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

Co-operative Women's Guild

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

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


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

Discussing the reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflections on SSC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mike: How can we stretch ourselves again?

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

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

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

Joss: SSC was always about higher education.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

The session was split into three sections:

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

1. Recap of the previous session

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

2. Read and discuss…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





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)


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,



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


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:


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.


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.



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:


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:


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.



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.

Podcast: Work and the Social Science Imagination

In this third Social Science Centre podcast, Richard Lance Keeble discusses with fellow SSC scholars Gary Saunders and Joss Winn, ways in which C. Wright Mills’ The Sociological Imagination can help people reflect critically on their own experience of work.

They focus on how the writing of Kathi Weeks can help us explore the nature of capitalist work and then discuss possible ways to alleviate the central role of work in our lives: a reduction in working hours and a guaranteed, unconditional basic income.

Listen to the podcast on SirenFM

Texts mentioned in the discussion include:

Marx, Karl (1867) Capital

More, Thomas (1516) Utopia

New Economics Foundation (2010) 21 hours

Van Parijs, Philippe (2005) Basic Income: A simple and powerful idea for the twenty-first century

Weeks, Kathi (2011) The Problem with Work: Feminism, Marxism, Antiwork Politics, and Postwork Imaginaries


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.’


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.


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).


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.


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.’


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






Mainstream education

Peaceful Warrior, Yaroslav



Alternative education

Gary, James



Co-operative principles

and values

Paul and Joss



Co-operative principles

and values

Paul and Joss



Co-operative histories

and movement

Lucy, Mike



Co-operative histories

and movement

Lucy, Mike



Co-operative learning


Laura, Sarah



Co-operative learning

Laura, Jane,




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)