SSI course reading for week seven: Co-operative history (1)

Hello All

The next two weeks we shall be doing the history of cooperatives. We have chosen two texts. The first kindly suggested by Joss and the second by Mike.

Cooperative education in the nineteenth and early twentieth Centuries: context, identity and learning‘ Tom Woodin (2011)

And

Domestic drudgery will be a thing of the past: cooperative women and the reform of housework‘ Alistair Thompson (1988)

Look forward to seeing you all on Thursday.

Best wishes,

Lucy

 

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Co-operation and Education: Co-operative Principles and Values – Week 6

Present: Monk, Sarah, Adrian, Paul, Mike, Joss, Andrew, Peaceful Warrior

Apologies: Richard, Laura, Lucy

Time 7- 9 pm

Date: 20th February

Venue: Pathways Centre, Lincoln

SWP-11-0033_36_article_detail

Pathways Centre, Lincoln

Paul led the session. We recapped  the work we did last week. Paul provided a handout with a framework for discussion and debate (insert photo of framework paper).

The readings for this week were from Ian MacPherson’s One Path to Co-operative Studies. The title of first chapter is “The International Co-operative Movement Today: the Impact of the 1995 Co-operative Identity Statement of the ICA”, which can be found on pages 255-273 at:

http://www.uvic.ca/research/centres/cccbe/assets/docs/publications/RochdalePress/OnePath_to_CooperativeStudies.pdf

The second reading was from  a book edited by Joy Emmanuel & Ian MacPherson. The book is called Co-operatives & the Pursuit of Peace and can be found at:

The aim for the reading was to try to gain a better understanding of how Co-operatives work around the world in different cultural settings.

We all agreed how much we appreciated the notes that were written up after each session and how they provided a different perspective on the event, enabling us to replay the sessions in our minds, seeing connections and issues that what not obvious when we were part of the group;  and how much these different perspectives added to the learning experience, not least the capturing of complexity.

We began with a conversation about community, and what is the difference between the concept of community and the concept of co-operation. We decided that cooperation is an activity with an operator(s) and a sense of  purpose, as well as  aims and objectives: it is about action with guidelines to inform action. We recognised  how much of our current forms of institutional life were established in the period when the first cooperatives were established in the 1830s. Whereas community was more informal, and was about the reproduction of everyday life.

We then worked through the principles established by Macpherson in the reading for this week. We agreed it was difficult to talk about these important principles in the abstract, without grounding them in their real history and a real sense of politics. We agreed that any political understanding and the nature of power must expose its gendered, class based and racist forms. This led us to think about the nature of values and ethics and how they are derived.  We agreed that values have emerged out of political struggle and, in particular, struggles against the newly emerging industrial society and the factory system on which it was based. These values,  having been achieved, need to be consolidated in practice, so that they are not taken away or lost through neglect.

This provoked a discussion about the values on which the Social Science Centre is based, and what sort of cooperative are we. We decided that to a certain extent we are still working that out. We might call ourselves a worker cooperative, but that would not explain the extent of what we are trying to do.

This then developed into a debate about the meaning of the concept of value. A case was made for making a connection between the philosophical concept of value and value as a form of social practice that has emerged out of capitalist society in which value is a dominant imperative: all things have a financial value. The work of Ellen Meiksins  Wood was mentioned as writing that could throw more light on this matter. Also the work of Robert Brenner on the historical development of capitalism in different societies and cultures was recommended.

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In this case it could be argued that our sense of morality is heavily influenced by the morals and values of capitalist society. The Cooperative Bank was mentioned  as an institution that had been corrupted by the values of money and the market.

co-op_2281243b

 

Bearing all of this in mind, on what basis can we make a claim for our cooperative values? Rather than want make a claim for the absolute nature of our values we can say that an important aspect of our work at the SSC is that we critically reflect on our politics, and morality, rather than being judgemental about the values and morality of others.

Paul, who was leading the session, got us to focus on what we had read in preparation for the session.

From out of these discussion gender emerged as a significant issue, as well as  John Dewey’s notion of pragmatism, defined as a  process of working out what it true. Pragmatism works like this: in order to find out what is true, we have to create the conditions in which this truth is true for everyone. So what is good and true, is not simply a philosophical position, but is linked to democratic  praxis.  One of the participants made a link to the work of Dewey, Ghandi and Paulo Freire. This got us back to a familiar debate in the SSC about the relationship between progressive liberal practice and more radical politics.

John Dewey classroom:l earning lab

John Dewey classroom: learning lab

The debate moved on to look at what circumstances cooperation might be possible in non-capitalist or tribal societies. We discussed this in terms of materialism and idealism. Materialism argues social forms of life emerge out of the historical geographical and political context within which they are situated, whereas idealism implies that new progressive ideas can be introduced by enlightened individuals.

Finally, the question was asked if anyone of us had anything to add to the agreed international principles of co-operation that we looked at last week. We agreed it was important to interpret these principles in our own way so the SSC can play a part in  bringing  the principles of the co-operative movement  to life.

Notes on the SSC course, February 13th, Week Five: Co-operative values and principles

Summary of class

Facilitator’s notes (.rtf).

Main topics:

  • The messiness of cooperatives and cooperative learning. The form, values and processes of cooperatives.
  • Democracy and participation.
  • The individual in a cooperative.
  • The history of the SSC and reasons for our relative longevity.

Reflections on the SSC:

Scholars commented on how much they appreciated the rotating role of note-taker: it consolidates our learning, which tends to be quite “messy”, and shifts the power in the group. In particular, scholars appreciated last weekʼs notes – the author had captured uncertainty, honesty and the liberating messiness of our learning. One radical thing about this space is that there is the right to experiment, and have revelations about anything, not just about what is being taught. Scholars agreed that being conscious of SSI learning and cooperative processes was valuable, and worth checking in on. Cooperation is a process, and is not necessarily conclusive.

Questions to/about SSC:

  • Do we want to put more emphasis on doing our own, independent research, or on assessing our work more formally?
  • What does it mean to be a cooperative? Would we consider ourselves to be a community beyond this space? What does being a cooperative hinder us from doing, or enable us to do?
  • What does it mean to be a “free association”?
  • What gives SSC persistence and strength?
  • Why have people left SSC? Do we care that people leave?
  • What sort of democracy do we practice at SSC? Where are WE in the conversation about democracy?

Other questions arising from our reading:

  • Does self-help and -responsibility arise from autonomy? Do values come out of principles or principles out of values?
  • To what extent does democracy reinforce radical individualism?
  • What might be the role of education within cooperative aspirations?
  • Does the value of solidarity lend itself to a bigger consciousness of the group about who is NOT there, and who are the minorities/majorities?
  • What do you do if you lose a vote? Should you go along with the majority?
  • What does a cooperative allow individuals to do differently?
  • Is self-interest a bad thing? Can there be a group enlightened self-interest?

Transcript of class

Attending: Yaroslav, Jane, Peaceful, Adrian, Sarah, Laura, Joss, Paul

Keywords: Individual (20) Value (16) Democracy (14) Coop (14) Decide (11) mess (9)

Recap of last week: We looked at Engels, and how society has changed as a result of neo-liberalism.

S – I would like to think about how our discussion of the text and historical materialism is linked to us, collectively and individually.

J – I am finding it eye-opening to have a rotating note-taker – revealing the class from a different point of view, and consolidates our learning, which tends to be messy, rather than “delivered”.  It brings coherence to the class as well as shifting the power and the voice – it can become dominated by one or two people.  Itʼs a public statement.  I am thinking about how I can apply it to my own teaching in a university context – how to shift power within the classroom. Itʼs an implicit form of evaluation – someone is trying to make sense of the situation. This note-taking could become our reading for the final session – reminds us of what weʼve been learning.

PW – People have different political viewpoints – some scholars describe themselves as Marxist; some of us havenʼt read enough of Marx to know what that means.  Discussions can be coloured by peopleʼs viewpoints.  I talk in more layman’s terms, but weʼre still talking about the same thing. As the session went on, a lightbulb came on.  When you read something and havenʼt got a context for it, it makes no sense.  But when you have a conversation, the lights come on.

J – In university, you are expected to do your own research, and people are always pursuing a whole other aspect outside the class. Maybe weʼre not emphasising the opportunity to do all this additional work that goes with the seminar – otherwise itʼs more like a reading group. Do we want to place some kind of assessment on our work?

P – What bearing to Core components of curriculum have on your teaching?  (Question posed to scholars who teach at university.)

PW – Peopleʼs brains are wired differently – if youʼve got something to teach, the structure is different for all sorts of people.

S – There might be other methods and ways of learning that weʼre not yet aware of.

J – The notes were rich because Sarah managed to capture uncertainty.  I wish so much more of teaching could be messy – because messy means thereʼs space to move.  One personʼs messiness is another personʼs liberation.  I think we should continue with the honesty – thatʼs what this space is about – the right to experiment, or have a revelation about a completely other thing!

J – Iʼm conscious or sensitive to the fact that some people are here to learn about something they didnʼt know before, and I sometimes feel guilty about checking on the process.

J – Checking in half way through the course is a good idea – is this meeting our expectations?

P – Is schools and universities had cooperative funds…

J – One of the things he emphasises is that cooperatives weather the storms better – the general opinion in the cooperative movement is there is less financial mayhem in cooperatives. But it maybe no guarantee of sustainability.

MacPhersonʼs speech:

J – It was very moving, emotive.

J – I overheard a comment at a cooperative seminar: wasnʼt it sad that MacPherson died suddenly? It was nice to read a speech – a pleasure to read.

J – He went to great pains to talk about the process – it was an endorsement to that sort of process on an international level.  “when you try to mingle ideas and thoughts with action and practice… itʼs that word again: messy.  I work in a consensus based organisation – itʼs messy and itʼs slow, but there is a sort of strength in that.  He calls himself a white, Northern (Canadian) male.  Heʼs endorsing the notion of iteration, and itʼs not conclusive –

I thought “Thank you Northern male”  because everythingʼs against you doing that, is all about hierarchy. I got emboldened – Iʼve got even more reason to carry on doing what I do!

S – I like that it doesnʼt promise that itʼs easy.

J – He talks about it taking 7 years – a long time. It was to re-vitalise the movement.  Itʼs the best possible statement for a given time.

PW – One of the reason it resonates is, itʼs about cooperatives – applications can vary.  I resonate with this, itʼs what I believe to be the best of whatʼs available at the moment.  It doesnʼt work perfectly all the time because weʼre all human.

J – What underlies the idea of democracy as I understand it is legal principles – defined in law in terms of the state, but a cooperative is not a legal form.  We work with the values and principles rather than let them determine us.

S – It (the Cooperative Identity Statement) seemed linear in some ways, which is some ways really works – the values inform the principles – but then Iʼm not sure…

“They underlie the organisation structure of a coop”  – youʼre building a physical manifestation of it.

J – You donʼt have to apply for coop status – thatʼs whatʼs so radical about it.  People spent a hundred years thinking about this, but tomorrow I could open a coop and I wouldnʼt have to ask anyone. Thereʼs no policing – you decide. Thatʼs whatʼs enduring about it.  How does this relate to anarchy?  People can organise themselves according to their wants and needs and desires. Cooperators is a welcoming term.

PW – One of the things that grates with me is “The Law” – it doesnʼt instill real values in people – we follow the rules so we donʼt get punished.

J – Thereʼs also no legal recognition of the SSC – what do we lose from that? S – That does have implications.

J – As we were creating the constitution, one of the questions that came up was minors – if you want to include them, you need DBS and that sort of thing.  It exists not even like a youth club.

What does that hinder us from doing?  Or enable us to do? Thereʼs this term “dis- Organisation” – weʼre loosely grouped together, but donʼt call us a campaign, etc. We are a “free association” quite literally.

It goes back to the question of anarchism – when we say democracy, what do we mean? What does it mean to be a free association?

P – I canʼt believe youʼre all so positive about it!  Did I really say read this?!  But as I kept reading it, one thing kept emerging: autonomy. Thatʼs what I got from it!  Self help, self responsibility, democracy.  I see a problem in the way this is set out:

1. Self help + Self responsibility (values) -> Autonomy (Principle) OR

2. Autonomy (Principle) -> Self help + Self responsibility (values)

Self help and self responsibility manifesting itself as autonomy! – Wouldnʼt it make more sense the other way round – that SH and SR arises from Autonomy?

Do values come out of principles, or do principles come out of values? I canʼt imagine holding values that are based on principles…

One of the definitions of a principle is behaviour based on values.

So if you say someone is a principled person, they behave in a way that is consistent with a certain set of values.

PW – Iʼve worked on this myself… Iʼve become self-responsible over things. S – If youʼre in an organisation, your values are shaped it.

PW – You canʼt change the system using the system that created – inherently youʼre going to be tainted by the values of that system. Academics (at SSC) have stepped outside of that. Youʼre bucking the system.  Itʼs part of the process of change.

S – Itʼs important to be constantly reflecting on your values – thatʼs the idea of a radical organisation.

J – Iʼve been holding back something because I donʼt want it to steer the discussion: it assumes an individual. Democracy is based on there being An Individual in the world. Previous discussions weʼve had around equality has also assumed an Individual. To what extent does democracy reinforce a radical individualism?  It puts everything on the individual. Consensus decision-making is NOT democracy.

We need to remember that this came out of European post-industrial revolution. Communities are based on these values in other parts of the world. This is a recuperation of something that weʼve lost.

P – This was how our ancestors survived.

J – There have also been hierarchical societies.  Where are WE in this? A lot of it was about the individual. I found it provoking.  How do we scale this up? This (Coop Identity Statement) was nowhere in that democracy paper.

Y – 2nd principle – if we create a community of cooperatives, do they have to be coordinated by a set of rules?

J – You write a constitution. The decision making form is flexible under a cooperative.

Y – If people are represented, arenʼt their voices already more heard than anyone elseʼs?

S – Real self government would be too demanding for people.  It is radically demanding for people. It doesnʼt assume that you can structure out power. All the same stuff about gender, class, race, etc, will always come out.  Whatʼs exciting about this is, it puts all that up front and says, “letʼs try it anyway!”  What might be the role of education with these aspirations?

J – Iʼve been working with young people – itʼs so different from the old representative democracy of the Left, of my parents.  No-one expects you to want to participate.  People have different moments in their lives – you can decide to do something small – well, itʼs not small to make tea – but you can take a step back.  I found that so refreshing and humane, from, “we must all take a turn, we must all be equal” – it doesnʼt make you a bad person, you just canʼt at the moment. Thereʼs an interesting meeting ground.

S – The value of solidarity… can that lend itself to a bigger consciousness in the group about who is NOT there?

J – That always matters because it reveals something about the norms – you always have to pay attention to who isnʼt in the room – are there majorities/minorities?  I find it very grounding. Itʼs ok to say, “You decide – I trust you”… or “please just decide because I canʼt right now.”

PW – You donʼt have to have a 100% turnout in a vote.  Consensus is a better option for me because the person who says, “this mustnʼt go ahead” has to be reassured – and he has the responsibility to prove that his view is founded.

J – In one member one vote, that person would be over-ruled. The burden would be on the person who disagrees to justify their reason.

S – There is a risk with that.  For instance, groups of predominantly white young people and two Asian women. Those women always being called on to account seems like special measures. Perhaps it depends how that plays out in practice, and the context. P – There was a bit in the Democracy reading that talks about minorities.  If theyʼre consistently in the minority, they might feel inferior.

J – The persistent minorities in a representative democracy can be oppressed even if the majority doesnʼt try to act oppressively.  He discusses, what do you do if youʼve lost a vote? Do you just go along with it?  It reminds me of when the Poll Tax came in.  My parents were of the view that that government had got in and you just had to wait till the next election to vote them out.  We thought you had the right to revolt against it.  Why should you just go along with the majority?  Like war?

J – A cooperative brings people together to act as one – the cooperative is a body. A – A collection of like-minded individuals.

S – A group of people coming together to support each other is different than the big structure of democracy in a society.  We think of individualism, individualised people. Thereʼs something about the individual that Iʼd like to keep.  What does the cooperative allow individuals to do differently?

J – “Enlightened self interest” – is that a bad thing or a good thing?  Does self-interest have to be a bad thing? Can there be a group enlightened self interest? The individual is important, and the family.

J – There are points in our lives when we give up individualism – Iʼm thinking of when I got married, and when I had a child – I canʼt make decisions about my life without taking my wife and child into account.  I wonder: in a cooperative, you are giving up your individuality to the best interests of all?  I read an article this week – democracy: “not all individually, but individuals as all”. Democracy as the essence of politics.  When we think of ourselves, I donʼt think of myself as a legal subject, but thatʼs how the state thinks of us.

S – When we come to this class, there is attention to each other.  Would we consider ourselves a community beyond this space?  What does it mean to be a cooperative – a way of life? Would this look the same if we were in another context?  Itʼs interesting to think of us as a cooperative, itʼs been very fluid – messy.

P – When SSC was put together, did you have a link with other cooperatives?

J – We had help setting up our constitution, we had two people from radical roots.  We had no affiliations, we still donʼt.  We took inspiration from Social Centres, usually anarchist, cooperatives usually, as social centre where people come together around autonomous living.

Y – It came out of cuts?

J – That was one of the motivations.  Weʼve been involved with other initiatives, but they havenʼt lasted. Three years is a long time.  What gives us persistence and strength? Individuals. Some of us working in universities, we have integrated it into our work – itʼs not wholly “other”. It was set up by a core of people who work in HE.

S – Itʼs about the location. A Small City. Those who have remained active have had a private recourse to childcare.  It started out with a lot of radical ideas and I think we still have them, but we havenʼt been precious about them.  People from very different political positions have come in.  Itʼs not about a political position.

J – I was involved with The Free University of Liverpool – there was a lot of energy, they did a lot of actions. But they didnʼt do what you (SSC) did: we want to be somehow constituted. I think thatʼs significant in the longevity.

That was the influence of Social Centres.

It counts for a lot. Itʼs a kind of cradle.  Weʼre bigger than ourselves.

PW – Itʼs not a new idea. Weʼre not re-creating them.

S – Except in our own practice.  We learn them all the time as we go along.  Itʼs exciting. J – Something we could take to our AGM would be to talk about what has made the SSC last three years? This discussion has been revealing.  Itʼs important if weʼre going to last another 3 years.

S – We should survey the people who have left, ask why.

J – Individuals have left but the SSC has continued. The cooperative, this thing that we are working for – has stayed with us.  Do we care if people have left?

S – I DO!

To keep the cooperative going you have to train new people.

J – Iʼve got to a point when I canʼt imagine not doing this: I feel like this is me.  Iʼd find it difficult were the SSC to dissolve in the next couple of months.

P – What sort of democracy do we practice within the SSC?  Not representative.

J – Around specific points of governance, scholars on the SSC members list make decision – people who have signed up to it. The last decision was about the conference on May

26th. If youʼre not members of the cooperative, you werenʼt asked. The cost of the conference is around £700. Three out of 20 formal, signed up members, got back to me, so the decision went ahead.  I check regularly whether people consider themselves members. Thereʼs a form on the website to join.

J – This is a gritty point: you put out the word about quite a big thing – 17 donʼt respond for all sorts of reasons. Nobody blocked it. Therefore thatʼs a mandate to go ahead. That could be problematic – who says that 3 people is enough?  In Spain you can make your ballot paper “I donʼt wish to vote.”  Iʼm curious.

S – In the past, we had decisions – we voted if it was a pressing issue.

J – If youʼre in the flesh, you hear the words, “go ahead if you want to.”  On email it seems more nebulous.

Marx was in favour of universal suffrage, but didnʼt think that everyone needed to use their vote. If people are given the opportunity, but remain passive, are they not exercising their right as an individual? Itʼs a form of input, not doing anything.  But what about next year – general elections – at least half the population wonʼt vote.  Does that sound for anything? Itʼs not a single message.

Y – The traditional interpretation of a low turnout is apathy; another is “happathy”.  People are happy!

Is there a way to link back to education?

J – Some people are “not equipped” to make decisions… there have been times in my life when I have not wanted to take the initiative. There are those who donʼt want to have to make decisions about big things – they want to support.  I was involved in Climate Camp – there were people taking nails out of wood so they would be safe for children – that was their contribution and that was legitimate, or people running the well-being tent, or building toilets. There were struggles.  It was said, “I wish all the people with PhDs would deal with the shit more often!” Itʼs a good idea to offer according to your capacity. There will be people who will gain confidence by being in the slip stream.  I used to be the kind of teacher who had the expectation that everyone would speak, but it might not be time for everyone to speak. People have different ways of engaging. You canʼt tell from outward appearance whether someone is engaging or not, active or not.

P – Politicians get used to saying the same thing in different ways. Very true! Recycled speeches.

Plato warned against this – it allows people to manipulate. Rhetoric- the art of manipulation.

Reading for week six: Co-operative principles and values (2)

Hi everyone.

Once again, our first reading for this week comes from Ian MacPherson’s One Path to Co-operative Studies. The title of the chapter is “The International Co-operative Movement Today: the Impact of the 1995 Co-operative Identity Statement of the ICA”, which can be found on pages 255-273 at:

http://www.uvic.ca/research/centres/cccbe/assets/docs/publications/RochdalePress/OnePath_to_CooperativeStudies.pdf

For our second reading, we shall be looking at a book edited by Joy Emmanuel & Ian MacPherson. The book is called Co-operatives & the Pursuit of Peace and can be found at:

http://www.uvic.ca/research/centres/cccbe/assets/docs/publications/RochdalePress/Pursuit_of_Peace.pdf

There is no set reading from this book, but you are all invited to read one chapter (or more) from Sections I-VII which is of interest to you. Our aim here is to try to gain a better understanding of how Co-operatives work around the world in different cultural settings.

I hope you enjoy these texts and I look forward to discussing them with you all on Thursday.

Regards,

Paul

Reading for week five: Co-operative principles and values (1)

Our first reading for this week is Ian MacPherson’s “Speech Introducing the Co-operative Identity Statement to the 1995 Manchester Conference of the ICA”. This is published in MacPherson’s One Path to Co-operative Studies, on pp. 201-17.

The second reading is an article on “Democracy” in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
The second reading is not really connected to Co-operatives. However, I hope that both texts will give us much food for thought and many things to discuss.
See you all on Thursday.
Paul

Notes on the SSC Course, February 6th 2014, Week 4: Alternative Education

We began our seminar with a line from T. S. Eliot’s poem ‘The Wasteland’ – ‘April is the cruellest month’. What does this mean? Why begin a discussion about alternative forms of education with this line?

CumaenSibyl

‘The Cumean Sibyl’ by Elihu Vedder

Gary explained that he drew attention to this poem because it speaks of a world – the modern world – full of contradictions and half-wanting to be beyond itself, yet unable to die; April being a month when living things that have spent months in slumber try to wake up and break through into spring…but still struggle to do so, and take some comfort in remaining sleepy and covered by snow. But April is the verge of new life, the forthcoming, the front. So he thought it seemed a nice place to start, and everyone seemed to agree. A question was raised: are we really like the ancient Greek prophetess Sibyl mentioned in Eliot’s poem; allowed to become a ‘failing body coupled with the increased knowledge, the loss of illusions, the increasing despair engendered by a loss of faith in the human future, and (a) declining ability to do anything about it’? If these are the conditions of our lives – or, let’s say, our systems of education – upon what can we ground our motivation, thinking and actions to work for better alternatives?

In this seminar, we explored the possibility that the answer to this question is located ‘historical materialism’, or the ‘materialist conception of history’. What does this mean? According to Frederick Engels, writing in nineteenth-century England, it meant that:

all past history of class and class struggles…are always the products of the modes of production and of exchange – in a word, of the economic conditions of their time: that the economic structure of society always furnishes the real basis, starting from which we can alone work out the ultimate explanation of the whole superstructure of juridical and political institutions as well as of religious, philosophical and other ideas of a given historical period.’

Engels’ essay was not easy to read. As one scholar remarked, ‘I didn’t understand anything for the first twenty minutes, but you are saying words that are sparking things in my mind.’ This ignited our thoughts about learning, how we want to understanding learning here. Not as a packaged good that we can take away with ‘satisfaction’, but a provocation to learning and further inquiry. Being comfortable in confusion; happy with minor understandings that might give rise to others. Not a test of understanding but an encounter with new possibilities for understanding, knowing that it may require some struggle. Not as an individual endeavour but as a collective project, in a safe space designed for exploring. Not the affirmation of what we believe but a space to critique and consider other perspectives. Not as two hours or two weeks, but for as long as we want. Not fixed by a curriculum, but growing from the need to know. Is ‘explaining’ a form of oppression? It is OK to not know, to ask, to think aloud. Pooling ‘social intelligence’. It is OK to learn.

Jacques Ranciere’s work on the equality of intelligence was mentioned as a model for learning; interesting as a question about anarchism was raised at the end (see here and here)…

The discussion about what Engels meant went something like this. If we want to change what is going on in society today, we need to understand how our ways of life – our problems and their solutions; our ideas and desires and built environments – have been shaped by how we produce and reproduce the means to live (which in this theory is called a ‘mode of production’). Stuff that seems unconnected can all be linked back to this. This is one part of it, which Karl Marx once summarised by writing that ‘it is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness’. The second part, which Gary explained, has to do with the fact that the ‘means of production’ of life in society are unequally owned and controlled, and this creates tensions in the system that at some points are bound to become intolerable. Everyone needs means to survive, but some benefit from them more than others. In a capitalist system, those who own the materials and resources we need to create what we collectively need are able to continually increase their own wealth and power by exploiting everyone else’s need to live (and in this ‘mode of production’, to sell their labour in exchange for wages in order to buy materials to do so). Eventually, however, this arrangement will put too much pressure on those ‘productive forces’ (working people), which Engels argued would lead to struggles that would undo the existing system and forge the development of a whole new way of organising social life.

Means of production – the tools and materials we use to create things 
Mode of production – how we organise tools, materials, and labour to create things
 
[For other definitions of historical materialism, see the chapter we read – Engels’ ‘Historical Materialism’ from Socialism: Utopian and Scientific (1880) – or one of Karl Marx’s workings-out of the idea in his Contribution to a Critique of Political Economy (1859), or Erich Fromm’s later Marx’s Concept of Man (1961); here is a video of Kathi Weeks speaking about Marxist feminism at a recent Historical Materialism conference.]

One of the major points emerging from this is, according to Engels, that we cannot ‘think’ our way out of our current problems, and can’t just work to change the ‘symptoms’ or effects of the problem, but have to work on changing the modes of production which shape what we can think and do in the first place.

There were some questions. One was how this theory looks in practice. Are there examples of this happening? One example offered was the rise and decline of the European welfare state and social democracies. It was argued that the welfare state was created mainly to reduce the effects of the profit motive in capitalist systems – inhumane working hours, low wages, poor social support, lack of medical care, mechanical forms of labour, lack of opportunities to be creative – and thus to prevent people from struggling against capital for these things. However, over time, these rights and concessions (all hard-won through sustained working-class struggles and social movements) limited the growth of capital, and the ‘mode of production’, including the state, was again altered in form to allow institutions to privilege the accumulation of capital over the collective needs and potential of everyone in society.

This raised another question: if we were able to decrease the massive inequalities that are created in capitalism, would this be enough? As another member of the group asked via email, should we not hope for a more ‘responsible capitalism’? Or does this entire mode of production need to be transformed and replaced with another one, which we do not yet know the form of? What should we make of the arguments in Wilkinson and Pickett’s (2009) Spirit Level, which suggest that greater economic and social equality is better for everyone? Or is the very notion of ‘equality’ something we should be critical of? Marx, and to some extent Engels, believed that equality was a ‘bourgeois’ idea, developed to answer the problem of inequality without really changing the system that created it. Does it have any radical potential for us today? Is it possible to speak of people being ‘equal’ in a social system which requires people to be unequal in their labour relations? What is the difference between equalising the conditions or status of people in different classes and removing class contradictions altogether? Is equal treatment really fair or just, and, if there are critiques of this assumption, what are the alternative ways of thinking about this problem?

We struggled together to understand the implications of this way of thinking for the SSC and alternative education in general. One point was that in order for educational reform to create (or foster the development of) alternatives to dominant forms of schooling and further and higher education, people need not only to imagine alternatives but to fight for control of the means of production of the institutions and practices themselves – budgets, buildings, land, governance, policies, educational materials, etc. There is much of this work going on now that we can learn and to take inspiration from; for example, resistance to school closures in the United States, as this IndyKids article explains:

Asean Johnson

In a very different way, can it be argued that the SSC is trying to change the mode of education (the logic for organising our work and resources) not only by thinking about it differently, but by doing it differently? Doing this could be seen as a struggle that, on the one hand, cannot help but reaffirm capitalism to some extent, given that we live within and by this system, but which on the other hand also points towards something else and aims to strengthen this something else. The co-operative form and structure of the organisation means that it is owned and controlled by its members/workers, and that what we produce we produce for need and desire rather than as a commodity for exchange.

Again, a question: does this make the SSC a ‘radical alternative’ to capitalist higher education? Or a place apart, in parallel, which helps us take steps towards such an alternative? Or, on the contrary, could it be considered part of the UK Conservative Party’s vision of a privatised ‘Big Society’/ Is it similar to or different from other projects to transform the actual mode of production in a local area: time and food banks, reduced working hours, labour exchanges? Big questions that we are still working through.

Another example was software development, where there is much communism in the immaterial world. Here, there have been radical changes in the mode of production, which has been ‘socialised’ and made common (with regard, e.g., to creative commons, open access, etc.) – but only partly, as the means of production often remain private and even extreme co-operation therefore takes place in private form.

And then we asked other questions, from a different direction: what are the critiques of historical materialism, and how can we think about it critically? One scholar commented that the theory felt too big and complex to understand, first, and criticise, second. Another argued that we could spend a lifetime getting to grips with it in its totality…so how can we engage it critically here and now? We came up with the following ideas:

Thinking critically about the form of the theory and writing

  • Engels’ essay seems to be a ‘grand narrative’ (like a story that claims to explain everything about something); it is very – but perhaps overly – systematic; and it contains few concrete, embodied or worked-out examples that help us understand what is being argued in detail. What are the alternatives to ‘grand narratives’, and why might we consider them?
  • Is this a ‘deterministic’ theory, which might help us understand how and why things happen but not whether we can, as people, do anything about them? There was not initial agreement on this, but an interest in thinking about it more.

Thinking critically about what is not being discussed, or what is not encouraged for discussion

  • This reading of historical materialism does not seem to say anything about, or have a concept of, ‘free will’. Is this an omission? Last week, for example, we read a number of liberal theorists whose theories of capitalism and education hinged on the existence and power of individual free will. What would they say to Engels, and vice-versa?
  • There is nothing in Engels’ essay about other (non-class-based) ‘subject positions’ or forms or vectors or systems of power, most obviously gender and race. Is this a product of the time it was written? The nature of the theory itself? The actual nature of power in the world? A glaring distortion? How do we make sense of this silence when reading it today? Who else has written about this differently?
  • Historical materialism doesn’t seem to have a sense of ethics here, of values, of how we should interact and treat each other – there ‘isn’t much personal stuff in the big historical stuff’. How do we connect the two?

Thinking critically about assumptions

  • What about arguments that problems of inequality and injustice today are not related to capitalism but due to natural inequalities of ability, intelligence, or talent;  that ‘people get what they deserve’ so long as we all have equal opportunities to try?
  • Historical materialism presumes that human nature is a product of history rather than naturally occurring. What other philosophies of human nature are there?

Thinking critically about validity

  • Engels wrote Socialism: Utopian and Scientific more than 100 years ago, and still The Revolution hasn’t happened (though there have been many struggles and victories). Does this mean that his theory is wrong, or only partly finished, or that we need to think about this differently? Are we any closer to creating modes of production that have transformative and liberating effects for people?

One scholar wondered whether, given that Marx and Marxism come up quite a lot in recent classes, it would make sense for us to understand this work more deeply. Some who are familiar with Marx’s work argued that it is a very important perspective to understand and one which has been very influential in the development of sociology and other fields of social scientific knowledge; they also said that they find it compelling. Or, it was suggested, perhaps we should all study something none of us yet know much about.

We concluded, full of these questions, with something equally profound: when people use the word ‘democracy’ in this class, what do they (we) mean? A few scholars were quick to say: not ‘representative democracy’, one-person-one-vote. Is it then used more ‘anarchistically’ (definitions to come)? What could it mean?

This question about what democracy means, and whether we use it, and the question of how we ground and justify and have confidence in our thinking and action in the struggle for humane and liberating education, and social life – whether this is through historical materialism or otherwise – seem critical ones for us to continue answering together.

Week Four: Alternative Education

“Nam Sibyllam quidem Cumis ego ipse oculis meis
Vidi in ampulla pendere, et cum illi pueri dicerent:
Σιβυλλα τι θελεις; respondebat illa: αποθανειν θελω.”

April is the cruelest month…

Last week we spent some time discussing ‘mainstream education’; the form(s) it may take; what purpose(s) it might serve and who that purpose(s) might benefit. Whilst it was always going to be difficult to dissect this theme in two hours we did, thanks to Peaceful and Yarasloav, manage to have some of the most insightful and energising discussions so far this term.

This week we will discuss alternative forms of education but, before we do, I would like to explore a theoretical framework – that I am developing for my own research – which, I hope, will allow us to create a solid foundation upon which to explore and imagine alternative forms of education. This approach is called ‘Scientific Socialism’ and runs subtly throughout the corpus of Karl Marx’s work but, thankfully, is outlined concisely by Frederick Engels in Socialism: Utopian and Scientific. As a Marxist I consider Socialism: Utopian and Scientific to be one of the most important texts for anyone discussing alternatives forms that attempt to challenge capitalism. In this ‘little book’, which is taken from a more comprehensive publication, Anti-Duhring, Engles argues that ‘Scientific Socialism’ allows us to understand that (please excuse the sexist language, it is, although unforgivably, of its time):

…the final causes of all social changes and political revolutions are to be sought, not in men’s brains, not in men’s better insights into eternal truth and justice, but in changes in the modes of production and exchange. They are to be sought, not in the philosophy, but in the economics of each particular epoch.

The whole ‘little book’ is available at: http://www.marxism.net/pdf/marx/soc_engels.pdf. The whole publication is well worth a read; however, Chapter 3 Historical Materialism will suffice for Thursday’s session.

The second reading is an attempt, although, perhaps unwittingly, to employ something along the lines of what Engels suggests. I would like to discuss the merits of this paper in terms of employing ‘Scientific Socialism’ and whether it helps us to think about alternative forms of education. You can find the second reading here: http://www.acme-journal.org/vol12/Radice2013.pdf

The final thing I would like people to look at, in preparation for the session, is a map I have created that highlights some alternative education projects that are happening across the world. Your final piece of ‘homework’, if you choose to accept it, is to conduct some research about one, or more if you wish, alternative education projects on the map. We could discuss them and, perhaps, the SSC in the context of the readings. You can find the map here: http://goo.gl/maps/V7yrC

Look forward to seeing you all on Thursday.

Best wishes

Gary

Notes on the SSC Course, January 30th 2014 Week 3: Mainstream Education

The scholars taking the lead for tonight’s session were Peaceful Warrior and Yaroslav. They had suggested that we read Liberal Readings on Education, a collection of papers edited by Stefan Melnik and  Sascha Tamm, translated by Ritu Khanna 2008, published by Ideas on Liberty in Berlin.

This was an unusual reading for SSC classes as it was written by economists who favour neo-liberal economics.

We started with a short quotation from the book,  something Hayek (1899 – 1992), the guru of free market economics, had said about education: ‘ Inflated education opportunities harbour the danger of creating an “intellectual proletariat” which will entail unpleasant political consequences.’

hayek_colores

We thought a bit about what that might mean, without coming to any conclusions. It sparked a debate about the meaning of liberalism and neoliberalism.  Liberalism promotes the sovereignty of the individual against the state, promoting the notion of freedom from constraint, as well as the right to chose.  This is contrasted against forms of society where choice is thought to be constrained, e.g. socialism. Then we looked at the difference between liberalism and neoliberalism. Classical Liberal thinkers, like Adam Smith (1723 – 1790), accept the importance of the economy as a form of social regulation, but maintain that there are other reasons why people chose to lead their lives, not least for moral and ethical concerns. Neo-liberalism, on the other hand, maintains that all social life is subordinate to the power of markets and money.

8-20 Adam Smith

We all agreed that Liberalism and Neoliberalism  are political and economic theories which need to be taken seriously, rather than trivialised as propaganda or ideology. Being very clear about our relationship to these ideas is important, not only because they are the hegemonic concepts of our age, but also because they appear to be so appealing and seductive. Who isn’t for freedom!

One of the group had ‘an extreme reaction’ to the reading, not least because none of the authors were women, and because of the reactionary nature of what she was reading. Nevertheless she was not against having had to read it.

Peaceful and Yaroslav  produced a paper where they set out the meaning of mainstream education. One of the useful aspects of the paper was that it gave us a sense of the historical development of education.

A key question was how can we who live in a world dominated by liberal thinking be critical of liberalism and neoliberalism. The question was raised as to what extent the Social Science Centre is part of this liberal hegemony, a form of free school outside of the state system ran entirely by volunteers. Is the Social Science Centre not a form of social activity promoted by the Big Society?

Someone said part of the problem is that the principles we espouse as being radical, e.g., equality and democracy, are liberal principles and have already been achieved. In the capitalist world equality is found in the principle of  universal suffrage and our rights as citizens and  legal subjects.  The work of Jodi Dean, e.g.,  Democracy and Other NeoLiberal Fantasies, was suggested as someone who throws light on all of this. She argues that in order to overcome liberal thought we should be fighting not for democracy or equality, but the abolition of capitalism.

978-0-8223-4505-3_pr

The point was made that we are only able to consider equality as a universal human right because we live in a profoundly egalitarian society. In the modern capitalist world hierarchy is not the dominant principle, people do not obtain their position based on who they are: their personhood, but on their ability to work and to make money. Money is the universal equivalent and possession of money renders people equal. In the UK even the Royal family must go to work, and appear to be good value for money. The Monarchy is an exception to the general rule of equality: a ‘feudal relic’ with extraordinary powers which must be abolished. A part of these extraordinary powers is the imposition of equality on the rest of society (Seamus Milne Guardian July 2013).

2013_royal_family_tree

In contemporary society money and the capitalist state are the organising principles which bind all human relationships together. Other forms of human relationships do exist in many complex ways, and people suffer repression due to reasons of race, gender and poverty, but none of that undermines the power of money and the value and values which it represents. Money is not just an economic device, nor is it the only reason or measure or motivation for why people behave and take action,  but money is the supreme form of social power: an essence that cannot be ignored, either as a theoretical or practical political issue. At the root of these discussions are the relationship between Marxist social theory and other post-structural perspectives. The group took some time to make sure that others in the group were not getting lost or overwhelmed by the discussion.

To aid our understanding the group is developing a Glossary of key words. This week we are definitely adding the words ‘hegemony’ and ‘proletariat’.

The mood lightened when reference was made to William Morris’s News from Nowhere, a book about a Utopia, written at the end of the 19th century which imagined a Socialist alternative to capitalist society.

newsnowhere1st

We enjoyed listening to different interpretations of this important book. Morris had been one of the first people in England to study Marx’s critical political economy and had lectured on it,  finding a way of getting beyond a liberal critique of liberalism. Reference was made to a biography about Morris: Romantic or Revolutionary written by another English Marxist, E P Thompson. Thompson describes Morris’  turn to Marxism in Morris’ own words as ‘crossing the river of fire.’

detail_256_William_morris150

This led us to having utopian thoughts about education and what alternative radical forms of teaching might look like. We discussed the difference between education and learning: education was regarded as constrained learning, to learn skills to get a job, whereas learning was much more open ended an involved learning about learning; even a form of spiritual emancipation. Someone mentioned Steiner education, and the very different model of human life and education on which it is based. We talked about the principles and practices of Steiner education and why people like Steiner get described as a ‘mad genius’ without fully exploring the nature of his work, and taking it seriously.

This set us up nicely for next week’s session on alternative forms of education to be led by Gary and James.

Notes on ‘Co-operation and education’ class, week two: Curriculum design and pedagogy

On Thursday, we met for week two of the SSC’s Social Science Imagination class. The focus this week was on co-designing our curriculum around the theme of ‘co-operation and education’,  and then, in the second half of the seminar, coming to a consensus around our preferred pedagogical approach. From next week, as you’ll see, we will start studying aspects of co-operation and education in earnest.

For the first half of the seminar, Gary and Joss asked other scholars to share their short reflections on the previous week’s class, where we discussed our reading of the SSC’s FAQ and the ICA’s Co-operative Identity, Values and Principles statement. We’ll gather these reflections and publish them separately at a later date. Below are Joss’ frantic notes taken during the discussion. The aim of these notes was to pick out keywords, phrases and themes which all twelve scholars present then synthesised into major topics to focus on each week for the rest of the course.

subjectivities, teacher, students, scholars, co-learning, leaders? roles, responsibilities, want to change power relations, friendship, new learning, ‘clever speak’, ‘rubbish of the mind’, imagination, unique opportunity, ‘treasure’, consensus-decision making, democracy, utopian, praxis, process, critical, autonomy, commons, solidarity, non-profit, polyvocal, positionality, diversity, collaboration, independence, hierarchy, ‘open university’, personal contribution, communal network, social co-operation, anti-capitalist, participation, liberty, changing, energy, positivity, hope, government, art, protests, 1968, individualism, austerity, education for all, voluntary, open, inclusive, equality, local community, learn from each other, teacher-student, organic, collective, co-op movement, ‘in the city’, ‘‘scholar’ as a sign of solidarity’, care, collaborative design, precedents?, cross-pollination, ‘bring and share meal’, nourishment, ‘irreducibly collective’, trust, increasing collectivity, ‘a right, not a commodity’, ‘ownership of my education’, structure of education, education as economic policy.

Most of us had written a few hundred words for our reflective piece. One person illustrated their writing with photographs of posters from protests by students and staff from Hornsey College in 1968. Here’s an example:

Reflecting on the short history of the Social Science Centre, another scholar tweeted:

Once we had shared our reflections, we then tried to draw out themes for each subsequent weeks’ class, and structure them coherently over the remainder of the course. You can see them in the table below. There was very little debate during this process and we found ourselves coming to agreement quite quickly.

During the second part of the class, Sarah encouraged us to talk about the week’s reading (Chapter 2 from Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed) and the way(s) in which we would like to approach teaching and learning (‘pedagogy’) over the next few weeks. You will see from Sarah’s notes below that by the end of the class, we had created an outline curriculum, decided who would take responsibility for choosing the reading and facilitating each week, and we agreed to extend the course by at least one more week.

Social Science Imagination – Co-operation and Education: Winter & Spring 2014 Curriculum

Week

Theme

Teachers

Note-takers/Bloggers

30/1

Mainstream education

Peaceful Warrior, Yaroslav

Mike

6/2

Alternative education

Gary, James

Sarah

13/2

Co-operative principles

and values

Paul and Joss

 Laura

20/2

Co-operative principles

and values

Paul and Joss

Mike

27/2

Co-operative histories

and movement

Lucy, Mike

Gary

6/3

Co-operative histories

and movement

Lucy, Mike

Joss

13/3

Co-operative learning

Jane,

Laura, Sarah

Paul

20/3

Co-operative learning

Laura, Jane,

Sarah

Tim

27/3

Location, place,

distance, roots

Joss, Paul

Notes from second part of the class

While different scholars will be teaching each session, we can all help each other learn. If you are new to teaching or to a theme, ask around to raise questions, try out ideas, get suggestions for readings or activities, share experiences of teaching and facilitating, etc.

To allow good time for reading and thinking, we’ve agreed to circulate or post each week’s reading by the previous Saturday morning.

How we want to learn (pedagogical approach)

We want the SSC to be a place where learning is, as Paulo Freire once wrote, a ‘practice of freedom’, and a practice for freedom.* So what does this look like in our classes? We put together these suggestions.

Sharing learning materials (writing, videos, sounds and images) helps focus our discussions and provides some common ground upon which we can explore diverse experiences and perspectives and gain clarity on our themes of inquiry. Create a collective bibliography for this term.

Making sure that everyone has time, materials and support to read (or watch or listen or do) and reflect, and to engage in real dialogue about issues with others, are equally important.

Sharing new sources of insight and inspiration that we discover through our personal reading, experience and research helps us expand our collective body of knowledge, ignites imagination and multiplies the lenses through which we can read the world.

Making connections between learning and practice reminds us to pay attention to the time and place of our work, and is essential for those learning to change and ‘learning to make a change’.

Creating a common language of understanding helps us ‘unpack’ the assumptions in our words, understand each other more deeply, and engage in critical and caring dialogue.

Clarifying words for others, both in classes and in public, makes scholarly thinking interesting rather than frightening or mysterious, and creates opportunities for everyone to develop a ‘sociological imagination’. Create a collectively written glossary of terms.

Encouraging everyone to ask questions and take risks creates a culture of co-operative critical inquiry through which we can strengthen our independent thinking, practice the arts of critique, challenge our ‘fears of freedom’, and help others do the same. It also helps us to keep our thinking radically open and ‘unfinished’.

Giving each other space to explore, make mistakes, make judgements, and try out new ideas and ways of being is an important condition of learning. Remembering that transformative learning is often a courageous activity is important, too.

Rotating responsibility for teaching/facilitating learning helps us to distribute authority, multiply our range of perspectives, explore different approaches to learning, and transform the ‘teacher–student contradiction’ into more fluid learning relationships.


* How did Freire understand education as a ‘practice of freedom’ in this book?

‘[T]he dialogical character of education as the practice of freedom does not begin when the teacher-student meets with the students-teachers in a pedagogical situation, but rather when the former first asks herself or himself what she or he will dialogue with the latter about. And preoccupation with the content of dialogue is really preoccupation with the program content of education.’ (Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 1970, p. 93)

‘The investigation of what I have termed the people s “thematic universe”—the complex of their “generative themes”—inaugurates the dialogue of education as the practice of freedom. The methodology of that investigation must likewise be dialogical, affording the opportunity both to discover generative themes and to stimulate people’s awareness in regard to these themes.’ (Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 1970, p. 96)

‘For the dominant elites, organization means organizing themselves. For the revolutionary leaders, organization means organizing themselves with the people. In the first event, the dominant elite increasingly structures its power so that it can more efficiently dominate and depersonalize; in the second, organization only corresponds to its nature and objective if in itself it constitutes the practice of freedom.’ (Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 1970, p. 177)

Co-operation and Education – Week One

SSC logoThe SSC’s new course, Co-operation and Education, began this week. The course, which runs from the 16th of January to the 20th of March 2014 on Thursday evenings between 19.00 – 21.00, was attended by 16 ‘scholars’ at the Pathways Centre on Beaumont Fee in Lincoln. The room was quite tight with this number of people and we are thinking of other venues to use, as we expect up to 20 people attending some weeks.

The session started with people introducing themselves to other members of the group. Half of the class were new to the SSC, which was wonderful to see. There was a fascinating blend of people, which included members of the SSC, undergraduate students, employees from Framework, academics, people involved in other co-operative projects (Lincoln Hackspace and Abundant Earth Community), members of the local community and some Ph.D students. It was heartening to see some new faces and this helped to create a sense of energy, excitement and curiosity as people were interested to learn more about each other.

Joss provided an introduction to the SSC and explained the rationale and nature of the Co-operation and Education course. He made it clear that if anyone wanted to be assessed on the course, that experienced members of the SSC would help design an expanded curriculum and methods of assessment appropriate to the level they are interested in. We also spent some time outlining the importance of the course as a way of helping us to think, co-operatively, about the SSC. We considered how the discussions we have on the course might be used to inform the content of a co-operative conference that SSC intends to host in March 2014, to write a collaborative conference paper to be presented at the the Royal Geographical Society Conference in August 2014 and to help think about and refine the SSC’s constitution and working practice at our AGM in May 2014.

As part of this process we are looking for volunteers to form a working group to help organise the SSC co-operative conference in March as well as help write, collaboratively, the paper to be submitted to the Royal Geographical Society.

The first task of the session was to read the SSC’s FAQ document, which is two pages long. Some people volunteered to read paragraphs from the text aloud.  After some time for reflection we asked ourselves six questions to help us think about the nature of the SSC and its limits as a new model for higher education. One scholar noted that this is a very traditional method of getting students to think about a text. In this case, it provided a ‘safe’ and familiar approach to stimulating discussion among people new to the SSC and to each other. The questions were:

  1. Describe the SSC in your own words

  2. How is the SSC organised? What’s important about that?

  3. How does the SSC approach teaching and learning? How is it different?

  4. What was the context in which the SSC was created?

  5. How can people be engaged in the SSC? What does it involve?

  6. What are the limits to the SSC as a new model for higher education?

Interestingly, but not surprisingly, people thought about the SSC in different ways. Some people thought of it as a ‘political project’, others as a ‘university without walls’ or as a way of ‘hacking’ the best parts of a university from a form that no longer works and reconstituting one that does.  Other words used to describe the SSC were, ‘organic’, ‘responsive’, and ‘flexible’.

We spent some time discussing the co-operative form of the SSC, consensus decision making and how this works in practice. One scholar said that ‘democratic, non-hierarchical, consensus decision-making’ was put into practice across all members for issues relating to governance, but that the day-to-day running of the SSC often relies on a small group of 4-5 people coming to agreement. When participating in the course, this aspiration is embedded in the pedagogic methods that we try to use.

There were some interesting discussions about how the SSC approached teaching and learning with the conversation centering on the importance of questioning and challenging the ‘traditional’ distinction between teacher and student and, instead, appreciating that both have a lot to learn from each other, but that somehow, this is often lost in ‘traditional’ forms of teaching and learning. Questions were raised about assessment and about how this might work in practice in terms of supervision, assessment and receiving some form of qualification. Whilst the SSC has always intended to offer some form qualification for the courses it offers, it has never done so in practice, although some scholars on the Co-operation and Education course showed an interesting in pursuing this.

We discussed how people could get involved in the SSC with one scholar noting that it was actually unclear in the SSC’s FAQ how people could engage with the SSC. A number of questions were raised by new scholars about the SSC which are not clear from the FAQ but are implicitly understood by some some members who helped set the co-operative up. Understandably, similar questions are asked when people first engage with the SSC and we need to prepare responses to these questions in a more explicit way.

Whilst some commented that the limits to the SSC were financial support and teaching and learning space, two scholars commented that the SSC was ‘limitless’.

The second task of the session (during the last 30 mins of the class), was to read the International Co-operative Alliance’s ‘Co-operative Identity, Values and Principles Statement, which were informed by the principles developed by the Rochdale Pioneers Equitable Society. Again, we gave ourselves time to read and think about the document and organised our discussion of it around three questions:

  1. Pick one value from the text that is important for you and tell us why

  2. Given the context of its creation, how should we read this text?

  3. Pick one principle from the text and state why you think it is important. How could that principle be used to inform the work of the SSC?

We discussed the importance of education, training and information to help think critically about running a co-operative and organisational forms beyond co-operatives. One scholar stressed the importance of concern for the local community and how co-operatives encouraged this. We considered the nature of democracy and its different forms and how this differed from consensus decision making. It was noted that there is no appreciation of ‘class’ in the document.

We concluded the session by starting to think about some of the themes that came out of the discussions with the aim of starting to develop concrete themes that we will examine for the rest of the course.

Download the class plan for our first session.

In preparation for next week:

  1. Produce a 300 word statement or equivalent that reflects on the first session and starts to concretize some of the key themes from reading and discussing the SSC FAQ and the ICA statement.
  2. Read Chapter Two of Paulo Friere’s  Pedagogy of the Oppressed, which we will discuss next week.