From the beginning Mezirow’s transformation theory relied on the critical theory of Habermas for intellectual rigour. Because of this, transformation theory is often seen as overly rational, lacking emotional or non-rational routes to transformation. The theory is subject to critique, in particular about its perceived missing social dimension. Recent research linking transformation theory with the work of Frankfurt School critical theorists Habermas and Honneth helps re-discover the intersubjectivity on which critical reflection is based. Significant connections have been made between the personal and the social aspects of transformation theory. As Honneth asserts, the personal is political and the political is personal.
This paper shall identify the work of Oskar Negt, another Frankfurt School associate, as of great importance in the process of developing a critical theory of transformative learning. Negt places experience at the centre of adult learning. He is accurately characterized as defining his position as saying: ‘Experiences of the World Unite!’ (a take on the phrase of Marx). This paper explains this dialectical turn in the role of experience according to Negt’s critical theory. This has significant implications for transformative learning theory and practice.