Friday, 15 July 2016

Learning Activism: The Intellectual Life of Social Movements

Dear Colleagues,

As you will know I am toiling away on my doctoral thesis which focuses on activist learning and the role that the MA programme that I run at Ruskin College plays in this.

There have been hundreds of sources of material that I have been drawing on to help frame my analysis. My starting point has that literature which maps out the development of workers' education in the UK, and I am indebted to people like Jonathan Rose for his book The Intellectual Life of the British Working Class:

Naturally enough the role of Ruskin College here has been something that I have enjoyed having the time to focus on in detail. Teachers and Leaders by Richard Lewis, for example, is critically important in discussing the way in which education for trade union activists reflected deeply the tension in the labour movement about its place within capitalist economies:

There are limits however contemporarily around literature that relates to the knowledge production processes of trade union activists (which is good for me I suppose) which has meant that I have been drawing heavily on comparative material within social movements.

The work of colleagues like Laurence Cox and Mario Novelli have been instrumental here for example: and

It has been fascinating to uncover this (and similar) material that uncovers and explores the informal and formal processes by which activists generate knowledge as an aspect of their activism, and in turn how this informs their sense of agency and shapes the strategic orientation of movements.

I have written here several times of how influential the writing of Aziz Choudry has been (e.g: - quite possibly the definitive book on the subject) and I wanted to give a plug for his latest book, which is his most personal.

Learning Activism: The Intellectual Life of Social Movements is as the book's blurb states designed to encourage a deeper engagement with the intellectual life of activists who organise for social, political and ecological justice. Combining experiential knowledge from his own activism and a variety of social movements, Choudry suggests that such organisations are best understood if we engage with the learning, knowledge, debates and theorising that goes on with them.
It is from this perspective that I am aiming to shed light on the similar processes by which trade union activists generate knowledge and how this aids their development of theory for modes and processes of trade union renewal.

The process of examining how this works in allied social movements is essential, I argue, as much of the debate on trade union renewal pushes for greater proximity and collaboration between organised labour and social movements - the educational arena . The research output of my colleague Jane Holgate is critically important in building and sustaining this argument:

Please have a look at the contents/buy a copy here:

In Solidarity


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