BREAKING THE SILENCE: Community Radio, Women and Empowerment

  • Annette Rimmer

Student thesis: Doctor of Education


This thesis explores the concepts of voice poverty and empowerment through the narratives of female community radio volunteers in Northern England. It contextualises community radio in relation to a variety of conceptual and methodological debates to understand the activism of critical pedagogy, intersectionality and empowerment in radio and how this understanding might be useful in a variety of disciplines. It is rooted in bell hooks' and Paulo Freire’s perception that the existing system of dominant social relations ‘creates a culture of silence’ where oppressed people are silenced, alienated and ‘a mere object of the director society’ (Freire, 1977:16). It embarks from cultural theorist Stuart Hall’s contention that media and cultural spaces can be powerful sites of social action such that community radio emerges as a key, and powerful, site of informal education. Over a period of four years, twelve female radio project volunteers were recruited and using an ethnographic approach (the researcher is, herself, a radio volunteer), their individual narratives recorded and later jointly analysed as part of a research group exercise. The data generated from these meetings and a research diary, is analysed alongside a conceptual and contextual framework to produce some original insights, not only with regard to the gendered nature of technical learning, but also about the wider potential of feminist pedagogy. Additionally, the participatory approach to research underlines crucial learning points for social and educational research. In the perception of the women participants in this study, community radio emerges as a site of feminist pedagogy, in which diverse identities emerge through laughter, dialogue, raised consciousness and solidarity. Women’s knowledge is validated and confronts the orthodoxy of young white, male dominated media, but also romantic notions of empowerment by recognising inherent tensions in womanhood and in communities. The thesis foregrounds evidence from the majority world, where community radio is well documented as ‘giving voice to invisible women’ (Wairimu Gatua, Patton & Brown, 2010). It concludes with an argument for further exploration of this highly symbolic and creative dimension of empowerment where women break their silence by broadcasting their voices on radio. In terms of contribution, in addition to providing a powerful document of the educational and social mobilisation potentials of community radio, this thesis also challenges UK commercial and public broadcasters to learn from the global south that community development is an effective method of reaching out to and empowering women and enriching the mainstream media world.
Date of Award31 Dec 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorCarlo Raffo (Supervisor) & Erica Burman (Supervisor)


  • Feminist Pedagogy
  • Feminist Media
  • Intersectionality
  • Women
  • Empowerment
  • Radio

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