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Pedagogy and political movement: the promise of an INTENSE ECSTATIC FUTURE

This text was presented in Stockholm, Dec 2nd, 2011, at the seminar From Political Resistance to Political Creation: on critical practices, the composition of contemporary social struggles and the art of political organization.

Pedagogy and political movement:
the promise of an

Collective, political identification is crucial to all political, communal organization. Collective, political identification is created when theory and practice intersects, when individual, personal experiences is understood in a broader societal context. Art, culture and education are important areas when it comes to creating identity and subject positions.

We have divided this short paper into four sections: 1. our mutual organizational background 2. our definition of radical pedagogy 3. two historical examples of the role and impact of pedagogy in political struggle 4. a pedagogical invitation.

1. Our common base is in the practical work of Malmö Free University for Women, 2006-2011

Malmö Free University for Women (MFK) was a participatory art project and a feminist organization for critical knowledge production. We aimed to raise and discuss contemporary political issues by bringing together experience and knowledge from various fields. Through experimental, radical pedagogical methods we hoped to bridge theory and practice and challenge dominating norms and power structures.

We started MFK in 2006: the right-wing alliance took power in Sweden and more and more people in Skåne gave their vote to various racist parties. The feminist party Fi! was formed. The TV-documentary ”Könskriget” (were the quote ”men are beasts” was assigned to all feminists globally) released a public bashing of our movement. After years of state level feminist consensus, being a feminist became an extreme. In Malmö we experienced the movement as being fragmented. It had never been more important to get organized in a feminist and anti-racist struggle. We wanted to work in collective processes with other feminists and strengthen the local community. In order to do so, we needed a place where we could set the agenda and where we could merge art/culture, activism and academia and fight back against the neo-liberal and racist development. When we tried to formulate how this place could come together, it became a university – a place for knowledge exchange and knowledge production. A place for examinations and discoveries, conversations and statements, for deepening and research, a room to act in a time when that room was effectively reduced.

With MFK we arranged over 100 activities in the form of reading groups, workshops, lectures, actions, manifestations and screenings. We used strategic separatism, based on gender and class identification. MFK was run by us and more or less temporary collaborators from various backgrounds. MFK came to an end in May 2011.

The continuation of our work is focused on our mutual interest in pedagogy, in attempts to act from the perspective that pedagogy is a way of acting politically and part of changing society. Based on the Gramscian idea of hegemony, and the notion of ”common sense” mediated through cultural and educational practices, we interpret his theories as a call to radicalize and politicize our line of work (1).

2. Radical pedagogy

We define radical pedagogy as a clear and transparent perspective on power that challenges the prevailing social order through a critical language and an active construction of alternatives. It is a pedagogy that strives to connect knowledge with social responsibility and collective struggle.

The basis for us is that no knowledge, or we who communicate it, is neutral or free from values. Knowledge is always produced with a purpose and as part of a social order and it is one of the most important tools in the construction of the hegemony. The focus of a radical pedagogy is not to confirm the prevailing power structure, but to activate critical thinking. It is not principally what we learn, but how we learn, how we understand, how we use knowledge and who defines what is worth knowing. Thus education is not only generating knowledge, but also political subjects. Through this definition we also take a stand against the prevailing idea that education only takes place in institutions. We resist education as a way to mold the young in our society in to obedient, workers, entrepreneurs, traders and leaders. We do not believe in whips and punishments. We insist that learning takes place through out our entire lives, through every part of our lives: as children and adults, rich or poor, in our homes, at the workplace, in the media, on the streets and in our political organizations. Knowledge has a value in itself.

3. Two examples from our history of political struggle

The Female Citizen School at Fogelstad (Kvinnliga Medborgarskolan, Fogelstad) was founded in 1925 by Elisabeth Tamm, the owner of Fogelstad, a politician and, together with Kerstin Hesselgren, one of the leaders of the left-wing coalition of Swedish women. Elin Wägner, writer and journalist, Ada Nilsson, physician and gynecologist, and Honorine Hermelin, a radical pedagogue and teacher.

The aim of the school was to make women full members of society. Women got their right to vote in 1921 and for women to be able to make an informed decision on how to vote (and not just be an extra vote for the married men) they needed to be educated. The school aimed to mix women from different social and economic classes, from different work fields, from the city and the countryside, to common studies and a mutual exchange of knowledge and experience. It was cheap to attend, the fee was based on your income and if you didn’t have one you could apply for a grant. The schools values was based on a mix of liberal values and social democracy. They had classes in international and national politics, philosophy, art, literature, psychology, sexuality, rhetoric’s, theater, sports etc. The pedagogical method was anti-hierarchical and all education was held in groups. The pedagogical process went in all directions, not only from teacher to student but also between participants.

About 2000 women participated between 1925-54. Fogelstad was a unique combination of practical politics, a school and a Utopian sanctuary.

150 hours was a reform put forth by the Italian steel and auto unions in 1973, to educate the workers of Italy. Every third year the employer ”gave” 150 payed work hours for the workers to go to school. The workers themselves contributed with 150 voluntary hours (evenings and weekends) making a total of 300 hours of education. This became a popular reform that spreed, also to housewives, who became a significant part of this movement. As the factory workers, many of the housewives were illiterate, but additionally, they had a limited place in public life, in society. Their world grew with the 150 hours courses. When the men had finished their courses, they usually went back to work, but the women kept coming. In the first three years more then 2000 women participated.

Over time the program developed from reading and writing to other subjects. Intellectuals started teaching in the evenings and weekends. A lot of different people got together to discuss various issues. The personal became political, ideology and every day life met and clinched and broke new ground. As the program spread, it also, in itself as a structure, became a critique of the traditional school. The state got more and more skeptical as the movement grew and more women were involved. In the end the funding was cut. But women continued to organize around knowledge exchange in the format of ”free universities” (2), and the reform became an important part of the feminist movement in Italy.

There are many other significant examples we could bring up in this context, not the least the Swedish tradition of Folkbildning (3), rooted in the workers movement. When reading Ronny Ambjörnssons book Den skötsamme arbetaren. Idéer och ideal i ett norrländskt sågverkssamhälle 1880–1930, we learn how significant education and collective learning was to the movement, in the broadest sense. It was not merely the exchange of facts or knowledge, but the opportunity to meet and discuss society, the world and make plans for the future. It was a movement with visions, some of which where realized in the social democratic folkhemmet (4), and some which where not. But the utopias where there, and the future seemed limitless.

4. Utopia, a pedagogical invitation

Utopia is a description of an ideal society. By describing utopia, we present an autonomous alternative that demonstrates the deficiencies of the prevailing society, without being in opposition. Utopia is a tool for change.

What happens when we win? A friend’s simple and difficult question made us think – what would the world be like if we could decide? What are we fighting for? In the public discourse nobody seem to talk about ideology any more. The politicians avoid giving an idea about the future and let the present alone define politics. The artists who are interested in society seem content to reflect on it without contributing alternatives. To be in a political opposition keeps us busy. We spend our time answering, arguing against and confronting the prevailing order, but we rarely have any time left to formulate what is important to us. We want to be relieved of the limitations of the present. We need to reclaim the privilege of formulation, be one step ahead and find ways of acting collectively.

We hereby cordially invite you to take part in a collective staging of a feminist utopia! Let’s treat ourselves to a temporary amnesia about the practical aspects of the here and now and try to visualize an INTENSE ECSTATIC FUTURE together.

This is a collective process were we will work with practical exercises, lively discussions, personal reflection and writing. Use of the body is obligatory, a hands-on, mapping of the future. If you are not ready to get down and dirty – don’t bother knockin’.

We concentrate on the room we are occupying and within the surrounding walls we imagine no longer being in opposition – no more defenses, no longer the feeling of being two steps behind. We imagine the world as it will be when we have won, the day after the revolution, when patriarchy, capitalism, racism, sexism and their brothers have fallen, and a new world rises from the ashes. We allow ourselves no compromises, going all the way, to the extreme. And from that glorious point in the future we recount our steps back to where we are today, mapping out our path to success.

Utopia cannot be defined as a static, perfect place; it is the ongoing attempts, the fiction, the theory and the striving for the perfect existence. It is all those situations when we get together and share our need and desire to shape the future, that we together make utopia. It is a way to act politically in our every day lives. So let’s claim the space we need and create places where we set the agenda!

Foot notes
1. Antonio Gramsci (January 22, 1891 – April 27, 1937) was an Italian writer, politician, political philosopher, and linguist.
2. The term “Free University” comes from the self organized classes in Germany during the student uprisings in the 1960s called “freie klasse”. The classes where “free” in relation to the institutional education.
3. Folkbildning: “Folk” means people and “bildning” means education. Together you get the word “folkbildning”, the Swedish form of non-formal adult education.
4. Folkhemmet was the Social democratic vision for the Swedish state, based on the idea of the welfare state, mid 1900s.