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.

 

 

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.

Minutes of 2016 Annual General Meeting

Social Science Centre Annual General Meeting

Croft Street Community Centre

7 May 2016, 11am-4pm.

Attending

Sarah Amsler, Steve Hanson, Clare Lynch, Andrew McCulloch, Carol MacRea, Mike Neary, Karolina Szynalska, Joss Winn

Apologies

David McAleavey, Laura Stratford, Lucy McGinty, Peaceful Warrior, Wendy Vause

Minutes from AGM of 16 May 2105

Approved

It was proposed that in the future, note-takers should summarise each section of the meetings, including actions, and read this out for approval from those in attendance on the day.

Action: trial this proposal in practice in forthcoming meetings

Matters arising from minutes of 2015 AGM

We reviewed the actions agreed at this meeting.

Completed actions:

  • Met on 28 May 2015 to discuss the SSC [Independent Social Research Foundation] ‘co-operative university’ project; those attending were in favour of using this as a way to discuss governance issues in the SSC
  • Mike circulated a description of the role of the Secretary.
  • Andrew (again) circulated a proposed statement of values; however, it was not discussed.
  • Lucy, Sarah and Andrea drew up plans for a new short course; however, they did not run it.
  • Alex Dunedin from the Ragged University has agreed to work on the SSC website.
  • Members discussed the possibility of paying a co-ordinator and decided against it.

Actions not completed:

  • We did not organise a half-day workshop on decision-making and technologies for decision-making. Sarah did not bring a paper on democratic decision-making.
  • We did not discuss the statement of values that Andrew circulated.
  • We did not organise a year-long project using the constitution to develop meaningful definitions and practices of ‘democracy’, ‘non-hierarchical self-organisation’, ‘membership’ and ‘consensus’, with attention to issues of power and communication and with a view to revising the constitution, our ‘business plan’, statement of values if necessary and producing principles of organisation, teaching, and how to propose and run courses/activities (or whether the constitution should include a stronger statement of SSC values).
  • Lucy, Sarah and Andrea did not produce principles for new short courses.
  • We did not use some of our money to pay for training in decision-making and other relevant skills.
  • We did not ask each member for 200 words about themselves to publish on the website.

Action: Sarah to organise a discussion for members to reflect on the above.

Election of officers

Mike was nominated, seconded and approved as Secretary for the coming year.

Laura was nominated, seconded and approved as Treasurer for the coming year.

Thanks to Stephen for his long service as Treasurer to this point.

Action: Laura to arrange transfer of signatures, documents, etc. from Stephen.

Financial report

Approved. It was noted that this year we spent more money than we earned from member contributions. Stephen had said that this might happen. We will need to monitor this in the coming year.

Action: Future accounting reports to include more details of expenditure and income (e.g., precise figures for member contributions)

Review of the Constitution

No amendments were deemed necessary.

Members attending the AGM reviewed the Constitution and raised the following points for discussion:

  • Membership – did we make a decision about the definiton of ‘active membership’? Yes, and it remains broad to include a range of forms of participation and contribution.

We need to improve the process of ‘becoming a member’ to include face-to-face meetings and discussions, rather than only an online registration and email. It was acknowledged that meetings with new members have been offered and organised in the past, with little take-up.

  • Quorum – it was suggested that we reconsider the number of members needed for quorum, to avoid a situation in which decisions cannot be made at meetings.
  • Expulsion – it was suggested that the language defining grounds for expulsion from the SSC be revised to be more specifically related to violations of the values and principles.

New SSC Manchester

Steve Hanson introduced a new project, the Social Science Centre, Manchester. It grew out of the Manchester Left Writers project (which will continue), and aims to offer its first Sociological Imagination course in September 2016 at the Friends Meeting House. All agreed this is both an honour for the SSC, Lincoln and an exciting project that we are keen to learn from.

Action: Steve to write a brief blog about the SSC Manchester that we can publish on the SSC Lincoln website.

Other business (AOB)

It was noted that elements of SSC organisation have been adapted elsewhere; e.g., the Co-operative Institute for Transnational Studies, based in Greece. Several delegates from Mondragon University came to visit Joss and Mike recently to discuss co-operative education and student-as-producer pedagogy and curriculum.

Action: Mike to update the bibliography of SSC-related news, articles and publications on the website.

The AGM finished around 1pm and we had lunch, followed by a discussion about the research project: Beyond Public and Private.

ISRF-funded project on Co-operative Higher Education

Co-op HE Framework Poster Just over a year ago, SSC Scholars, Joss Winn and Mike Neary, received funding from the Independent Social Research Foundation to develop a ‘model for co-operative higher education’. This work has been documented on the SSC website over the past 13 months. The formal period of the funded project has now ended and the ISRF have published an overview of the project, its outputs and outcomes. As planned, we will also be discussing what we have learned from this research and thinking about how it can be applied to the Social Science Centre at our AGM on Saturday 7th May.

You will see from the ISRF website that our work continues on the theory and practice of co-operative higher education. Mike and Joss have recently been funded by the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education to focus specifically on co-operative leadership and governance for higher education. We encourage anyone who is interested in this work to contact us or subscribe to the discussion list and join 90+ other researchers, students, co-operators, and activists. Please do introduce yourself!