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‘We can do it imaginatively first!’: Creating a magic circle in a radical community education setting

McNicol, SL (2017) ‘We can do it imaginatively first!’: Creating a magic circle in a radical community education setting. Studies in the Education of Adults.


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Working with social haunting was a community-based participatory research project that aimed to investigate how contested pasts carry affective meanings in ways that defy conventional forms of knowledge representation. The project illustrated the potential of the use of playful approaches within adult learning and specifically within a radical community educational approach that draws on transformative learning theory. This article reports on a workshop (or Ghost Lab) in which members of Unite Community in Barnsley used the medium of comics to explore and re-imagine serious political themes. In this context, the Ghost Lab method established a ‘magic circle’, within which it was possible to circumvent ideological differences and allow for the exploration of fictional realities that, while they have a basis in the real world, are not limited by conventional codes of practice, rules or structures. This approach appeared to allow participants space to explore not just the ‘as if’ or ‘what if’, but also what has been called the ‘not-yet’, thereby conjuring with both personal and political historical alternatives that could have been taken, but were not. By transforming their personal and political experiences through the creation of comics, participants were able to reflect on these experiences and consider how they might be interpreted in different ways within a ‘fictional reality’.

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