‘What do we mean when we say “democracy”?' Learning towards a common future through popular higher education

Amsler, Sarah (2014) ‘What do we mean when we say “democracy”?' Learning towards a common future through popular higher education. In: London Conference in Critical Thought, 26-27 June, Goldsmiths College, London.

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Item Type:Conference or Workshop contribution (Paper)
Item Status:Live Archive


This presentation explores the practice of learning as radical subject and social formation through an autoethnographic account of the early life of the Social Science Centre (SSC), an autonomous centre of free, co-operative higher education in a small city in England. The presentation begins from a question raised by one SSC scholar three years on: ‘What do we mean when we say “democracy”?’ It is significant because, when raised amongst a diverse group of ‘scholars’ in the context of a course on co-operative education collectively designed to support the political and intellectual development of the centre, it transcended the definition of a concept to open possibilities for articulating emerging and contested forms of democracy within the centre itself. I will explain how we are becoming able to critique and re-imagine social forms through practicing a ‘sociological imagination’, why it took us three years to ask the question in this way, what sorts of pedagogical and mundane organisational labour have enabled us to do so, how this work is connected rhizomatically with other counter-capitalist projects in the city, and what sorts of challenges we face in nourishing the project. I will then consider what, if anything, is radical about this space (and how sometimes abandoning ‘the radical’ can sensitise our receptivity to it), and consider the role that non-community-based centres of popular higher education might play in the proliferation of both critical thinking, capacities for ‘commoning’ and the creation of radically democratic publics where individualism and class division presently prevail.

Keywords:popular higher education, radical democracy, critical pedagogy, Politics of possibility, Co-operative education
Subjects:L Social studies > L222 Democracy
X Education > X350 Academic studies in Adult Education
L Social studies > L370 Social Theory
X Education > X342 Academic studies in Higher Education
Divisions:College of Social Science > School of Education
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ID Code:14502
Deposited On:15 Jul 2014 15:53

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