Penn State

Consortium forSocial Movements and Education
Research and Practice

John D. Holst

John D. Holst

Associate Professor
John Holst

Professional Bio

John D. Holst is an Associate Professor of Lifelong Learning and Adult Education and a founding affiliate of the Consortium for Social Movements and Education Research and Practice. He is the author of Social Movements, Civil Society, and Radical Adult Education, co-author with Stephen Brookfield of Radicalizing Learning: Adult Education for a Just World, and co-editor with Nico Pizzolato of Antonio Gramsci: A Pedagogy to Change the World.

Research Interests

Social Movement Learning, Radical Adult Education, Critical Theory

Related Materials

This article has three primary goals centring on a re-examination of the research frameworks we use for understanding the politics of social movements. First, I detail the ideological and methodological deficiencies of the old social movement/new social movement framework. Second, I highlight the positive contributions of research that favoured or in some way promoted one side in the debate over old and new social movements. Third, I elaborate what I consider to be the major challenges which new forms of social movement organising pose for adult education research interested in advancing social justice.

Kamil Gerónimo-López, Gabriel Ramos Concha, John Holst
Our Research

This article introduces the reader to the nature of social movement-based adult education practices in Latin America and the Caribbean by reviewing major social movements in the region from 2010 to 2020.

Our Research

This article draws together the diversity of practices and experiences presented in the previous articles. We identify the challenges and opportunities facing adult educators in Latin America and the Caribbean in a context of growing social movements and discuss the potential relevance of these practices and experiences for US adult educators.

This book explores the relationship between adult education and social change and argues that it is vital for all adult educators to continuously engage radical theory in their teaching, reassess radical adult education's doubting and abandonment of the Marxist tradition in favor of postmodernism and radical pluralism, and seek to reinject the Marxist tradition into radical education. The following are among the specific topics discussed: (1) the context of contemporary interest in social movements and civil society in radical adult education theory and practice; (2) the sociology and politics of social movements; (3) civil society within and beyond the Marxist tradition (the beliefs of John Locke, Adam Ferguson and the Scottish Enlightenment, Georg Hegel, Karl Marx, Antonio Gramsci, Jean Cohen and Andrew Arato, and John Keane); (4) adult education, social movements, and civil society (the question of whether education can change society; the nature of education in social movements; linking old and new social movements; the politics of social movements, civil society, and adult education); and (5) Gramsci's concept of civil society and its implications for reconceptualization of radical adult education theory and practice

This article presents the results of a descriptive case study of the Union School of the Chilean nongovernmental organization (NGO) Alejandro Lipschutz Institute of Science (ICAL-Spanish acronym). The study contributes to the field of adult education by providing a contemporary example of what Gramscian pedagogy can look like. Theoretically, this case contributes Latin American social movement-based analysis of neoliberalism, and its impact on the nature of work for working-class people. The study presents an example of educational praxis; the dialectical relationship between theory and educational practice that emerges from ICAL’s efforts to advance the Chilean union movement’s struggle to challenge neoliberalism through educational and leadership development work.

Nicola Pizzolato, John D. Holst
Our Research

This volume provides evidence for the argument of a central place of pedagogy in the interpretation of Gramsci’s political theory. Gramsci’s view that ‘every relationship of hegemony is necessarily a pedagogical relationship’ makes it imperative to dismiss narrow and formal interpretations of his educational theories as applying to schooling only. This book argues that what is required rather is an inquiry into the Italian thinker’s broad conceptualisation of pedagogy, which he thought of as a quintessential political activity, central to understanding and transforming society.

Preceded by a broad introduction that positions Gramsci in his context and in the literature, the essays in this book critically revisit the many passages of the Prison Notebooks and pre-prison writings where Gramsci addresses the nexus between politics and pedagogy. Some essays apply those concepts to specific contexts. The book for the first time brings to the attention of an English-speaking audience voices from the current historiography in Italy and Latin America.

Stephen D. Brookfield, John D. Holst
Our Research
This book offers new readings of the theory, politics, policy, and practice of radical adult education and learning where people's lives are understood as complex and interrelated matters. Brookfield and Holst's poetics and deeply human prose sound rebellious; the authors confront some of the main radical trends in the field of adult education including critical theory, transformative learning, and popular education. An epilogue, a name index, and a subject index are included.
Our Research

The article identifies dispositions from a thematic investigation of the pedagogical practice of Ernesto Che Guevara and various social movements in the United States. The article outlines and places these dispositions within the context of debates over social justice and dispositions for education program accreditation in the United States that often directly impact adult education graduate programs. These dispositions are then demonstrated in historical and contemporary adult education practice. The article argues that these dispositions have increasing relevance given the growing polarization of wealth and poverty and environmental destruction facing humanity.

While most of Gramsci's party work is well known to education scholars of Gramsci, and the educational aspects of his writings have been repeatedly analyzed, what remains a constant in education-based Gramsci studies is the nearly universal minimization of this work for what it was, namely party work. For Gramsci, it would have been unthinkable to consider this work outside the framework of a revolutionary party. Yet, for contemporary educational scholars it seems unthinkable to consider Gramsci's work within the framework of a revolutionary party. The goals of this article are to outline Gramsci's interrelated conceptualization of the roles of the revolutionary party; the nature of education within and by the revolutionary party; and the aims of party education. For considerations of space, I limit this analysis to Gramsci's pre-prison praxis, the period of his active militancy in the PSI and the PCI. I conclude the article with what I consider to be lessons with continued relevance from Gramsci's praxis for the socio-political economic context faced by today's radical educators.
Mai Atta, Kamil M. Gerónimo-López, Javier Campos-Martínez, John D. Holst, María Alicia Vetter
Our Research

This article presents the results of a comparative study of learning and education in contemporary student movements in Chile, Egypt, and Puerto Rico, which arose as responses to neoliberal economic grievances. The study uses an andragogical lens to analyse these movements as examples of collective self-directed pedagogical practice by and within social movements. Drawing on Santos’ (2006) sociologies of absence and “emergence”, the study utilizes autoethnographic and secondary data analysis to voice social movement-based learning alternatives. We argue that, despite the different contexts of each movement, they still share many commonalities in organizing and educating in response to global neoliberalism.

Holst, J. D. (2009). Conceptualizing training in the radical adult education tradition. Adult Education Quarterly59(4), 318-334.

This article reviews contemporary definitions of training in adult education literature with a focus on the narrowing of what is generally considered and not considered to be training today. The article then provides a number of historical and contemporary examples of training within the radical tradition. It argues that in the radical tradition, training is not conceived so narrowly and the terms training and education are at times used interchangeably to refer to a democratic and participatory form of education. The article concludes with a thematic summary of training conceptualized within the radical adult education tradition.

Our Research

Holst, J. D. (2009). The Pedagogy of Ernesto Che Guevara. International Journal of Lifelong Education28(2), 149-173.

This article identifies and describes the major principles and themes that emerge from an analysis of the revolutionary pedagogical practice and ideas of Ernesto Che Guevara. The principles and themes outlined in this article are based on a thematic investigation of the approximately 2000 pages of Guevara’s writings, speeches and interviews available in numerous English‐translation compilations and full‐length books. The analysis also draws on what are considered to be some of the most important biographies and secondary sources on the educational and political thought and practice of Guevara in English and Spanish. The article is organised thematically and in each section that outlines a major theme or principle of Guevara’s pedagogy, examples are provided from Guevara’s practice that help illustrate the theme or principle. Reverences are made throughout the text to other revolutionary pedagogues and movements that share specific commonalities with Guevara’s pedagogy.

Holst, J. D. (2007). The politics and economics of globalization and social change in radical adult education: A critical review of recent literature. Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies5(1), 258-287.

Throughout most of the decade of the 1990s, it was widely held that radical politics were, if not outright dead, at least, in near fatal crisis. At the beginning of the decade, marking 10 years of Reaganism-Thatcherism, the European socialist camp was quickly disintegrating. Socialist movements in power or on the verge of power in Central America were in retreat. Neoliberal structural adjustment programs were the norm for the Third World as welfare states were dismantled in the First World. Postmodernism, that was more than anything else an attack on Marxism, was all the rage in academia. In 1992, Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man declared the world to be forever capitalist, as many leftists and Marxist were finishing their journey from neo-Marxism, to Post-Marxism and on to anti-Marxism. The field of adult education, with its progressive tradition, was not immune to this retreat from traditional left politics. Jane Thompson’s (1993) ironic and sad “open letter to whoever’s left” captured the sense of defeat among radical adult educators.

Holst, J. (2006). Paulo Freire in Chile, 1964–1969: Pedagogy of the oppressed in its sociopolitical economic context. Harvard Educational Review76(2), 243-270.

In this article, John Holst presents findings of his historical research on Paulo Freire's educational work in Chile from 1964 to 1969. Freire's Education as the Practice of Freedom, which was written in 1965 from notes he brought from Brazil, was informed by a liberal developmentalist outlook. In contrast, his Pedagogy of the Oppressed, written toward the end of his stay in Chile from 1967 to 1968, was influenced by Marxist humanist ideology. Considering this relatively rapid change in Freire's educational philosophy, Holst explores the manner in which Freire's time and work in Chile affected his ideological evolution. Holst contributes to Freirean studies by demonstrating that Freire's work in the Chilean political context proved to be decisive in his ideological and pedagogical growth. Freire's ideological evolution inspired his writing of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, widely considered one of the most important books on education in the twentieth century. Ultimately, Holst argues that Freire's pedagogy, like all pedagogy, can only be understood fully when seen within the specific sociopolitical and economic contexts within which it developed. Pedagogies are collective in nature, and Freire's, as he himself recognized, was no exception.

Holst, J. D. (2004). Globalization and education within two revolutionary organizations in the United States of America: A Gramscian analysis. Adult Education Quarterly55(1), 23-40.

This article presents the history, strategy, structure, educational practices, and globalization perspectives of two revolutionary organizations in the United States of America: the Freedom Road Socialist Organization and the League of Revolutionaries for a New America. This article relates the work of these organizations to the theory and practice of Antonio Gramsci, arguing that these organizations provide sophisticated analyses of globalization and political and educational practices in the spirit of Gramsci.


Holst, J. D. (2003). Revolutionary critical education: In defense of a theory and a challenge to seek out those who practice it. Journal of Transformative Education1(4), 341-348.

This article is a response to the debate opened by Marcia Moraes's interview with Peter McLaren, which was published in the April 2003 issue of JTE. As such, this article expands on the need for transformative educators to use Marxist political economy to analyze the role of education and schooling in capitalist societies. Specifically, the article provides an introduction to Marx's analysis of value production, argues that transformative educators need to take seriously the educational work of revolutionary organizations, and presents the analysis of value production of one such organization.

Holst, J. D. (1999). The affinities of Lenin and Gramsci: implications for radical adult education theory and practice. International Journal of Lifelong Education18(5), 407-421.

This article argues that Gramsci’s theory for social change is not alien to Lenin’s theory and practice of socialist revolution. Holst points out that Neo-Marxists, Post-Marxists, and new social movement scholars have too often attempted to separate Gramsci’s insistence on cultural and ideological aspects of social struggles from the Marxist tradition, especially Leninism. They overlook or distort the fundamental affinities between Lenin and Gramsci by inaccurately charging Lenin of elitism in which he supposedly assigns a leadership role for intellectuals over that of workers in social transformation. In refuting these distortions of Lenin, Holst shows how Lenin, and Gramsci, believed that intellectuals can and must be developed from the working class via a revolutionary organization or party in order to play a leadership role in social transformation. By tracing the common ground of Lenin’s and Gramsci’s theories of social transformation, this article asserts that radical adult education should consider the educational and social transformative roles of revolutionary organizations or parties that can move our political projects beyond notions of expanding civil society.

This chapter compares Antonio Gramsci and Luis Emilio Recabarren as educators of their respective working classes, with the understanding that they viewed the education of the working class for power as the means to achieve a socialist society. The chapter examines their views on the pedagogical roles of the working-class organizations in the self-education of workers towards their role in bringing about and leading a new society. The purpose of this study is not to show mutual influence but, rather, to highlight the outstanding similarities in Gramsci’s and Recabarren’s views during the period covered. The chapter draws on Recabarren’s original writings that appeared in the Chilean working-class press between 1903 and 1924 and Gramsci’s pre-prison writings, from 1914 to 1926.

This article is an effort to build on academic theories of race and antiracist education. Using a Gramscian theoretical framework that emphasizes perspectives from organic intellectuals, this article puts the academic literature on race and adult education in conversation with the theory generated on race from select U.S. working-class organic intellectuals and scholar activists. The principal argument of the article, drawn from the dialectical and materialist work of select organic intellectuals and scholar activists, is that race seen as a social construct captures the subjective aspect of race but does not capture the internal relationship of the subjective aspect with the objective aspect of race. All social constructs must be seen objectively and subjectively to consider the prospects for change and antiracist adult education in specific historical and geographical contexts.

This reflective essay is based on my contribution to the closing panel of the 2016 Adult Education Research Conference (AERC) in which we were tasked to reflect on the conference and share insights on how we draw tomorrow's blueprint for adult education from today's inkwell. My reflections are based on a selection of papers from the conference which I read and the sessions I attended. The basis for my comments, like that for any reflections, is selective, partial, and biased toward my interests in the radical adult education tradition which I define very broadly to include those within the field who are explicitly dedicated to investigating, promoting and engaging in adult education for progressive, social democratic, or socialist transformation.