REVIEWING OUR HISTORY AND MAKING PLANS

27th August 2016, 10am-4pm
Croft Street Community Centre, Lincoln LN2 5AZ

Please join us at this event to look back at our activities
since 2011 and make plans for our future.

MORNING SESSION (SSC MEMBERS ONLY)

10:00–12:00 – SSC on reflection

A chance for all past and present members of the Social Science Centre to reflect on their experiences in the Centre, our activities, roads we have not taken, changes we should make and hopes for the future. Highlights to be shared with others later in the day.

LUNCH (public, everyone welcome)

12:30–1:30

AFTERNOON SESSION (public, all welcome)

1:30–4:00 – Co-operative Higher Education in Lincoln

Ideas and making plans for the term/year. It has already been suggested we run courses on Brexit, women political writers, ‘where is capitalism going next?’ and the co-operative movement in Lincoln and the UK.

What is the SSC?

We practice a kind of higher education that explores the everyday experiences of our members – who are both students and teachers – through concepts and ideas developed in the social sciences. This includes making critical sense of social problems (like ‘austerity’, racism and nationalism or the privatisation of schools) and important local and global events like ‘Brexit’, learning how they affect us and how we might have an effect on them. Our past courses – The Social Science Imagination, Co-operation and Education, and Know How: Do-It-Ourselves Higher Education – all used different approaches for this learning.

We are a co-operative organisation owned and run by our members. This means that we not only experience higher education, but decide together what this learning should be, how it works and why it matters. All our members can help run the Centre by taking part in democratic decision-making processes and collective ownership and responsibility. No one pays for learning or gets paid for teaching at the SSC because we do not believe knowledge should be for sale. Members with financial means make small monthly contributions to the co-operative to pay for room hire and other running costs. For more information about the SSC, visit our website: socialsciencecentre.org.uk.

Why do we need co-operative higher education?

The Social Science Centre, Lincoln was established in 2011 when the UK Government stopped funding the teaching of social science and other subjects that were deemed ‘non-essential’ in English universities, and raised student tuition fees at the same time. It was also born out of a deeper worry that as universities transform themselves into businesses and focus more on satisfying the short-term, competitive, profit-driven demands of the capitalist market, people are denied opportunities for higher learning and critical and creative thinking (and opportunities for any higher learning not linked to enormous amounts of personal debt).

The state of higher education in England has not improved since that time. Policies to raise student tuition fees were followed by policies to reduce need-based educational grants, and then by policies that changed remaining grants into more student loans. There is evidence that these fees deter people from state schools from applying to university. There is evidence that students are limiting their choices in study based on vocational and ’employability’ criteria which are based on flawed measurements of ‘return on investment’. There has been a very significant fall in the number of mature students applying to university.

At the SSC, we believe even more strongly today that higher learning oriented towards intellectual values of critical thinking, experimentation, sharing, peer review, co-operation, collaboration, openness, debate and constructive disagreement is an essential part of making a better future for us all. This is why we are working to create alternative spaces of higher education whose purpose, societal value and existence do not depend on the interests and decisions of the powerful, places where everyone can learn and everyone can teach.

Know-how: Do-it-ourselves research (course outline)

A new term starts this Thursday, 26th February, 7-9pm at the Renew Involvement Centre, Mint Lane, Lincoln. Anyone is welcome.

Below is an outline of the planned sessions. Readings in advance of the class will be circulated on our course mailing list. Please get in touch if you wish to be added.

Week 1: (26th Feb) Introduction to Academic Research

Week 2: (5rd March) Is co-operative education an antidote to the neoliberal political system of academy schooling?

Week 3: (12th March) The Academic Guerrilla

Week 4: (19th March) Co-operative Higher Education

Week 5: (26th March) Urban poverty: Space, time and inequalities

Week 6: (2nd April) Break: Reading, writing and contemplation

Week 7: (9th April) Rhythmanalysis – after Henri Lefebvre

Week 8: (16th April) Questioning Historical Research

Week 9: (23rd April) Research Design and Social Innovation

Week 10: (30th April) Home Reading Project

Week 11: (7th May) Seeing power

Notes from July course planning day

We met on 19th July at Croft Street Community Centre to begin to plan the curriculum for 2014-15. Here are our notes.

SSC – Curriculum Development Event 

Present: Gerard, Sarah, David, Andrew, Billy, Stephen, Joss, Lucy, Mike, Wendy, Alan and Martha

Venue: Croft Street Community Centre

Date: 19th July

Time: 11- 4pm

Fresh Paint

We met at Croft Street Community Centre. It was partially destroyed by fire last year and has been extensively refurbished. We spent a lot of time here in the early days of the SSC so it felt very familiar, if a bit smarter. Everywhere had the smell of fresh paint.

Praxis

Wendy led the first session, asking us to think what we would like to see included in the SSC curriculum for next year. We arranged our ideas under various headings, creativity: creative writing and other forms of creative activity, theory: to understand and to change the world as a form of praxis, using the insights of ecology, anthropology, sociology and, more, specifically Marxism, Feminism and Liberation Theology, Pedagogy: different types of education for empowerment grounded in our relationships to each other and our communities; research methodology and methods: all of this to be elaborated and explored by the use of participatory research methodology and methods. There was a strong feeling that these approaches should be based around issues of common concern, both local and national, so that the SSC is more self-consciously a form of academic activism.

Review

Sarah facilitated the session where we reviewed our work from last year. There was a general feeling that people who joined us for the Social Science Imagination and Co-operatives and Education courses needed more support, with a long discussion how this might best be provided. A central aspect of this support is childcare, as part of a committment to make our work as inclusive and accessible as possible in terms of time, space/physical as well as intellectually. We generated a number of ideas for increasing support, including the provision of a mentor/tutor for new student-scholars, specifying reading for sessions well in advance along with an enhanced bibliography, and a recognition that people learn in different ways and for different reasons. One suggestion for the bibliography was to focus on women writers next year. All agreed that the curriculum for the programmes needed to be well structured and planned in advance, but without losing the sense of guided emergent collaborative development. The practice of writing up sessions and reading these written reports at the beginning of subsequent sessions was much appreciated and should be retained, as well as the aim to produce some creative work as part of our commitment and connection with local community and public(s). This could be further enhance by blogging which was felt to be an important activity, creating the opportunity for cooperation within an educational environment.

The point was made that SSC was a recognition that education is part of a process of struggle, based on a self-conscious awareness about the relationship between knowledge and politics.

Walking

David talked about the work he has been doing on Our Place Our Priorities, a social photography project, as well as other work on Our Selves and Our Poetry. He told us about working with the city’s homeless through his links with Involvement Centre and Pathways that formed part of the Framework Housing Association. He uses an evolutionary approach in his work, by which a sense of perspective and memory are reactivated through the camera, seeing the world in focus and from a particular point of view framed through a lens. He did not define this as higher education, but an educative process within the city where participants are not defined as deficit but as reciprocity. The work has formed the basis for an advocacy project for the Pathways Centre that is going on tour around the East Midlands. This work provides a way for people to consider taking part in the more formal curriculum based programmes of the SSC. It was generally felt that we need to consider how to make these links better. David intends to develop his model to work on other projects with the local council and with Framework.

Sarah told us about the work that she has been doing with this group and other work she has planned with teachers as a way of maintaining a critical edge and against the current government policy for higher education.

An important issue that emerged from these discussions is what are the unifying objectives for all of the work of the SSC.

There was a long and interesting discussion about the effectiveness of walking as a form of pedagogy: a philosophy of walking; as a way of transiting from one place to another place, spatially, temporally and intellectually; as a radical affirmation of living in the world and being part of the landscape that you are in; as a non-alienating way of re-appropriating and making claim to the city we live in; really engaging in the urban fabric we are trying to understand, at our own pace, and sometimes in other people’s shoes, appreciating the way other people access space and how people are denied access to space(s).

Share

We ate lunch together. We had all brought food and shared it with each other sitting around a table near the kitchen area of the Centre.

Student as Producer

After lunch we has a session on Student as Producer. Mike told us that Student as Producer worked on at least three dimensions: a model of curriculum development and design; a framework for institutional change, and as part of social movement to reinvent free public higher education against student as consumer and the pedagogy of debt.

Student as Producer is based on negative critique of higher education: research and teaching work against each other in the capitalist university. Student as Producer ask the question: is it possible to re-engineer the relationship between teaching and research to recreate an institution based on democratic collegiality between student and teacher, grounded in principles and practices of commons, open education, communism even?

Student as Producer is not a model for learning, but a model for creating a new form of social institution, what Giggi Roggero refers to as ‘living knowledge’, in which students are part of the academic project of the institution. In this way Student as Producer is not fundamentally about students learning, but about the meaning and purpose of higher education.

The SSC emerged out of the work of Student as Producer, its successes and failures. It important that SSC develops its own pedagogy grounded in its own imperatives based on a shared understanding of what is required and what is necessary. Joss Winn has done work on using Student as Producer as the pedagogy for a co-operative university.

Curriculum – a course of action for the SSC

This was a lively and energised debate, full of passion and commitment, with a sense of excitement about what we are doing, as well as pride; but with a feeling of caution and uncertainty.

There was a general agreement that our new curriculum should be:

  • Designed as a process of enquiry, discovery and research, rather than a taught programme, based on a well organised structure, arranged in advance, but full of emergent possibility
  • Grounded in the programmes we ran last year, with a focus on the historical development of the radical co-operative movement and its relationship to education. A specific theme of common concern on which to base this approach is yet to be agreed.
  • There will be sessions on research methodology and methods associated with this form of research that aims to be transformatory and participative
  • All of this will include an aspect of critical self-consciousness about what is the SSC and what are we trying to achieve.

Mike to write out notes for circulation as the basis for our working document on which planning the new programme is to be established. This will be discussed and taken forward at the next planning meeting in August.

The new curriculum to begin in October.

Other work

The day ended with thoughts and ideas about other work that will be provided by members of the SSC next year. This includes Sarah’s work with teachers, David’s work with the local council and with Framework, as well as Vernon’s work on poetry and creative writing.

Consequences: The Politics of Collective Writing; or, Stretching the Social Science Imagination [another social science fiction]

The final session of the Social Science Imagination course last term (December 12th, 2013) featured a collective writing activity based on an adaptation of the game of Consequences. The format of Consequences is that  each person contributes to a narrative  as a part of a series of answers to specific questions without knowing what the other persons involved have written or will write. Questions usually follow the format of  Person A met Person B, S/he said, S/he replied, S/he wore, S/he wore… What they did, and the consequences were? These answers are written on one sheet of paper, which is folded up to hide  the previous written contribution before handing the paper on to the next person in the game. At the end of the game the paper is unfolded and the answers are read aloud in sequence to reveal the whole  narrative, often and hopefully with comic effect,  and, among the laughter, the possibility for profound insights into the human condition http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consequences_(game).

In the SSI adaptation of the game,  CW Mills is introduced as Person A in the narrative and the story line and other persons identified as characters in the narrative should be derived from the readings and discussions that have formed the substance of the SSI programme this term.

We also made the game into a more collective activity. Each person was asked to write out the entire story line responding to all of the questions: CW Mills met…He said to them…They said to him…What they did…and the Consequences were. Each of these individual complete narratives were then cut up, and mixed in sequence with other answers to the questions from each of the persons narratives. At the end of the game we had as many narratives as they were participants in the game (8). I have referred to each of these narratives as Sets 1 – 8.

Consequences is an amusing party game, and was great fun to play as part of the final SSI session. The techniques utilised as a core part Consequences, as well as our adaptations, have an interesting history, connected to critical political art, e.g., Dada and Surrealism, who adapted the artistic montage method to a writely form; as well as avant-garde writing movements, most notably through the work of William Burroughs and Brion Gysin, as well as other writers who formed part of the Beat Generation and are credited with inventing Cut-Up Theory. I have enclosed some links at the end of this piece which provide  further information on these politicised writerly forms.

Please see the narrative sets set out below. I have only very slightly amended contributions were they have strayed outside the format of the game or details disrupt the narrative in nonsensical ways.

At the end of this post I provide some analysis of the sets. My main point is that each Set, for the most part, displays a sense of logical coherence framed by the questions to be answered, and, more importantly, as a result of the pedagogical experience we have all been through as scholars on the SSI programme. The question that remains is what are the consequences for pedagogies being developed by the SSC following this sort of collective writing activity.

SET 1

1.  CW MILLS  MET: Thomas More in a park in Belgium, they were looking at birds on a lake. One of the birds had a broken leg and was swimming around the edges of the lake, other birds were more or less ignoring it getting on with their own business. They both watched the bird as others swam up to it and started to fight with it. The injured bird didn’t retaliate but moved away. More looked at CW Mills and laughed.

2. MILLS SAID: You may feel like you are trapped by some fate of your surroundings or maybe by the government or maybe by your having so little money or others having too much. But I can tell you that if you learn to think with  a sociological imagination you can learn how to challenge these powers that make people who they don’t want to be. It won’t be easy but it has more promise than this.

3. MORE SAID: I thought you were dead

4. WHAT THEY DID: They shared the view of the lake and smoked the’ peace pipe’. And eventually walked back to the lights of the city where civilisation was in full swing

5. THE CONSEQUENCES WERE: There are no consequences as pure as violence does.

SET 2

1. CW MILLS MET a teacher in a classroom that tried hard at the end of the day when OFSTED came and she forced the kids to do something she thought was harmful to their self-esteem and agency and probably life chances.

2.  CW MILLS SAID: Personal problems: that bird is like a person in society. Everybody needs to play their part in society. The bird has no role..what is the point of it. The personal troubles of something as trivial as illness and transferred into a problem for wider society and it will just die.

3. THE TEACHER SAID:  Listen man. I like the many questions you pose, they are very interesting. You seem like an educated kind of fella, who might have studied the work from more academic circles. Have a toke on this fat cat and see if things don’t just morph into a better, freer way to solve the in-balances of our world. Try to imagine a social science perspective that could reform the  current way of looking at what you’d have us believe the world to be. It may be far less complicated than you people make it. Love and peace man.

4. WHAT THEY DID:  THE TEACHER died the next day after drowning herself with a glass of water. Her partner and children watched until the last breath.

5. THE CONSEQUENCES WERE: In the corner of the square MILLS spotted a bread shop with a long queue of people outside waiting to get bread. Inside the shop women/children/men were playing games and reading books and writing stories. On the wall inside the shop was a sign ‘Welcome to the future’.

SET 3

1.CW MILLS was on a trip to NY city in 1975 when he was caught in a traffic jam. He decided as it was a nice evening he’d walk past the central park back to his hotel. On coming to the lake edge he came upon John Lennon smoking a joint and laughing. Though he didn’t really know who the man was he looked vaguely familiar. The stranger was a well mannered man, possibly British, but he had the aura of someone who often bucked the rules

2 MILLS  SAID: What would you call this barbarism or socialism?

3 LENNON SAID:  ‘The sick role’, More said the bird has a role. If it was a human in Utopia it would have the access to free health care, but no one would pick on him for it.The other bird should be scorned by the wider community for starting fights with someone for a problem which no one has any control over. Injury is a variable which can’t be prevented, but can be helped

4 WHAT THEY DID:  Mills convinced LENNON to walk in the surrounding town where everywhere he looked he saw suffering that was greater than his own. People were sick, children were orphaned and working in unimaginable conditions, and many went without food, clean water and homes.

5. THE CONSEQUENCES WERE: Beyond this place of warmth and tears, looms but only the horrors of the shade. Yet the uncertainty of the years, finds and will find me unafraid.

SET 4

1. CW MILLS MET King Henry VIII in the palace gardens shortly before his death

2. MILLS SAID – Aren’t you that fellow who writes such inspirational music, laced with melodies and rhythm that catch peoples’ heart strings? I’m sure I’ve been caught singing a popular song of yours on many occasions. I really enjoyed your freedom of vision, the clarity and the inhibition by which you describe such values as love peace hate and war. Could you do me a favour? Would you tell me how you see the world through this lens? How could you describe simply your way to imagine the possibility of peace and love being a popular movement.

3. HENRY VIII SAID – people are struggling to live a ‘good life’ in what is more than a ‘bad life’, getting worse and worse. There are pockets of resistance that you might want to call socialism

4.  WHAT THEY DID The got up and began to walk stroll away, as they looked back they saw the investigating bird had brought food for the injured bird. Ah said MILLS you may be right, but I don’t believe it, for anything to matter it needs to inspire the motivation of the entire society. No you are missing the point we need to pull together as a society so that there could be no weak links if a society cares enough they will collectively find a solution..find a role for everyone.

5. THE CONSEQUENCES WERE:  Seeing such impossible troubles his people faced for the first time the king fell to his knees in the mud a tear ran down his cheek as a young girl hugged him before running off laughing.  The king vowed to put his people first and try to pass his legacy on to the next monarch so that England would be a Utopia.

SET 5

1. CW MILLS  met a scholar from the Social Science Centre.

2. HE SAID: Your theories are rooted in German idealism promoting aristocratic disdain and aphoristic obscurity as the highest intellectual endeavour. Rather than possessing a Sociological Imagination you see yourself as a critique without any responsibility or care for non-intellectuals.

3. THE SCHOLAR SAID: I  married my childhood love. I wrote poetry and a book no-one ever saw. I had children and friends. I danced naked in the garden, with my love on the summer Solstice. I had little money and didn’t need much either. I went to University aged 50, got a 1st in English and became a lecturer aged 54. The cancer will take me quick. I’ve said goodbye. I am having visions of my mother and Queen Victoria and the flowers outside look so beautiful. Tomorrow I will die with dignity among people I love and who love me.

4. WHAT THEY DID – They spent the morning thinking about the troubles they faced and considering their impact on the rest of society. They thought about ways to address theses issues through collective action and imagining alternative ways of being.

5. THE CONSEQUENCES WERE – It’s hard to tell what the consequences were. Sometimes a single happening looks different from different perspectives, through different lenses. From the scholars perspective the consequence was that THE SCHOLAR suddenly saw her classroom as a space to work in which she and her kids had a right to be and to become. From Mills point of view the SSI offered hope but  it needed a home in the world to live.

SET 6

1. CW MILLS MET: Theodor Adorno in the USA where he was presenting the ideas that lay behind  the Sociological Imagination.

2 CW MILLS SAID: I heard that you hated work, you never made any money, you laid bricks most of your life, you left school with no qualifications, you were constantly trying to reinvent yourself and now your dying of cancer at 56. The world has failed you.

3. ADORNO SAID: My life has been far from perfect! Each day I battle with my problems. I have no time to sort out anyone elses lives while mine is in constant turmoil.

4. WHAT THEY DID: MILLS and ADORNO took a grand and magical tour through history that hardly anyone knows about or can remember to gather resources of hope for taking control of their own lives and making the world as they wanted it to be. They learned about reforms and revolutions and failed experiments and stopped every night in a new place to read something new and to talk and think and see how it could help them learn better the next day. And then they started trying.

5. THE CONSEQUENCES WERE:  ADORNO wrote a song which he called Imagine to describe the themes CW Mills had offered for consideration. CW Mills went away to write the book the SI, which outline the themes spoken about by the hippy in the park. Both became more focussed from that chance meeting on the synchronicity of life.

SET 7

1. CW MILLS MET: Kathi Weeks in 2050 Lincoln

2. MILLS SAID:  I’m glad that people have started to take  notice my work! I thought it would never happen. But what are you going to do with all that you have learned? Most people just talk about it. I have a plan why don’t you?

3. WEEKS SAID: The modern world is hopelessly corrupt and irredeemable. That in structure and in spirit modern society produces human beings who have no moral compass. You  are a liberal and liberals have a dark heart.

4. WHAT THEY DID: MILLS slagged WEEKS  who now felt justified in her contempt

5. THE CONSEQUENCES WERE:  MILLS’ sons dug his grave and buried him.People grieved. There was silence. Dignity. A prize in his name. Despite it all.

SET 8

1 CW MILLS met NIGEL WINN on May 26th 2006  at home by his hospital bed, which was on loan.

2.MILLS  SAID:  Do you believe yourself to have lived a perfect life. What have you done to make the life of others easier and happier.

3 WINN  SAID : Don’t insult my intelligence. Don’t tell me I can do things about my world, the governments power the inequalities of class race and gender the learner privileges, the language that helps us not to listen to each other, the bureaucracies that prevent people from being human to each other – just by thinking differently. If sociology could change the world, wouldn’t we have all become sociologists and done so by now

4. WHAT THEY DID: They went to Speakers Corner on Lincoln High Street and read passages from Thomas More’s Utopia outloud.

5. THE CONSEQUENCES WERE MILLS  argued  we need to look more closely at the way society works – there may be some truth to it. WINN smiled, If everyone in society sees someone in trouble, chances are someone will rush to their aid. Society is like a body, different people have different roles. Not everyone does the same thing and they don’t need to…

Consequences?

Each set, for the most part, displays a sense of logic framed by the questions to be answered;  and, more importantly, through a coherence shaped by the pedagogical experience we have all been through as scholars on the Social Science Imagination programme.  The Sets deal, in their own way and to different degrees, with the themes that form the basis of the key text for the programme, C Wright Mills’ Chapter 1 of The Sociological Imagination. These themes include, the relationship between private troubles and public issues; the problem of establishing a theoretical understanding of the social world, set within an appropriate historical context; the sense of being trapped within a social world over which we have no control, and yet a real appreciation of the possibility to escape or to create another world in which humanity is the project and not the resource. While, all of the time, dealing with our sense of hopelessness and despair, and the reality that in the end all life ends in death. The Sets express a scholarly connection with other readings, including More and Weeks, Adorno and Judith Butler, revealing the critical  Utopian tendency out of which the Social Science Centre has emerged , alongside a realisation of the nightmare dystopia that has been created by the imposition of capitalist work, among other destructive negative social conventions.  But, more than that,  the Sets  reveal the power of the social imagination in other forms,  most importantly music and art, as well as the importance of re-establishing a connection between the natural and the social world. So, finally, at the end of this SSI programme for this year, how are we to take this critical collective writing project forward?  What are the consequences of what we have done, and what we have achieved, co-operatively.

Further Readings:

Pangburn D J ( 2012) Surrealism and Automotic Writing The Politics of Language http://www.deathandtaxesmag.com/181227/surrealism-automatic-writing-the-politics-of-destroying-language/, access 16th December 2013

Language is a Virus : William Burroughs Cut-Up Theory http://www.languageisavirus.com/articles/articles.php?subaction=showcomments&id=1099111044&archive=&start_from=&ucat=#.Uq7S7mRdUug, accessed 16th December 2013

Cut-Up Technique – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cut-up_technique, accessed 16th December 2013

The Lazarus Corporation http://www.lazaruscorporation.co.uk/cutup/links, accessed 16th December 2013

Brion Gysin http://briongysin.com/?category_name=cut-upm, accessed 16th December 2013

Surrealist autonomism http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surrealist_automatism, accessed 16th December

Social Science Imagination: Session 2 – 10 October

Last week, Gary wrote a short summary of what we discussed in the Social Science Imagination course. Feel free to comment, and we hope it is useful for those who want to follow the course online. You are always welcome to join us on Thursdays between 19.00 and 21.00 at the Revival Centre on Sincil Street in Lincoln.

This week, we were pleased to meet a few new people and learn about the interests and concerns that brought them to the course. We also found our way into deeper conversations about questions raised last week: what ‘social science’ is, how it can help us understand the world and our places in it, how we can learn to see patterns and trends, and how we can work together to use this way of thinking (or ‘quality of mind’) to make a difference, to empower ourselves, to change situations that are socially constructed.

So, what is ‘the sociological imagination’ (according to C. Wright Mills, in the first instance)? Here are some of our early thoughts.

How we are defining the sociological imagination…

As our second session came to a close, we began to define the sociological imagination for ourselves, and to think about why Mills’ says it offers a ‘promise’. We also decided that, while promising the possibility of empowerment, it is perhaps more simply an invitation to think differently, in ways that carry some responsibility for responding critically to what we learn, even when this is uncomfortable. We will be working to put these thoughts into practice next week, practicing ‘sociological imagining’ in order to redefine some of our emerging concerns more critically…and imaginatively!

‘The use of information, knowledge, rational thinking and a quality of mind that allows us to develop a politics of thinking, to link history and biography in society, and to understand the relation between them.’

‘Thinking more teleologically about how decisions I make in my own bubble affect others. Mills’ ideas are a transitional point, and enlightenment.’

‘A way that people can understand themselves within a larger context: the relationship between individuals and history, individuals and society, and private and public – to understand these relationships and structures.

‘It gives individuals the potential to understand themselves and place themselves within society; to understand how what we do has an effect on our own personal circumstances and society. It helps us see how our personal views and histories are shaping our current decisions and actions. It is a tool for cohesive thinking.’

‘It can be a “common denominator”, a way of thinking collectively, in common; a way of thinking critically together to reveal the sources of our uneasiness and indifference and to do something about them politically and intellectually.’

‘It is like a conceptual and moral toolbox that gives us the possibility of connecting with others and joining the dots to understand the social forces that have shaped our lives, and it can give us critical tools to develop skills of imagination about how to change them.’

‘Something that can help us see beyond our “private orbits” and to see the connections between individuals and social structures; a “quality of mind”.’

We had various other thoughts as well: that this way of thinking can help us to ‘denaturalise’ things about our lives and the social world that we are encouraged to think of as ‘natural’ (and therefore beyond our capacity to affect or change); that it can help us to understand the complexity of the social world in a way that is empowering rather than overwhelming; and that it can help ‘demystify’ personal circumstances, social issues and ‘traps’ of power.

And it occurred to us that the methods of ‘the sociological imagination’ might be used by those in power to control others, in addition to being tools for liberation.

Making connections from the first session: Is the ‘sociological imagination’ a kind of ‘really useful knowledge’ for us today? Is it similar to or different from the kind of thinking that we discussed had been common in other kinds of popular education which have existed at other times in this society? Can people feel that the ‘sociological imagination’, as a way of thinking, is for them, in the way we hope everyone can feel that art is for them? How might we use art (or science) to practice or communicate this way of thinking?

Keywords

We spent a bit more time talking about why everyone is participating in this course and what they want to accomplish by doing so. We started with a comment made last week by someone who says she ‘hated school’, and ended up discussing…

The nature of education (mainly based on our experiences as children, young people, parents or carers):

  • as involving many different things: institutions, people, relationships, learning, families, historical developments, moral purpose, social control, economic value, beliefs
  •  as often authoritarian, a place where people are often taught that hierarchies (of ‘intelligence’, types of school, kinds of knowledge, economic class) are ‘natural’ and that there are undesirable consequences for transgressing them
  • as a social structure and institution which has a history (has not always been as it is today) and a politics (because it is connected so closely with inequality, elitism, distribution of resources and life chances, quality of life, power and privilege), and which is connected to or ‘converges’ with many other institutions (such as religion, the church, the military, economic and state institutions, the police) and industries
  • as a social activity that is not just one thing – we spoke of progressive education, alternative kinds of education, as we did last week – and that people have very different experiences of which cannot be easily explained (in addition to others in the group who also ‘hated’ school, there are some who enjoyed it or had no strong experiences)

We also discussed how these ideas do not relate only to education, but have wider importance.

  •  Some people writing about social institutions, such as Michel Foucault, argue that the growth of formal education (at least as we understand it based on our own cultural experiences) has some things in common with the development of factories, prisons, asylums and the modern military. We have not yet explored this in any depth.
  • The ideas also raised even deeper questions about power, capitalism, racism, how people become institutionalised, why it is difficult to change the way we think about the world through ‘common sense’, why people conform, how we can resist conforming and become able to think, act and be differently.

Some interesting concepts from all of this include: power, politics, institutions, inequality and equality, capitalism, work, choice, coercion, demystification, hierarchy, social control, resistance, reason, practice, history. Were there any concepts influencing the discussion but not mentioned aloud?

Preparation for the next session…

We wondered, at the end of the class, where to begin. Next week, we will continue to answer this question by using Mills’ ideas to think more critically about the themes we have been discussing. We will read Chapter 1 of The Sociological Imagination (‘The Promise’) with these in mind, and decide on one problem to work on together.

Do this however you like – the greater the diversity of approaches, the more imaginative we can be together! But, if you would like a little guidance, try the following.

  • Think about what brought you to this course, and/or one of the major concerns you have been sharing thus far. Write down (or speak out) a short explanation.
  • Review Mills’ chapter with your interest or concern in mind. Try to find connections between his ideas and yours. Pay attention also to where you disagree with him.
  • Using Mills’ definition of ‘the sociological imagination’, or our own definitions of it (above), try explaining your interest or concern in a sociological way, as Mills describes. Try expressing it as an issue or problem of ‘public concern’ – one that we can all think about, respond to, read about, study, etc. together. You might also take a look at the kinds of questions he believes good social analysts tend to ask…