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Gathering of Kindred Folk Re-imagining Higher Education!

Gathering of Kindred Folk Re-imagining Higher Education!

Posted by on Ago 12, 2015 in all posts, on the road | 0 comments

As you may be are aware, there is a knowledge movement slowly building all over the world, an emerging network of lets call them Eco-versities for now – of people and communities reclaiming their local knowledge systems and imaginations to restore and re-envision learning processes that are meaningful and relevant to the call of our times, that cultivate new stories and possibilities, that re-connect and regenerate diverse ecological and cultural ecosystems.

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From the start of our adventures in this landscape of these diverse ecologies of knowledges focusing on Higher Education emerging around the world we dreamt: – what if these places could share their experiences, knowledges, their learning approaches amongst and between themselves and strengthen the beautiful and important work they are all doing?! What even more wondrous and powerful transformations could occur! As we visited places across different countries, as well as writing and making films, we took on ourselves the role of traveling story-tellers – telling stories to people we met of the other places we had visited and what they had been doing. Some links between places started to emerge through this as people and places begun to hear more about each others’ work.

Now that our physical journey to many of these places has come to a rest, as well as carrying on writing and editing the films, we have put our energy into that original dream.

We are really excited to have co-created with Manish Jain from Swaraj University (Udaipur, India) a Gathering of Kindred Folk Re-imagining Higher Education! This ‘Re-Imagining Higher Education’ event will gather more than 50 other leading visionary-doers and thinkers from more than 20 countries at Tamera Peace and Research Centre, an eco-village in southern Portugal this August (from the 20th – 26th).

We are gathering this group from a variety of learning places around the world – to share experiences, wisdom, insights and challenges to learn about how transformative learning is being imagined and enacted in each place. Our primary focus is to bring together people who are hosting or who are deeply involved with ‘alternative’ or ‘post-traditional’ places of higher education, or who are somehow re-imagining higher education in their work. Many of these have emerged from different social movements, ecological movements and indigenous communities.

During the six days we will spend together in Portugal we will host an interactive process through a structured un-conference format where there will be a lot of time for sharing and co-creating with self-organizing sessions and open-spaces. Our intention is to co-create a gathering that can propel this movement forward, where stories are shared, creative sparks fly, and friendships and alliances are woven. We hope to be able to explore common emerging themes such as sustainability and social justice; unlearning and decolonizing; indigenous ways of knowing; healing; gift culture; re-engaging community, nature and the built environment; local media; literacies; the question of certification; mentoring; rites of passage; right livelihood and social/eco entrepreneurship, and many others. We will keep you posted on how the event goes on our Facebook and Twitter page. We will also let you know how you can participate in this emerging network.

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Imaginary Struggles

Imaginary Struggles

Posted by on Jun 27, 2013 in all posts, Brazil, ESPOCC | 0 comments


I started writing this post a few weeks ago. Since then the bubbling discontent we witnessed across Brazil when we were there in January and February in relation to a number of social and political issues including the huge costs of the upcoming World Cup has spilled out into the streets.

People across the social spectrum have got fed up with the way the World Cup costs have spiralled up, sucked public money into private coffers and at the same time, across the country, displaced people and destroyed parks and other common spaces for the building of new facilities. In some cases like the Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, this historical stadium will be operated by a private company in the first time in its history.

People have also got fed up with the rising cost of living in the country (in part a consequence of the Games), with the rise in public transport costs, but most of all they are fed up with corruption, with the failure of the rising economic growth to tackle the problems in the health and education system in the country.

Brazil has not seen such mass protests in twenty years and it looks like the government is going to have to listen. The post I write here, is about the struggle of media spaces and the images and stories which are produced about, and now increasingly from, marginalised places like favela communities. The post relates to the present struggles in Brazil in as much as the media continues to be a place of contest where a battle over stories and imaginations is also waged.




Imaginary: Existing only in the imagination () Origin from Latin imago which in psychoanalysis is an unconscious, idealised mental image of someone, say a parent, that influences a persons behaviour.

Favela: a group of dwellings with high density occupation, the construction of which is carried out in a disorderly fashion with inadequate material, without zoning, without public services, and on land which is illegally being used without the consent of the owner

(Official Bulletin of the Brazilian Secretariat of Social Services quoted in Perlman The Myth of Marginality 1979:13).

Imaginary of Marginality: An imaginary about historically marginalized populations, held by dominant social groups (and sometimes internalized by the marginalized themselves) often containing prejudiced representations, images, stories, sometimes connected to stereotypes around race, poverty and gender. These negative representations tend to circulate in the dominant mass media and in certain forms of research and educational systems. Un-confronted, these representations come to be widespread amongst the population and perceived as the main narrative, the norm.

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We often come to see and know places and people we do not personally encounter through stories and images that others create about them. These stories most commonly come to us through the media – through television, the news, the internet, etc. At the scale of a city, the media helps to virtually weave an imaginary web linking separated places and lives. We are often not very mindful of this web – this matrix of images and stories, feelings and attitudes, but also a landscape we walk through in our day-to-day lives that provides a sense of meaning to us and the world around us.

The nature of this imaginary web is shaped by those who weave it. Those weavers, often the most privileged sectors that dominate and own the media, have little experience or willingness to convey the stories and perspectives of the less powerful in those communities, especially through their own voice, their own point of view and experienced reality. Here in Rio de Janeiro, places and communities like favelas for instances.

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The democratization of the media has been an important area of mobilization amongst civil society and social movements in Brazil for several decades. Especially since the end of the dictatorship (in 1984) gaining access to the institutions of mass communication has also come to be seen as an important right to acquire, that is intrinsically linked to the identity and practice of being a citizen in Brazil. This right-to-acquire has come from the growing recognition of the media as a force that shapes society and public opinion and, as such, something that ought to be more equitably distributed and controlled. The theme of media and citizenship, or what has been referred to as ‘visual inclusion’, has also gained importance in Brazil’s public sphere over the last two decades.

Visual inclusion here means the inclusion of a more diverse and representative presence of Brazilians and their stories across the national media. Indigenous people, Afro-descendants or else regional cultures are infrequently or else stereotypically depicted in the media which is dominated by the Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo axis (and a particular upper middle class culture and perspective from these cities).

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Visual inclusion also involves the more equitable distribution of the means of image production amongst the population. Though community radio has been around for much longer in favela communities, what we now see in Brazil is the intensification of alternative media production centers and dissemination networks, in particular through new forms of technology such as social media, digital video and photography and the Internet. Such initiatives are often aligned with grass-roots and community organizations across a number of historically marginalized groups and communities.

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An example of this kind of work is a project I came across in Rio de Janeiro around 2006, the Observatório das Favelas based in one of the citys biggest favela Complexo da Maré is large conglomeration of 16 different communities and has a population of around 140,000. The Observatioro das Favelas is a large community-NGO responsible for a number of different projects inside favela communities focusing on research, policy development and capacity building. Observatório das Favelas and others like it who, to varying degrees in scale and success operate in different favelas, see a major part of their role as involving the formation of technically competent and politically aware individuals and groups inside low-income communities. A key element in many of such initiatives is what is often referred to as Critical Communication, involving the telling of stories and conveying the perspectives of those who live in these communities, especially from members of these communities themselves. Essentially – their own narratives, stories, voice.

A pioneering project of the Observatório das Favelas is the Escola Popular de Comunicação Crítica ESPOCC (Popular School of Critical Communication) which had its first class of forty-two students in 2005 and is now in its 8th year. This project is a one-year vocational course with the aim of training young people mainly from Rios favelas and peripheries, but now also from the middle classes, to become critical communicators, to learn how to engage with and challenge the imaginary of marginality prevalent in the city.

For example, favela communities are often depicted in the mass media as violent spaces, lacking in all the things the other parts of the city have – education, work, culture, organisation, safety, and so on. Such representations mean that these places, and those who live there, bare the stigma associated with these images and stories. They have an identity imposed on them emanating from these images and stories, which have no part in creating themselves. Residents of favela communities, which as we saw in the previous post on the Museo da Maré have in some cases been here for three generations, live under and cultivate their identities under these adverse conditions, and not only this but they are also discriminated in day to day relation to others across the city and to the state.

You could say that the young people in ESPOCC learn to read the web, the matrix, the media landscape in an acute way so as to subvert it and create their own narratives and media spaces. They learn to weave different imaginaries across the city, contributing to the transformation of the imaginary of marginality into more inclusive imaginaries. I will write more about this in the next post.

We witnessed an example of the prejudiced media landscape in the city and how people have been trying to combat this during our time in Rio. Though not directly involving ESPOCC, I point to these events here as they occurred whilst we were in Rio and clearly show the kind of mass media logic that places like ESPOCC are engaging with.

The city has been busily preparing for the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016 building many new sporting facilities. For the World Cup the city has been converting the 60 year old Maracanã Stadium (in its time the biggest stadium in the world with a capacity of 100,000) to the international criteria of FIFA demolishing some surrounding structures and buildings for new parking facilities. One of the buildings to be destroyed was the former Indian Museum which has been unused as a museum since the 1980s but which has been occupied by a group of indigenous families since 2006 in protest of plans to demolish this historically significant building. After a number of standoffs with the police Rede Globo, the dominant media conglomerate in the country, did a news piece to discredit the indigenous protesters by saying that they had been selling drugs at the premises. Armed with their own video cameras indigenous filmmakers filmed the reporter and confronted her with the lies being told about them. The clip went viral on the Internet and Globo was forced to retract their story.

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As Salvador Passos, analysing the incident put it:

The objective of this type of comment was to disqualify the families that were there. When running such news-story without due verification, the channel does a disservice to democracy. The news item provides the perfect alibi for a violent intervention and removal of the indigenous families. Suddenly, there is no more talk of real estate speculation and profits, but rather of drug trafficking and vandalism on the part of the natives, all based on images that prove nothing. [my translation from http://www.advivo.com.br/blog/luisnassif/acusacoes-da-globonews-sobre-as-tribos-do-museu-do-indio?page=1]

The story encapsulates the overlap of media interests and the imaginary they attempt to weave with the corporate logic and profit motive that pervades these mega sporting events with full endorsement of the state. Both attempt to transform the city without much concern for those whose stories and lives have no place in their imagination. That the ‘natives’ now have a camera and access to alternative media networks, like those associated with ESPOCC, means that such dominant interests cannot weave their own imaginary of the city unchallenged.

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To see clips of the story around Indigenous occupation of the museum and Globo and its response see:

http://revistaforum.com.br/blogdorovai/2013/01/15/globo-news-se-desculpa-por-ser-leviana-com-indigenas-da-aldeia-maracana/

For a friends’ (Nayana Fernandez) short film on the story see:

https://vimeo.com/62336744

For an excellent article on the recent protests in Brasil written by the same friend see:

http://lab.org.uk/uprising-in-brazil-an-extraordinary-moment-for-change


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De-professionalizing – stepping out and beginning the reflective process

De-professionalizing – stepping out and beginning the reflective process

Posted by on Abr 15, 2013 in all posts, on the road | 0 comments




Around the year 2000, I moved to the UK and began navigating down the open and unchartered waters of my post-graduate degree (it being a self-created research project). A few months into the degree programme, I dove deeply into a great sea of literature that engaged with critiques of education and international development.

During this phase of literary free-diving, many new worlds of thinking, acting and living began to open for me. I found it simultaneously thrilling and disorientating. Yet, the direction it has led me to, this journey of enlivened learning we are on now, feels exactly right.

Since that time in the early days of living in the UK, I have often encountered three terms that are expressed in overlapping ways – de-colonization, unlearning and de-professionalization. It has taken me a long time to understand what these mean and I am still learning, particularly along this journey we are on now. I feel that I can grasp the logic of these terms, intellectually, but it has taken me much longer to be able to grasp what it might mean to experience them.

These last several months, I have noticed many, many different things that are causing me to pause and reflect on how my mind and body have been conditioned and colonized through my education and social upbringing.

As Udi finishes a series of posts on Brazil, I am going to finish a series of posts that explore de-colonization, unlearning and de-professionalization, as I have not only come to understand them, but as I have come to experience them more fully along this journey. The pictures you will see in this post I have taken straight from the internet – images that come from googling ‘unlearning’. I thought this would be an interesting way to represent how others have represented what this term means through imagery. I will put in my own images in future postings on this topic.

This post here is a beginning – that I hope will help to open a series of windows to reflect on how, during our enlivened learning journey, I am unlearning and relearning much of what I was educated to believe, to think, to do and to live — how I am ‘deprofessionalizing’ myself, and how I find that I am becoming increasingly ‘de-professionalized’.



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This image comes from a consultancy-related blog: http://franklincovey.com/blog/consultants/durelleprice/2009/02/21/unlearning-101/ — I found it interesting that the first lines of this post use Einstein’s famous quote and how ‘unlearning’ is imperative in the university context: “Albert Einstein, icon of intellect and insight, said “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Universities are focused on higher learning when perhaps they should promote a course entitled Unlearning 101.”

First, a little bit on colonization….

The words ‘colonized’ and ‘colonization’ are often reserved for, and orientated towards, different indigenous and minority ethnic groups. During my own schooling, for example, the word colonization was used in ways that referred to the taking over of people, communities (most often indigenous or other minority groups) and land by another outside, foreign force. In other words, we (sort of) learned about the physical aspects of colonization. I say sort of here because our learning exploration on colonization, even as a physical force, was very limited and almost entirely one-sided.

Being taken over by physical force is violent – where the perpetrator and the victim experience violence. During school, I do not remember any point in time when we critically considered the colonization processes, the unjust forms of violence, that Native Americans endured (and continue to endure today). It was something of an inevitable fact that was going to happen, that was meant to happen. It was always downplayed, minimized and cushioned into a formation of knowledge that somehow (implicitly) validated and legitimized the violent taking over, the colonization, of all of the United States of America and the genocidal impacts on the many hundreds of indigenous communities that once covered these lands – that emerged from these lands. The many forms of violence, associated with colonization, that I have learnt so much more about on this journey, is incomprehensible.

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This image was used several times in the film ‘Schooling the World: The White Man’s Last Burden’ to help understand the multiple processes of colonization and the dominant understanding of ‘American Progress’ – see other images used in the film here: http://schoolingtheworld.org/film/presskit/photo-gallery/

Since my initial literary free-diving phase when I first came to the UK, I have come to perceive and understand colonization, and the processes of colonization, as not only something that is physical. I now see colonization as mental, emotional, cultural, spiritual, ecological… I also understand colonization as long-lasting, inter-generational – and continuously masked in new forms (I will discuss this more later – but an example of this is the ‘Empire of Money’ phase that the Zapatistas describe and I discussed in a previous post).

Colonization is violence in multiple forms – violence that does not disappear, that has not disappeared and continues to be deeply and traumatically experienced – in North, Central and South America, in Australasia, South Asia, East Asia, Central Asia, Africa, Europe and the Arctic…


Each of the educational initiatives we are visiting along our journey are directly facing previous and continued forms of violence associated with colonization — but, significantly, aside from just facing them, they are creating ways to move beyond them.  This aspect to me – this moving beyond is what is most important.


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This image comes from Jack Uldrich a ‘global futurist’ blog called Unlearning 101 — http://www.unlearning101.com/fuhgetaboutit_the_art_of_/unlearning-curve/

What moving beyond does is to not only perceive places, other people and ourselves as in deficit, but instead focus on possibility, healing, compassion, community, creativity and imagination. I feel this moving beyond is what we can all learn from, no matter our own background, cultural context, social and educational upbringing.


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I really like this quote by Arundhati Roy – it was used on the facebook page of ‘Schooling the World: The White Man’s Last Burden’ — Roy now publishes a great deal of social and eco-justice related writing that is as poetic and engaging as her first (and only) work of fiction, ‘The God of Small Things’


For any of us to move beyond, from what I understand, we must go through de-colonization processes of unlearning and re-learning much of what we have been taught.

My own process of de-colonization is about going to the core of my own assumptions of what I think is true or ‘right’ — for example, about the stories through which I was taught in school (particularly with reference to ‘history’ that is often incredibly one-sided and narrow) and all sorts of aspects of my life, or how I have chosen and will continue to choose to live my life (what is important to me and what I value), particularly my so-called ‘professional’ life.

All of us have to learn to ‘be professional’ to be absorbed into any working system. To get to the point that I was working as a lecturer in academia, I had to unsurprisingly jump through all sorts of professional hoops.

Within the walls of the university, I have often sat through long departmental meetings and reflected on the communication structures that are in place during those hours – how we communicate, the words and the tones that we use, who dictates the flow of communication, the minute and mundane details – typically around illogical administrative expectations – that occupy hours of discussion, the context of where we are actually sitting (inside plain, institutional walls). The air is stale. There is no fresh breath of creative life during these hours. Yet, this is the essence of professionalism. The conduct and criteria carried out during these meetings.

My quest to de-professionalize my so-called professionalized self came long before leaving the institutional halls of academia. I have always pushed boundaries, this is part of who I am, and I am highly sensitive to structures of power and authority. I am sure my parents have much to say on this topic! :)


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This wonderful book, along with several others related to unlearning, is published through Shikshantar: The Peoples’ Institute for Rethinking Education and Development and is freely downloadable here: http://www.swaraj.org/shikshantar/stories_resistance.html


My sensitivity to power also led me to my post-graduate studies which were essentially a critical exploration of power structures within the education and international development fields.

How we each experience and ‘exercise’ power – on each other and on ourselves — and why we do so as well as the effects this (can) has – have been burning questions and interests that have consumed many hours of my life.   I use the term ‘exercise’ here as I feel that we all are constantly receiving and exercising power. It is what makes us human. Explorations of power are not only an intellectual exercise for me — in fact, it has been a passion of ethical, moral and even spiritual belief.

There is much about leaving my academic work in the UK and embarking on this journey that is to do with ‘de-professionalizing’ myself, to somehow disconnect with the hierarchical structural centre of academia, whilst still staying connected at the margins.

I want to disentangle myself from the constraints of rationalism that comes through forms of institutional power and authority that I experienced during my time in studying and working in academia.


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This logo comes from the ‘Institute of Unlearning’ website: http://www.unlearning.org/home.htm

  

I want to unlearn the hierarchies of power and legitimacy, particularly around leadership, knowledge and relating, I feel that I placed on myself to be able to survive within the institutionalized system.

I want to experience and learn more about how generosity and hospitality can be a central priority (how it can be offered) that has often been devoid within the academic system.

I want my learning to be transformational, not imposed.

Paulo Freire, the Brazilian educational activist (whose writing is accessible and inspirational) wrote in his most well-known book Pedagogy of the Oppressed:

Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the young generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.

In the academic environment, as in many institutional working environments, leadership decisions, ways of relating and professional conduct most often take rational forms for efficiency and accountability. And, being rational tends to be driven mostly, if not almost entirely, by ourheads. In other words, our hearts tend to be marginalized, if not silenced.


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This image comes from the blog ‘All things learning’ — http://allthingslearning.wordpress.com/2012/03/07/unlearning-teacher-learning/

Rather than working only through our heads (as is the dominant form of learning in the educational system, including academia), Udi and I have both struggled to continue allowing our hearts to lead our work, our ideas, our relationships – with students and staff within and outside the walls of the university.

As the university becomes increasingly bureaucratized and corporatized, there is very little space for anything beyond teaching-learning relationships that are based on efficiency. Thus, teaching-learning relationships that are based on co-creativity, generosity, curiosity, hospitality are becoming increasingly rare.

When we each learn through and make decisions with our hearts (rather than only our heads), there is more life. What I have experienced in each of the places we have visited over these last 7 months – is that learning, relating and leading is prioritized as much with the heart, the hands and the home —- as the head. This is because learning is about connecting first and foremost – connecting between theory and practice, connecting to a deep sense of self with community and the land and all of its beings.

It is a somewhat brave step for me (part of the de-professionalizing process I think) to open up personally on this topic. I feel slightly timid, like I am about to jump into cold water. I know the water will be refreshing and rejuvenating, but it is still somehow intimidating. However, I feel it is important for my own un-learning.

If you are still reading at this stage, thank you! I’d love to hear comments and feedback — and even more, to hear about your own experiences of resistance in your professional life, or your own un-learning, de-colonizing or de-professionalizing processes!


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This image comes from a blog – ‘artsyville’ — posting March 23, 2009 ‘an odd kind of math’ — http://artsyville.blogspot.com.au/2009_03_01_archive.html

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