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.


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.


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.


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).


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.

Notes from the SSC conference 2014

Social Science Centre, Lincoln Conference 2014: ‘Co-operation and Higher Education’

Joss welcomed people to the conference, gave a short introduction to the SSC and outlined the day’s programme. He said it was wonderful that people from as far apart as Southampton and Glasgow had come to Lincoln.

Mike described the SSC as an act of resistance to the politics of austerity in education.

Session 1:  Papers and presentations

Aniko Hovarth, Kings College London, described the post-doctoral research around alternative Higher Education: how identities have been negotiated in Higher Education following 2010 restructuring, and how power relations are jointly produced.  She contrasted the UK experience to Central University in Budapest where she was paid to do her PhD research (on the reproduction of poverty).

David MacAleavy, Lincoln SSC, took an evolutionary perspective on cooperative education, posing the question: How can the built environment lead to pro-social behaviour?  He outlined research on the dramatic effect of peripheral visual data – pictures of houses from two different neighbourhoods – to promote cooperation in the prisoners’ dilemma experiement.  David explained that the fabric of a neighbourhood acts as an indicator of social cohesion.  How can we “seed our localities” with cues that promote pro-sociality?

Angela Porter, Lincolnshire Cooperatives, introduced how she works with businesses and organisations to embed the values and principles of cooperation, as defined by the Rochdale Pioneers, giving examples such as the Food to Fork program for schools, and Community Champions to provide funding and volunteer help to local community projects.

Andreas Wittel talked to us about Education as a journey.  The combination of digital technologies and neo-liberal thinking are having disastrous results.  Andreas argued that Higher Education is too specialised to act as a commons, because of the one-sided relationship between students and teacher: what do teachers get?   Knowledge can be a resource, and the family and home could be a commons, but education in neither a resource nor a commons, but is a journey.  He referred to Ostram’s research into cooperative groups, stating a need for a penalising system.  Ostram concludes that sharing a commons can only work in a local way where people know each other and are watching each other.  However, research could be organised around a commons.

Mark Naranya, Community Education Norwich, asked: where is our attention focussed?  People tend to focus on detail, and to hear only one thing at a time, but pulling back to a wider perspective is difficult and fun.  He also described how learning to lip read can improve hearing: it is about attention.  Mark invited us to be guided by a friend with our eyes closed, and led us on a sound walk around the building of the Collection, to bring our attention to the environment and people around us, and to experience it differently, and through trust.

Mike pulled out some general themes from these presentations that could be used as framework for discussion throughout the day. These were:

  • Politics and Co-operation – are we for or against Capitalism: reform or revolution
  • Academic/activist identity: resistance or conformity
  • Co-operation by design – how to we build into the environments we create the values of the co-operative movement
  • The public versus private distinction is not enough on which to create a new politics of education, but can we rely on the concept of ‘the Commons’?


Second Session: Who are you and what do you want to know?

Mike recapped on the points highlighted from the first session and asked the question:

‘Is it possible to be a critical (functioning) academic inside an English University under the current political and economic regime?’

In response to the question ‘Who are you and what do you want to know?’ [please see responses below – not everyone present made a spoken contribution to this question]

Notes from the flipchart:

Billy (Grimsby HE/FE)  Bruised and appalled by the current HE system. He wants to create a space of freedom rather than control, that he feels lies at the heart of SSC. To walk and talk with us

Joyce (Birmingham) Had been made ill by the HE system. Was setting up alternative HE in Birmingham, but how to we sustain cooperative forms of HE

Alan (Mablethorpe) Starts from the problem of poverty and lack of educational opportunities for all. He wants to ask ‘What is education for and how do we improve it?’

Gordon (Glasgow) To learn lessons from the work of the SSC and to offer support. To be a critical academic he argued it is necessary to have one foot inside and one foot outside the HE institution

James (London) He was involved in voluntary organisations promoting community education. He was concerned about the dichotomy between conflict versus cooperation, given the current state of working class struggles

Karolina (Lincoln) Is there another way of building alternatives that does not have to begin from the negative principle of being against

Mark (Norwich) He wanted to draw out attention to those who are not with us in the room: the dispossessed and how do we get them to engage. He asked how do we maintain integrity and purpose if the scale of the SSC expands.

Adam (Lincoln) He is interested in Cooperatives and wanted to learn about what we are doing

Sandy (Lincoln) Works on the borders of HE/FE. She is working on issues of climate change as well as community and practice based initiatives. She finds the SSC a stimulating environment.

Jonathan (Nottingham ) How do we mainstream what the SSC is doing?

Alice – what about projects that use concepts like co-operation but have a different political approach?

Sam (Edinburgh) She wants to get inspiration to create more internal disruption and interventions and to find ways to collaborate

Erroll (Edinburgh) Not find a methodology by which his current values could be operationalised in the form of an educational project in ways that were non-adversarial

Aniko (London) How do members of SSC make the time and space to do this work and how to sustain if, particularly on if the scale expands. She wants to reclaim public space through ‘pirate activities’.

Gary (Lincoln) He is researching alternative forms of higher education: by which he means ‘compete against and contradict’. This conference signals a big shift in the SSC to a more outward looking focus. How will this affect practice. What are we all going to do tomorrow to further the aims of this event.

James (Lincoln) ‘What can the SSC do for me and what can I do for the SSC?’

Joe (Manchester) He is doing a Physics PhD and is involved in promoting forms of student activism and resistance to the current government policies for higher education.

Third session: What do we do tomorrow?

In the final session of the day, we split into four tables of 6 or 7 people to discuss what we could do tomorrow to move towards co-operative higher education. Joss framed the discussions in terms of ‘three routes’: 1) Conversion; 2) Dissolution; 3) Creation.

  1. Conversion – systematically convert the values, principles and legal form of an existing university to that of a formally constituted co-operative. Read Dan Cook’s report: ‘Realising the co-operative university‘.
  2. Dissolution – dissolve the ‘neoliberal university’ into a co-operative university by creating co-operatives inside the existing university form. e.g. constitute research groups on co-operative values and principles; design, specify and validate modules and degree programmes so that they embed co-operative values and principles; if necessary, outsource services to an increasing number of co-operative providers; establish the terms of reference for new committees on co-operative values and principles. Continue until the university is effectively transformed into a co-operative organisation from the inside out. Read about Student as Producer.
  3. Creation – build a co-operative university from scratch in the  same way that a new co-operative enterprise might be established. Read about the Social Science Centre.

For the workshop, people were encouraged to focus on routes two and three.

Table 1:

Creating Cooperative Higher Education

Iteration 2: the East Coast (Grimsby and Mablethorpe)


Set up Cooperative Higher Education Centres as part of a national/trans-national network of resistance

Values to the forefront


  • existing models don’t work for humans
  • cost/fees
  • challenge system
  • knowledge liberation
  • forward thinking
  • social transformation


Let’s get started.


  • Higher Education and work down
  • Start from the questions
  • Student as Producer – everybody is a scholar
  • Face to Face
  • Flipped Classroom model
  • Online discussions & Webcasts
  • Twitter links – linking the coastal strip



East Coast:

  • Grimsby (Billy)
  • Mablethorpe (Alan)

Glasgow? Norwich? Wales?


“Change life! Change Society! These ideas lose completely their meaning without producing an appropriate space. A lesson to be learned from soviet constructivists from the 1920s and 30s, and of their failure, is that new social relations demand a new space, and vice-versa.” (Lefebvre)


  • Contacts from Mike at Grimsby Institute
  • Contact from Sandie at Grimsby Institute
  • Cooperative contacts on the east coast?
  • Workers education contacts on the east coast? Ruskin College
  • Wider contacts and allies on the east coast?

For Whom? The people not in the room – community education

Table 2:

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Table 3

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Summary of notes on table 3:

This table discussed the work of Kathi Weeks, her critique of work and her advocacy of a reduction of working hours and the introduction of a universal guaranteed basic income. Both of these initiatives would provide people with greater freedom from work and allow for greater time to conceive and practice alternatives to capitalism. (This was also discussed on the recent SSC course). A reduction in working hours is also something put forward by the New Economics Foundation (21 hours report) and a basic income is increasingly discussed across Europe.

The question of acting locally, nationally and internationally was discussed and the need for the SSC to “visit places and talk”. We need to identify what alternative practices already exist, relative to oppressive practices. Much is being done and has been done, although we recognised that capital encloses educational alternatives. What examples can we learn from? e.g. The Plebs League; the growth of Liberal Arts colleges in the US. We need to continue to develop relationships with other, similar initiatives. We recognised the continuing need to engage in both theoretical and practical work (i.e. ‘praxis’).

Table 4

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Workshop: free, co-operative, higher, education (May 25, 12-4pm)

Free, co-operative, higher, education. What do these words mean? What have they meant in the past? What do they mean to us here and now, and towards the future?

SSC Workshop Free Cooperative Higher Education May 2013

Images above from the Antihistory website (part of the Mayday Rooms archive project), a ‘research blog collecting material related to the Antiuniversity of London and related initiatives’.

To find the Involvement Centre on a map, click here (LN1 1UD).

Notes from our word-work

Notes from our discussions about the terms ‘free’, ‘co-operative’, ‘higher; and ‘education’. We decided not to write them up in a way that would constrain interpretations; however, individual reflections on the discussions will be made available here and we encourage comments here.


We do not say whether freedom is real, or who gets to decide what it looks like. Most of our attempts to name freedom are names for what freedom is not: barriers, constraints, walls. Freedom is what is not thwarted by economic, institutional, geographical, material and political limitations. It may sometimes be what is self-determined. It may be a right. It may be the right to be different. Freedom cannot be understood in isolation from ‘co-operative’.



Co-operative was easier to define. Symbiotic, collective, inclusive. If freedom was imagined as the negation or absence of constraint, co-operation was defined as an activity that can break barriers down. How? Through friendship, support and challenge, dialogue, respect, mutually beneficial governance, communities of discovery, sharing and humility. Co-operation is a practice of freedom. But community does not simply imply co-operation. Communities can be exclusive, hierarchical, patriarchal and unequal. Co-operation can get out of control. We may also learn through constructive conflict. Society was made co-operatively, but we live in bubbles here today.



We were ambivalent about using the term ‘higher’. Sometimes, the word names a stage or form of education: education for adults; that is voluntary; that demands much of thinkers and learners; that is deep in some way. The word also evokes more creative definitions: the name for all kinds of learning that lead to experience and wisdom; that we use when doing new things requires us to think and do differently; that is creative; that leads to the creation of new knowledge; another word for research. Even further, higher refers to human beings’ ‘unfinishedness’. But the term ‘higher’ creates tensions. Higher implies hierarchy, inequality, status and discrimination. Participating in formal higher education, in this country and many others at the moment, requires money. It is unfair if everyone cannot have the ‘pleasure and excitement of reaching new heights and seeing new horizons’. There are arguments for moving away from this term, but what others – if any – can we use to name what we do?



Education is a very ambiguous concept as well. The term evokes pleasure and pain, desire and distance. On the one hand, education cultivates curiosity, organises experience, transmits cultural knowledge and skills, creates new useful knowledge, helps us to understand and engage in the world, cultivates wisdom, and lights fires. On the other hand, education is part of the problem and an Establishment institution, much of what we learn is not progressive or emancipatory and does not serve the greater good. Education takes different forms: social learning, apprenticeship, community and person-centred. In all cases, though, we need to understand it both politically and aesthetically.

Ideas and plans

  Learning Strategies

Key themes emerging: creation / catalysing of different kinds of spaces for dialogue, dissent, creativity, bringing communities together, play, encounter. The importance of ‘transit spaces’, ephemeral experiences of learning, and long-term relations of trust. Possibility of working together with Hackspace to create a public ‘market of ideas and practices’. Reading and having conversations in public. Responding to critical economic, social and political problems. Walking as a pedagogy. The need for more learning.

What does ‘free, co-operative, higher education’ mean to you?

Doing Ethnography as a form of collective/co-operative research

SSC scholar, Mike Ward, will be leading a workshop at our AGM on May 11th.

This workshop draws on data from a funded ESRC ethnographic study that explored the lives of a group of young, white, working-class men (aged 16-18) in a socially and economically disadvantaged community. The fieldwork stage of the ethnography explored how these young men performed their masculinities in different ways within different settings. This was conducted through many hours of participant observation, focus group interviews, ethnographic conversations, and more formally recorded one-on-one interviews. Over the research period which spanned two and a half years, multiple sites were visited in order to create a rich ‘thick description’ of their world. These sites including educational institutions, where apart from observing lessons I spent time in canteens, on school trips and in common rooms. Outside these educational sites, I also spent time in social arenas such as pubs, nightclubs, cars, shops, cinemas, and attended live gigs and parties. However, during my time in the field I found that I was confronted with issues that I did not fully expect to encounter. Whilst ultimately the research was being conducted to enable me to gain my doctorate from Cardiff University, without the young men’s support, co-operation and willingness to let me into their lives, I would not have been able to tell their story and highlight the issues they faced. Using examples from my fieldnotes and interview transcripts, in this workshop I want to explore how pieces of data can highlight examples of cooperative research and be analysed in different ways.

Related reading: Erving Goffman (1989) On Fieldwork

At this year’s AGM, we also have talks planned by Mervyn Wilson and Joel Lazarus. All welcome.

Decision-making and organisation workshop

Decision-making and organisation

Saturday 13th October 2012, 11am – 1pm
Pathways Centre, Beaumont Fee, Lincoln

Read the notes from this workshop.


Curious George Brigade, ‘The end of arrogance: decentralization and anarchist organizing’

Jo Freeman, The Tyranny of Structurelessness

Starhawk, ‘Circles and Webs: Group Structures’ in Dreaming the Dark: Magic, Sex and Politics’