e. non-English cultural inheritance, but were in general not Welsh speaking. However, the attitude towards the use of the Welsh language was generally supportive and these areas have been a fertile breeding ground for Welsh-medium schools and Welsh language classes in the last thirty years. This area too showed strong support for devolution in the 1997 devolution referendum. The ‘third Wales’ – Y Fro Gymraeg – encompasses the areas of West Wales where the majority of the population is Welsh. There is a tendency to see this Wales as being the true Wales – the heartland - and to see Welshness and the Welsh language as both synonymous and the basis for a resistance to a perceived anglicisation. Although overall this three part division makes intuitive sense as a broad brush description of pre-devolution Wales in the 1970s, such a model would always have been riddled with anomalies. Seaside towns such as Bangor, Aberystwyth and Biwmaris for instance are geographically in Y Fro Gymraeg, but are often, although not exclusively, seen by those in the surrounding rural areas as ‘English’. Parts of hitherto ‘British Wales’ are, in the aftermath of devolution, constructing a Welsh identity. Welsh, British and European identities coexist within the inhabitants of Wales. The profile of Welsh speakers is changing, as the ‘incomer’ who learns the Welsh language becomes commonplace. More people will know some Welsh (rather than some being fluent in Welsh and English and others in English only), and a bilingual society can become a reality, weaving both languages through cultural divides and in particular reinventing those symbols, as well as those geographical areas, which were seen, and saw themselves, as either ‘Welsh’ or ‘English’ as part of the process of developing a new culture within Wales.

It is worth listing some of the key pressures in the construction of identities in post-assembly Wales. They are both historical and local, contemporary and global. Some are specific to Wales, others more applicable to all developing countries. They include the post industrial revolution development of a Welsh identity typified by non-conformism and cultural activities centred around the language and literature of Wales, an identity which developed a more radical edge in the second half of the twentieth century. This ‘high’, Eisteddfodic Welsh culture also intersects with Welsh media culture and the development of an idea of ‘Cool Cymru’, a global brand name . The development of this identity has taken place within the context of a Britain losing its empire and the growth in influence of the European Union. Any Welsh identity which has emerged is not devoid of the usual influence of class and gender and, until recently at least, South Wales miners and steelworkers may have seen themselves as more part of an international working class than part of an emerging Welsh identity.

The notion of inclusion and exclusion in Wales, particularly the Welsh speaking areas, is therefore highly problematic and as well as referring to those who are traditionally seen as socially excluded on the ground of poverty, could also be taken to refer to people who are excluded from aspects of community life and whose job prospects are impaired through a lack of fluency in Welsh. Such people include those who were not brought up to speak Welsh at home and did not learn it at school. Many inhabitants of Wales born before 1960 would have received most of their education in English and might consequently lack the confidence to use Welsh in formal circumstances. It also includes those who have moved from other areas of Wales where Welsh is not widely spoken, and from other parts of the United Kingdom. (Interestingly, and anecdotally, those who move to Wales with a first language other than English, often use Welsh more readily than first language English speakers). Some of this group will be middle-class incomers who are generally well-off, often retired, articulate and vocal and used to a situation whereby their cultural norm was that of the community in which they lived. While they will be included in many social gatherings with others like themselves they may nevertheless be largely excluded from some community activities and social circles that are largely Welsh-speaking. This is not to deny the very real barriers that also exist for Welsh speakers who are also excluded from many Welsh cultural events through both social class and a linguistic competence in both Welsh and English which reflects a low standard of educational achievement.

The role of adult and continuing education

Adult and continuing education has long drawn on ideas of identity and inclusion as a way of engaging new learners and a way of using local resources as part of the learning processes. It therefore explicitly draws on the twin structurating factors of identity; time (as expressed in personal, community and national histories) and geographical space as in a particular place or locale or in national boundaries. Yet Anthony Giddens, amongst others, claims that within late capitalism, peoples are increasingly disembedded, across space and time, from their locale and the myths, traditions and personal and family histories that go with it (Giddens 1990: 16).

A brief examination of the curriculum offered by a typical university continuing education department and anecdotal evidence from others is telling. The emphasis has shifted from social history to local history, from the study of literature to self expression through creative writing (often of the most confessional sort), from sociology to new age philosophy. Crudely, the courses offer the opportunity to understand and construct an individual identity, rather than offering an opportunity to study and understand the histories and geographies of societies. Some might see this as a process of radicalisation, tearing the subject(ed) free from histories dominated by the idea of the nation state and a phallocentric epistemology; others as a process of oppression, the consequence of the fragmentation of society by a global capitalism which tears the individual away from national, communal and familial ties. This is not an either/or, and both individual students and departments of continuing education will seek to simultaneously take part in a global society and reclaim their own local and communal identity.

Courses offered by many continuing education departments, delivered by diverse methods, explicitly encourage the flexible accumulation of both skills and knowledge and the credentials that follow their accumulation. Often developed within the liberal rhetoric of equality of opportunity through increasing access, modes of delivery and participation seem to mimic the increasing casualisation and pliability of a flexible workforce (Harvey 1990:190). While its structures can be located in a market driven economy the increased flexibility does encourage the combination of subjects and disciplines which match the actual and aspirational identities of the student. The student is therefore able, some would say encouraged, to use adult and continuing education to develop their identity, and the conditions under which it is offered make that part of a lifestyle.

Students, identities and continuing education

For those living in this ‘new Wales’ issues of identity are often extremely salient, and it is clear that many people have a view of themselves as in some measure ‘constructing’ their own identity. This is perhaps particularly true of those who have moved into the area, but also applies to others who are perhaps re-evaluating their ideas of Welshness and their own Welsh identities. As part of a centre for continuing education which offers many courses both in Welsh language teaching , and subjects such as Anglo-Welsh literature and local history we were interested in seeing how our students viewed their experiences of these classes. Were they primarily seen as a means of acquiring useful skills and knowledge or did they also relate to students’ sense of identity and inclusion in the local community? We collected information on this by means of comments on students’ evaluation forms, and also via group interviews with two groups of students who were attending Welsh language classes. It is very clear from comments made by them, in the interviews in particular, that learning Welsh was clearly linked with questions of inclusion and identity; for instance, A. says

I seem to have a new belonging now. I live on my own and have done since my husband died. I found that just meeting in a Welsh class would lead on to other things socially. It led me into going to a Welsh chapel and to Merched y Wawr so my band of friends is growing larger and is still growing larger. I find so much pleasure in meeting people because there is a sort of community spirit amongst the Welsh .’

This mirrors a comment made by Bowie on her experience of learning Welsh and that of others she knew:

There is a feeling among many learners of having joined an elite club and using Welsh enforces a sense of solidarity which belonging to a small supportive group can engender. (Bowie 1984: 178)

Some of the students, particularly those who have more leisure through being recently retired see Continuing Education classes as giving them an opportunity to develop different aspects of their identity, or to work on one that they feel has somehow been latent in the busy years of bringing up a family and working; for instance, B.

I was born in Wales of Welsh parents, but spent most of my working life in England, so for me it’s very much a question of mulching my roots, and diving into the Welsh culture so it’s closely connected with who I am, because to a degree I feel I’ve been deprived of the language of my grandparents, my great grandparents and so on, and although I’m very fond of English language I wanted to reclaim my particular roots and I also do family history. I’m interested in Welsh culture as well and I do a Welsh literature class, which focuses on Welsh poetry.

It’s interesting that in this latter example learning Welsh is part of a wider package that encompasses other continuing education classes. A similar point is also made by J, who sees clear connections in her own life between attending classes and her links with the wider community.

Well I’ve been doing Welsh since I retired 12 years ago. I started thinking Welsh would be a hobby but gradually I got more into it, began to like it very much, began to meet the people, and began to understand more of the culture, and that led me to study more, until finally this year I sat my ‘A’ level.’

It isn’t only language classes that enable students to feel part of their community but also increased knowledge about where they live. For instance one student commenting on the value to him of a Welsh history class, says:

Mr X’s (tutor) enthusiasm has led me to read much deeper into Welsh history. I have learned so much from the lectures and can now hold my head up with the ‘locals’.

Even those who have always lived in the area will have experienced changes in the way that their own culture and language is valued in their own lifetime, and may feel that there is some ‘catching up’ to do. D., for example, says in relation to his attendance at local history classes:

I never had lessons in the grammar school on local history, or Welsh history either, so the opportunity to study local history is interesting and extremely valuable. It helps one to feel part of the local community, and perhaps as a result of that to be more ready to contribute to it.’


We have tried to demonstrate in this paper a link between theories of identity, particularly those developed from postmodern perspectives, and the experience of continuing education students. Students may engage with education to meet different individual aims and aspirations, but many of them also see the value of lifelong learning in helping them to attain goals of inclusion and community involvement. We have looked at the particular context of Wales, where there have been demographic, cultural and political changes in recent years, and issues of inclusion and exclusion are complex. Similar changes are of course to be found in many other parts of the British Isles, and offer those involved in lifelong learning many opportunities for playing a part in facilitating the development of an inclusive society.


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This document was added to the Education-line database on 15 June 2000