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Co-operative academies: a transindividual possibility in individualistic times?

Dennis, Joanna (2018) Co-operative academies: a transindividual possibility in individualistic times? Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.


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This thesis examines the development of the Co-operative schools project in England, a school transformation initiative of the Co-operative Group and the Co-operative College, UK. Since 2008, the Co-operative schools project has developed a number of Co-operative school models, which are positioned as a ‘values-based alternative’ to the controversial Academies programme. The growth of the Co-operative schools project suggests that there is indeed an appetite for ‘alternative’ and ‘values-based’ education. However, it is not clear what the Co-operative alternative is or how the values and principles of the Co-operative movement translate to achieve educational transformation in schools. Integral to the design of this project was my role as ‘embedded researcher’ at the Co-operative College, enabling a unique perspective on the expanding initiative. Through an immersive and exploratory practice of research and reflection, across multiple sites, this study tracks the way in which the initiative evolved as both a feature of, and a resistance to, processes of marketisation and privatisation in education. The research critically examines the rhetoric and strategy of the UK Co-operative movement as it expands into a rapidly changing schools sector. This thesis turns to the political philosophy of Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) for a theory of co-operation. The key contribution of this research is in the identification of Spinoza’s practical philosophy as an appropriate theoretical lens for interpreting and developing the ontological foundations of co-operative education. The research employs the concept of transindividuality, which emphasises the co-operative power of the collective individual. The research demonstrates the way in which Spinoza’s collective individual offers an alternative ontological positioning to the competitive and utility maximizing individual of the neoliberal subject. This alternative foundation offers a productive lens through which to reconfigure co-operative education, with wider implications for the reimagination of schools and their communities. The research demonstrates that the Co-operative schools project lacks an adequate theoretical foundation and has engaged in a non-strategic approach of resistance and hope – factors which serve to limit the co-operative power of its schools. The argument concludes that for educational transformation the Co-operative schools project must move beyond the handed-down values of the consumer Co-operative movement, and consider the transindividual power of a fully embodied and locally constituted co-operative pedagogy, involving an expansive and dynamic appreciation of the school community.

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