Learning Hope and Assembling sKin

Sarah Amsler
March 8, 2018

This is a response to eight works in Pedagogy, Otherwise, which I feel connected to through friendships and encounters in two transnational collectives of radical learners and educators – the Ecoversities Network[1] and Gesturing towards Decolonial Futures.[2] The pieces are: Insurgent Learning and Convivial Research: Universidad de la Tierra, CalifasIn the Cracks of Learning (Situating Us)Introduction to Pedagogy, OtherwiseLearning to Learn in a Context of WarMulti-layered Selves: Colonialism, Decolonization and Counter-Intuitive Learning SpacesThe Radical Education WorkbookRadical Pedagogy is NOTTorpor and Awakening. I write this piece from a small English city on the eve of the third week of a national strike by university workers to refuse the further marketization of our labour. Tomorrow I will party on the picket line with a friend whose work about resisting the “datafication of teaching” was read last week by the Radical Education Forum,[3] which co-authored the Radical Education Workbook published in 2010 upon the last major student demonstrations, and is engaged here.

Learning against-beyond hegemony, to me, feels like falling in love. I know it’s happening when my heart beats faster and something in my centre overturns. Making connections, dissolving separations, is learning. So, too, is tending the wounds created when the skin holding one body (of atoms and histories and soul; of knowledge) stretches and tears in order to receive and be refigured by another. So, too, is refiguring reality when we reassemble bodies and lives into no-longer-that and more-than-this and what-might-become. Learning is kinship and promise, and life and death.

I was tired when I started writing this. I didn’t expect to re-cognize connections and wounds that would make my heart race or stomach flip or skin soften. Nor to catch a glimpse of the future real on my horizon of hope, which also contains the shadows of my complicity as a salaried academic working in a neo-imperialist English education system, where learning is valued to the extent that it reflects, affirms and consolidates the Patrix,[4] the Fourth World War,[5] our capitalist Thanatos. Being nanogoverned to embody the logics that fuel this ecological, social and epistemic crisis, and shackled to existentially impoverished[6] institutions through wage slavery, debt and the destruction of community learning, makes it possible to bury the possible. The political construction of hopelessness – including desires to educate to obey, to educate to domesticate, to educate to allow exploitation[7] – is an education in learning how to dis-member ourselves and each other; learning to mock and devalue the dream.

This is why learning hope and re-membering vital connections of possibility are such important parts of today’s movements to end reality as we know it, and to host the emergence of worlds that are “more adequate for us, without degrading suffering, anxiety, self-alienation, nothingness.”[8] Hence the global wave of interstitial recognition that the pedagogical must be politicised and the political must be made pedagogical.[9] Pedagogy, Otherwise explores how this is happening, what difference it is making, in diverse contexts across the global North and South where individuals and communities are learning to resist colonial-capitalist-patriarchal domination through self-organizing their own “counter-intuitive” learning spaces.[10] Place-times in which we can unlearn, through projects of undoing great and small, the commonsense of patriarchal capitalist modernity – its parameters of possibility for loving, caring, imagining, organising everyday life, knowing one another, being in the world, and co-creating common new realities.

Many of these antihegemonic times and spaces are “Temporary Autonomous Learning Zones”[11] and “Temporary Autonomous Zones of Knowledge Production.”[12] They are born, organised, destroyed (sometimes by conflicts and silences within) and overtaken in the cracks and margins of the system. This is often understood as one of their strengths. In situations where aggressive forces of domination have colonized or eviscerated vital relationships, common resources, public space, knowledges and the senses; where society itself appears as a “total factory institution”,[13] every collective act of delinking from dominant narratives and framings of reality matters. Every opportunity to witness and practice reciprocity and respect in the most difficult of pedagogical encounters, to get it wrong and dare to trust others to try and make new mistakes again, matters. Every embrace of radical tenderness[14] as we face our own colonial, heteropatriarchal and capitalist monsters matters. Each moment we experience non-exploitative, non-expropriating, non-extractivist, heart-pounding, stomach-turning learning matters. Every time we enable one more atom, idea, muscle, word, deed to be “uncoercively rearranged” such that new horizons of possibility may be revealed – perhaps at once, but often through a cumulative process that we do not yet have the tools to comprehend – matters.

These temporal transformations matter. I do not mean that they matter temporarily, as a foot-in-the-door-until-the-real-revolutions-come. Or that their sole significance is that they may help us to “prefigure” alternative realities. I mean that “utopian gestures”[15] in here and now radical learning space-times have material force as resources of hope and potentialities that play a durable and generative role in the formation of body and soul.[16] They are also the threads that weave together place-based learning communities of resistance to create transnational communities of hope, and that are being used to suture fragile and emergent revolutionary alliances. This is important everywhere, including in the global North where our broken political imagination may, as Boaventura de Sousa Santos contends, render us unable to learn in noncolonial terms that “allow for the existence of histories other than the ‘universal’ history of the West.”[17] It is only through shedding dying skin and assembling new kin in the radical learning community, represented by the pieces of work referenced here, that I have become able to accept the challenge of understanding my part, as an educator, in the struggle for an other world here. I will pull these threads of transformation as I walk into our action tomorrow, asking, painting, sharing experiences of Pedagogy, Otherwise with a “new generation of activists entering into struggles for a non-coercive, anti-authoritarian and anti-capitalist education.” My favourite new memories will be the ones where we feel we are not “beginning from scratch”[18] but are part of a movement that is “collapsing the system from its very foundations” and learning hope in its ruins.[19] It will be temporary and it will matter. To answer Alessandra’s question, “How can we fall in love again?” I might say: like this.


[1] Kelly Teamey and Udi Mandel, “Are eco-versities the future for higher education?” (2016) OpenDemocracy,

https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/kelly-teamey-udi-mandel/are-eco-versities-future-for-higher-education.

[2] See https://decolonialfutures.net/.

[3] Radical Education Forum blog, 26 February 2018, http://radicaleducationforum.tumblr.com/post/170939254054/monday-26th-february-beyond-the-exam.

[4] The “Patrix” is Andrew Langford’s term for a system of domination that “artificially separates individuals and groups from the other in order to weaken them against an oppressor and set them against each other creating conflicts that divert their attraction from the larger aggression. Divide and rule is a deliberate application of this effect.” See Gaia University’s podcast, “Politics and the Patrix” (2017): https://www.mixcloud.com/gaiauniversity/politics-and-the-patrix/, and Alessandra Pomarico, “In the cracks of learning (situating us)” (2016): http://artseverywhere.ca/2016/12/14/cracks-learning-situating-us/, in Pedagogy, Otherwise.

[5] Edgardo Garcia, “Learning to learn in a context of war” (2017): http://artseverywhere.ca/2017/02/10/learning-to-learn-in-a-context-of-war/, in Pedagogy Otherwise.

[6] “Existential poverty”, according to Vanessa Andreotti, is “a denial of relationship (Donald 2012), a denial of entanglement, a denial that our lives (both human and non-human) are all inter-woven. This denial leads to torpor and to the fear of awakening. Existential poverty also leads to material poverty because by trying to protect ourselves from each other, we start to accumulate stuff as walls between ourselves. We think that ‘stuff’ is going to give us the affirmation of individuality and security that we believe we are entitled to.” From “Torpor and awakening” (2016): http://artseverywhere.ca/2016/06/21/torpor-and-awakening/, in Pedagogy Otherwise; citing D. Donald, Forts, Colonial Frontier Logics, and Aboriginal-Canadian Relations: Imagining Decolonizing Educational Philosophies in Canadian Contexts. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers, 2012.

[7] Garcia, “Learning to learn in a context of war”.

[8] Ernst Bloch, The Principle of Hope, Cambridge: MIT Press, 1995.

[9] Sara C. Motta, “Politicizing the pedagogical and politicizing pedagogy” in S. C. Motta and M. Cole, Constructing 21st Century Socialism: The Role of Radical Education, London: Palgrave Macmillan.

[10] Vanessa Andreotti, “Multi-layered selves: colonialism, decolonization and counter-intuitive learning spaces” (2016) http://artseverywhere.ca/2016/10/12/multi-layered-selves/, in Pedagogy, Otherwise.

[11] Pomarico, “In the cracks of learning (situating us)”.

[12] Manolo Callahan, “Insurgent learning and convivial research: Uniiversidad de la Tierra, Califas” (2016) http://artseverywhere.ca/2017/01/26/insurgent-learning-convivial-research-universidad-de-la-tierra-califas/, in Pedagogy, Otherwise.

[13] The concept of “total factory institution” brings together what Erving Goffman and Michel Foucault called, in somewhat different ways, “total institutions” with the notion of the “social factory” developed from Mario Tronti’s work. See Alessandra Pomarico, “Introduction to Pedagogy, Otherwise” (2016), http://artseverywhere.ca/inquiry/pedagogy-otherwise/ and “Feminism and social reproduction: an interview with Silvia Federici” (2016) http://salvage.zone/online-exclusive/feminism-and-social-reproduction-an-interview-with-silvia-federici/.

[14] See the “Radical Tenderness Manifesto” by Dani d’Emilia and Daniel B. Chávez (2015), https://danidemilia.com/radical-tenderness/.

[15] Alessandra Pomarico and N. O. aka Aliosha Pantalone, “Radical pedagogy is NOT” (2017), http://artseverywhere.ca/2017/03/22/radical-pedagogy-is-not/, in Pedagogy, Otherwise.

[16] Anna Hickey-Moody and Tara Page, “Making, matter and pedagogy” in Arts, Pedagogy and Cultural Resistance: New Materialisms, New York: Rowman and Littlefield.

[17] Boaventura de Sousa Santos, “Epistemologies of the South and the future” in From the European South 1, accessed at https://www.academia.edu/35018801/Epistemologies_of_the_South_and_the_future.

[18] Radical Education Forum and Ultra-red, Introduction to The Radical Education Workbook (2010), http://artseverywhere.ca/2017/11/20/radical-education-workbook-part-1/, in Pedagogy, Otherwise.

[19] Garcia, “Learning to learn in a context of war”.

Sarah Amsler

Sarah Amsler

Sarah Amsler is Associate Professor in Education, Faculty of Social Sciences, at the Nottingham University, England. Sarah's research focuses on the politics of knowledge and education at multiple levels: theoretically, and in local practice, institutional formations and national and global relations. It is located at the intersections of educational studies, sociology and critical theory - with an overarching interest in how different kinds of knowledge, learning and educational organisation shape social subjectivities and relations, and how they diminish or expand people's capacity to organise social life in autonomous, creative, dignified and radically democratic ways.

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