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Identity, gender, and class: Contributions from the Abhidhamma for self and social transformation, with a case study of a women's housing collective in Namibia

Swarnakanthie Athukorala, University of Massachusetts Amherst


In this dissertation I argue that self and social transformation attempted by self-change in order to produce and change the material conditions of the human world and the changing of material circumstances, in mutual relations, eventuates only partial change/transformation. I have pointed out that this partial transformation, based on a materialist view of self and social activity, contributes to the continuation of self and social oppression. I have presented empirical evidence for this argument in the case study of Saamstaan women's housing collective in Namibia. By “self-change” or “becoming” active and collective participants in changing material conditions of their lives, that is, securing houses for all members of the collective, they experience a sense of authentic self-change and changing material conditions. Simultaneously, they are faced with the disappointment, frustration, mental disharmony, and oppression both within and the social, when individual collective members choose not to abide by the ideals of sharing labor and paying off loans, once they acquire their houses. Transformation/change is occurring but the process of full liberation from oppression is not. I have pointed out that the contradiction between self and material changes which are assumed to be positive, good, and empowering and the accompanying pain and grief due to individuals' failings to abide by the ideals of the collective arise owing to the unchanged non-material, non-conceptual inner condition of possessive selves. If the self and social transformation is to be free of pain and grief, the approach needs to be one which provides for skills in ensuing material change and skills in letting go of possessive selves. I have presented the Abhidhamma approach as an alternative for bringing about self and social transformation from liberatory space within and the social. While in this dissertation I have extensively discussed inner liberation, it does not privilege inner over social transformation. Rather, this is an approach which considers both inner and outer/social transformation as inseparable and interdependent processes. Thus, I take the position that letting go of possessive self, and self-change and changing of material conditions must occur simultaneously, with equal weight, to achieve full liberation from oppression.

Subject Area

Social structure|Philosophy|Womens studies

Recommended Citation

Athukorala, Swarnakanthie, "Identity, gender, and class: Contributions from the Abhidhamma for self and social transformation, with a case study of a women's housing collective in Namibia" (1999). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9950137.