The Ethics and Politics of Possibility


The Ethics and Politics of Possibility: Principles and Practices of Prefigurative Knowledge and Research

Girton College

Girton College, Cambridge. Photo by Mina Navarro.

From 8–14 August 2016, eight scholar-activists from around the world gathered to develop new theories and methods for understanding and practicing the ‘politics of possibility’ – in short, the ‘capacity to produce form beyond or against and beyond what is given’ when working towards deep transformation in thinking, being and everyday life (as suggested by Raquel Gutiérrez and Huáscar Salzar Lohman in ‘The community reproduction of life’). The week-long residential retreat drew together members of a new transnational author collective, ‘Women on the Verge’, who are working in universities, in communities and on a range of projects including Enlivened Learning and the Ecoversities Network (Costa Rica), a permanent seminar on ‘Community Weavings and Forms of the Political’ (Mexico), Connected Communities (UK), the Social Science Centre (UK), and rethinking the state, the criminalisation of politics, and autonomous social movements (US).

Since the turn of this century, there has been a (re)turn towards the ‘prefiguration’ of alternative futures through collective theorizing and action, which informs a multiplicity of grassroots, community and institutional struggles against social domination and for a politics of life. However, while many new ways of thinking and doing politics have emerged in this movement, we are still learning about their epistemological, political and ethical elements and thus ‘are seldom properly equipped to account for the “prefigurative” feature of collective action’ today. This means that we may not only be ‘unable to address new problems highlighted by…societies in movement’, but also risk widening the ‘knowledge gap between the apparently inescapable reality of global capitalism and its crises…and the newly emerging practices, values, and imaginaries beyond capitalism, colonialism and patriarchal society’ (quotations from the introduction to Ana Dinerstein’s forthcoming edited collection, Social Science for An Other Politics: Women Theorizing without Parachutes). This workshop took important steps towards closing that gap. The next question is, what does this mean for learning and for educators?

New film!

Kelly Teamey - Relearning Hope

Kelly Teamey screening ‘Re-Learning Hope: A Story of Unitierra’

Re-Learning Hope film screen

‘Re-learning Hope: A Story of Unitierra’ tells a story about Unitierra (University of the Earth) in Oaxaca, Mexico. The film, co-produced by producers Udi Mandel and Kelly Teamey with partners and participants from Unitierra, explores the emergence of this autonomous university and its ‘powerful critique of education and development’. It is a ‘hopeful example of how communities are taking control of their own learning and shaping an ecological path for their communities amidst a context of violence’. And, ‘amidst the multiple crises we are all experiencing, in our economies, political institutions and communities, Unitierra is promoting ways of living and learning together that is inspiring, showing us that another world is indeed possible’.

New book!

Look out for a new collection of papers in this project later this year, edited by Ana C. Dinerstein: Social Science for An Other Politics: Women Theorising without Parachutes (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016).

New chapter forthcoming in Out of the Ruins: The Emergence of Radical Informal Learning Spaces


Out of the Ruins: The Emergence of Radical Informal Learning Spaces, ed. by Robert H. Haworth and John Elmore, forthcoming from PM Press in 2017.

Chapter by Sarah Amsler: ‘What do we mean when we say “democracy”? Learning towards a common future through popular higher education’

From the PM Press website: “Contemporary educational practices and policies across the world are heeding the calls of Wall Street for more corporate control, privatization, and standardized accountability. There are definite shifts and movements towards more capitalist interventions of efficiency and an adherence to market fundamentalist values within the sphere of public education. In many cases, educational policies are created to uphold and serve particular social, political, and economic ends. Schools, in a sense, have been tools to reproduce hierarchical, authoritarian, and hyper-individualistic models of social order. From the industrial era to our recent expansion of the knowledge economy, education has been at the forefront of manufacturing and exploiting particular populations within our society. The important news is that emancipatory educational practices are emerging. Many are emanating outside the constraints of our dominant institutions and are influenced by more participatory and collective actions. In many cases, these alternatives have been undervalued or even excluded within the educational research. From an international perspective, some of these radical informal learning spaces are seen as a threat by many failed states and corporate entities. Out of the Ruins sets out to explore and discuss the emergence of alternative learning spaces that directly challenge the pairing of public education with particular dominant capitalist and statist structures. The authors construct philosophical, political, economic and social arguments that focus on radical informal learning as a way to contest efforts to commodify and privatize our everyday educational experiences. The major themes include the politics of learning in our formal settings, constructing new theories on our informal practices, collective examples of how radical informal learning practices and experiences operate, and how individuals and collectives struggle to share these narratives within and outside of institutions.”

Contributors include David Gabbard, Rhiannon Firth, Andrew Robinson, Farhang Rouhani, Petar Jandric, Ana Kuzmanic, Sarah Amsler, Dana Williams, Andre Pusey, Jeff Shantz, Sandra Jeppesen, Joanna Adamiak, Erin Dyke, Eli Meyerhoff, David I. Backer, Matthew Bissen, Jacques Laroche, Aleksandra Perisic, and Jason Wozniak.

Co-operative universities: a change to re-imagine higher education?

Co-op Party article


“Though seemingly designed to extend the marketisation of universities, the government’s Higher Education Bill also opens the door for a radically different approach – co-operative universities.”

Read the new article co-written by  Joss Winn and Mike Neary (University of Lincoln, RiCES) and Cilla Ross and Simon Parkinson (Co-operative College), recently published on the Co-operative Party website.

New grant to research co-operative leadership for higher education

RiCES members, Prof. Mike Neary and Dr. Joss Winn have been awarded a grant from the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education to study co-operative leadership. Below, are the project aims, take from the project website:

The aim of this research is to explore the possibility of establishing co-operative leadership as a viable organisational form of governance and management for Higher Education. Co-operative leadership is already well established in business enterprises in the UK and around the world (Ridley-Duff and Bull 2016), and has recently been adopted as the organising principle by over 800 schools in the United Kingdom (Wilson 2014). The co-operative movement is a global phenomenon with one billion members, supported by national and international organisations working to establish co-operative enterprises and the promotion of cooperative education. The research is financed by the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education’s small development projects fund.

Higher education in the UK is characterised by a mode of governance based on Vice-Chancellors operating as Chief Executives supported by Senior Management teams.  Recent research from the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education on Neo-collegiality in the managerial university (Bacon 2014) shows that hierarchical models of governance alienate and de-motivate staff, failing to take advantage of research-based problem solving skills of staff operating at all levels,  not accounting for the advantages to organisations when self-managed professionals interact with peers on matters of common purpose, particularly in knowledge-based industries.

The co-operative leadership model for higher education supports the ambition for more active engagement in decision-making to facilitate the best use of academics’ professional capacities, but framed around a more radical model for leadership, governance and management. Members of the co-operative university would not only be involved directly in decision-making and peer-based processes that make best use of their collective skills, but have equal voting rights as well as collective ownership of the assets and liabilities of the co-operative (Cook 2013). This more radical model builds on work done recently as part of a project funded by the Independent Social Research Foundation to establish some general parameters around which a framework for co-operative higher education could be established (Neary and Winn 2015). One of the key issues emerging from this research is the significance of co-operative leadership – the focus of this research project.

Read more…

‘Letters from Utopia’ – dispatches from the co-operative university of the future

Don’t miss this month’s Post-16 Educator , which hosts Joss Winn’s and Mike Neary’s ‘Letters from Utopia’, an epistolary communication from an alternative educational future which is grounded in their six years of research and practice of co-operative higher education.

Letters from Utopia

Co-operative Higher Education Research blog

Final project report, Beyond Public and Private: A New Framework for Co-operative Higher Education  (2016).

2016 marks the 500th anniversary of Thomas More’s Utopia.


2016 Peter Lang Young Scholars Competition in Education Studies

Peter Lang publishing is holding a Young Scholars Competition in Education Studies. The winner will be offered a paperback book contract. The deadline for applications is 31 August 2016.

“Proposals are invited from early career scholars ­for academic monographs in the area of Education Studies to be evaluated by a distinguished editorial board. The winner of the competition will receive a contract to publish the volume in the book series New Disciplinary Perspectives on Education. This new series supports emergent work on education that combines emphases on theory and activism, focusing on challenges to recent developments in education policy arising from the marketisation and commodification of education and educational institutions. In particular, the series welcomes work that does not simply critique these developments, but marks out a space for new and alternative educational practice. This work might focus on university education, further education or school institutions at primary or secondary level.”

Proposals for the competition should be submitted to Christabel Scaife ( by 31 August 2016 and include an abstract (including chapter synopses), CV and a sample chapter (5,000 to 10,000 words in length) in separate Microsoft Word documents. Proposals under review elsewhere should not be submitted.


‘Other learnings are possible’ (Plymouth University, 16 December)

This talk is part of the Plymouth Institute of Education Research Seminar Series and will be given by Dr Sarah Amsler from the University of Lincoln.

Sarah’s talk offers a brief introduction to some diverse forms of education now being practised around the world and considers the light these shed on the politics of counter-capitalist educational projects in Britain today. It asks why radical imaginaries of autonomous, egalitarian, co-operative and post-capitalist education remain marginal in educational discourses and politics here despite decades of opposition to the marketisation of society, extensive academic and experiential evidence of its exclusionary consequences, and the growth of global education movements which demonstrate the liberatory potential of counter-hegemonic epistemological and pedagogical practices.

The talk will argue that mainstream education debates, institutionalized educational practice and critiques of both in the UK are often framed within colonial logics that not only contribute to the production of social and epistemic injustice but render already-existing and not-yet alternatives invisible or impossible.

The aim of the talk is to explore how decolonising these logics can create space for the emergence of new imaginaries which support the flourishing of life rather than its domination, open possibilities for educating radical democracy, and equip us to collectively embrace the challenges of reclaiming our ecological, political and economic futures from our own locations today.

The seminar starts at 2pm and all are welcome but spaces are limited. 

Please contact if you have any queries about the event.

Speaker biography

Sarah Amsler is a sociologist, critical theorist and reader in Education at the University of Lincoln. She works at the intersections of the sociology of knowledge, political economy, and pedagogies and processes of social and epistemic change. Her current research focuses on counter-capitalist and radical-democratic movements within and beyond cultural institutions, and on articulating education as a site of political trans/formation which is central to the critique and overcoming of dominating social relations and rationalities.