Monthly Archives: May 2015

‘Learning and organising hope’ – critical considerations for social change

On May 19, Sarah Amsler (School of Education/RiCES, University of Lincoln) and Ana Cecilia Dinerstein (Social and Policy Sciences, University of Bath) gave a talk at the ‘Utopias, Futures and Temporalities: Critical Considerations for Social Change’ conference, organised at the Bristol Zoo by AHRC researchers in the Connected Communities and Care for the Future programmes. Marking the quincentennial of Thomas More’s Utopia, the conference gathered researchers, educators and activists from around the world to encourage ‘reflection on the uses and misuses of utopias and dystopias in social change’ and on ‘the contribution of ideas of the future and of temporality to the processes of social transformation’. This presentation explored the role that organised hope plays in the creation of alternative futures and offered examples of the kinds of knowledge and education that are strengthening this work in prefigurative social movements in the UK and Latin America today.

‘Learning and organising hope’ (abstract)

While social futures were shadowed by warnings of the death of the utopian impulse in the latter part of the twentieth century, hope has become a prominent element in social analysis and discourses of political change since the turn of the twenty-first (Amsler, 2015; Dinerstein 2014, Holloway, 2014) This is reflected in elite state politics, such as Barack Obama’s ‘audacity of hope’ and Alexis Tsipras’s claim that ‘hope made history’ in this year’s Greek parliamentary elections; notions of hope are even more active in the many ‘hope movements’, or autonomous practices, epistemologies and struggles which aim to dismantle the institutionalized power of global capitalism in everyday life, to democratise thinking and politico-economic relations, and increasingly to construct radically different forms of social life (Dinerstein and Deneulin 2012). In the academy and amongst organic and public intellectuals, a new scholarship of this politics of possibility has begun to emerge through the documentation and theorisation of these movements.

Despite this presence of hope as an emerging field of inquiry and orienting concept for political mobilization, however, competing discourses of hopelessness, despair and paralysis pervade everyday life in capitalist societies and are particularly oppressive in contemporary states of autocracy and austerity. Many people experience the distance between the extant conditions of their lives and the alternative future that they would like to build as an unbridgable chasm, or regard their futures as relatively closed. Their fears about the nature and extent of work that is required to change this situation are exacerbated by common-sense understandings of hope as wishful thinking for a demonstrable result within existing rhythms and parameters of possibility, rather than as a critical and active relation to what Paulo Freire (1970) called ‘untested feasibility’. This generates backlash against the politics of hope in favour of adaptive or pragmatic agency – which, in situations where sustained radical change is needed to ensure future and better possibilities, only reinforces the experience of impossibility. Such untheorised politics of hope do not, in other words, underpin critical forms of anticipatory consciousness or action.

In this paper, we translate our recent research into conceptual tools which can be used to unblock this impasse and activate the power of hope for sustaining emancipatory movements, and argue that ours is a dialectically auspicious moment for what Ernst Bloch (1959) once called ‘learning hope’. Drawing on epistemological and political insights from autonomous movements and critical pedagogies, we demonstrate how hope can be theorized as an epistemological relationship to human and social change, a ‘directing act of a cognitive type’ and a method of critical thinking and action, and illustrate how these theorizations can inform pedagogies of hope that facilitate ‘possibility-enabling practices’ and ‘alternative-creating capacities’ (Amsler 2015, Dinerstein 2014). While methods and pedagogies of hope are multifaceted, in this paper we focus on elucidating the character of hope-time (in comparison with domination-time) and theoretical and empirical methods for recognizing and intervening in hope-time. From this theoretical work, we finally introduce some concrete tools for educating and organizing hope to activate and sustain radical being in both social movements and everyday political life. These tools can be used to make ourselves aware of the unfinished and open nature of the world and the necessity of daydreaming individually and collectively. Above all, they enable us to design a new approach to reality that does not take it for granted and rely on ‘facts’ but  that engages with the other realities, the realities of the not yet that already lurks in the present and required to be imagined.


Amsler, S. (2015) The Education of Radical Democracy, London: Routledge.

Bloch, E. (1995) The Principle of Hope, Cambridge: MIT Press.

Bohm, S., Dinerstein, A. C. and Spicer, A. (2010) (Im)possibilities of autonomy: social movements in and beyond capital, the state and development. Social Movement Studies, 9 (1), pp. 17-32.

Dinerstein, A. C. (2014) The Politics of Autonomy in Latin America : The Art of Organising Hope.Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Dinerstein, A. C. and Deneulin, S. (2012) Hope movements: naming mobilization in a post-development world. Development and Change, 43 (2), pp. 585-602.

Paulo Freire on ‘post-literacy’ adult education

Pedagogy in ProcessPedagogy in Process - quote








Paulo Freire on ‘post-literacy’ adult education
Reading Group notes (7 May 2015)

Our session began with an overview of the life and work of Paulo Freire, with a specific focus on the extent to which Freire was influenced by Marxism, and at what particular times and places this influence had been most apparent. Participants in the room had been asked to read a section from Pedagogy in Process (1983), a commentary written by Freire during his work in Guinea-Bissau. We focused on Letter 11, which explores the relationship between the content of educational programmes and the wider social purpose of learning.

There was some concern that this attempt to enhance adult education and levels of literacy had been carried out in Portuguese, the language of the colonial power. There was also a discussion about how Freire’s theory and methods might be appropriate for the geographical and political contexts in which some of the participants are currently working, in the UK and in Africa. The point was made that Freire’s literacy education projects took place as part of national government projects, in Brazil and Chile where the ability to read and write was needed to be eligible to vote. Yet Freire’s approach to critical literacy went beyond simply learning to read the word, and extended to learning to read and interpret the world, so that it might be humanised. This is the essence of the concept of conscientization, or critical consciousness, on which much of his work was based. We left to pursue understandings of what this can mean in the contexts of our work today.

For a description of this seminar, see here.

RiCES public seminar: Decolonizing universities, decolonizing politics

Decolonizing universities, decolonizing politics: 
Place-based education in the Canadian Arctic

Dr. Darcy Leigh, University of Edinburgh

21 May | 2:30–4:30pm | Minerva Building 3203

Formal education in Canada has been a central tool of colonial assimilation. It has, crucially, been used to govern political actors and action as liberal and state-based. Today, education is a key site of anti-colonial and Indigenous struggles and of interventions into the meaning of politics itself. This talk will focus on two anti-colonial higher education projects in the Canadian Arctic. Both are using place-based pedagogy and both are combining different forms of knowledge and politics in an Arctic setting. The Akitsiraq Law School combines Inuit law with Canadian common law, while Dechinta University combines book learning with experiential learning in the bush. Both projects are claiming the authority, legitimacy and resources of ‘conventional’ universities and liberal logics of politics. Yet at the same time the projects are refusing and reworking those same logics of politics and education, as well as developing and practicing alternatives. The talk addresses how these projects are using place-based education to navigate these tensions and to decolonize both politics and education in the Canadian Arctic.

More about Darcy | Darcy Leigh is a Fellow at the Academy of Government at the University of Edinburgh, where she co-teaches the course ‘Political Work’. Her work is about how people inhabit and contest neo and late liberal narratives of political agency. She is especially concerned with the possibilities for agency that are closing and opening in universities. She recently completed her PhD, titled ‘Post-liberal agency: Decolonizing politics and universities in the Canadian Arctic’, for which she worked with Indigenous and Northern actors in a struggle for/over an Arctic university. In the past five years she has also been a Research Assistant and/or instructor with Dechinta Bush University (, Northern Governance and Economy (, and the Akitsiraq Law School ( She teaches political, critical, feminist, queer and anti-colonial theory and action across the social sciences at the University of Edinburgh and specializes in collaborative, affective and inclusive pedagogy.

Further information | This seminar is now finished, but more information about the themes is available from the following resources referenced by Dr. Leigh in her talk.

Dechinta Center for Research and Learning (including extensive gallery)

Dechinta student blog (stories about experiential land based learning in students’ own words)

Akitsiraq Law School

Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education and Society (fantastic blog and journal about decolonizing education)

DecolonizationSpecial issue on Indigenous land-based education (including perspectives from Dechinta’s creators and instructors)

Residential schools: if you search for ‘residential schools Canada testimony’ on YouTube you will find people who went to residential schools telling their stories to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (e.g., [CONTENT WARNING: of these stories contain descriptions of childhood sexual and physical abuse]. See also a brief history of residential schools and deaths in residential schools.