I am a member of the Social Science Centre, Lincoln, and in this term’s Social Science Imagination course, we are focusing on ‘co-operation and education‘. Gary Saunders and I wrote up an account of last week’s class, which we facilitated. Each week, SSC scholars are asked to produce a reflective piece of work (just 300w or so, or a poem, drawing, whatever) so as to think about what they got out of the previous week and then bring it to class to discuss.
Below is my 300w or so reflecting on last week’s reading and discussion. The class was based around our reading of the SSC’s ‘about‘ page and the ICA’s ‘Co-operative identity, values and principles‘ statement.
It’s been a while since I have read through the general statement about the SSC (FAQ), a document I helped author over three years ago. It was written both as a response to changes in HE at the time (and that continue), as well as setting out in an aspirational way, something we wanted to create. We wrote it in a style that suggested it was already happening, that it was real, when it was in fact only real in our imaginations. In that sense, it was utopian and from the responses we’ve had from people over the years, I think it helped them imagine something different, too. With that in mind, I was pleased to read the current version of the statement1 and to see how close we have come to realising that utopia. We are not entirely there yet, and over the years, through praxis, we have redefined our objectives, or rather, the emphasis of those objectives has shifted at times, while remaining clear about our motivation and purpose. I still aspire to what we set out in that statement and may always be striving to realise it fully, but the process is as important as the goal and I realise now, after three years, that the SSC is part of me. I cannot imagine not working towards this utopia.
Last week’s class and in fact the whole SSI course this term is intended to regenerate and revitalise this critical, utopian process and project, creating critical space to reflect on, discuss and question our utopian, revolutionary idea of what higher education might be. Could be.
The ICA statement was chosen to help initiate this critical, dialogical process. It is a carefully worded statement that unites millions of people around the world in the co-operative movement. We have to read it as such and draw out the key terms and ideas that are embedded in this historical text. It is a set of guidelines, rather than a legal definition. It is a compass, rather than a prison we are bound to. What can we learn from it? How can the themes of autonomy, democracy, solidarity, equality, common ownership, and sustainability, etc. become critical tools that help us reflect on ourselves and our own utopian ideas for co-operative higher education?