Know-How: a course in do-it-ourselves higher education

The Social Science Centre, Lincoln

New course 2014-2015

Know-How: a course in do-it-ourselves higher education

This course1 introduces participants to the principles and practices of social science with the aim of achieving something for the benefit of ourselves and our local community. At the Social Science Centre, Lincoln,2  we believe strongly that social science can provide the resources for people to take some control over their own lives. Focusing on issues of interest and concern to those involved on the course, and using the methods of research and discovery, participants will develop understandings, create meanings and produce knowledge about things that matter to them and to their friends,  families and communities. Work done on this course will be shared with others, e.g., as stories, photographs and creative writings, contributing to the store of general social knowledge.

The course starts on 16th October and carries on until the 18th of December, 7-9pm at Croft Street Community Centre, Lincoln. The course may be extended after the Christmas vacation if more time is required.

Structure of the course

The course is divided into themes related to the overall research project. Each theme may take more than one session.

Lively and Engaging

All of the sessions will be participatory, giving all scholars the chance to engage with the materials in ways that are lively and engaging. At the Social Science Centre (SSC) we refer to each other  as ‘scholars’, rather than students and teachers, as a way of respecting  each others’ intelligence and recognising that we all have much to learn from each other.

1. What is the Social Science Centre and who is it for?

The first theme will be about the nature and purpose of the Social Science Centre: who is it for and what does it do? The SSC has been set up by teachers, students and local residents as an alternative form of higher education. The SSC is free, in the sense that there is no fee for the course and participants are free to think beyond the learning outcomes that structure university degrees. A particularly important issue for the SSC is that participants are free to think beyond the financial imperatives that dominate higher education. This session is about how you might get involved with the SSC, how you can contribute and what you’d like to get out of this course.

Suggested Reading

Amsler, A., Canaan, J., Cowden, S., Motta, S. and Singh, G. (eds)  ( 2010) Why Critical Pedagogy and Popular Education Matter Today, Centre for Sociology, Politics and Anthropology,  Higher Education Academy, University of Birmingham.

Bonnett, A. (2013) Something new in freedom. Times Higher Education.

Collini, S. (2011) What are Universities for? Penguin Books, London and New York

Holmwood, J (2011) Manifesto for the Public University, Bloomsbury, London and New York

Social Science Centre (2013) An experiment in free, co-operative higher education, Radical Philosophy.

2. Planning our research and discovery projects

The second theme will look at  research planning, incorporating the questions of the whole group as well as particular issues that people  want to research. This session can offer support with research  that participants are already working on.

3. Community Research and Discovery

The third theme looks more closely at the topic of research in a community setting. This will include thinking about ways of doing research that is public and participatory, promoting solidarity and social change between academics, activists and concerned individuals, as well as challenging power relations. This session will look at different approaches to doing this kind of research: feminist, Marxist, anarchist and enlivened learning, as well as the different methods we can use to learn from each other, e.g., structured conversations, social photography, extended case studies and other design frameworks.

Suggested Reading

Blackshaw, T ( 2009) Key issues in Community Research, Sage

Living in Lincoln: Abbey Ward,including Community Plan, published by Community First (n.d.)

Stacey, M. (1970) Tradition and Change: Study of Banbury, Oxford University Press  Banbury

Chatterton, P. Fuller Routledge (2007)  ‘Relating Action to Activism – Theoretical and Methodological Reflections’ in Pain, R and Kesby, M (eds.) Connecting People, Participation and Place, Routledge London 245-287.

Motta, S. and Estevedes, A. ( 2014)  ‘Reinventing Emancipation in the 21st Century: the pedagogical practices of social movements’, Interface: A journal for and about social movements  6 1 1-24

Teamy, K. and Mandel, M. ( 2014)  The Enlivened Learning Project

4. Adult Education in the Archive

The SSC has been invited to London by the librarian at London Metropolitan University to look at the archive for adult and trade union education in the UK. The archive has material relating to adult and trade union education in Lincoln. This session will prepare for the visit by considering the practical and conceptual issues relating to doing research in an archive.

Suggested reading

Derrida, J. (1995), `Archive Fever. A Freudian Impression’, Diacritics 25 2  9-63

Steedman, C. ( n.d.) ‘Romance in the Archive

Steedman, C. (2001) Dust: The Archive and Cultural History, Rutgers University Press

Smith, B. (1998) The Gender of History:  Men, Women and Archival Practice, Harvard University Press, Cambridge MASS

5. Exhibition Gallery

Scholars will present  work they have done so far on the course to each other for comments and support.

6. Fun Palace

The Fun Palace3 is an event at Croft Street Community Centre on the 20th of December, where the SSC invites local residents and other community based projects to an evening of music, dancing, comedy, food and fun.

  1. Know-How is a term for practical knowledge on how to accomplish something purposeful, combining know-what (science) know-why (reason) and know-who (prosociality) []
  2. The Social Science Centre, Lincoln, is an independent cooperative with no link to any university or higher education provider. []
  3. The Fun Palace is the name of an alternative university developed by the actor, Joan Littlewood, and architect, Cedric Price, in the 1960s in London, England. The Fun Palace was also known as ‘the University of the Streets’ (Mathews, S. (2005) From Agit-Prop to Free Space: The Architecture of Cedric Price, Black Dog Publishing). The Fun Palace was never built  but the ideas on which it was based have made it an inspiration for community education projects ( Neary 2015). []

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.

Course starts 16th January. New location.

The Social Science Imagination (SSI) course will start again for 10 weeks in 2014, beginning on Thursday 16th January and running through to Thursday 20th March. It will be held at The Pathways Centre, Beaumont Fee, Lincoln, LN1 1UH. Classes run from 7-9pm.

Please note that this is a change of venue from previously advertised.

More details on the course…

If you have any questions about the course, please contact Joss who’ll be happy to talk about the SSC and meet with you beforehand.

Social Science Imagination: Winter/Spring 2014

The Social Science Imagination (SSI) course will start again for 10 weeks in 2014, beginning on Thursday 16th January and running through to Thursday 20th March. It will be held at The Pathways Centre, Beaumont Fee, Lincoln, LN1 1UH. Classes run from 7-9pm.

This term, we intend to look at co-operatives and co-operative education through the Social Science Imagination (SSI).

This free course is for anyone who wants to learn more about how the social world works and how we can change it, with the help of social science. Today, the economy is in crisis; people are struggling to find work and homes, pay debts and make ends meet; prejudice and discrimination are rife; social policies are changing fast; and new social movements and experiments are springing up everywhere to respond to this situation.

We think that the course will be of interest to anyone who is involved in or interested in co-operative organisations, as well as people who are looking for an opportunity to learn about broad themes in the social sciences, such as work, democracy, education, power and gender. Previous attendance on the SSI course is not required and we very much welcome new scholars. Feel free to come along and see if it’s for you!

The format of next term will be slightly different to previous classes. We will continue with semi-structured seminars but give our thematic reading and discussion a practical focus that examines and questions the running of the Social Science Centre. We want to try to apply our learning on the SSI course to the Social Science Centre itself with the aim of revisiting, discussing, and ‘refreshing’ our co-operative for higher education. Following this course, we expect to have new ideas and proposals to take to our AGM in May for members’ consideration.

As with last term, we’ll spend the first week or two getting to know each other, setting out the course, and negotiating the themes we want to focus on. To begin with, please try to read the ICA Co-operative Identity, Values and Principles and the SSC ‘FAQ‘ page, before coming along to the first class.

If you have any questions about the course, please contact Joss who’ll be happy to talk about the SSC and meet with you beforehand.

We look forward to seeing you.

SSI Session One: Thursday 1st October 2013, 7-9pm

We will start with introductions and explain what the course and the Social Science Centre are all about. Everyone will have a chance to share who they are, why they are interested in the course and what they hope to get out of it. We’ll also talk about our approaches to teaching and learning environments.

After a break, we’ll look at all the issues and ideas that emerged in our discussion and talk about how we will explore them through the rest of the course. We’ll do this from many perspectives, but will introduce the first piece we’ll read (a chapter by C. Wright Mills’ book The Sociological Imagination’) and discuss plans for our next meeting.

Links to reading

Link to the first chapter of The Sociological Imagination, which we will read together first:

C. Wright Mills, ‘The promise’, Chapter 1 of The Sociological Imagination (NY: Free Press, 1959),

Links to a few pieces of writing that explain what Mills means by ‘the promise’:

Kimberly Kiesewetter, ‘Choosing the sociological imagination’, Sociology in Focus, 14 November, (the questions at the end of this piece are not terribly relevant, but you could try to make up your own…).

Joachim Vogt Isaksen, ‘The sociological imagination: thinking outside the box’, Popular Social Science, 29 April 2013,

Questions for thinking

It will be helpful if we all read about the sociological imagination with some similar questions in mind. We can start with the following questions:

  • What do you think Mills means by ‘the sociological’ imagination’? How might you explain this idea to someone you know?

  • Why did Mills think that people felt ‘trapped’ in their lives when he was writing? What did he argue they were trapped by?

  • Did he think people could become free from these traps? If so, how?

  • What is the difference between ‘personal troubles’ and public issues’, according to Mills? Why did he think it is important for people to be able to tell the difference?

  • This first chapter of Mills’ book is called ‘the promise’. He wrote that the sociological imagination promises something for us. What is this promise?

Once you understand something of what Mills is saying, try using it to think differently about something in your own life or something that you’ve noticed happening around you (for example, in your observations on the streets or in the media).