Challenging Empires : Open Space and Dissent in Movement

Course nature and requirements

This course will run as a combination of lectures, seminars, and independent research, but with emphasis on the latter two; and if the opportunities arise, attending events related to the subject of the course (such as debate within a movement). This firstly implies that the classes and ideas will be developed through dialogue and discussion rather than through lectures, and secondly where course participants will also be leading discussions, wherever possible and especially in the latter half of the course. We will also spend considerable time discussing readings. I look to you to come up with suggestions of events we could all attend.

As a graduate course, the emphasis will be more on research than on required readings; I do however give a list at the end of this course outline of suggested readings, both general and contextual and also more specific, for those sessions for which I have suggested a title. On the other hand, I will expect course participants to come up with suggested readings for the sessions that they are going to be presenting at, and also to make additional suggestions for the lists given below. This can perhaps especially be the case in terms of Canada and of the struggles of indigenous peoples in this region of the world, where I would be happy to learn from you.

I also propose that we experiment with using a wiki-based webspace for the course : For working on and developing this course outline even as we go through it, for additional readings, recordings, photographs that you come up with, for interesting links we all find and propose, for posting material you develop, and – if we want – also for creating spaces for exchange, such as chat spaces. As a start I am placing this course outline up there, as well as all readings not easily otherwise available.

All those enrolling for this course should note the somewhat open and exploratory nature of the course, and moreover where as facilitator I believe I will be learning as much as the course participants. Course participants are also requested to be tolerant, respectful, and open to diverse perspectives. We will all be learners in this process, and I look forward to this.

At the same time however, all spaces, including the open, have their limits and their rules. As such, I propose that one limit in the course should be that there will be no space for racist or sexist content, nor for domineering behaviour. We will discuss this, and attempt to come to agreement on such policies at the outset of the course.

Whereas the focus of the other course to which this one is related (PECO 5501F) will be on critical engagement, we will attempt here to also conduct this course as an open space itself and thereby to live and experience this concept even as we critically examine it. Given moreover the fact all or most of those interested in this course will have relevant experiences to share, this will be organised as an open-ended course that the course participants and I will construct together.

Borrowing from the work by Vanessa Andreotti and her colleagues at the University of Nottingham in the UK, in their ‘Other Worlds’ project, I put forward and ask you to consider the following as a framework for how we might see what we will do together :

(a) Everyone has knowledge – we all have our own lenses to look through at the world; (b) Every knowledge deserves respect – these lenses are legitimate, but they are constantly reconstructed and, moreover, bound to particular contexts; (c) Every knowledge is partial and incomplete – as the lenses are constructed within particular contexts they are informed by particular assumptions and lack information from other contexts and assumptions; and (d) All knowledge can, and should, be questioned – the assumptions that inform the construction of the lenses as well as their implications and other possibilities of assumptions should be examined*.

As conventionally practiced, research and study is usually very extractive, where those studying are the main gainers - and those studied only give. As a general ethic and approach, and especially to the research we will do, I suggest that we see it as being our responsibility in this course to struggle to conduct our research and study as non-violently as possible and to ‘pay back’ to ‘the communities’ that we are studying, and who are in many senses our real teachers. We each need to find our own way of doing this, but we will make time to discuss this together.

The course will also place emphasis on group or collective processes, and on at all times critically examining oneself and one’s own experiences in relation to the other worlds and to the ‘others’ whose lives and struggles we will be discussing. The course will look to encourage the following:

  • Curiosity, and an engaging mind; and a willingness to take risks and to explore
  • Independent, self-driven work combined with an openness to sharing, cooperating, and collaborating in developing and formulating ideas.

Some of what I hope you will do is :

  • Diligently and critically read / listen to one or more newspapers, journals, and/or radio programmes, and bring to the course originals or copies of relevant news and articles
  • Search the net / tapping into interesting and relevant webspaces and listserves; join lists and discussions as appropriate and possible and thereby engage in real-time, ongoing exchange on topics relevant to your research papers; and bring related news and information into the course
  • Search out books, films, plays, poems, music, and other literature that explores the subjects we are discussing and that we could, time allowing, potentially look at / listen to together and that could, in any case, be part of the data base we will develop together
  • Consider blogging your experiences of this course, and/or otherwise developing these ideas further with others.

All this is aside from identifying a topic for your own work, either individually or in a small group of 2-3 people, and preparing a research paper during October and November for presentation to the class during November !


* From : Vanessa Andreotti, forthcoming - ‘Creating Open Spaces’, in Jai Sen, ed, 2006 - Imagining Alternatives, Book 3 in the Are Other Worlds Possible ? series. New Delhi. Also see www.mundi.org.uk (external link) and http://www.osdemethodology.org.uk; (external link) or contact her directly, @ . See also :

Vanessa Andreotti and ors, nd, c.2006 – ‘Critical Literacy & Global Issues’. OSDE Methodology, Centre for the Study of Social and Global Justice, The University of Nottingham, . Available @ http://www.osdemethodology.org.uk. (external link)


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