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

Social Science Imagination: Seeing the world differently with social science

Thursdays, 7–9pm, from 8th October, every two weeks, until 10th December 2015

Involve@Lincoln Centre, Mint Lane, Lincoln, LN1 1UD

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. This course, offered by the Social Science Centre, Lincoln, can help.

The course encourages 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, the course considers 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 is 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 this connection, we can start to overcome the difficulties we face individually and collectively. During the course, we will explore various ways of doing this by examining our questions through many different ideas that have been developed within the social sciences.

The course is 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 will be encouraged and supported to read authors who have written about their concerns, and to write short essays setting out their own ideas.

Please contact us on info@socialsciencecentre.org.uk if you want to learn more about the course. We hope you can join us.

Lucy McGinty and Mike Neary

Notes from SSI course week 13: Location, space, place, distance and roots

Jane took notes during this week’s class. Thanks, Jane!

SSI – 10th April 2014

Present were Lucy, Paul, Sarah, Andrew, Gary, Jane, Joss, Wendy

Apologies from Mike and Laura

Theme: LOCATION AND PLACE

1. First of all, we decided to discuss what the last week of SSI is going to be for –  next week.

Aims!

  • How the SSI has been.
  • What we might want to take forward to the AGM next month
  • Small celebration!

Should we do an exercise – creative approach, something like last time?

A bit of movement? Some writing in the session?

Prep: read over the blog notes so we can review what we’ve done this term.

[Tim took the notes last week – he drew everything! Joss is going to email him to get him to scan the drawings]

Some possible questions about this SSI we might use next week:

  • Think of a memorable moment of learning during this SSI
  • Think of something or a moment that made you feel a bit uncomfortable, angry or troubled you?
  • Think of something that seems to be left hanging, that you’d like to return to?

Bring food +/or drink that in some ways relates to the memorable moment +/or the thing that troubled you etc.

A way of capturing what we want to take to the AGM – what did this course enable us to do or understand about cooperative learning.

2. The class – Location and Place

The text: Andre Pusey – Social Centres and the New Cooperativism or the Common (2010)

Joss explained his motivation for choosing this piece of writing.

Social Centres was a big motivation for setting up SSI.

Leeds geographers who run an MA in Activism and Social Change have just finished a big research project on social centres.

Pusey is coming to the end of his PhD.

Sarah described visiting the Birmingham Social Centre video that Paul suggested and, as it happens, Laylah and Sarah are actually in!

Lucy loved the video – especially the quote in the middle of the video – “If you believe in nothing, you will fall for anything.”

Sarah – explained she felt a bit ambivalent about Birmingham Social Centre. Felt it was quite exclusive in lots of ways. Certain kinds of people and not others. But it was a big experiment in bringing together people outside of norms…

Paul pulled out some questions from the piece. What do we think is “liberation in common”?

We talked about the word common or commons – is there a difference? Joss spoke about other terms – commoning, and commonism.

Paul spoke about his understanding – it is liberation from capitalism.

Jane said she was waiting for an explanation of who is being liberated? And in the other pieces, there’s more of a critique that it is an exclusive space. People who sign up to anti-capitalism. You’ve got to understand that term.

Gary and Joss agreed they didn’t like the term anti-capitalism. Lucy asked, what should we say instead?

Andrew felt this piece was some sort of throw-back to the 60s but there was no reference to this.

Joss said they referred to the 70s and the Italian autonomia movement. and Lucy wanted more on the history – would have been useful.

Andrew felt it was weak on who exactly is involved and what they do, also gender, class…

Joss – the term “outsides” – not particularly well articulated. Life despite capitalism, its use value versus its surplus value.

The commons is something else from “public” and “private”. Commons isn’t private and isn’t public. So what is it?

Wendy – Cooperative… Jane: non-marketised, not the state, not private, not sanctioned

Coops have this thing of “common ownership” – it’s written in. It refers to the assets of the cooperative. It doesn’t belong to any one individual, nor to us as a group; if we fold we have to hand it on to a ‘like’ organisation.

Wendy – I was thrilled to read this. I was in London in the 80s. Punk squats. Anarchism. Very radical. I lived and breathed it. In Hackney and Islington… Wow, I was part of this. Even now I get shocked when people don’t relate like that. Alot of care. People really cared about each other. We never seemed to have problems with money. A sense of freedom and liberation. A counter-culture movement. There were kids and families. And young people.

Lucy – “Gentrification” is mentioned in the article. What is it?

Andrew – Years ago, i used to live in a house in a  Georgian square in Newcastle. Very mixed community, housing stock was affordable. Loads of transient people who were overlooked. Then finally, riffraff like doctors, lecturers started moving in. The prices went up. The property is completely transformed. Sometimes a pocket – an Irish family left, a Pakistani family left. Squeezed out.

Jane – since squatting got banned under Thatcher it affects everything. Can’t live cheaply. Pressure to earn money.

Wendy – it all seemed to get shut down in a period of 3/4 years. Very sad.

Joss – can we bring this back to our theme on location and distance. How does social centre movement relate?

Lucy – dumpster diving – they prosecuted a homeless person from taking food ‘waste’ from the skip. I’ve also heard they are pouring bleach, paint into food bins. They are forcing people.

Wendy – we never had to pay to practice our instruments in. Now it’s so hard to find room, you have to pay. You didn’t have to pay to learn together.

Andrew – in Newcastle when i was living there you could always get a room in a pub as long as you bought some beer!

Jane – that’s what these social centres are providing – room, space…

Lucy – that’s where Peaceful is tonight – a meeting about starting a social centre at The Big Wok.

Sarah – it’s good to have the memory and history of what these spaces were. Now, it requires making space, claiming space, stealing space. There’s a regulatory framework for conformity.

Lucy – it’s written in to law – licence to play music. It’s like they’re doing this [squeezing action] to people.

Wendy – the more they squeeze us the more we’ll find ways to resist

Sarah – some of my ambivalence – we need to do more than this – there’s a regulatory framework to tackle.

Joss – those experiments in the 1970s failed?

Gary – I don’t agree – I think they challenge private property. Even if it falls to pieces, we’re talking about it. It’s really important work. It challenges private property, what purpose it serves. It exposes it for what it is. I don’t think there’s a “they” – there’s a logic that people are forced into. Why am I going to give food away for free if I can charge for it.

Joss – the piece says, these social centres arise out of moment of struggle. We did! Nearer the end – a process of becoming, deliberately unfinished.

Gary – this is Hegelian Dialectics!!! But I don’t want to explain it (been too immersed in it the past few days!). Hegel stressed the importance of auto-didactism. The unfinished – Thomas Mathiesen – leave it unfinished, then they can’t close it down. The alternative should make the ‘reasonable person’ feel dissatisfied with the status quo. ‘The Reasonable Person’ – he;’s referring back to Marx.

Wendy – the confidence i got from that experience is still with me

Gary – the Hegel point – a process of completion. Nothing is an accident, nothing is a waste. Everything is leading towards liberation.

Paul – did you have to dress in any way, was there compulsory codes?

Wendy – no no no!

Paul – what i’m getting from this is the ability to experiment; continuous experiment.

Gary – is this ‘prefigurative’ politics?. p187

Andrew – you’re living in a revolutionary way, prefiguring when capitalism is over

Before I moved here i was visiting two “New Deal for Communities” – New Labour funded projects. Communities were supposed to compete to get these funds to raise their own areas. Hartlepool and West End of Newcastle. I was reading this piece and thinking, they copied social centres! They sucked in people who were radical! But they had no critique of capitalism. Usual suspects running it.

Another project – action research in poor areas. They were Home Office funded but developed a radical critique of government.

Wendy – it’s a hard job to come up with a critique of capitalism. We have the luxury of meeting here.

Jane – it’s all mimicking people’s power but from the Right – Big Society, New Deal for Communities.

Wendy – no radical alternative in politics right now.

Joss – there is UKIP [Joss meant this to provoke discussion, not as a reflection of what he really thinks]

Gary – in terms of political economy, anything to do with socialism has been got rid of.

Joss – Andre’s paper has no radical critique, no political theory. When I’m being critical of social centres that they failed… i mean they haven’t provided a radical political critique.

They are not theorising what they are doing

Gary – Andre’s paper doesn’t do it. But the practice of it is different.

Joss – I think in order for it to work there has to be theory;

Jane – are you saying the anarchist movement is under-theorised?

Joss – what I’ve read of anarchist theory doesn’t have as much weight as Marxist theory.

Sarah – I would argue that a lot of the experimental things that have been going on now don’t have the theoretical rigour of what was happening in the 60s and 70s. There’s been a  lot of embodied critique.

Lucy – we need something real. A real alternative. We need something that ordinary people can get. I was talking to someone today who said, and everyone always says it – there isn’t any alternative .

Sarah – framing the conversation. We need to think in alternative words, alternative ways. Make spaces for this.

Joss – I’ve been at a conference, came across a project – The Haircut Before the Party. Fantastic! Politics while you’re hair is being cut!

Sarah – thinking of Iran – it happens in the cafe, happens in the barbers

Jane – remembering a poem. I’ll send it to the list – something like: Goodbye TINA, Hello TABOO – there are billions of options.

Wendy – the dictatorship of No Alternative

Jane – I’m interested in the temporary explosive ones – and the ongoing more steady ones. They are both needed. Free University of Liverpool burnt very brightly, very high level of intervention; but came to close itself after 3/4 years.

Sarah – time – example of abolitionist anti-slavery movement. Time, long game. Also immediate things that had to be done. On another point – i’d like to come back to facilitation. Important – it’s what’s needed.

Wendy – i’ve been thinking. What animal is the SSC. Snail! Bull!? LOGO!

Wendy played for us – There’s a song I never perform which I’m going to perform. It’s usually too personal. This guitar has been repaired too many times. It fell down the escalator in Kings Cross. Wendy played Working Class Hero – John Lennon. Amazing…. We should write a song together.

Distance, face-to- face and Online learning

Paul – online learning, distance learning. Distance learning is something I’ve done. You get sent a load of material and do it by yourself. Online – a forum online to discuss with teachers and other students. Online lectures, webinars. [Paul wanted to add later: I did my A-Levels by distance learning. I found it very hard to adapt to studying on my own at that point, and failed my exams. When I did a Theology degree by distance learning, I still found it hard to get into the swing of things for about the first year. But then Church History really helped me to concentrate and to focus my attention. I suppose it was because the subject required me to categorise stuff, to list things in chronological order: I could see how things developed, and at what points in history new discoveries were made.]

Joss – did anyone look at the MOOC through Coursera. I thought it would be useful to look at it. Massive Open Online Courses – MOOC. Past 3 years – it’s become widely known. Anyone can create a course and open to anyone. Coursera is a facility to upload your course. At the moment they’re not credit-bearing. But you can get a ‘Statement of Accomplishment’. You have to participate in a minimum of 4 out of the seven weeks. You have to write 400 words for each of those weeks.

Lucy – I liked free and open access. All material submitted is available to everyone else. You have a ‘creative commons’ licence – i liked it.

Andrew – copyright, came out of the troubles caused by people deceiving other people, free for all in publishing. Editing and chucking stuff in and out. Copyright had a good ethical start but now it’s about profit.

Joss – Creative commons – what this course is doing with it is saying that the professors’ work as well as the students is publicly available under a particular licence.

We could use Coursera – how do people feel about SSI using something like this?

Lucy – course format. It doesn’t rely on videos. 4-7000 long text each week with video elements. Discussion forum on any topic of your choice, plus Instructor-generated discussions.

Andrew – i feel v uneasy about this stuff. I read something about people meeting socially to supplement them.

Joss – Drop-out rate is 95%. This course had 1000 people sign up. Some courses have 10,000 people.

Lucy – what is drop-out rate compared to traditional university.

Andrew – it depends.  Bigger drop-out in US than here. If students drop out there, it’s their fault.  But we’re going towards US university aren’t we.

Gary – face-to-face. I did MSc through online learning – they paid for it. Nottingham Trent, a research body paid for us to do it. We were all local. 20 people started. 11 finished. 11 people met every week in a weekly group Resistance to Distance. We all stayed the course.

Lucy – I signed up for some OU courses and completed exactly zero. I want to learn with other people.

Jane – OU was an outstanding experience for my neighbour who left school at 14 and went into navy, then into fire service; did GCSE in his 50s, then A levels, then OU. He loved it. Suited him.

Joss – “open educational resources” (under creative commons licence) – i did a lot on this.

Lucy – App! Does that count as online learning. I downloaded an App on human biology. It was absolutely brilliant. And it was free.

Paul – distance learning – i couldn’t get into it. But once I did the history, I was at it all day and all night. Since i did my degree i’ve been doing some distance learning with Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies – it’s all online. I looked at the range of Coursera courses – some are only a few weeks long. If you are interested in lots of different stuff, you can do it for free and only for a few weeks. Very good. Some of the lectures on video, too short.

Joss – [just to get us thinking] – why don’t we run a course next semester that’s just online? What is it about the physicality?

We’re saying there’s a value (Andrew doesn’t like them, they’re useful but….they’re not a substitute for teaching. It’s important that people engage with each other in the classroom)

Lucy – there’s value. For some people who can’t get there.

Gary – i wrote something on this, a course for Veterinary nurses – pheromones. The nurses could only study at night cos they were working.  There was a fear of putting things online that you couldn’t retract. Fear of looking stupid. Nuances of conversation, feeling supported, especially with people you don’t know. The chance conversations and trust…

Andrew – what does it say about the quality of people’s lives that they had no time.

Joss – what’s distinctive here is that it is co-run. Coursera course is led by two professional academics.

[The session’s time was up so we had to stop the discussion on online/distance/face-to-face learning – more to say but people felt it was a good first discussion. Thanks to Paul and Joss for preparing it.

Wendy – [doing her PhD with the SSC] i’ve just written on 5000 words on Neo-liberalism! I want to have it peer-reviewed here. Send it to everyone?

All – send it!

We closed at 9pm.