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


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


  • 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.

Reading for week 13: Location, place, distance, roots

Here is the reading and watching and perusing for Thursday’s class on the theme of ‘Location, place, distance, roots’.

On co-operatives, place and space, please read:

Pusey, Andre (2010) ‘Social Centres and the New Cooperativism of the Common

There are a number of articles in that issue on ‘The New Cooperativism’, which may be of interest to you.

We would also like you to watch this short illustrative video:

Although not required reading, you may be interested in looking at this research on Social Centres later on:

What’s this place? Stories from radical social centres in the UK and Ireland

Finally, to help us think about virtual space and distant learning, please could you sign up to this MOOC. You don’t have to participate in order to see how it works:

Globalizing Higher Education and Research for the ‘Knowledge Economy’

The course was recommended by Dan Cook, who wrote the report for the Co-operative College on ‘co-operative universities’. See his blog post for more details on why he thinks the course is important:

Please think about the nature of online learning through your observations about that course. You don’t need to read any of the course content in real detail. Just get a good sense of who is participating and how.

We’d like to divide the class into discussing the attached article and video, then the MOOC, and finally allow time to plan our final reflective session on the 17th.

See you Thursday.

Joss and Paul.

Notes from Social Science Imagination Week 11: Co-operative Learning (1)

On 27 March 2014 ten scholars met together in the Pathways Centre in Lincoln. The session began with a number of scholars sharing their most positive learning experiences. This was very insightful, and the ways in which the experiences were presented to the group were quite creative, as the following will show.

CollageLucy presented a collage of various pictures: a sock, a bag, a playing card, a VW Camper Van, and a sign. She said that her grandma (who has been a massive influence on her life) had taught her to sew, and that the sign presented her core value: “Make Do and Mend”. Instead of always using new bags, reuse the one you already have; if clothes get holes in them, patch them up. (As clothes are so cheap today, one scholar asks, why not just replace them?) Lucy’s grandma had also taught her to cook, and when the family went to the caravan together, there was never a dull moment. Grandma would always be there to lovingly guide and encourage her granddaughter, and to play Gin Rummy. Nowadays, Lucy finds sewing meditative and therapeutic, always thinking fondly of her grandma whilst doing it. Other scholars commented that it was such a shame that the art of sewing seems to be dying out, but that it has been superseded by other skills which are seen as more essential in the modern world.

Laura presented three drawings to the group. These showed the places where she goes to learn, the people she meets in association with her education, and the interconnected relationships of her learning activities. Map Education is important to Laura, and the people she works with in association with this allows the process of assimilation and creative development to flow easily. This has become such a routine that if any part of it were temporarily cancelled it would cause a certain amount of disorientation and upset the whole quotidian of her week.

Andrew explained that he had had some bad experiences at school. There was one teacher who would make each pupil get everything out of their bags and place them on the desk in front of them. Whatever a pupil touched during the lesson would be confiscated. (If you were a nervous person, this would mean being temporarily parted from many of your possessions.) Andrew then presented a paper which he had co-written with a colleague, explaining that the death of this person had deeply affected him. This particular colleague “had given the most incredible critiques”.  Andrew also told us about his son, Alex. Alex is disabled and has had many operations in his life. He now lives with a lot of uncertainty about the future. Even so, he has no sense of self-pity, is well-read, and has a family of his own. Andrew says that he can and should learn a lot from his son’s stoic nature.

Paul presented a plan of the room in which the SSC group meets at present. and explained that he found the whole experience of facilitating to be a positive learning experience. He comes from “a deeply introverted background”, but he enjoyed directing a discussion on subject that he had only recently been introduced to. The experience, he says, was helped by the SSC having a calm and safe environment, a friendly atmosphere, and a co-operative nature (i.e. group-work). Paul also commented that although the facilitation was not perfect, the experience had been a real joy and had planted a seed from which, hopefully, more good things might grow. Another scholar added that what Paul had prepared had been relevant and to the point: “facilitation should be felicitous!”.

Joss explained that whilst studying for his undergraduate degree, he would often spend 9-to-5 in the library, immersed in solitary study (the same period that he had previously devoted to paid employment). He loved the opportunity to devour whole volumes of knowledge. He said that this same love of reading and learning seemed to be showing in his young daughter, Gracie. Joss had brought along a copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone which Gracie had both read and meticulously extracted information from. Next he produced a large piece of paper on which Gracie, in four columns, had recorded (1) the names of Hogwarts’ students; (2) the names of Hogwarts’ teachers; (3) the places that the book mentions, and (4) the spells that are used. Joss added that he very much enjoys (and has always benefitted from) the one-to-one relationships which are characteristic of mentoring, and that when he was a student he didn’t get much out of (banking concept-orientated) lectures.

Sarah then showed us a collection of photographs which had been taken at significant points in her educational history. She explained that she did not like school at first, and that after spending a period away from formal education, she still felt mostly the same way. However, there was one teacher whose strange teaching method intrigued her. Marking out significant moments in world history on a long strip of till-receipt paper gave her something to compare her life to. She was also encouraged in her learning by her grandfather, through their trips out together and by the gentle exchange of knowledge that tends to take place within close, familial relationships. Subsequently, she spent much of her time in the Library of Congress, learning about the American Civil War and Black Liberation. (She recommends Tracy Chevalier’s The Last Runaway.) She also praised a colleague who, every time Sarah wrote a draft for a university assignment, would give very long and detailed critiques. Sarah has adopted this practice, so much so that people often ask her why she is writing so much!

Mike Neary told us about how “demoralising” his undergraduate education was. He explained that after university he had worked with the young unemployed and young offenders on community education projects in South London. He went back to university to do an MA where he learned about Capital and the power of money. Mike then ripped up a five pound note as a protest against the power of money. He told us about the time when, in 1994, The KLF set fire to a million pounds, which provided a potent image and invoked strong reactions. Another scholar referred to Mike Neary and Graham Taylor’s Money and the Human Condition as a most useful and realistic text on the monetary system.

Jane described a “tremendously exciting” and “extremely influential” learning experience. She once took a short course in teaching English as a foreign language. The teacher was dynamic and had a very unusual teaching method. Upon entering the room, he greeted his students in Arabic! The students were astounded (mainly because they couldn’t understand what he was saying), and the teacher just kept repeating the same salutation until someone replied. For Jane, this was extraordinary, and to her mind this was a good example of a teacher “embodying” their pedagogy. She is always trying to emulate this. Jane refers to Jacques Ranciere’s The Ignorant Schoolmaster, a book which emphasizes such an “embodiment”.

The first part of this session proved to be quite insightful, giving space to some very interesting personal testimonies. From this “[amazing] range of experiences” (Jane’s words) we may find various themes, including: the passing on of skills through family generations, lifelong learning, a problematic monetary system, bad school experiences, the joy of co-operative learning, and the interconnectedness of our learning experiences.


For tonight’s session we had been asked to read ‘Why we still have a lot to learn’, the seventh chapter on the Trapese Collective’s Do It Yourself: A Handbook for Changing our World. Six scholars took it in turn to read one one of the defining principles of “popular education” on p. 109. It was unanimously agreed that all six apply to the SSC.

There was then a discussion on what “popular education” actually means. The phrase has no real meaning in English. In Spanish and Portuguese, however, “popular” means “of the people”, and popular education refers to the self-education of the working-class. Since the second half of the twentieth-century there has developed a strong tradition of popular education in Latin America, for which Paulo Freire was just one of many influences.

The discussion then turned to the nature of the SSC. These are some of the ideas that were discussed (and some of the questions that we were left to ponder):

  1. The SSC is a fertile learning ground in which new ideas can be discussed and developed, and where alternatives pedagogies can be tried out.
  2. One scholar who is a lecturer at the local university said that they were proud of the way in which all contributions at the SSC’s sessions are given equal status and that any sense of academic hierarchy is “dissolved” within the group.
  3. Do It Yourself: A Handbook for Changing Our World was used by the SSC’s founders to help define its parameters.
  4. “Are we complicit in our collaboration?”
  5. No single person acts as a teacher here – the role of a teacher gives the sense of authority. There will be a discussion on “authority” at a later date, but it may be helpful to give a flavour of what was said at this session regarding this subject. What determines a teacher’s office depends upon the authority with which the subject they teach is invested. If this authority-invested tradition pushes a teacher forward, then the teacher becomes a part of that authoritative tradition and is able to contribute to it from within. Having authority may also mean that one is able to understand, discuss and critique different ways of seeing and interpreting something. At the SSC, the understanding is that the scholars collectively embody this teaching role, and teach from the point of view of their own personal experiences (c.f. the first part of tonight’s session).
  6. We are not experts, we are scholars – there will be a discussion on “expertise” at a later date.
  7. There was a recent article in The Guardian newspaper that referred to the SSC, entitled Is a Co-operative University Model a Sustainable Alternative?‘: a heading which some scholars saw as not suited to the content.

Miscellainious: something useful to remember

  •  “We can’t hear the way people listen to us”.

For next week

Read ‘How to inspire change through learning’, the eighth chapter of Do It Yourself: A Handbook for Changing our World, pp. 120-138.

Reading for week 12: Co-operative learning

We’re continuing to discuss the theme of ‘co-operative learning’ for a second week and will be reading chapter eight of ‘Do It Yourself. A handbook for a changing world’ by the Trapese Collective. Chapter eight is about ‘How to inspire change through learning’

Click on the image to download the book.

HASSAN film 20/7/99 (Page 1)

SSI course reading for week eleven: ‘co-operative learning’

HASSAN film 20/7/99 (Page 1)

The reading and activity for week eleven of our course is copied below. For the next two weeks, we’ll be focusing on ‘co-operative learning’.


Hi Scholars

We’re looking forward to seeing/hearing about your positive experiences of education on Thursday, if you decide to take up our challenge:

Respond to these questions in a creative way:

When have you had your most positive learning experience?

What factors enabled this?

So far one person is sewing her response, someone else is responding on her guitar, someone else has hinted at a poetic response, another response is looking like a diagram…

Have fun!

Also, here’s the recommended reading for this week:

Chapter seven of ‘Do it yourself. A handbook for changing our world‘ by the Trapese Collective.



Notes from Social Science Imagination Week 10: History of the Co-operative Movement Part 3

There were two suggestions for texts to read this week:


Facer, K. Thorpe, J and Shaw, L (2011) Co-operative Education and Schools: An old idea for new times? The BERA Conference, September 6th 2011, London, UK


Kadam, Parag Pramod (2011) Co-operative movement in the world Role of co-operative movement in sustaining rural economy in the context of economic reforms: a case study of Ahmednagar district(Chapter 3)


We decided to focus on Facer et al paper, kindly suggested by one of our new scholars, Wendy.  The paper was written in 2011 and at that time there were 143 cooperative schools in the UK.  There has been rapid growth over the past two years and it is now believed there are over one thousand.




Below is a rough transcript of our session, I’m hoping to capture the essence of the session:


Joss: are these schools primary, secondary or a mixture.  Are they all fully cooperative or in the process of becoming cooperative?


Wendy: rapid increase in cooperative schools was a reaction to neo-liberalism


Joss: is this a reaction to neo-liberalism or a product of it?


Kathleen: idea of neo-liberalism is to give people more freedom


Wendy: no, neo-liberalism just gives the illusion of freedom, capitalist have hijacked words such as freedom and dis-articulated them.  They are using emotive words to give the illusion of freedom.


Tim: Can we change from within by using cooperatives?


Wendy: academies are run as top down businesses, with management restricting teachers, where the budget not the curriculum is the priority.


Kathleen: we need to be clear on what academies are.  Academies are simply schools that receive money from central government.


Wendy; One of the criticisms of cooperative schools is they are outside the system, they are not democratically run as others.


Kathleen: my vote for my local councillor will not have an effect on how they are run.


Joss: cooperative schools can be academies, trust schools, free schools, church schools. You can have a cooperative academy.  Cooperatives are seen as undemocratic as they are not under state control, they are about autonomy.  Cooperatives are private, not public.  We have been schooled to think public ownership is important but cooperatives can be seen as the opposite.


Wendy: cooperative schools are more about the teaching and learning, they have a more open curriculum, co-learning.


Kathleen: it is not as simple as one versus the other.  I have seen a noble ethos in schools other than cooperatives, community schools, church schools and free schools.


Wendy: my thesis is going to test this.


Laura: can you tells us about your research, what its about


Wendy: my thesis is going to test the claims of cooperative schools against academies.  Develop a new model for secondary education, partnership management, politics, governance interest me but the pedagogy is what im most interested in, open, creative curriculum stimulate learning.  Would like to remove targets and testing.


Laura: is anyone at liberty to be removed from testing.


Wendy: I hope so


Kathleen: two things are separate the curriculum is choice and the tests are statutory, schools have to present evidence of progress to ofsted but in primary education: new curriculum has been designed and due in Sept 2014, is a programme of study rather than having levels of attainment. It’s not statutory for any school which is an academy.


Gary: that happens in academies as well they have to do gcse’s.


Kathleen: not all academies have to, some do, some don’t.  Its a mixed picture.


Joss: The difference between the curriculum and tests,  the curriculum is free and the tests are all standardised.


Wendy: I don’t think the idea of the curriculum being free is right.


Joss: We have four people who work in education; Tim in sixth form, Wendy and Kathleen and Laura. What is interesting is its a period of real flux and change, people are not set on what is going on.


Tim: has anyone come across the Upside of Down Catastrophy and Creativity and the renewal of civilisation by Thomas Homor-Dixon makes reference to Buzz Holling.  Applying a theory of eco-systems to society.  Panarchy and fractals.  All complex eco-systems go through destruction and renewal and that’s when new ideas can be formed. I would like to do some research in this area.


Wendy (to Kathleen): I want to pick up this point about curriculum and free to choose this. An impact of that is school targets. Highly competitive system is taken out of cooperatives


Laura: don’t cooperatives have targets


Wendy: no not in the same way


Joss: back to the text, I don’t think we can say cooperative schools do this and cooperative schools don’t do that.  The only way to define a cooperative is to test it against its values and principles as cooperatives are not a legal form.


Two examples can be found in the text, a faith school and an enterprise academy can both be seen as cooperative (page 8-10).  Cooperative values and principles are open to interpretation, change and are aspirational which is both their success and downfall.



Joss: Tim I will read this article you have mentioned about fractals.


Lucy: what are fractals?


Tim: you don’t want a hierarchical structure, society is communities working together, non-hierarchical, it creates a pattern


Kathleen: like the leaves on a tree


Tim: brassica (shows us the picture of a close-up brassica).


Joss: Rhizomes and Rhizomatic theory.  Deleuze  and Guttari  were political theorists who were popular in the 70s and 80s.  Rhizomes are root systems.  You can also look at Rhizomatic learning pedagogical model.  A network of people learning from each other inspired by the internet.


Kathleen: Gregory Bateson did a lot of work into the patterns in society mirroring the patterns found in nature.  He was very influential in my career.


Joss: Gregory Bateson was a systems theorist and his work was influential in the 60s and 70s to computer scientists working on the internet.  Systems theory can explain some things, there are structures that regulate our lives but I think it is ‘seductive’.  Systems theory doesn’t explain politics. The internet is no longer the organic  creation it once was, it has become too regulated.


Wendy: I want to go back to this idea of the cooperative movement, what is the cooperative movement?  I’d like to think about John Holloway and the idea that we can change the world without taking power.  We can change other things before the political.


Joss: the point of Holloway’s second book is there are cracks in the capitalist system.  Where we can create a different world.  For example he talks about the community gardens and also the SSC as being those cracks. Its about creating an abundance of cracks. Critics say you wont get anywhere with just a community garden or the SSC but its about creating an abundance of cracks.


Gary: That challenge capitalism as the dominant logic.  The cracks will eventually meet up and shatter capitalism. It can be as simple as an allotment you tend to at night.  There is the Johnson Forest tendency in America, workerism in Italy and France.  It is about local communities organising and controlling themselves.


Laura: I have a practical idea, its about co-operators, cooperating with each other.  I use SUMA which is a worker cooperative as an alternative to Tesco.  The downside is £250 you have to spend at once.


Peaceful: interested in permaculture like Laura.  Capitalism controls what goes on but is not the best option,  dont think we have yet imagined what would replace capitalism, what is the best way forward.  The idea of permaculture is observing how nature is already working.  Permaculture looks at how everything can work harmoniously together.  Capitalism isnt the best way to live as its fundamentally about greed.


Joss: ‘greed’ is one way to look at it but early capitalists were promoting ‘freedom’ and ‘liberty’ as it was a better system than the feudal system.  Even if you aren’t greedy, you are still stuck in the capitalist system.


Gary: how can you get people to work together to produce wealth, it was a form of cooperation.  It was once seen as advanced but due to technological advance we have outgrown this system now.


Joss: JS Mills wrote that early liberals hoped capitalism would produce enough wealth, people would no longer have to produce more wealth and we would reach steady state – no growth.  There is now the thought that there must be growth.  Especially recently.


Lucy: and then they start to invent growth.


Wendy: nothing is ever good enough.


Gary: in the school system, teachers who get grade 2 in school system which is ‘good’ will go on capability as they are not progressing to grade 1.  Good is not good enough.


Kathleen: but there isn’t enough money for everyone to be grade 1, with grade 1 comes a salary increment but there isn’t enough money in the pot.


Tim: students are failing because the lessons aren’t interesting enough.  Teachers are being blamed for societal problems impacting on students learning.  Crude analogy: only the best potatoes make crisps.  We are expected to ‘make crisps’ out of all students!!  getting politicised by the current situation and will be joining others on the picket line next week on strike.


Wendy: children are depressed even in primary school.


Kathleen: There was a review called children in their world written by Alexander.  This is about primary education.  Biggest review since Plowden in the 1960s.  It dispelled some myths.  It is a myth children are depressed.  Children are happy at school as it is a safe haven.  Children also felt safe. It is parents that feel their children are not safe anymore.


Joss: shall we return to the text and think about reflecting back on the SSC from what we’ve learned from the text as we’ve done the last two weeks.


There is a quote I like from page 5


“At a very early period in the movement, cooperation set before itself the task of becoming mentally independent as being quite important as that of becoming independent in its groceries” Gurney 1996 pg 38


Useful things to reflect on form the text


“we could argue there are three broad and interwoven currents of aspiration and activity which characterise the emergence of cooperative education from its roots in the 19th century

  1. Teaching about cooperation – making visible the alternatives
  2. Training for cooperation – building cooperative institutions
  3. Learning through cooperation – developing cooperative identities”


To what extent is the SSC undertaking these aspirations?


Tim: I’ve picked up on the second one, that’s just neo-liberalism


Joss: that’s not just a neo-liberal approach, it can apply to other political systems.  It can apply to permaculture.


Kathleen: we are looking at free services, free transfer of knowledge.


Joss: what do you mean by that


Kathleen: free of charge, no exchange of money.


Joss:  there is money changing hands.  Members of the SSC do pay every month,  however, to sign up to the course, you do not have to pay, though you might consider joining the SSC after joining the courses.


Kathleen: article in the Guardian about the IF Project.  Around us there are lots of free things going on for example, free museums, talks, lectures etc.  There is a lot to do in Lincoln.


Joss: not ‘free’, publicly funded.


Kathleen:  IF are developing a programme of courses  that are intellectually stimulating form the free environment.  The two people creating this are Barbara Gunnell and Johnny Mundy.


Joss: the word free is used differently for this project than to the SSC. The IF project mean free from charge.  Free means freedom and free association here at the SSC.  The IF project is not cooperative.  It is going to consider being a social enterprise.  They have sought crowd funding to get it off the ground and have asked for donations up to the sum of £10,000, although this has caused some criticism as they were not constituted at the time of asking for donations, they were just two people. The SSC is nomadic and joining up with resources and other cooperatives in the city.


Laura: cooperatively we could choose to get a guest lecturer to come and talk to us.  When we first set up we started with study skills sessions and lectures.


I don’t think we do the middle one.  “training for cooperation”. Does anyone agree?


Peaceful: I think by coming here we are imagining the world we want to live in.  Imagine a world that is different before we can live in it.  We are trying to do something about the oppression by being here.  It is important to provide a platform the critique capitalism.  We are putting into practice training for cooperation by for example putting on the conference next month,


Gary: I think that things happen implicitly and explicitly.  Consensus decision making, curriculum, structure, taking turns to facilitate are all developing our skills.  We spend three weeks talking about the history of cooperatives, values and principles, mapping cooperatives in the city.


Joss: Something to think about: whether we consciously and explicitly use these ideals as a foundation to build upon.  What do we want to take forward, can we discuss in the last class.

History of the co-operative movement (2): Gender

Co-operative Women's Guild

The class consisted of twelve people this week, with three new scholars joining us, helping to make it a very rich and interesting class.

The seminar mainly focused on Alistair Thomson’s article: ‘Domestic drudgery will be a thing of the past: cooperative women and the reform of housework


We began by reading Gary’s notes from last week. This helped remind us of what we discussed and it is always interesting to read reflections on the class from one person’s perspective. Both Woodin’s article last week on co-operative education and this week’s article on the Co-operative Women’s Guild focused on a similar period in history around the turn of the 20th century, when clearly the co-operative movement was significantly expanding and thriving. In contrast, several articles in this week’s newspapers said that the UK Co-operative Group was ‘ungovernable‘ and ‘collapsing under the weight of its debts‘.

Discussing the reading

As we turned to Thomson’s article, we each spent a few minutes going back over it to identify one or two key passages that were of interest to each of us. This was a technique we used the previous week and it gave us time to reflect on the article and each contribute to the discussion.

We learned about the Owenites’ earlier efforts to “abolish private housework” and how the Owenite radical vision and practice remained a source of inspiration to co-operators. The biography of Robert Owen was a particular source of inspiration for women in the co-operative movement.

Within the co-operative movement, there remained a distinct tension between seeing household work as “domestic drudgery” but also the source of women’s dignity. Many argued that household work was restricting women from engaging in public life and so women sought ways to introduce efficiencies into their housework, allowing them more time to do other things. Unlike the Owenites, co-operative women, on the whole, did not seek to divide household labour within the home between genders, but rather argued for a division of labour among co-operative households so that services for the household such as washing and cooking, were collectively owned and operated. Just as industrial work was becoming visibly shaped by a division of labour and “modern methods of production”, women appealed for the introduction of new technologies into the home to improve the conditions of work, ‘lighten the load’, and create time for other things. The operation of the household (the ‘women’s workshop’) must have seemed backwards compared to the operation of the factory. However, as Thomson notes: “Co-operators were usually more interested in gaining control of economic relations than in reforming the relations of domestic life.”

What struck me from reading the article and our subsequent discussion was that the earlier Owenites, who tried to address inequalities of gender and overturn the “prison” of domestic life, was a negative critique of emerging capitalist social relations as a whole (i.e. the practice of ‘communism’). In contrast, the co-operative movement a few decades later was in part inspired by the visionary experiments of the Owenites, but primarily concerned with working class control of capitalist economic life. Co-operation was not an alternative to the capitalist mode of production, but regarded as an improvement on it. Economies of scale, machinery, division of labour in the workplace, mass-production, and private proft-making were all welcomed and even efforts to improve conditions for housework were judged on their contribution to the wider economy, rather than the household economy. In a sense, co-operative women had an interest in improving the ‘economy’ in its original etymological meaning of ‘household management’, while co-operative businessmen turned their attention to the industrial economy. The co-operative movement was after all, a working class reaction to the exploitation and alienation of industrial work. “While labour leaders agitate for better wages and a better distribution of wealth; we women ask for a better distribution of work.”

Another aspect of the article which interested me was the emphasis that the co-operative movement and the Womens Guild placed on private enterprise as opposed to reliance on the State. We learn from Thomson’s article that “the main strategy of Guild domestic campaigns was to seek change through co-operative rather than municipal action” and that Guildswomen  favoured co-operative solutions “because working through the state seemed too indirect.” It raised the question for me about the extent of the state’s involvement in people’s lives at that time compared to today and the extent that we have come to take the idea of a ‘welfare state’ for granted in a way that was inconceivable for most people at that time.

In summary, our discussion touched on a number of themes: the continued power structures within the home; the desire for all workers, but especially women, to have more time for leisure, education and public life; the continued drudgery of work; the conditions of labour both inside and outside the home (while women suffered in the home, men also suffered in the factory and mines); the degrees of status within the working class; the lack of security as housing was attached to terms of employment; how the household is not seen as a political space yet conditions people’s identities; the outsourcing of domestic labour (e.g. the production of washing machines) to countries with poor industrial conditions; and the impact of war on women’s roles in society as well as the post-war introduction of the welfare state;

Reflections on SSC

In the final part of our class, we shifted the discussion to ask what issues of gender there are at the Social Science Centre. Mike noted that perhaps for the first time, this class had an equal number of women and men attending. Below is a flavor of the discussion. I have left my (incomplete) notes unedited to offer a raw sense of the directions our discussion took.

Gary: Why don’t we discuss issues of gender and race more often? There isn’t the political charge any more.

Jane: Depends on the settings we put ourselves in. Jane chooses to be in those settings where race, sexuality and gender are discussed.

Tim: Media has compressed history. There is no sense of time among his students. It erodes politics.

Lucy: Are young people even questioning inequality? Is education teaching the working class about these things? Co-op women’s guilds sought space/time for education.

Tim: Middle class students are more aware of the pathways in life.

Sarah: Opportunity for us to discuss these issues at SSC. How to structure our space. Dorothy Smith. The positions we write from. It does matter that we almost never read anything written by women. Most people in the room are white. We don’t discuss sexuality, private lives. We have formed intellectually. We started by writing about ourselves/biographies. We need to work on the issue of childcare. Kids aren’t allowed in this building (Pathways, where we meet is a ‘halfway house’ for homeless adults).

Mike: Harney and Moten: Undercommons. Talking about alternative universities. Not really alternatives. They just replicate the university. The SSC is such. Need to find a way of radicalizing ourselves again. “Who isn’t in this room?” We used to have kids in the SSC.

Kathleen: It’s “being schooled” in the true sense. Older generations are looking after their parents. Younger generation are looking after their children.

Jane: To what extent are we embodying the world that we’d like to live in? We need to put the effort into designing a curriculum, choosing texts, etc. that is more diverse. How do we issue an invitation that is more open? Embody it in the aesthetic?

Andrew: Single parent of disabled child for 12 years. Impact on carer. There’s a whole structure of subordination that crosses gender, class, race.

Mike: How can we stretch ourselves again?

Jane: There’s an extraordinary thing that’s going on here. It’s about trust. Able to be vulnerable. In a loving way. Age, class, disability, gender, sexuality, race. Important moment when Lucy said she didn’t understand something.

Sarah: Discussion about what is valuable to us. Collective decision.

Wendy: Do we know where we want to go? What we want to achieve?

Joss: SSC was always about higher education.

Gary: The last 10 mins been ‘ground breaking’ in terms of SSC.

Lucy: What the SSC means to me is changing, every week.

Laura: Wants to study social science, but has SSC, but not the same as university.

Jane: SSC is about higher education and it’s up to us to define higher education.

Lucy: I’m really enjoying myself. That’s all that matters.

Sarah: Questioning patriarchy is a form of higher education. Radical for some people.

I/Joss think that by the end of the class there was a general sense that the SSC was entering a new stage of its development and those scholars attending the class welcomed the opportunity to radicalise the nature and purpose of our co-operative. This had partly been the intention of studying the theme of ‘co-operation and education’ this term, so that we created space to read, reflect intellectually and then take forward new practices within the SSC. It was intended that the course this term became a critical and reflexive space for our co-operative as a whole and this is clearly taking place.

Next week we will focus on ‘co-operative learning’. Laura said that our ‘homework’ is to recollect a positive learning experience and explain it without writing it. “When have you had your most positive learning experience, what factors enabled this and what kind of learner do you think you are? Make, cook, bring something!”

The History of the Co-operative Movement: Knowledge should be distributed like tea and flour…



We returned to the Co-operation and Education course this week after a ‘half-term break’ to explore the history of the co-operative movement. This excellent session was facilitated by Lucy and Mike to whom we are all grateful.

The session was split into three sections:

  1. Recap of the previous session, Co-operative Principles and Values;
  2. Read and discuss Woodin’s Co-operative education in Britain during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: context, identity and learning;
  3. Explore how the history of the co-operative relates to the SSC.

1. Recap of the previous session

At the start of the evening we took some time to remind ourselves what we had covered before ‘half-term’. The previous session had focused on co-operative values and principles and, to help us remember what we discussed, we found it helpful to take it in turns to read aloud from the class notes. We found this process useful and, as one scholar commented, it allowed us to “replay the session in our minds.”

2. Read and discuss…

For the second part of the session we agreed to read over Woodin’s text and highlight a sentence(s) and explain why it was meaningful to us. Woodin (p. 78) argues that education has been central to the co-operative movement for the last two centuries, yet education within labour and social movements remains an under researched area. What followed was an insightful discussion about precisely that. Below are some of the comments made by scholars and ensuing discussions by the group:

  • After reading Woodin’s text, one scholar was surprised to learn that co-operative education had a much longer history than formal state education and, in fact, that co-operative education had played a significant role in influencing the provision of state education. However, Woodin (p. 78) adds a word of caution here and argues that the uniquely co-operative ideals and practices that have been contributed to by co-operative and private working-class education are often lost when written about this way. As one scholar commented, “state education closed down radical/alternative education…and through this process co-operative education is managed out of existence.”
  • So important was education to the early co-operative movement that in 1844 the Rochdale Pioneers had proposed that 10% of their surplus income should be devoted towards it. Although this proposal was ultimately disallowed by the Registrar at the time and a much lower figure of 2.5% was finally agreed.
  • Another scholar commented that before the Elementary Education Acts 1870 to 1893 there were a number of different experiments with education, which included the Sunday School Movement, independent schools and, interestingly, the Socialist Sunday School Movement.
  • One scholar commented that there has been a long history of ‘radical education’, ‘self-help’ and working class autodidactism. Indeed, before the industrial revolution, weavers had higher literacy rates than the general population and often read books as they worked. Both Jonathan Rose and E.P Thompson provide good accounts of this.
  • One scholar commented that, in places, extreme left-wing working class areas were referred to as ‘Little Moscows’ with the Chopwell Soviets cited as an example.
  • Another scholar commented on the importance of the built environment as part of the co-operative movement, which could “inspire awe and pride” (Woodin, p. 81). That the “built environment of the co-operative movement offered a “visual resource, a distinctive grammar of construction and design, that provided a continuing induction into the palpable identity of the values of co-operation.” (Woodin, p. 82)
  • One scholar commented that the co-operative movement helped to create and/or point towards alternative subjectivities and “incubated social transformation…” (Woodin, p. 79) and that there was an “interconnection between ownership, learning and common identity…” (Woodin, p. 81) and that “co-operation was a way of life in which individuals might be immersed from birth and subjectivity was fostered through participation in such a way that the co-operative movement ‘produced’ distinctive types of people.” (Woodin, p. 89)
  • One scholar argued that within the co-operative movement that ‘alternative subjectivity’ was often a ‘gendered subjectivity’ with many skilled and semi-skilled males finding it difficult to accept women. An example of this is provided by Woodin (p. 84) who quotes ‘A True Co-operator’ who complains about the “coarseness and popularisation” of co-operative movement that occurred with the appearance of women:

Times have changed; for whereas the meetings used to be of a few working men, who sought for knowledge and instruction – now the meetings are large to excess, composed principally of women, babies and youths of both sexes, tempted by rich got-up tea…

  • One scholar commented that being part of the co-operative movement itself was a form of learning that could be considered as practice or a rehearsal for life in a post-capitalist society:

…co-operation could serve as an educative force. Learning within a democratic social and economic movement was thus connected to wider purposes of social changes.

  • One scholar identified within the text a tension between ‘liberal’ and ‘vocational’ education’; however, Robert Marshall (cited in Woodin, P. 89) argued that this was a false dichotomy:

The old definitions are no longer accepted, that the ‘social’ student is concerned with ends and the ‘technical’ student with means. Both are concerned with ends and means; and technical studies can be the opportunity of educating that familiar figure in educational addresses ‘the whole man’.

We concluded this section by discussing that whilst the co-operative movement had a radical history it had a tendency to become consumerist rather than the labour controlled co-operatives that were envisioned by the early pioneers of the co-operative movement. Instead, we discussed how the co-operative has come to be associated with dividend points and passing mercantile savings on to consumers and, as one scholar reminded us, “Co-operatives were an experiment for social change; not about shopping, but a new social form.” One scholar commented that you could trace the radical roots of the co-operative movement in Lincolnshire back to Robert Parker who founded the Lincolnshire Co-operative in 1861 with 74 members.

3.    How does the history of the co-operative relate to the SSC?

The third and final part of the session invited us to consider how we could relate the history of the co-operative movement to the SSC. We probably created more questions than we answered, but it was a useful and interesting discussion.

Again, we revisited the importance of the SSC having its own permanent physical space that offers “a visual resource, a distinctive grammar of construction and design that provided a continuing induction into the palpable identity of the values of co-operation.” (Woodin, p. 82) One scholar described the original idea for the SSC with a bakery and café and SSC courses going on upstairs. One scholar mentioned a community interest project in Newcastle that might be useful to consider, the Star and Shadow Cinema. Another scholar questioned whether private property would change the nature of the SSC and whether occupying the city was more important than a permanent physical place and whether the SSC more exciting because it is nomadic? We considered alternatives to ownership, such as stewardship, passing through and being a habitant.

We considered our relationship to other co-operatives and how we might work together. One scholar cited Mondragon as an example of how a number of different co-operative could work together. Other scholars mentioned other co-operative projects that they are involved in, such as the Co-operative Abundant Earth Community and the Hospital University project.

We concluded that the history of the co-operative is its strength, but also serves as a warning. As one scholar pointed out “Co-operatives are not the future, but might be vehicle to something else. Creating new forms of social being; creating something that wasn’t there before it’s on the way to communism – we need to reclaim that language.”