Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ Social Movement Learning (Winnie Chow, Thomas Mark Turay and Bev Burke)

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Jun 22, 2006

Originally posted on Half an Hour, June 22, 2006.

From the Canadian Council on Learning conference on adult education, Fredericton.

See also the formal report.

Winnie Chow, Thomas Mark Turay

What is Social Movement Learning (SML)? This report has never been done, so far as we know. We found only three things in Google. How would we write a report on only three authors - that's not really state of the field. So what is it? Social movemnt learning is learning by people who are part of the social movement, or by people outside of the movement as a result of actions taken by the movement.

Social movements are powerful instruments of change in Canada. You can see the photo of people protesting the war. You can see a lot of learning going on. But it didn't stop that day.

Eg. the slide from Housekeeping Monthly - the Good Wife's Guide. The people in the women's movement can relate. The guide says, "When the husband comes home, be happy to see him... if you have something important to say, set it aside... a good wife always knows her place." 1955. That's what our society thought about women and their place. But now in 2006 we don't necessarily believe that. Even though mostly women identify with the women's movement, even men learned. So social movement had power to transform society, the way we act, and policies.

This is the kind of learning that we're talking about. Much of it is informal, but much of it is intentional, though (for example) campaigns. Look at these pictures about the war - but there's learning beyond the war. Like, "how many lives per gallon" teaches us about consumerism. More "make love not war" makes us question attitudes.

In Canada, a lot of adult education came out of the social movements. Education and social movements have always been linked, but there's been nothing that links them together in the studies that take place. "The learning that takes place as a result of social movement has a larger impact than the learning that takes place in school." Matthias Finger.

So why is so little attention paid to it?

Our methods: cast broad net to focus on social movement theory. Limited by language, location. Most of the research not in academia. We found few contemporary Canadian researchers doing quantitative studies - mostly case studies, etc. Some movements have not been addressed by SML literature, eg., aboriginal, gay/lesbian.

Gaps: there is a limited flow of information from the universities back to the communities. There is little adult education focus in how social movements operate. Also, lack of in-depth empirical studies in SML.

Recommendations: create an SML knowledge mobilization group to promote knowledge exchange. Build an agenda for SML. We need follow-up studies about the effects of SML. Eg., how was recycling promoted? Also, put out RFP for knowledge exchange. Also, get social policy groups to meet regarding how to exchange information. Study SML in Quebec.

See the report for the list of community based organizations in the field.

Bev Burke

Normally I'm delivering courses and workshops to working people. So I spread the paper around, and collected comments.

We all felt we wanted to congratulate the team and to thank everyone for this research. The learning for me and everyone else that read this was that there was so little writing on learning in social movements. We also appreciated the tone of the report, which invited critical comments.

My contribution will be by way of underlining things.

The broad definition of social movements was helpful. The whole idea of focusing on this is an important area of study in adult education, because it starts with the collective rather than the individual, and puts it in a political context where the objective is for change. The bibliography and list of academics interested in this work was very helpful.

For those of us who are committed to working toward broad-based change, anything that cuts across the silos is a welcome project.


First, the issue of cultural appropriation. There's a lot of valuable work being done in these organizations on learning. But the bias is to action, you don't have time to write it down. It's all volunteer time, and you;re fighting for money to get it down on paper. And your organizations don;t give you support, they'd rather you were out there mobilization.

Second, it is the most powerful social identities that get the light shone on them. Typically white and male. Very little diversity among the people who appear to have the access to the networks, etc. But there is all kinds of good work being done by people who don't have the networks.

Third, there are degrees of separation among the people out there. The 'clipboard people' who drop in to do their research to do their degree, then they fly out and we never see them again. The best work is done by people who are engaged.

The paper feels like a draft, which is great, so we can contribute.

We need to expand the study. First, the work in Quebec. Also, some of the missing social movements - anti-racism, anti-colonial, immigration issues, civil rights - there's a whole bunch there. This would also add diversity in the bibliography.

Also, there is the whole question around the aboriginal area and learning. We feel we could learn from how the aboriginal community looks at learning.

Finally, the youth movement. There must be other ways of pulling out what they are doing - power camps, and hip hop movement. There's a lot of possibilities at looking more carefully here.

Also, looking at learining that would be of most benefit to the movements themselves. Especially the learning by persons other than those in the movements, because the movements all have goals, but we don't understand what gets out there and how it gets misrepresented by the media.

Also, look at work in other countries. Eg. group in Costa Rica. Social movements and organizations looking at hopw you can systematize your work, building in reflection and collection of information, so you collect what you've learned and apply it to the next thing.

And finally (heh), we want to build feedback to the social movements about what has been learned. Turn the research findings into tools and language. Eg., teaming up somebody from the labour movement and somebody from academia.

Q & A

Comment: will you include the Acadian community in northern New Brunswick in research on SML in Quebec?

Thomas: Good point.

Comment: In my experiece, there has been a power inbalance with teams led by academics. You can b a very powerful person in a movement and just be disconnected because you're not an academic.

Winnie: one of the recommendations is to have a community-university alliance. There have been discussions around that. It's a power dynamic, how do you establish respectful partnerships. A lot of researchers, when they design the project, they've already set the agenda. So we look at who sets the agenda.

Thomas: I come from a practitional base, so I lived that for many years. I got to the point where I reflected and said, I want to go back to school to look at the theories. So now I'm in an academic context. Having lived that reality - how do I make sure I celebrate both? I take that as a moral responsibility on my. So a lot of my writing is to critique mainstream thinking, to speak with multiple voices, from two worlds.

Comment: people can do that, but there's still a power imbalance.

Moderator: that's a very serious point, part of the reason we're here is that it has not worked. We need to make sure the process isn't co-opted.

Comment: I'm coming out of a 5-year research alliance. This is a structural question. You have to build this and attend to it, negotiate every single budget line item. All those power relations will be brought to us. If you don't do that, what you say is going to happen. But the collaboration requires a huge amount of care and feeding. Even as we close, the negotiations is still continuing. But it's good, negotiation in good faith,

Bev: we have labour people built into the governing body - heh, but it's the labour people who are really used to negotiating.

Comment: Did you struggle with how it is that we're talking about knowledge, which feels like a product these days, and how you feel about the learning in social organizations, that may never become a product.

Winnie: that's where our debate started. How do you evaluate the learning that comes out of a social movement, which is not a product. We learned that it was more about the process. That's the piece that's missing in the reserach now. This is the piece that we can all learn from. We can look at the product, but we can ask, how did we get to this point.

Thomas: we need to investigate what happens at the non-formal or the informal sector of learning. Learning there is not looked at as a product. It is a means to organizing, to mobilizing, to exist. If it becomes more organized, it could bcome a product. I hope the social movement doesn't get to that level, where it's all about product. I speak from an African perspective, it becomes a fix - let's fix it there. That's how the World Bank got there, they get to the fix, the problems being fixed by the very people who created them.

Bev: I don't see leaning as product, but it's in the process, but picking apart leart learning would be helpful to make it more intentional in social contexts - in cases, for example, where you fail, you can still learn from the experience, and as Maude said, keep your hope alive, keep your work alive. And I think there are movements who have worked more on product, in media, if you get your 20 seconds of media time, that's a success.

The story:

Looking by the big fire. Why are you looking here? Because there's light.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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