Know-how: Do-it-ourselves research (course outline)

A new term starts this Thursday, 26th February, 7-9pm at the Renew Involvement Centre, Mint Lane, Lincoln. Anyone is welcome.

Below is an outline of the planned sessions. Readings in advance of the class will be circulated on our course mailing list. Please get in touch if you wish to be added.

Week 1: (26th Feb) Introduction to Academic Research

Week 2: (5rd March) Is co-operative education an antidote to the neoliberal political system of academy schooling?

Week 3: (12th March) The Academic Guerrilla

Week 4: (19th March) Co-operative Higher Education

Week 5: (26th March) Urban poverty: Space, time and inequalities

Week 6: (2nd April) Break: Reading, writing and contemplation

Week 7: (9th April) Rhythmanalysis – after Henri Lefebvre

Week 8: (16th April) Questioning Historical Research

Week 9: (23rd April) Research Design and Social Innovation

Week 10: (30th April) Home Reading Project

Week 11: (7th May) Seeing power

Notes for Know-how (session nine): “Shall we start a movement?”

18th December 2014. Attending: Joss, Tim, Martha, Gerard, Laura.

We talked about:

  • Alternating each week’s session so that we discuss our own research and learn from the published research of others.
  • How do people understand the role of research so that it helps them make choices?
  • How do researchers get access to their area of research? Isn’t that part of research?
  • We need to spend more time discussing people’s research ideas and identify the research projects that are going on within and outside the SSC.
  • How do we change the outside by changing the inside of the SSC?
  • How does theory constrain research?
  • Research interventions as a “dare”.
  • What happens when a teacher says to his students: “Shall we start a movement” (after Larkin)
  • Action research has emancipatory aims, not the building of models.
  • If our research aims to develop models, are they “models of…” or “models for…”?
  • How to work collectively on individual interests? Sharing ingredients vs. sharing meals.
  • We’re looking forward to the Fun Palace Party on the 20th December.

Notes for Know-how (eighth session): The Value of Value

11th December 2014

Present: Mike and Wendy

Wendy is studying Marx’s labour theory of value and brought to the session some of the writings of I I Rubin (1886 – 1937), a Soviet  economic theorist and historian who contributed greatly to our understanding of Marx’s critical political economy.

The significance of Rubin’s exposition of Marx is his insistence that Marx was not an economist concerned with the allocation of resources or technical inefficiencies of production; but, rather, why the social relations of production take on the peculiar social forms in capitalism as labour, capital, commodities and money;  and how, based on this arrangement, the working activity of people is regulated in capitalist society. Following Marx he sought to provide a sociological and historical explanation for processes that have become so longstanding that they appear to be naturalised and, therefore, incapable of transformation. Rubin, following Marx, refers to this particular ontological project of capitalism as commodity fetishism.

For an appreciative account of Rubin see Samuel Perlman’s introduction to Rubin’s expostion of commodity fetishism, written in 1968 ((

For a more critical account nof Rubin read Moishe Postone’s Time Labour and Social Domination 1993 145-148 and 186 – 188. This more critical account suggests that even Rubin did not grasp the full significance of Marx’s labour theory of value. Postone points out that Rubin saw the fundamental problem of capitalism as the lack of rational decision making in the allocation of resources, a deficiency that could be eradicated by popular planning and new rules of public ownership, rather than problematising the real nature of value as the essential characteristic of capitalist life.

Wendy is going to apply her own understanding of the labour theory of value to research into cooperative schools.

Notes for Know-how (seventh session): Literacy, food, community, curriculum


Attending: Lucy, Tim, Laura, Mike, Gerard, Martha, Joss, Wendy, Ken

One scholar shared his paper: ‘Using the Sociological Imagination to Investigate a Theme’. An attempt to find a ‘sociological prism’ to understand the complexity of the world.

He shared details of his health survey and research proposal and said he’d had 1000 responses to the survey, which is now being analysed by the local council. Focus groups will follow. It was suggested that we learn more about focus group techniques at the SSC.

He talked about the ‘Seeds of Change’ project at his college which is an attempt to improve the health, perceptions and lives of pupils and their families through community gardening.

We talked about poverty: of ideas, imagination and aspiration among some people, and the importance of coming together to do something and engage with people.

We talked about guerilla gardening, city farms, allotments and how these forms of community activity are constantly under threat.

Another scholar introduced her research proposal to the group, which if successful would fund her through her employer.

She’s proposed research which is designed to improve children’s literacy through ‘gifts from the community’. People will be asked to volunteer to help parents read at home with their children by creating time for them to do so. She suggested that scholars might like to volunteer and that it would provide access to conversations within the Abbey Ward area. The aim is not to teach children how to read but to develop community support for reading. We also talked about the ethics of research interventions.

The research is intended to work at two levels: the effect on the children’s literacy and the effect on the community.

We talked about the effect that our upbringing can have on the way we read and how a love of reading can be passed on from generation to generation. Public libraries have played an important role in this.

In the final part of the session, we discussed the format of the Know-how course and it was suggested that we alternate between i) a structured curriculum focusing on the nature and methods of research, and ii) reports from scholars about their own research, which a number of us are now doing. This had emerged from previous weeks of Know-how where we have discussed a number of scholars own research and approaches to research, but also feel a need for a complementary seminar-style component to the course that provides a structured approach to understanding what research is and how it is undertaken. This could be done by combining ‘text book’ introductory reading with reading of actual research papers that reflect on their research methods.

A curriculum will be developed next week for the new year.

Notes for Know-how (sixth session): Evidence, violence, if…do…

SSC: Thursday 20th November 2014, Croft Street

Present: Martha, James, Laura, Gerard, Mike, Tim

What we have been doing this week:

  • Got the ok for planting 800 trees! Re-read the report written in 1997, but feels that much of it would still apply today.
  • Looking at research about biophilia: mental and physical advantages of proximity to nature; biophillic design.
  • Reading Carol Dweck and relevance of “growth mindset” in context of education.
  • Environments with different attitudes: Changing from an attitude of “No, but” to “Yes, unless.”  Theories of evolution – is it a priori, or a posteri: you can use it to make something happen.
  • Writing an article about violence, based on drone culture.  How do we counter violence?  What is the logic of the militarised drone?  What is the root?
  • Designing a counter project.  How can we be invisible to the capitalist project?
  • Registered a web domain; teaching; talking with Mark Thomas about Please Mind the Farage!  When we’re creative, it’s outside the logic of war and the target culture.  We’re at a tipping point, when human comprehension of existence is changing.

    We discussed the dangers of “evidence based” research, and that evidence is political.  Can the variety inherent in education be handled in an “evidenced” way.  Teachers have been left out as a resource for adding innovation.

    Is education redemptive?  Education as benign violence (Asgar Allen); same logic as a factory.  Trend in education towards individualisation and achieving targets.

    We’re not critically self-conscious of the predicament we’re in.

    Martha described the process of her paper (our reading for last week) for the recommendation of where to site an access centre, and its use of “If… Do” statements.

    We discussed whether there are problems that cannot be solved, and which is the real/normal situation: between economic boom and economic depression.  If you drive down the value of labour, you create unemployment and people work for nothing.

    Tim agreed to recommend some reading for next week about fractals.

Notes for Know-how (fifth session): Community, connections, methods, mad world

13th November

Dog and Bone Pub, 10 John Street, Lincoln @dogbonelincoln

Present: Andrew, Lucy, Gerard, Laura, Tim, Martha, Joss, Mike

Localism in the Local

We had agreed to meet in the local pub as a way of making more contact with the local community. The Dog and Bone is not only an award winning CAMRA (Real Ale) pub, but hosts the meetings for many community groups.

Community Development Projects

We discussed the Community Development Projects (CDP) from the 1970s. This was publically funded local research across a range of issues of general concern: unemployment, housing, health, welfare. The publications from the programme are all well produced, written in an accessible academic style with photographs and illustrations. They are usually very critical of government policy. We decided this is a good model on which we might frame some of our own work

We heard about work to develop a transnational co-operative university, including the Cooperative College,  Co-ops UK, academics and agencies and a range of other people. There is as yet no clear idea of what the form this facility would take but it might be arranged horizontally as a network of different types of institutions and structures that respond to local need.

Local evaluations and community connections

Members of the group have strong local connections and we heard about previous research and evaluation projects that they had been involved with in Abbey Ward. One of the group raised the concern that this kind of work that we are developing had been tried before and often not very successfully. They were particularly concerned about our relationship with Abbey Ward. This led to a fuller discussion about the meaning of the concept ‘community’. One of the points that came out of this discussion was how we might connect with other localities in Lincoln, for example, the St Giles ward, where other members of the Centre live.

Research methodology and methods

The programme is still in the process of deciding how to frame the research that we will be doing. One idea that emerged from the meeting is that members might want to organise a research project around their own occupations, particularly those who are working in Abbey Ward in areas of social concern. We discussed that this is not simply about content, what they do every day at work, but how they frame that research: what kind of research method and methodology they might use.

The Enemy Within

One kind of research method is film documentary. One of the group had been to see the film ‘Still The Enemy Within’, about the miners strike in the 1980s. ‘The Enemy Within: The Secret War Against the Miners’  is the title of a book by the Guardian journalist, Seamus Milne using a journalistic methodology.

Extending the network

The group heard about contacts that had been made with local groups, including meetings with Lynsey Collinson at  Development Plus and the council’s Neighbourhood Development Officer, Paul Carrick. Both of these local community development workers are very positive about the SSC and are keen to support the work we are doing. They have given us a number of people and agencies to contact, including immigrant groups. Meetings are to be arranged with these contacts to discuss ways of taking the research forward programme forward. One idea is to write a history of the area based on the experiences of residents and their own writings and recordings. It emerged from the discussion with the Lynsey and Paul that there are many immigrants living in Abbey Ward with experience of higher education, but have difficulty maintaining an  ‘intellectual life’ given the difficulty in accessing higher education without incurring high levels of debt.

New Deal for Communities

The main part of the session was taken up discussing a paper, written by one of the members of the group, Andrew McCulloch, and published in Capital and Class in 1984 on ‘Localism and its Neoliberal Applications’. The paper was about a more recent government funded community development programme, New Deal for Communities, with reference to a particular programme in the North East of England. This was a wide ranging discussion, including the nature of the concept of community, research methodology and methods, research ethics, and the role of the police. An important issue was the way in which the local state had come to control and contain acts of local activism  in ways that perverted the original aims of the New Deal programme.  We also discussed forms of  resistance to the state that members of the group had been involved with, including squatting in Amsterdam, Climate Camp and Reclaim the Streets. All agreed what a deeply politicising experience this had been for those who took part in these actions.

On Know-how

At the end of the meeting the comment was made that the programme does not have a set objective that is likely to be recuperated by the state, but that we are learning for ourselves and with others how to do research about things that have meaning and purpose for us in this local context. An important aspect of the research process is sustaining and nuturing the SSC. In that sense it is not possible to say that this work had been tried before and had failed.

The meeting ended at 8.55. We agreed to meet next week at Croft Street Community Centre, but that we should return to the Dog and Bone about once a month. The reading for next week is an evaluation undertaken recently by Martha on Abbey Ward.

Sound track

While we sat and talked and drank some beers and juice and coke and water songs were played out of the pubs audio system. These songs included:

Tears for Fears’ ‘Mad World’; George Michael’s:  You Gotta Have Faith; Huey Newton’s  Power of Love ;  Paul Simon’s Call me Al; Tears for Fears’: Everybody  Wants to Rule the World; Tracey Chapman’s Fast Car and Don MacLean’s American Pie.

Notes for Know-how (fourth session): Pubs, Community Development Projects and guerrilla research

Croft Street Community Centre

7.00 pm

Present: Martha, Gerard, Andrew, Laura, Tim, Mike

Extending the network

Following last week’s session with James, meetings have now been set up for next week with the contacts he gave us at Development Plus and the Abbey Ward Community Development office. The response from these organisations to the work we are intending to do has been very positive.

Community Pubs

We discussed the possibility of taking over a running and local pub, across the street from the SSC community centre, which is currently up for sale.

Another local pub, the Dog and Bone, is the CAMRA East Midlands pub of the year:

This pub has an excellent book exchange scheme and host meetings for a number of local community groups. We decided to have our next meeting there to talk with the landlord/lady about the SSC and do some networking.

Health and Wellbeing

We had an update on a Health and Wellbeing survey that is running at a local FE college. An offshoot of this scheme is the setting up of a community garden in the grounds of the college, as a form of ‘guerilla gardening’. We heard about an academic book to be published on ‘guerilla gardening’ called Informal Urban Gardening.

Community Development Projects

We had a prolonged discussion about the Community Development Projects set up in the 1970s, as well as a more recent manifestation of government sponsored research for community development: the New Deal for Communities. Andrew is to send us an paper he wrote on this subject for the journal Capital and Class. We also discussed the work of Beatrix Campbell and her book: ‘Goliath – Britain’s Dangerous Places’, about the Meadow Well Estate after ‘riots’ in the early 1990s:

Research Methods in Education

We spent some time discussing chapters from a text book on educational research by Cohen, L Manion L and Morrison K (2013):

Scholars in the group were critical of some of the texts basis assumptions around key research concepts, e.g., positivism, which led onto a discussion about the meanings of epistemology and ontology.

Community Access Centres

We talked about the development of Community Access Centres in Lincoln, with specific reference to a Abbey Access Centre in the Arboretum in Abbey Ward.

Of particular interest was hearing about the research that had been done to provide the data for the Local Authority to decide to establish these centres.

Documentation relating to this research project will be sent to the group.

Guerrilla Research Questions

At the end of the session we had a very amusing discussion about what forms ‘guerilla research’ questions might take. This was based on conversations one of the group had been involved with at a recent research conference in the Netherlands.

The session ended at 8.30


Notes for Know-how: Do-It-Ourselves Higher Education (third session)

Know-how: Do it ourselves higher education

Session 3: 30th October 2014

Croft Street Community Centre

Start 7 pm

Present Mike, Joss, James, Andrew, Peaceful, Tim

The session started with James presenting work he has been involved with in the Abbey Ward, The Old Bunker Project:

The aim of the Old Bunker Project is to convert a bomb shelter, built in the Second World War, into a community facility. This project iis being carried out through a process of extensive consultation, collaboration and co-operation with the local community. The project has completed phase one: research and consultation, is seeking funding to carry out phase two: design, before moving onto phase 3 of the project: building the new facility.

James’ work shares many of the values and politics of the SSC so we were very excited to hear about the very practical steps he had taken to put the project into practice.

James has worked very closely with local community development organisations and the local council and was able to give us a very useful list of people to contact.

Talking with James helped the group to focus our thinking around the research project we should undertake as the main part of the K-h course this year. We decided to focus on writing a local history of the Abbey Ward with local residents, based on stories and experiences of the local population; and, not only a local history, but also a ‘social topography’ looking at the relationship between the geography and the geology of the city, as a basis for the location of different parts of the population: the bourgeois areas on the top of the hill near the cathedral looking down over the working class parts of the ward, situated near the factories and the river. A key theme to focus on in this work would be the history of immigration in this part of Lincoln.

It was decided that we would carry on developing our general knowledge about Abbey Ward and to make contact with the key people who James had identified for us. James expressed an interest in collaborating with us so that we could work for the mutual benefit of the two projects.

At the end of the session we had an update on the health and wellbeing project being undertaken at a local further education college. We were pleased to hear how well the project is going with a number of unforeseen positive effects already taking place.

The meeting ended at 8.45.

Notes for Know-how: Do-It-Ourselves Higher Education (second session)

Joss, Gerard, Andrew, Martha, and Peaceful attended this week. A mailing list for the course/research project has been set up and so far 17 existing SSC scholars have asked to join. We need to work on publicising the course better so as to attract new members from the area.

We brought examples of data for the area, including crime, census and national statistics data from the Lincolnshire Research Observatory.  It doesn’t tell us much more about Abbey Ward than we could already assume. It’s a large and varied part of the city and about 30% of residents have a degree or above (level 4) qualification.

Screen Shot 2014-10-24 at 15.49.40We talked about research that one scholar had done into the New Deal projects in Newcastle and Hartlepool and he stressed the need to look for examples of past radical research and research methods. He also spoke about how in his experience as a researcher, the lives and stories of women were often the most revealing and informative.

We talked about the Old Bunker Project next door  to the community centre where we meet and about the surveys they have done with local residents. They collected preferences for what people want and desire. This is interesting data and could be usefully combined with other sources of data such as interviews, life histories, case studies and statistics.

We will invite James from the Old Bunker Project to the SSC and offer help analysing data and look for follow up questions and approaches.

We will create a shared folder for us to compile documents and links to projects/planned projects for analysis/summary.

One of the main questions we asked was how to get people to work with you on research projects. Why should people care? One question we could ask is, ‘What does higher education mean to you?’

We are keen to understand the history of the area so as to get a better idea of why it looks and feels as it does today and so that we establish a connection with the area.

We thought it would be useful to schedule a class during the day-time to walk the length and breadth of the area to appreciate it.

We agreed that our research must be fully participatory. We need residents as scholars, navigating the research and forming the questions.

We need to ask what are the hidden structures of the area? What are the invisible demographic features? What are the resources in the area? Corner shop, pub, neighbour, etc.

It was suggested that we need to see everything in the area as a ‘resource’ and everyone as a researcher, even the absence of something is a resource to the researcher.

Notes for Know-how: Do-It-Ourselves Higher Education (first session)

16th October 2014

Venue: Croft Street Community Centre, 7 pm

Present: Gerard, Martha, Joss, Mike, Tim

We spent some time at the beginning of the session looking at and agreeing the outline of programme of work for Kh:DIO.

We then spent some time thinking about the meaning and purpose of the SSC. We reminded ourselves about the main aims and objectives of the SSC with reference to an article that was written jointly by members of the SSC and published in Radical Philosophy in 2011. We agreed that although based in our own community of Lincoln we are not a community development project, rather we were established as an act of resistance against government policy for Higher Education. While criticising the latter we are not against particular institutions that implement that policy such as any British University.

We spent some time discussing the extent to which we provide a service for student/scholars who join us on the courses, and to what extent student/scholars are collaborators with us in the production of new knowledge. Reference was made to the idea of prosumers that has come out of the business school-management literature, where consumers are encouraged to think of themselves in having a role in creating the products for sale.

The main focus of the Kh:DIO course is research: learning through the process of research, especially by understanding it rather than by emulating some of its popular procedures. The main research question would concern the provision of HE in the city of Lincoln, starting in Abbey Ward. We felt it important that through the process of learning about research we should learn about Abbey Ward. We rehearsed some of the arguments from earlier meetings about the efficacy of doing this work, the nature of our relationship and commitment to the local area as well as what we hoped to get out of the course and what other local residents would get out of the course. We also concluded that

As part of learning about the local area, participants agreed to bring some information about Abbey Ward to the next meeting as Community Reports, local newsletters as well as a list of contacts to be made. One of the participants is to do some similar research into the area where they are currently working and where they are hoping to carry out a research project on the health and well being of local residents, starting with young people in a local FE College. We all agreed it would be good to have this comparative analysis.

We all agreed it was important to attract more participants to the course. Contact has been made with DevelopmentPlus, a local community development enterprise, although that relationship needs to be developed, and an advance notice of the course has been advertised through the Lincolnite.

Making ourselves accessible and open to people with child-care and other caring responsiblities is a key issue. We discussed a paper that had been written by the Child Care Working Group. We agreed to use the suggested paragraph, see below, in our publicity and would put into practice other suggestions made by the paper depending on demand and with one exception: we all felt that running the course in the same space as child care arrangements would be too distracting.

‘Please let us know if you need help with childcare. We are able to offer support and activities on site during the classes, and would be happy to talk with you about your needs. Please get in touch a week in advance of the session you want to attend so that we can make the best plans possible. Contact or’

At the end of the session we spent time discussing one of the participants research project in his college, offering advice and support. This member of the course said how important the SSC is for the work he is doing as a counter project and as an alternative way of doing higher education.