Sunday, 13 September 2015

Learning From The Ground Up


Just back from another tremendous weekend teaching at Ruskin, although this time it was made extra special as (a) the weekend uniquely brought together several BA ILTUS cohorts with MA ILTUS part-time students and (b) as well as bringing the cohorts together for teaching, there was a particularly valuable student version of the critical labour studies (CLS) symposium - the third such event, organised by my brilliant colleague , Caroline Holmes (BA ILTUS Programme Co-ordinator), pictured to my right below.

BA and MA ILTUS students show solidarity with the march for refugees in London yesterday 
As I have written in the past, the CLS network is a an original means to align issues of organised labour, changes in work and research/academic activity. Despite the labourist/pro-trade union orientation of the CLS network/symposium (and the overwhelming support for Ruskin's ILTUS programme from CLS academics), it is wholly valuable for Ruskin's 'scholar activists to meet independently also to discuss, for example, the challenges in engaging in research activity despite the workload pressures of frontline activism.

One of my most cherished books on activist/movement learning/knowledge production, Learning from the Ground Up, edited by Aziz Choudry and Dip Kapoor ( spends considerable time exploring/analysing how and why sites and processes of learning/knowledge production outside of conventional academic practice represents a considerable achievement.

As we argue elsewhere (Choudry, 2007, 2008; Kapoor, 2009a), the voices, ideas, perspectives and theories produced by those engaged in social struggles are often ignored, rendered invisible, or overwritten with accounts by professionalized or academic experts. In the realm of academic knowledge production, original, single authorship is valued, which inadvertently contributes to a tendency to fail to acknowledge the intellectual contributions of activism, or to recognize the lineages of ideas and theories that have been forged outside of academe, often incrementally, collectively, and informally. That said, we do not intend to imply that these various epistemologies
of knowledge (academic and activist) and processes of knowledge production and learning (formal, nonformal, and informal) necessarily exist in completely separate universes. 

Although BA/MA ILTUS students often select research topics distinctly separate from their experience of labour movement activism/employment - sometimes to provide essential distance from the often damaging consequences of the fight for workers' rights - it is not untypical for students to root their research topic in an issue of specific labour movement insight/experience. Here, sometimes, students seek to 'make meaning' of often inchoate change in work/employment and/or the trade union response to it - thus there is an explicit sense here of students constructing research design to unpick and explore what they have learnt, or are still learning as a result of this experience.

In his chapter Learning in Social Action: A Contribution to Understanding Informal Education Griff Foley helps us better appreciate what is involved as movement activists/staff are “developing an  understanding of learning in popular struggle”. In commenting on the relevance of this chapter to appreciating how knowledge is created from movement practice/experience Choudry/Kapoor write:

His attention to documenting, making explicit, and valuing incidental forms of learning and knowledge production in social action is in keeping with others who understand that critical consciousness, rigorous research, and theory can and do emerge from engagement in action and organizing contexts, rather than as ideas developed elsewhere by movement elites and dropped down from “above” to “the people”

Learning from the Ground Up is thoroughly recommended for all movement educators/teachers as a means to appreciate the intersection of their own practice with that of those they are working with, and how to gain an insight on how best to model learning to appreciate what movement activists/staff bring to their educational experience.

It is a text from which myself and colleagues at Ruskin have much to continue learn, in alliance with what we are constantly reaping from our experience of teaching and working alongside ILTUS students, such a rewarding experience.

MA ILTUS Scholars: Annie, Chilayi and Bryan
In Solidarity


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