The Social Science Imagination Course, January – April 2017

The Social Science Centre created the space for another course of the Social Science Imagination that ran from mid January to the beginning of April 2017, on Wednesday evenings. 7-9 at the Improvement Centre in Lincoln.

This Social Science Imagination programme has been the main teaching and learning event since the Social Science Centre was established in 2011. A defining feature of this course is that although it is based on the work on CW Mills it is designed and facilitated by the scholars who make up the learning group. This time the group comprised of  Sarah, Jade, Joe, Bradley, Sarah and Mike as well as others who joined us for some sessions, including friends of Bradley and Jade. The group asked that the sessions be facilitated, initially, by Mike and Sarah. The first session covered the main points of the first chapter of Mills’ book, looking at what constitutes the Social Science imagination.  A point was made  that the Sociological Imagination has little to do with imagination and a lot to do with social science method. The social science imagination is made of the way in which public and private issues and troubles are framed, an awareness of the historical context and trajectory in which those issues are taking place, the need for empirical research to support what is being imagined, and that the starting point is the personal experience of the person who is doing the imagining. A key question for Mills and for the group was how can people have an impact on major events that are taking place in the world.

An important issue for our discussions was the process of learning itself. We discussed this in relation to the work of Paulo Freire, who has written about learning as a process of collaboration between the teacher and the student. We read some chapters from Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and talked about what the reading meant for us.

The group thought about how the framework established by Mills a might be used to help us to consider contemporary political developments, for example, the rise of Donald Trump and Brexit: the vote by the British electorate to leave the European Union.

A point that emerged from the discussions was that in order to understand contemporary issues it is important to start from some fundamental understandings of what we are talking about. So, in order to understand Brexit and to use the logic of Mill’s framing, it is necessary to have an historical understanding of the development of the nation state. These discussions were supported by reading the work of Ellen Meiskins Wood who has written about the origins of capitalism with particular reference to the origins of nation-states. Most of the sessions for the rest of the course were taken up with a reading of Meiksins Wood’s book The Origins of Capitalism

In the final session we were joined by Laura and her new baby, Meredith, giving us a real sense of new life and renewal. We said we would write up our impressions of the course and meet again in May to plan future work, including the Social Science Centre’s  Annual General Meeting.

Meeting Notes – October 1st 2016

Notes from SSC meeting, 1st of October, 12 Mint Lane, Lincoln

Present;  Andrew, Laura, Ana, Magda, Callum, Bradley, Sarah, Mike

As there were people present who had not attended SSC meetings before, the meeting began with a discussion about the nature and purpose of the SSC.  An important part of SSC’s current activity is to attract new members so it was encouraging to see new people at this meeting.

There was a discussion about how to take the work of the SSC forward this term. It was agreed that we should run the Sociological Imagination course, but that is should be publicised with specific reference to topics that are of real interest and concern to people’s everyday lives. This would include Brexit, unemployment, the concerns of rural communities and the government’s campaign against radical extremism.

The point was made that in order to achieve the aims of the SSC we need to find ways of gaining the trust of local groups in the community.

It was suggested that the SSC has more of a social media profile, particularly on Facebook. Mike will contact Joss to fix up a meeting with  those at the meeting who are interested in working on this.

Mike and Laura are to arrange to contact and visit a local secondary school to talk to Six Form pupils and their teachers about higher education and what is offered by the SSC.

Magda said she would invite members of the local migrant communities to our next event.

It was agreed that we all meet up again on the 5th of November at Mint Lane, hopefully with some new members present from the publicity and new contacts made. One purpose of that meeting would be to agree how to take the SSI course forward this term. An important principle of the SSC is that courses are designed with the participants, teachers and students, in the tradition of popular education.

 

 

Happiness and freedom: Social Science Imagination notes 25/02/16

SSC 25th February, 2016, Mint Lane, 7-9.00 pm.

Present: Mike Neary, Andrew McCulloch, Paul Boyce, Laura Stratford, Lucy McGinty.

The subjects of the discussion, led by Paul and Mike, were the dystopian novels “We” by Yvegeny Zamyatin (1921) and “1984” by George Orwell (1949). “We” was not published in the Soviet Union until 1988 and slipped awkwardly into English and French in the nineteen twenties. Not all of us had managed to read both novels but partial reading should not and does not stop discussion at the SSC meetings.

Mike introduced a discussion about “We”, which is now in a newer, superior translation by Clarence Brown (1993) when compared to the wooden US translation of 1924. The Brown translation recognises that this dystopian novel is a constructivist work, which reads almost like a poem or series of poems. Orwell reviewed a French translation of the book for the journal Tribune on 4th January 1946. He found much to admire in the book but did not enjoy the style of writing. Paul introduced a discussion of the much better known “1984”. Orwell’s book owes much to “We” and the influence was never denied. Of course, Orwell’s book is much bleaker than “We”. However, both books present a picture of an imaginary society in which, as Orwell put it in his review of “We”, “happiness and freedom are incompatible.” Both books portray a society of the future where the capacity for imagination and free thought is only an undesirable source of mental torment. Affection and love are therefore dangerous, and disturbing emotions because they are unpredictable. In both portrayed societies human beings live under constant surveillance and the source of this surveillance is a remote and inaccessible centre of unchallengeable power.

Laura asked, why should we read these novels when their message appears so depressing. We saw them as warnings, imaginative forays into possible futures which still have purchase on our by no means perfect present. We acquiesce in trading away our freedom of thought and action lulled by an empty affluence. The deliberate political presentation of a constant rumble of war and terror around the world, promotes a general sense of helplessness and personal and social insecurity.

Laura suggested that we read for next week some research which was positive and appeared to demonstrate, on the contrary, that freedom and happiness are indeed compatible.

We will read together on Thursday 10th March at 7.00 pm at Mint Lane, the following:

When Freedom is Not an Endless Meeting: A New Look at Efficiency in Consensus-Based Decision Making.

If you have not had time to look at the paper but are interested, do still come, as we will read the paper together. If you can print out your own copy, that would be great. Depending on how the meeting works we might continue reading this another week, or even another week after that.

 

Hope, fierce resilience and education.

 

Notes from the Social Science Imagination course, Autumn 2015.

Lucy and I planned the course together, meeting in a pub near the Witham river in the centre of Lincoln. She brought her knowledge of running training sessions for voluntary sector organisations, while I was trying to unlearn how to be a university professor.

This was to be a free course for anyone who wanted to learn more about how the social world works and how we can change it, with the help of social science.

The format was to be open and encouraging, taking a lead from the reading and people’s life experiences. The course would be taught in an informal environment that is inclusive, and that encourages and supports participants to share and think about their experiences. Both teachers and students are considered scholars who can learn a lot from each other. Everyone doing the course was to be encouraged and supported to read authors who have written about their concerns, and to write short essays setting out their own ideas.

We wanted to encourage participants to think about ideas, problems and issues that are important to them based on their own life experiences. Rather than viewing these experiences solely as individual problems, which can often overwhelm us and make us feel powerless to act, we wanted the course to consider how we can make connections between the individual problems we face in our everyday lives and wider public issues that affect us all, such as cuts to public services, rising food prices, and racism, sexism and homophobia in daily life.

The course was based on a close reading C. Wright Mill’s The Sociological Imagination. This book provides a framework for thinking about our own life experiences and understanding the world around us in a way that gives us confidence rather than feelings of frustration, fear, anxiety and indifference. For Mills, it was important to understand how our personal lives are affected by power in the wider society and how, by making these connections, we can start to overcome the difficulties we face individually and collectively.

The group was made up of Laura, Lucy, Mahmood, Andrew, Wendy and Mike.

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Notes from SSI course week one

Social Science Imagination week one

Thursday 8th October 2015

After brief introductions, we recognised that it was a course where theory would meet with personal experience, and we agreed some principles for the course:

  • no pressure to share our thoughts, feelings, beliefs or experiences
  • confidentiality among those present
  • notes to be published on website will be read aloud and agreed at the end of the meeting; also to re-view the content of our meeting

Lucy shared a biography of C Wright Mills that she had prepared: this context was appreciated.

Mahmood talked about the novel he is writing about his experiences.

Discussion on pedagogy, and explaining as a teaching technique; and post-modernism and how hard it is to understand ourselves without theorising.

Suggested reading:

Foucault (on Iranian revolution)
1984 (generating fear)

For next time:

Write ~300 words with the title (borrowed from C Wright Mills’ essay):
On Who I might Be & How I Got That Way