IF Project – Annual Humanities Summer School



In June 2015 the IF Project is launching its second Summer School and cordially invites members of the Social Science Centre and anyone else who is interested to attend.

“IF is an experiment in alternative higher education where the courses are free, lecturers donate time and expertise, and the syllabus includes taking in the free events happening in the many cultural institutions of London. It is a community of those who want to teach and learn for the love of doing so.”

“The Summer School is designed as a taste of university-level study. Over four weeks you will lay personal foundations in the study of the humanities. Lectures and discussions will introduce undergraduate-level Literature,

History (what do historians do?), Visual Arts and Sound (as critical practices) and Political Philosophy (what is the relationship between freedom and social justice?).

The theme of foundations encourages students to discover how Humanities disciplines provide interpretative tools to get beneath the surface of everyday life: to discover the foundations of the familiar, from personal identity to our visual appreciation, to the laws that govern us, global trends and even our own opinions.”

I have attached a flyer for those who would like further information and a link to the IF Project’s website: http://www.ifproject.co.uk/

2015 IF Summer School Programme 1.3

Best wishes,


The History of the Co-operative Movement: Knowledge should be distributed like tea and flour…



We returned to the Co-operation and Education course this week after a ‘half-term break’ to explore the history of the co-operative movement. This excellent session was facilitated by Lucy and Mike to whom we are all grateful.

The session was split into three sections:

  1. Recap of the previous session, Co-operative Principles and Values;
  2. Read and discuss Woodin’s Co-operative education in Britain during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: context, identity and learning;
  3. Explore how the history of the co-operative relates to the SSC.

1. Recap of the previous session

At the start of the evening we took some time to remind ourselves what we had covered before ‘half-term’. The previous session had focused on co-operative values and principles and, to help us remember what we discussed, we found it helpful to take it in turns to read aloud from the class notes. We found this process useful and, as one scholar commented, it allowed us to “replay the session in our minds.”

2. Read and discuss…

For the second part of the session we agreed to read over Woodin’s text and highlight a sentence(s) and explain why it was meaningful to us. Woodin (p. 78) argues that education has been central to the co-operative movement for the last two centuries, yet education within labour and social movements remains an under researched area. What followed was an insightful discussion about precisely that. Below are some of the comments made by scholars and ensuing discussions by the group:

  • After reading Woodin’s text, one scholar was surprised to learn that co-operative education had a much longer history than formal state education and, in fact, that co-operative education had played a significant role in influencing the provision of state education. However, Woodin (p. 78) adds a word of caution here and argues that the uniquely co-operative ideals and practices that have been contributed to by co-operative and private working-class education are often lost when written about this way. As one scholar commented, “state education closed down radical/alternative education…and through this process co-operative education is managed out of existence.”
  • So important was education to the early co-operative movement that in 1844 the Rochdale Pioneers had proposed that 10% of their surplus income should be devoted towards it. Although this proposal was ultimately disallowed by the Registrar at the time and a much lower figure of 2.5% was finally agreed.
  • Another scholar commented that before the Elementary Education Acts 1870 to 1893 there were a number of different experiments with education, which included the Sunday School Movement, independent schools and, interestingly, the Socialist Sunday School Movement.
  • One scholar commented that there has been a long history of ‘radical education’, ‘self-help’ and working class autodidactism. Indeed, before the industrial revolution, weavers had higher literacy rates than the general population and often read books as they worked. Both Jonathan Rose and E.P Thompson provide good accounts of this.
  • One scholar commented that, in places, extreme left-wing working class areas were referred to as ‘Little Moscows’ with the Chopwell Soviets cited as an example.
  • Another scholar commented on the importance of the built environment as part of the co-operative movement, which could “inspire awe and pride” (Woodin, p. 81). That the “built environment of the co-operative movement offered a “visual resource, a distinctive grammar of construction and design, that provided a continuing induction into the palpable identity of the values of co-operation.” (Woodin, p. 82)
  • One scholar commented that the co-operative movement helped to create and/or point towards alternative subjectivities and “incubated social transformation…” (Woodin, p. 79) and that there was an “interconnection between ownership, learning and common identity…” (Woodin, p. 81) and that “co-operation was a way of life in which individuals might be immersed from birth and subjectivity was fostered through participation in such a way that the co-operative movement ‘produced’ distinctive types of people.” (Woodin, p. 89)
  • One scholar argued that within the co-operative movement that ‘alternative subjectivity’ was often a ‘gendered subjectivity’ with many skilled and semi-skilled males finding it difficult to accept women. An example of this is provided by Woodin (p. 84) who quotes ‘A True Co-operator’ who complains about the “coarseness and popularisation” of co-operative movement that occurred with the appearance of women:

Times have changed; for whereas the meetings used to be of a few working men, who sought for knowledge and instruction – now the meetings are large to excess, composed principally of women, babies and youths of both sexes, tempted by rich got-up tea…

  • One scholar commented that being part of the co-operative movement itself was a form of learning that could be considered as practice or a rehearsal for life in a post-capitalist society:

…co-operation could serve as an educative force. Learning within a democratic social and economic movement was thus connected to wider purposes of social changes.

  • One scholar identified within the text a tension between ‘liberal’ and ‘vocational’ education’; however, Robert Marshall (cited in Woodin, P. 89) argued that this was a false dichotomy:

The old definitions are no longer accepted, that the ‘social’ student is concerned with ends and the ‘technical’ student with means. Both are concerned with ends and means; and technical studies can be the opportunity of educating that familiar figure in educational addresses ‘the whole man’.

We concluded this section by discussing that whilst the co-operative movement had a radical history it had a tendency to become consumerist rather than the labour controlled co-operatives that were envisioned by the early pioneers of the co-operative movement. Instead, we discussed how the co-operative has come to be associated with dividend points and passing mercantile savings on to consumers and, as one scholar reminded us, “Co-operatives were an experiment for social change; not about shopping, but a new social form.” One scholar commented that you could trace the radical roots of the co-operative movement in Lincolnshire back to Robert Parker who founded the Lincolnshire Co-operative in 1861 with 74 members.

3.    How does the history of the co-operative relate to the SSC?

The third and final part of the session invited us to consider how we could relate the history of the co-operative movement to the SSC. We probably created more questions than we answered, but it was a useful and interesting discussion.

Again, we revisited the importance of the SSC having its own permanent physical space that offers “a visual resource, a distinctive grammar of construction and design that provided a continuing induction into the palpable identity of the values of co-operation.” (Woodin, p. 82) One scholar described the original idea for the SSC with a bakery and café and SSC courses going on upstairs. One scholar mentioned a community interest project in Newcastle that might be useful to consider, the Star and Shadow Cinema. Another scholar questioned whether private property would change the nature of the SSC and whether occupying the city was more important than a permanent physical place and whether the SSC more exciting because it is nomadic? We considered alternatives to ownership, such as stewardship, passing through and being a habitant.

We considered our relationship to other co-operatives and how we might work together. One scholar cited Mondragon as an example of how a number of different co-operative could work together. Other scholars mentioned other co-operative projects that they are involved in, such as the Co-operative Abundant Earth Community and the Hospital University project.

We concluded that the history of the co-operative is its strength, but also serves as a warning. As one scholar pointed out “Co-operatives are not the future, but might be vehicle to something else. Creating new forms of social being; creating something that wasn’t there before it’s on the way to communism – we need to reclaim that language.”





Week Four: Alternative Education

“Nam Sibyllam quidem Cumis ego ipse oculis meis
Vidi in ampulla pendere, et cum illi pueri dicerent:
Σιβυλλα τι θελεις; respondebat illa: αποθανειν θελω.”

April is the cruelest month…

Last week we spent some time discussing ‘mainstream education’; the form(s) it may take; what purpose(s) it might serve and who that purpose(s) might benefit. Whilst it was always going to be difficult to dissect this theme in two hours we did, thanks to Peaceful and Yarasloav, manage to have some of the most insightful and energising discussions so far this term.

This week we will discuss alternative forms of education but, before we do, I would like to explore a theoretical framework – that I am developing for my own research – which, I hope, will allow us to create a solid foundation upon which to explore and imagine alternative forms of education. This approach is called ‘Scientific Socialism’ and runs subtly throughout the corpus of Karl Marx’s work but, thankfully, is outlined concisely by Frederick Engels in Socialism: Utopian and Scientific. As a Marxist I consider Socialism: Utopian and Scientific to be one of the most important texts for anyone discussing alternatives forms that attempt to challenge capitalism. In this ‘little book’, which is taken from a more comprehensive publication, Anti-Duhring, Engles argues that ‘Scientific Socialism’ allows us to understand that (please excuse the sexist language, it is, although unforgivably, of its time):

…the final causes of all social changes and political revolutions are to be sought, not in men’s brains, not in men’s better insights into eternal truth and justice, but in changes in the modes of production and exchange. They are to be sought, not in the philosophy, but in the economics of each particular epoch.

The whole ‘little book’ is available at: http://www.marxism.net/pdf/marx/soc_engels.pdf. The whole publication is well worth a read; however, Chapter 3 Historical Materialism will suffice for Thursday’s session.

The second reading is an attempt, although, perhaps unwittingly, to employ something along the lines of what Engels suggests. I would like to discuss the merits of this paper in terms of employing ‘Scientific Socialism’ and whether it helps us to think about alternative forms of education. You can find the second reading here: http://www.acme-journal.org/vol12/Radice2013.pdf

The final thing I would like people to look at, in preparation for the session, is a map I have created that highlights some alternative education projects that are happening across the world. Your final piece of ‘homework’, if you choose to accept it, is to conduct some research about one, or more if you wish, alternative education projects on the map. We could discuss them and, perhaps, the SSC in the context of the readings. You can find the map here: http://goo.gl/maps/V7yrC

Look forward to seeing you all on Thursday.

Best wishes


Co-operation and Education – Week One

SSC logoThe SSC’s new course, Co-operation and Education, began this week. The course, which runs from the 16th of January to the 20th of March 2014 on Thursday evenings between 19.00 – 21.00, was attended by 16 ‘scholars’ at the Pathways Centre on Beaumont Fee in Lincoln. The room was quite tight with this number of people and we are thinking of other venues to use, as we expect up to 20 people attending some weeks.

The session started with people introducing themselves to other members of the group. Half of the class were new to the SSC, which was wonderful to see. There was a fascinating blend of people, which included members of the SSC, undergraduate students, employees from Framework, academics, people involved in other co-operative projects (Lincoln Hackspace and Abundant Earth Community), members of the local community and some Ph.D students. It was heartening to see some new faces and this helped to create a sense of energy, excitement and curiosity as people were interested to learn more about each other.

Joss provided an introduction to the SSC and explained the rationale and nature of the Co-operation and Education course. He made it clear that if anyone wanted to be assessed on the course, that experienced members of the SSC would help design an expanded curriculum and methods of assessment appropriate to the level they are interested in. We also spent some time outlining the importance of the course as a way of helping us to think, co-operatively, about the SSC. We considered how the discussions we have on the course might be used to inform the content of a co-operative conference that SSC intends to host in March 2014, to write a collaborative conference paper to be presented at the the Royal Geographical Society Conference in August 2014 and to help think about and refine the SSC’s constitution and working practice at our AGM in May 2014.

As part of this process we are looking for volunteers to form a working group to help organise the SSC co-operative conference in March as well as help write, collaboratively, the paper to be submitted to the Royal Geographical Society.

The first task of the session was to read the SSC’s FAQ document, which is two pages long. Some people volunteered to read paragraphs from the text aloud.  After some time for reflection we asked ourselves six questions to help us think about the nature of the SSC and its limits as a new model for higher education. One scholar noted that this is a very traditional method of getting students to think about a text. In this case, it provided a ‘safe’ and familiar approach to stimulating discussion among people new to the SSC and to each other. The questions were:

  1. Describe the SSC in your own words

  2. How is the SSC organised? What’s important about that?

  3. How does the SSC approach teaching and learning? How is it different?

  4. What was the context in which the SSC was created?

  5. How can people be engaged in the SSC? What does it involve?

  6. What are the limits to the SSC as a new model for higher education?

Interestingly, but not surprisingly, people thought about the SSC in different ways. Some people thought of it as a ‘political project’, others as a ‘university without walls’ or as a way of ‘hacking’ the best parts of a university from a form that no longer works and reconstituting one that does.  Other words used to describe the SSC were, ‘organic’, ‘responsive’, and ‘flexible’.

We spent some time discussing the co-operative form of the SSC, consensus decision making and how this works in practice. One scholar said that ‘democratic, non-hierarchical, consensus decision-making’ was put into practice across all members for issues relating to governance, but that the day-to-day running of the SSC often relies on a small group of 4-5 people coming to agreement. When participating in the course, this aspiration is embedded in the pedagogic methods that we try to use.

There were some interesting discussions about how the SSC approached teaching and learning with the conversation centering on the importance of questioning and challenging the ‘traditional’ distinction between teacher and student and, instead, appreciating that both have a lot to learn from each other, but that somehow, this is often lost in ‘traditional’ forms of teaching and learning. Questions were raised about assessment and about how this might work in practice in terms of supervision, assessment and receiving some form of qualification. Whilst the SSC has always intended to offer some form qualification for the courses it offers, it has never done so in practice, although some scholars on the Co-operation and Education course showed an interesting in pursuing this.

We discussed how people could get involved in the SSC with one scholar noting that it was actually unclear in the SSC’s FAQ how people could engage with the SSC. A number of questions were raised by new scholars about the SSC which are not clear from the FAQ but are implicitly understood by some some members who helped set the co-operative up. Understandably, similar questions are asked when people first engage with the SSC and we need to prepare responses to these questions in a more explicit way.

Whilst some commented that the limits to the SSC were financial support and teaching and learning space, two scholars commented that the SSC was ‘limitless’.

The second task of the session (during the last 30 mins of the class), was to read the International Co-operative Alliance’s ‘Co-operative Identity, Values and Principles Statement, which were informed by the principles developed by the Rochdale Pioneers Equitable Society. Again, we gave ourselves time to read and think about the document and organised our discussion of it around three questions:

  1. Pick one value from the text that is important for you and tell us why

  2. Given the context of its creation, how should we read this text?

  3. Pick one principle from the text and state why you think it is important. How could that principle be used to inform the work of the SSC?

We discussed the importance of education, training and information to help think critically about running a co-operative and organisational forms beyond co-operatives. One scholar stressed the importance of concern for the local community and how co-operatives encouraged this. We considered the nature of democracy and its different forms and how this differed from consensus decision making. It was noted that there is no appreciation of ‘class’ in the document.

We concluded the session by starting to think about some of the themes that came out of the discussions with the aim of starting to develop concrete themes that we will examine for the rest of the course.

Download the class plan for our first session.

In preparation for next week:

  1. Produce a 300 word statement or equivalent that reflects on the first session and starts to concretize some of the key themes from reading and discussing the SSC FAQ and the ICA statement.
  2. Read Chapter Two of Paulo Friere’s  Pedagogy of the Oppressed, which we will discuss next week.

Social Science Imagination (Week 8) – ‘Health’ 21 November 2013

This week, we met to discuss the problem of health: health as a social phenomenon, as an historically and culturally specific concept and experience, as public and political; and health – dependent so much on our inhabitation of fragile and mortal organisms – as a matter of intimate personal significance. We made no explicit mention of C. Wright Mills’ ‘sociological imagination’, but throughout the entire class moved back and forth between understanding health as we experience it in ‘personal troubles’ and as a ‘public issue’, and the link between these. It may have been easier to think in one direction than the other; to consider how policies of public health, versions of medical knowledge and practice, and the political distribution of care affect the life chances and ‘well-being’ of individuals and groups. We struggled more to think in the other direction, about how we produce the conditions and meanings of health in our society, and how we might change them where needed. What is the role of alternative medicine, both for individual health and for opening up alternative ways of thinking about what ‘health’ is and what bodies are? What were the arguments of the ‘anti-psychiatry movement’ (see also here) in the 1960s and 1970s?

In preparation, we read Julian Tudor Hart’s (1971) ‘The inverse care law’, a paper exploring the ‘classed’ structural inequalities of health and medical care in Britain, and the need for the then-young NHS to address them. The first part of the paper introduced some basic statistics about average rates of mortality (with infant mortality, for example, being 37% below the mean for professionals [Class I] and 38% above it for unskilled manual labourers [Class V]), and what he calls ‘non-statistical’ or qualitative evidence of doctors’ experiences working in poor, particularly mining and industrial areas of the country. Hart then discussed the political and scientific debates around the interpretation of such statistics and non-statistical evidence, to arrive at what he describes as the ‘selective redistribution of care’. In brief, this is that ‘the better-endowed, better-equipped, better-staffed areas of the [national health] service draw to themselves more and better staff, and more and better equipment, and their superiority is compounded’. The problem, he concludes, is an effect of the organisation of social health, and care, on the basis of market principles. The debates that he cites, from the early 1960s, remind us that the resistance to social medicine, the pressures organise the National Health Service as a market, and the reduced importance of equalities in health are in no way new. Indeed, a 2012 review of major studies on infant mortality confirmed that babies’ chances for survival in Britain remain deeply unequal; for a related report (comparing infant mortality rates by class in the UK and Sweden) based on the book The Spirit Level, see here.

This raised some questions about where we each stand in relation to this debate. What do we do to defend one system of health care or another? What can we do? It also raised other questions, such as whether we should interpret evidence of gross and systemic inequalities (for example, the perceived higher prevalence of fast food or lower availability of doctors’ surgeries in poorer parts of the city) as deliberate and intentional programmes of class war, as unwitting and institutional structures of privilege, or some combination of both. This seems a question worth discussing further in the future, to develop a ‘sociological imagination’ about this question. Finally, we have encountered quite a lot of statistical data, tests and interpretations this week — it would be a good idea to discuss how we can read these critically as well, and their limitations and uses.

But our discussions did not revolve much around this article. Instead, we discussed a range of issues raised by Andrew: where we learn about what ‘health’ is, our images of the body, the politics of sport and ‘wellness’ as a kind of discipline, the complexities and politics of mental health and diagnosis, the history of medicine and medical knowledge and belief, the significance of the development of public health and of its privatisation, and the medicalization of health. After all our discussions, the question lingers: what does it mean to have a social-scientific imagination of health? What do we do after denaturalising everything from our conception of the body to the systems in which we unevenly live and die?

After all, in C. Wright Mills reminds us in The Sociological Imagination that:

‘taken as a whole, the cultural apparatus is the lens of mankind through which men see. It is the semiorganized source of their very identities and of their aspirations. It is the source of the Human Variety – of styles of life and ways to die’.

We ended just before considering Andrew’s final questions: can death be good, and is there such a thing as a ‘good death’? We have left these questions for our next meeting.

We have agreed to read two very different pieces before this:

S. Mukherjee (2011) Final chapter from The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, Fourth Estate (PDF attached).

J. Butler (2012) ‘Can one lead a good life in a bad life?’ Adorno Prize Lecture, delivered on 11 September 2012, Radical Philosophy, November/December, online at http://www.egs.edu/faculty/judith-butler/articles/can-one-lead-a-good-life-in-a-bad-life/.