Reflections on the ‘Social Science Imagination’

On December 9, 2013, many of the people who had been part of this season’s Social Science Imagination course met to reflect on the work we did from October to December 2013, and to begin thinking about the future. Below is the result of an exercise in which each person wrote about what she or he felt was positive and worked well about the course, what they felt was problematic or troubling, and what if anything they wanted to work on in the future. We read our thoughts aloud and discussed each before embarking on another, this time surrealist, act of collective writing and imagining (see here).
 
For more on next season’s ‘Social Science Imagination’ course, which is being crafted with many of these reflections in mind, see here.

On the spirit of the course, we say:

‘The Social Science Imagination brought to me a fresh way to look at the world, and gave me many new lenses to view it through. It was revealed to me by the course just how lacking my own experience had been through the formative years of education and raised questions about how this had been allowed to be overlooked for so long. Through not naïve about the world, I now see it in an ever-expanding dimension of ways. Using C. Wright Mills’ Sociological Imagination has been a thoroughly engaging way to develop strategies to learn, digest, and process so much knowledge and offer a way forward in wisdom. Critical thinking was not specifically a tool I had used very often and using it now has made me see life and relationship, good and bad, positive and negative, in more detail.’
 
Yes, ‘it provides a real alternative space in which to recreate the process of higher education. I do not feel like a professor but someone who is interested in the power of ideas and action to transform myself and the social world.’
‘It made me think about what education could be like. It gave me hope about the project.’
 
I also thought ‘there were some really fruitful discussions about education, work and health that opened up new perspectives for me. The course felt very co-operative for me as a (co)-co-ordinator; the division of intellectual and logistical labour worked and everyone took a lot of responsibility. I learned more about how a negotiated curriculum can work and want to do more. There was also a collective ethos of generosity, curiosity, criticality, friendship and fun.’

It was ‘expansive; I have learnt things about subjects under discussion and a lot myself. I am proud of all the people and connected to have worked to make this happen.’

There were ‘really stimulating discussions. I looked forward to it as one of the high points of my week.’

‘For me, it was the pedagogical praxis at the Social Science Centre that really stood out. It provided an insight into personalised learning that wasn’t predicated on ‘bell curve thinking’, partisan politics or economic imperatives. Learning was an organic personal process that wasn’t owned by any particular scholar (tutor or student). Scholars used a system of dialogue, of collective readings, and feedback, which enabled and enhanced self-assessment and self-efficacy. It was a very positive social experience.’
 
On power, we say:
 
‘It felt democratic, at times, but there were still issues with power.’

There was ‘…lots of rotation of facilitation…’

‘…although prior knowledge of readings is required, which lends itself towards a leader. Taking turns to host was a good idea.’

‘Some members who played leadership roles did so sensitively and contributed enormously. We started and finished on time and readings and notes were extremely promptly produced.’

On pedagogy, we say:
 
‘Once the structure was established in week 3-ish, I felt like the people and discussions had a bit more aim — not just drifting, which I personally found a lot easier to deal with.’

‘Sometimes the discussion meandered a bit, but I’m not sure that is a minus.’

There are some ‘special people who have stuck it out, but (many people in the course) have degrees; it wasn’t really introductory.’

But it was positive to ‘…maintain the high levels of reading, discourse and inclusion of new ideas whilst keeping strict focus on facilitating watch over themes and portrayal of those…’

‘I enjoyed reading texts and talking about them in detail with others and engaging with perspectives I might not have inside the university.’

‘I (also) read stuff that I would not have otherwise read.’

‘I feel like you got out what you put in. For instance, on weeks where I’ve not read or understood for whatever reason it left me feeling bemused (and slightly dim!), whereas on weeks where I’ve enjoyed the readings and felt like the conversation hasn’t drifted so much, I really felt like I learnt something and left feeling quite inspired.’

‘A couple of classes were excellent – the best I’ve experienced. There’s only so much we can expect from a class. Learning requires time, hard work, reading, writing. Within the limits of the class-forum, I was pleased with the outcome. How can we build on this? How can the SSI lead to reflection on the Social Science Centre?’

‘It I were to alter the way that we did things, I think I would have liked to do a little more writing – although I understand that people don’t necessarily have the time to do this.’
 
On the relationship between the course, the SSC and wider society:

‘Readings of C. Wright Mills provided a lens through which to view interactions between people and institutions in everyday life, from a historical perspective, and at a distance from personal troubles that can act as a trap. I now try to use Mills’ principles on a regular basis to imagine transformative practice in my areas of interest.’

‘I welcomed the initial discussions about the relationship between the Social Science Centre, popular, higher and alternative education, and thoughts on how to think of such work as part of a wider political culture and project in Lincolnshire and beyond.’

‘The lecture about the politics of Russia in relation to contemporary feminist movements and religion provided an unexpected perspective, that one can be too quick to judge a person as a member of an institution, rather than as an individual with the potential to bring about change for good within their institution.’

‘The course has been greatly beneficial for my development and I applaud the SSC for its effort to bring this to the people of Lincoln.’

On relationships, we say:

‘There was a really interesting mix and group of people, with a high level of comradely debate. We listened to each other. I came away feeling energised and positive.’

‘I like being with like-minded people who are all interested – which you don’t usually get – there is normally at least one person who doesn’t care!’

‘The size of the class worked well. A few more would have been good, but double the number would have changed the style of the seminar.’

‘I would have liked to have seen more people (but not too many).’ // ‘It’s a shame the membership did not grow.’
 
‘It is regrettable that I did miss quite a few sessions, but I was able to use the Internet to compare other students’ assessments of texts to my own, how they relate, existentially, to my own life, and to those around me who I work to support.’

‘I regret not contacting a particular person to thank her for coming, despite the distance. I was very pleased to spend time with people and make new friends.’

‘I feel like I have made some good friends.’

‘I look forward to 2014.’

Compiled by Sarah Amsler, January 8, 2014

2 thoughts on “Reflections on the ‘Social Science Imagination’

  1. I really enjoyed reading your thoughts about your experiences – I’ve been following the blog for quite a while now and am a great supporter of this amazing, inspirational venture, so it’s heartening to hear just how positive it’s been. I don’t live too far away from you (Grimsby) but I’m a full-time carer, so it’s quite difficult for me to come along in person – however, you’ve made me plan to read The Sociological Imagination, something I wouldn’t have considered previously. Thank you 🙂

  2. Hi Bill, That’s really good to hear. Feel free to post your thoughts and any questions on the Mills’ book here on our website or the SSC discussion list. Good luck and I hope you enjoy it.

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