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La Educación
Número: (116) III
Año: 1993


The fundamental antithesis of democracy may be authoritarianism rather than dictatorship or oligarchy, an authoritarianism that goes beyond the right and the left of the political spectrum, as it touches personal interactions in multiple settings of everyday life. If we conceive of democracy not as a set of principles but as negotiated processes and the process that makes negotiation possible,8 then the emergence and sustainability of democracy depends not only on the creation of democratic institutions and formal rules but on the relentless combat against authoritarianism at micro levels. Micro levels of democracy are essential because their everyday nature creates learning systems that enhance democratic learning and consequently lead to the internalization of democratic norms and practices. In attending to micro-level practices, we will reformulate the concept of democracy so that it includes notions of dignity, autonomy, and community, as well as the perspectives and engagement of previously marginalized groups, particularly women.

A setting of critical importance is the home because it is there that the undisputed father authority, the practice of domestic violence, the hard-to-avoid submission, and the arbitrary sexual division of labor create the seeds of authoritarian norms later transferred to other spheres of social life. The importance of micro-democracies derives from the need to focus on the politics of relationships, examining people as they live in the complex and simultaneous contexts of their households, communities, and workplaces. Although we have criticized the authoritarian practices that are displayed in households and schools in Latin America, these practices are most likely also present in Asia and Africa. High rates of family violence and unwanted pregnancies, and limited woman’s autonomy and decisionmaking within households—strong indicators of authoritarian family practices—exist on those continents also.

The attention to micro forms of democracy calls for a deeper transformation of educational institutions and for considerably more work on the hidden curriculum, while not losing sight that the content must be transformative. In their path-breaking book, Sen and Grown (1985) identified political mobilization, legal changes, consciousness raising, and popular education as core activities in the strategies for social change. Their view was prophetic. The historical evidence indicates that a vital source of new strategies for education derives from developments concerning informal and nonformal educational experiences within women’s groups and women-run nongovernmental organizations. These experiences are essential because they identify spaces for action and contestation, and reveal issues in which success can be attained.9

By looking at micro-democracies and the ways women bring their own experiences into play, we may be witnessing the creation of new social and gender identities. By paying attention to the politics of women in marginalized sectors of society, we will further understand the tension between gender and class in the construction of democratic norms. This realization is not bound to one single notion of women as political actors. It is rather a response to the challenge expressed by political philosopher Mouffe: “Instead of trying to prove the ‘real’ essence of womanhood, one should intend to show how it opens better possibilities for an understanding of women’s multiple forms of subordination” (1992, 382). I would add that attention to micro-democracies also opens the way toward a fuller conception of democracy.