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An exploration of popular education from Occupy! London to the university: making hope possible in the face of neoliberal enclosure?

Earl, Cassie (2015) An exploration of popular education from Occupy! London to the university: making hope possible in the face of neoliberal enclosure? Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.


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The thesis is an examination of three sites of pedagogic experimentation: the pedagogic activities in the UK Occupy London movement (Occupy) as an example of organic community pedagogy and popular education; the Social Science Centre, Lincoln, as an example of democratic, cooperative pedagogy: and the University of Lincoln’s Student as Producer project, as an example of an alternatively organised Higher Education Institution. The work explores not only the pedagogic practices within the sites under enquiry, but also the claims by key participants that they are new, emergent forms of educational organisation. The pedagogical initiatives of the sites were investigated to explore whether a knowledge feedback loop could be created for knowledge exchange and support between higher education institutions, community groups and political and community activists which might afford new possibilities for activism at all levels. The thesis argues that this ‘loop of learning’, constituted in a similar but broader way to action research cycles, might enable political and pedagogical growth at all levels of education. Therefore, the key research questions were those of whether this ‘learning loop’ or broad action research-type cycle between the organisations is feasible; and what forms of pedagogy and institutions might be instigated to enable this research cycle, develop mutual support and be utilised for a popular education for social transformation. A bricolage approach to the research was adopted to enable the researcher to create an experimental approach to the research and to writing the thesis in order for it to contribute to the possibilities of this cycle and support. Occupy was utilised as the main case study for the research as it claimed by some to be an organic form of popular and critical pedagogy. It is argued that the possibility of examining and attempting to understand organic popular education as it happened could have something significant to contribute to theories of popular education and education for change. The other two sites are examined as supplementary forms of organisation to assess the feasibility of the learning loop. This entailed interviewing some of the key people in Occupy and the other sites, in addition to Internet searches on all subjects, reading academic and journalistic writings and keeping my own reflective journal about the processes and experiences. The purpose of the thesis is to create a discussion on the forms of pedagogical and educational organisation that could potentially bring about social change and support a democratic public. The research argues that the pedagogy practiced by Occupy gave some insight into approaches to organic popular pedagogy, and that within this small scale study, it could be argued that some activists are beginning to bridge the gap between activism and academia by starting to understand the role of knowledge production in the struggle for transformative democracy and social justice. The research also examines whether the two supplementary sites have the potential to assist social movements and other community initiatives by connecting the different levels of knowledge production by forming a praxis of theory and action. The research’s main contributions to knowledge are that it examines a political social movement from a pedagogical point of view and assesses the claims regarding how learning in these particular sites are constituted in the current context. The research also examines the role of the researcher in creating ‘really useful knowledge’ to be utilised by both the academic and activist communities.

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