Social movements


Chapter 15 of

Tied Knowledge: Power in Higher Education


by Brian Martin

Go to Tied Knowledge contents page

Peace movements, feminist movements, workers' movements, environmental movements: these are examples of social movements. Such movements - composed of full-time activists, occasional participants and sympathisers - often provide a challenge to established power structures. Therefore, links between activists in social movements and in higher education often provide opportunities to retie academic knowledge.

Many social movements have arisen to challenge social structures that maintain wealth, power or prestige. This can be seen by listing some systems of power and corresponding social movements.

Power system: Challenging movement
Capitalism: Socialism, workers' control
The Church: Humanism
Hierarchy: Self-management
Imperialism: Liberation
Industrialism: Environmentalism
The military: Pacifism, anti-militarism
Patriarchy: Feminism
Professions: Deprofessionalisation, do-it-yourself
Racism: Anti-racism
Speciesism: Animal liberation
The state: Anarchism

This simple classification is meant only to point out some of the broad areas of struggle. The systems of power are more complex than any list can indicate, and the challenges are diverse. For example, there are radical, reformist and other variants of all the challenging movements.

Out of this list, the environmental and feminist movements would seem to be the strongest currently. Struggles against hierarchical power, including workers' control and neighbourhood control, are common but not systematically organised. Anarchism as a movement is quite weak, and little organised action challenging professional power from below is to be found.

There are also social movements with specific aims that also pose challenges to major power systems. For example, some initiatives of the peace movement confront the power of the state and patriarchy. Most of the major power systems are intertwined to some degree, and in response social movements often confront the whole system.

Social movements are quite diverse, and frequently it is misleading to speak of a 'movement', a term which implies a unified perspective and organisation. Within any movement there are full-time activists, others who put in considerable effort on a regular basis, others who participate occasionally, and yet others who are passive supporters. Which of these categories of people are 'in the movement' is a matter of definition. The point is that participation in social movements is quite diverse in degree and style.

There are also considerable differences in beliefs and goals within most social movements. Major differences of opinion about analysis and strategies usually exist. For example, the anarchist, socialist and feminist movements are riven by deep doctrinal splits, which are typically associated with different groups, methods of organising and sources of power or recruitment.

Social movements do provide some basis for challenging the prevailing power systems, but there are many limitations. It is wise to keep these in mind and avoid placing all faith in a precarious messenger.

* Social movements - or sections of them - often have narrow goals. For example, many people in peace groups are concerned primarily about nuclear war, and make appeals for nuclear freezes or nuclear disarmament. This provides only a limited challenge to the military and the state.

* Some strategies of social movements at best may lead to improvements for only a fraction of oppressed groups. For example, the strategy of sections of black movement to open elite positions to blacks may do little for the majority of blacks caught in excluded cultures of poverty and dead-end occupations. Similarly, initiatives of some environmental groups mainly serve to protect the amenities of the middle class.

* Social movements arise because there are groups of people concerned about an issue and willing to take action about it. The existence of an issue does not guarantee the existence of a social movement. A major movement arose to oppose nuclear power, whereas only limited popular action has been taken against soil degradation and no movement at all has arisen to oppose television.

* Social movements do not necessarily take a 'progressive' stance on an issue. Some social movements have opposed racism, others have supported it.

In spite of these limitations, social movements provide a useful place to retie knowledge. This chapter outlines some ways that activists inside and outside higher education can promote knowledge tied to community interests.

Education to support social movements

Students and academics can use their knowledge and skills to support the efforts of social movements. There are many ways to do this, most of which involve teaching and research which supports the efforts of the movements in some way.

An immediate problem arises: most academic courses contain little formal scope for supporting social action. The syllabus in chemistry, anthropology or German usually deals with academic, disciplinary concerns. Social issues may be included as examples, but this is often seen as a diversion from the 'true' content of the course.

Even when radical content can be added, the discussion often remains academic. No real connection with actual social movements is made.

It is usually only in certain parts of the higher education system - adult education departments, or small innovative programs or institutions - that a real link with social action can be forged. Orienting the syllabus and student efforts towards social action can be justified by their relevance to the occupational or other needs of the students. Once again, this justification is most effective in areas such as adult education, or in the training of certain professionals such as social workers. The most important stimulus to building such links is the pressing existence of a social issue.

One example of what can be done is the course in health education given at the Canberra College of Advance Education. (This account draws on information up to 1985.) As part of their studies, groups of students are expected to work with a community group on a project related to health and to provide the group with some useful educational tool, such as a set of leaflets, posters, a slide show or a video. For example, in one project in which I was involved (on the side of the community group Community Action on Science and Environment), a group of students prepared a leaflet and slide show about the health hazards of caffeine and alternatives to it. Such projects provide an educational experience for the students, since they must work together as a group, focus their learning on a particular task which they define themselves to a large extent, and orient their effort to the needs of a particular community organisation. A key part of the projects is the regular liaison between each student group and members of the community group.

This course can be seen as either radical or cautious, depending on your viewpoint! From the perspective of conventional classroom education, in which the syllabus is brought down by leaders of the discipline and in which community groups have no input, the course is quite radical. Its divergence from the usual methods has been sustained by committed teachers and enthusiastic students. For example, many of the students are so-called 'mature age students' who have worked in the health field, such as in nursing, and have been alienated by the professional model and the exclusively curative approach. The community-oriented projects can be justified as providing training for what the students will actually do, namely work with communities to promote changes in lifestyles and in the physical and social environment to eliminate the causes of ill health.

On the other hand, the course is constrained by a number of factors. The requirements of enrolment and grades mean that the project must be carefully organised and monitored. The collapse of even a single project group might be used to attack the course as a whole. For most students, involvement with the community group is a once-only affair. Some students are mainly concerned about completing the course and obtaining credentials, and their commitment to the project is nominal. But other students, who would like to get involved to a greater extent, are hampered by regulations and time constraints. [Barbara Watson, a teacher in the course, comments: "However, the potential for continuing the social action with the community group exists. In 1985, one student, herself a repetition strain injury (RSI) sufferer, was a member of a group of students involved with the local RSI support group. During the project her knowledge of the media (gained from previous work experience) was of value to the RSI support group and she has joined the committee as a media advisor and is now an active participant in the group."]

Another problem lies in the community groups themselves. Most of them, while serving worthy causes, are quite conventional in orientation, such as the Marriage Guidance Counselling Service and the Sudden Infant Death Association. The number of community groups that take a radical political stance or action is quite small, and this limits the prospects for linking formal education projects to them. [Barbara Watson comments: "However, in 1985 we worked with a couple of community groups more actively involved in social action: Jobless Action Outreach and the Food Justice group of Friends of the Earth. In the pamphlet prepared for Jobless Action Outreach, the question of squatting as a political protest was suggested. This involved the staff and students discussing the issue of squatting in some detail before the pamphlet was finally produced."]

The community group projects in the health education course thus illustrate the potential and limits of trying to support social movements from within the educational establishment. The projects only got off the ground through major efforts from committed staff. Even then, the educational potential of the projects has been limited by organisational requirements, by the opposition of traditional staff, and by the reluctance of many students who are uncomfortable with non-traditional approaches or more concerned about credentials. But in spite of all the difficulties, the projects do provide valuable experiences for many students and provide a continuing connection between community and educational activists.

Even if opportunities for linking education to social action exist, there are many directions to take. How can education help the struggles of oppressed groups?

Tom Lovett, Chris Clarke and Avila Kilmurray, in an extremely valuable analysis of these issues, have described and commented on four models for community adult education in the context of working class struggles in Northern Ireland.

(1) Community organisation model. Adult education is aimed at providing resources to community organisations. This offers adult working class participation in education and encourages personal development, but does not change the position of the general community.

(2) Community development model. Adult educators work in local communities and provide information and resources. The focus is on personal deficiencies. This model is limited by the assumption that problems can be resolved by improved local understanding and cooperation.

(3) Community action model. Adult educators link themselves to local working class communities and encourage radical political education. The education is 'informal', emphasising democratic process over content. A limit to this approach is the stress on local alternatives rather than broad social movements.

(4) Social action model. Fairly conventional adult education methods are used, focussing on motivating community members to understand and act on the issues underlying social problems. The educational methods can be criticised as narrow, with the possibility of creating an educated elite.

Any one of these models would represent quite a dramatic change from usual adult education, which mainly caters for the intellectual, cultural and personal interests of members of the middle class by offering vocational or recreational courses. An orientation to working class communities means tying knowledge to a group different from the main contemporary cultural and political base for adult education and for higher education generally. (Adult education in Britain had much closer links to working class communities before World War II than it has had since.) To make the shift to serving popular social movements is an enormous step. To do this usually requires special circumstances. Some degree of organisational autonomy is important, and also an educational justification for deviating from the usual pattern of higher education. Adult education often fills both these criteria, since it is a low status, student-oriented activity which arguably must respond to its constituency. In addition, there must be some teaching staff who are committed to some form of community education and who are willing to make sacrifices to achieve it. Finally, the development of community education depends on the existence of pressing social problems and the existence of a social movement.

Even with all these preconditions, the difficulties facing 'community educators' are great. Lovett, Clarke and Kilmurray describe several educational activities in Northern Ireland, including courses in community studies, local study groups, workshops for activists, radio programs, a library/resource centre, and specific research projects. Of the four models of community education outlined above, they favour some combination of the last two, namely education linked to community and social action.

Education for social action raises some difficult questions about educational content and method. What is the purpose of the education? Is old-fashioning lecturing and setting of the syllabus justified in order to provide rigorous training for members of the working class so that they can develop critical perspectives and learn skills for taking over the running of society? Or does this simply perpetuate dependence on educational experts? One alternative is education as a more self-determined experience based on a sampling of viewpoints. Is this better even if most students choose to study things which will aid their individual advancement rather than engaging in social action?

Education as (part of) a social movement

Paulo Friere is widely known for his pioneering efforts to link the development of literacy among oppressed peoples to the forging of a critical political consciousness. Freire's approach proceeds as follows. A team of educators enters a community and learns about its culture and political situation, about the range of experience of the people and, not least, about language. They then determine a set of 'generative' themes or words. The themes may be presented to the people first - before introducing any words - in the form of pictures which are used to draw out the distinction between nature and culture. Then the generative words are introduced. The words - in Portuguese there are less than 17 of them - are chosen for their emotional impact and for their phonemic value in presenting all the sounds in the language. The sequence in which the words are presented is very important.

Words with emotional impact for oppressed peoples include words referring to political arrangements. Thus the literacy process is an intensely political one. Languages become a means of developing political understanding, and political action is not far away - or so it is hoped by the educators. This is why the Brazilian government was so hostile to the efforts of Freire and his co-workers.

Many Western educational theorists and activists have been inspired by Freire's approach. The big question is, how can it be applied to learning in industrial societies? There are many possibilities which have been canvassed, including:

* teaching young children to read, as has been tried in Berkeley, California;

* teaching illiterate and semi-literate adults - of whom there are millions in the United States, for example - to read;

* teaching mathematical literacy to adults.

In each case, the aim is to develop a critical consciousness in the learner and to encourage social action to overcome oppressive social structures. For example, a program to teach illiterate adults to read would be part of a wider effort to overcome the marginal position of most of these people in terms of employment and civil rights. Teaching mathematical literacy would enable many poor people to better negotiate their way through figures that crop up in jobs, welfare bureaucracies and the purchasing of goods. The Freire approach aims not just to give knowledge to the oppressed, but to link the learning process with the actual social use of the knowledge-tool. This is what distinguishes the political Freire approach from most classroom learning which is disconnected from social application.

How can the Freire approach be applied in higher education? That's a good question. Most students by this time are reasonably literate. More to the point, most students - by the fact of 'doing' higher education - are relatively privileged members of society, for whom it is harder to find politically potent concepts which can be embedded in lessons to motivate both learning and social action. Academics who try to use Freire methods with their students must confront the problem that most of the students are more concerned about marks and degrees than about their social oppression. This applies even when oppression is quite real, as in the case of ethnic minorities.

Another approach is for both staff and students to use Freire methods to teach non-academic groups, such as manual workers (including non-academic staff) and the unemployed. Even assuming that academic teachers and non-academic students could be brought together, what should the students be taught? Freire's approach is for the literacy teachers to study the community, develop the list of generative words and organise the presentation. This might be suitable for teachers who share the culture and experiences of those taught, and who are teaching the vital and relatively unproblematic skill of literacy. But what are academics to teach to those who are already literate? Are academics sufficiently in tune with the social needs of oppressed groups and with their potential for action? An obvious problem is that the academics might just end up teaching academic approaches that are mainly useful for obtaining credentials and at most are conducive to sanitised middle-class social action.

The Freire approach is supposed to be based on a constant dialogue between teachers and students, in which everyone is a teacher and a learner. But in actual Friere-type literacy classes, the teachers determine the structure of the learning process: there is a large and perhaps unavoidable inequality between teachers and learners. Again, this may not be a problem in teaching literacy in the Third World where the teachers are fully committed to the liberation of the students - they almost have to be, to be doing this - where the source of oppression is pretty obvious, and where the skill of literacy has clear uses.

For academics, a more egalitarian approach may be suitable. It is not so obvious that academics are in the best position to determine the whole framework of the learning process for those they are trying to 'liberate' - especially when liberation from the credentialed learning process may be a prime consideration. [Helen Modra comments: "This is a red herring. Freire insists that one cannot conscientise somebody else. In my experience, one of the major sources of potency of the Freire approach lies in the way I am constantly made aware of the prime responsibility I have to work on my own 'liberation'. Through dialogue I learn how much I am still embedded in old ways and irrelevancies."]

Ironically, it is probably the case that academics themselves are in just as great a need of political education as anyone else. But the difficulties are great, since most academics would also need to unlearn much of the 'hidden curriculum' of academic life, including beliefs about individualism, competition, the potency of intellectual arguments and the superiority of academic knowledge.

The widespread concern about nuclear war in the 1980s led to the creation of groups of academics and scientists linked to the peace movement. These groups mainly used 'common sense' understandings of the problem in formulating their activities. After participating in Scientists Against Nuclear Arms ( SANA) in Sydney, Rachel Sharp wrote an article suggesting that SANA members could learn from the insights of the social sciences and look at underlying social structures rather than symptoms such as weapons and policies. This suggestion was not taken kindly by some SANA members, who felt it reflected on their motivations! Any adherents of Freire who are planning to teach 'political literacy' to scientists have their work cut out for them.

Since writing this section, I became aware of a powerful critique of Freire's methods, written by Blanca Facundo. It is worthy of study by anyone planning to use Freire's approach.

Education within movements

Perhaps the best prospects for academics to be involved with 'learning for liberation' occurs within social movements. In decades gone by, the workers' education movement was a powerful force, linked as it was with the workers' movement. Workers learned in order to organise and challenge their subordination. But in the English-speaking countries at least, academic links with the workers' movement have become increasingly feeble and marginal. Many academics have working class backgrounds, but they themseleves have left the traditional working class. The main social movements that now engage the interests of some academics and students are those sustained by middle-class support, such as the feminist movement, the peace movement, the environmental movement and various minority rights movements.

Knowledge and learning have played a big role in these movements. In the early years of the second wave of the women's movement, consciousness-raising groups - of women discussing their experiences, and searching out, studying and reporting on information - played a vital role. Although inequalities in knowledge and experience existed, these groups were not run by particular experts who searched out the generative themes. Rather, there was relatively little formal structure. Groups such as this continue to play an important role in the feminist movement and in other social movements.

In many consciousness-raising groups there was an explicit denial of structure. But this often hid the actual domination of the conversation and agenda by particular individuals with powerful personalities or a flair for organising support through alliances. This was called by Jo Freeman 'the tyranny of structurelessness'. The antagonism towards formal structure was partly a reaction against formal hierarchies in schools and workplaces.

The overcoming of domination within small groups comes not from trying to abolish structure but rather by creating structures that encourage equal participation and the sharing of knowledge and feelings. Many groups, of which the Movement for a New Society in the United States has been the most prominent, have tried to develop methods for doing this. Methods include:

* sharing of experiences and feelings by group members as a means for overcoming an unremitting orientation towards external tasks;

* facilitation of meetings, in which the facilitator (helper) tries to help the group do what it wants to do, rather than determining the group's direction as a chairperson often does;

* encouragement of full participation, by the facilitator inviting quiet members to speak and using exercises such as each person being allowed only a limited number of contributions;

* sharing of tasks, including the less prestigious ones of cleaning, typing and posting letters;

* sharing of skills, such as screen printing, layouts, public speaking and writing;

* learning skills through training and action, such as role-playing street theatre and civil disobedience;

* using methods to regularly evaluate the group's activities.

Many such methods have been spread widely through the world via nonviolent action training which has been used especially since the 1970s in the anti-nuclear power movement and the peace movement.

On many occasions members of social movements organise themselves to do fairly conventional study of the issues. This might be learning about the history of women's oppression, about occupational health and safety or about nuclear politics. The learning process in social action groups has some great advantages over most institutional study: there is a strong personal motivation to learn the material, often there is an immediate practical application - such as preparing a leaflet or giving a speech - and there are no credentials. As a result, some of the progressive learning methods developed for academic contexts have been very successful when used by social activists.

One such technique is the macro-analysis seminar. This is a glorified name for a course of study in which the students are active participants. The study material might be on food justice or the arms race. It usually includes a set of readings. For each session in the course, students study part of the material and then report back on it to the group. The sessions are structured to encourage equal participation, using methods such as facilitation, small-group discussion, pair learning and evaluations of the sessions.

The 'macro' in the term macro-analysis refers to an orientation towards understanding the social structures and large-scale forces which cause social problems. For example, the problem of hunger can be related to capitalism, industrialisation, racism, environmental destruction and other factors.

The macro-analysis seminar as used by social activists - or simply by people interested in a social issue - draws upon many of the techniques of progressive education, such as learning by explaining material to others. It also draws upon insights from the study of small groups dynamics, such as the importance of providing a supportive emotional environment for learning. Finally, these seminars are directly related to the social concern of the participants: the motive for learning is not personal advancement, but (ideally) social justice. In this latter aspect the macro-analysis seminar as used by social movement groups is allied with the Freire approach. Indeed, the people who choose the sequence of ideas and who pick out the reading material for macro-analysis study guides are similar to those who develop the generative themes and words for teaching literacy.

Not surprisingly, not all social movement study groups produce a warm inner glow. Often it is hard to find people who want to study. Many social activists would rather protest on the basis of their gut feelings and leave the formulation of arguments to a few experts. (Indeed, one of the objectives of study in social movements is to overcome dependence on movement experts.) Another problem is the inequalities in knowledge and experience which make it difficult for newcomers to feel they have anything to contribute. This is aggravated when particular individuals insist on dominating the discussion or showing their superiority. One of the aims of facilitation and other group process techniques is to overcome the ego-tripping, guilt-tripping, power struggles and other problems which intrude into all sorts of group situations.

Learning experiences in social action groups can be incredibly satisfying at times. I have found it a great joy to get away from the academic climate in which people are more concerned to show their superiority and hide their ignorance than to exchange ideas. On the other hand, some 'alternative' learning groups can be as tension-filled and damaging as anything found in academia. Often this is due - at the surface level anyway - to the hidden agendas of individuals who use the ostensibly open and honest discussion to settle scores in a way not possible in a more formal and hierarchical format.

What are the lessons to be gained from education within social movements? The strengths of this education lie in learning for an immediate purpose which is linked more to social justice than to personal advancement, in the integration of cognitive factors with a supportive emotional climate and in the immediate social application of what is learned. The difficulties arise from the prior behaviours and attitudes of people which are often due to earlier conventional teaching and, more importantly, to the weakness of social movements generally, especially in lacking much of a political or economic base.

To promote their learning operations, social movements can and do draw on academic resources. Many of the methods used to foster egalitarian group dynamics are taken from the work of social psychologists. Much more effort could be expended examining academic studies of groups and learning in order to select out methods and approaches that can be used by social movements. This can be done by academics or social activists or, preferably, both working together. Finding and testing methods for social action groups is not something that can be done solely in the library or solely in the groups themselves. There is much scope for trying out methods 'in the field'.

Social movements draw heavily on academic research for evidence and arguments to support their causes. Look at the readings recommended by almost any social movement, from animal liberation to Trotskyists, and you will find a large proportion written by academics. Sometimes these academics are activists themselves, but in many cases they have little direct connection with the movement. There is certainly a case for members of social action groups approaching academics and asking or encouraging them to prepare materials that would be useful to the movement. Admittedly, there are not that many academics who would be willing or able to do much, but there will be even fewer if no encouragement is offered. At the least, academics can be asked to provide advice about technical details and arguments, for example to check the material in a leaflet. More committed academics can be encouraged to become active members, participating in writing and speaking on issues and sharing their knowledge with others. I have referred here to 'academics', which generally implies academic staff. But students are important contributors too. Often they have as many skills useful to social action groups as staff. What they lack is the same status.

The distinction between academics (including students) and activists is an artificial one in many cases. Quite a number of academic staff and students are themselves members of social action groups.

Social movement support of critical teaching and research

Many social movements have displayed a fascinating interplay between popular supporters and academic investigators. Which came first?

When the issue of the environment first became the basis of a highly visible movement in the late 1960s, it had wide popular support. (Much of this support came from the middle class, although working class communities historically have suffered much more from environmental degradation.) At that time there were hardly any academic programs focusing on environmental problems. The rise of the movement made the environment into a visible social issue, and this turned it into an academic area of study. Many environmental studies programs were set up (though many of these suffered attacks from other disciplines and from university administrations). As well, many previous research programs were relabelled 'environmental' in order to attract funds. Looking at this sequence, it can be argued that academia took up the environment only after it became a prominent social issue. Environmental studies programs were not established because academic leaders recognised the intrinsic social and intellectual importance of the area, but because widespread social concern made these programs more acceptable.

Going back a bit further, though, there were many academics working on environmental issues before the environment became a popular social cause. For example, there were quite a few academic ecologists in the United States who in the 1950s and 1960s did studies which provided empirical evidence about ecological problems. The studies by these academic precursors of the environmental movement provided much of the early intellectual ammunition used by the movement. In addition, some academics and other scholars alerted the public about environmental problems. Barry Commoner is one example. Rachel Carson would be another, except that she was never a fully-fledged academic. (Perhaps if she had been, Silent Spring would not have been written.)

So did the academics come first after all? It's not quite so simple. There were also many non-academic precursors of the environmental movement. These included numerous practical conservationists, nature-lovers, activists concerned about urban decay and many others. But the role of these people is not so obvious, since they did not leave written accounts of their concerns and activities. The academic precursors are more prominent because they put these general concerns into a formal framework which had the status of legitimate knowledge (even if it was largely ignored at the time).

In summary, there is a mutual interaction between social concern and social movements on the one hand and academics on the other. Both in the nascent stages and in the blossoming of social movements, academics can play a role by legitimating social concerns through their studies and their public statements. In turn, a climate of concern or an organised social movement can provide the encouragement or the justification for academic involvement.

It is clear that the mere existence of social movements can provide support for academic programs, for example in women's studies or peace studies. Furthermore, research and teaching within orthodox disciplines are influenced by social movements: since the rise of the 1980s peace movement, philosophers have found that nuclear war has become much more interesting as an ethical issue. But is there more that social activists outside academia can and should do to support academic attention to current social issues? This question raises all sorts of sticky points relating to the love-hate relations between academics and outside social activists.

Certainly there is a lot that outside activists can do to support academic programs relevant to their concerns. Activists can lobby to introduce such programs, provide advice in setting them up and in planning the syllabus and teaching methods, act as guest lecturers and community advisers, and organise campaigns to oppose cutbacks and other attacks on the programs. The support by the feminist movement for Women's Studies at the Australian National University is only one of many examples where these sorts of things have happened.

When this type of outside support is forthcoming, it provides a very stimulating atmosphere for academics. They may engage in critical research and teaching that provides useful insights for activists, even if the insights provided by the academics are not precisely what the activists wanted to hear - or perhaps especially in this case. Furthermore, social movement support is a strong bargaining tool for sympathetic academics who are trying to introduce or defend critical programs.

This all sounds very nice, and sometimes it is. But quite often relations sour between academics and outsiders. The problems stem from both sides; I'll start with the academics.

Academics who tie their knowledge and careers to relatively powerless groups put themselves in a vulnerable position within the academic system. They lower their status compared to academics who specialise within the traditional disciplines or who tie themselves to state or corporate interests. Junior academics - especially those without tenure - may restrict or jeopardise their careers by joining programs in women's studies or peace studies.

The result is that many academics try to adapt their social concern to the academic system. This means producing research in full academic dress, maintaining a 'balance' in teaching (in other words, keeping arm's length from social action), and orienting perspective's and efforts towards policy-makers in the academic administration or the government.

Environmental studies programs have been under pressure to move in this direction, especially as their more radical junior staff failed to achieve permanency, or after the appointment of conventional figures as heads of programs. Yet others have struggled on, often under severe pressures, maintaining their original orientation to social movements.

Social movements are not the most reliable of allies for academics, since many of them lose their dynamism, sometimes after failure and collapse - as in the case of the peace movement of the late 1950s and early 1960s - and sometimes after major policy demands are superficially achieved. Even when social movements are strong, there are often problems in their relations with academics. When academics in relevant research and teaching areas try to protect their positions by being 'academic', this can alienate activists. The activists - many of whom are incredibly committed, working long hours for little or no pay - are not impressed when academics prefer to write esoteric papers and restrict classes to 'safe' topics. Many activists are insulted when academics seem more interested in garnering publicity and academic credit for themselves than in helping the movement. When academics take a holier-than-thou attitude in relation to the unscholarly statements and activities of the movement, many activists choose to wash their hands of the whole academic mess.

The upshot is that activists may be reluctant to race forward to support academics in their struggles. For their part, academics often prefer to fight their battles on academic grounds, without relying on outsiders. The outsiders accept the message.

Another factor enters here: faction-fighting within the more progressive academic programs. I have seen this all too often. Internal disputes are usually attributed to personalities, but there is a good reason why progressive academic programs are more susceptible to internal splits: there is a greater variety of organisational and intellectual resources for waging power struggles. In a conventional department, the disciplinary framework and the hierarchy limit and channel the struggle for power. In a department that has some links to the ideas and membership of a social movement, a whole new array of influences enters the picture. Some academics prefer to orient their efforts towards the social issue and the movement, while others orient themselves to personal academic advancement or to industrial or state antagonists of the movement. Some academics are torn internally by different options and pressures. Some seek academic power - tenure, a promotion, control over a program - in an effort to serve what they believe are higher goals.

What lessons are there out of all this? Most obviously, the relationship between academics and social movements cannot be one way. If social activists are to gain the support of some academics, some effort is required: talking to the academics, developing ideas for useful research, formulating views about teaching content and methods. Nor is it wise to be ignorant of what academic work has already been done that is relevant to the movement. There is no point in recruiting academics if their contributions are ignored.

There is even more that academics can do: make contact with activists, seek out ideas for relevant research and teaching, and join action groups and participate as equals rather than experts. Much academic work needs to be translated for public consumption, and this is something that academics - with help from outsiders to escape from jargon-pits - can do.

Some areas for action

There are numerous areas where students and academics can become involved in social action to challenge social structures that perpetuate injustice and inequality. Here are some specific areas that hold the potential for also undercutting the links between higher education and these structures.

Workers' self-management. This refers to the organisation of work in ways that allow and encourage workers to determine collectively what they produce and how they produce it. This means much more than 'participation' by workers in management through representatives. Instead, workers' self-management is based on the workers themselves performing the management tasks as part of the overall work process, rather than the managerial function being separated out.

Workers' self-management usually is accompanied by extensive job redesign to mesh with egalitarian control over the work. This means more than job rotation, but rather a division of tasks that allows the development and use of skills by all workers and that also facilitates collective control by the workers.

Workers' self-management is an important challenge to present work place hierarchies, and therefore it is also an important challenge to the credentialing function of higher education which legitimates the allocation of people to particular slots in the occupational hierarchy.

One of the standard strategies used by weaker groups within academia - left academics, famale students - is to get members or representatives into elite positions through promotions or through formal representation on decision-making bodies. The strategy of promoting self-management is quite different. It is based on challenging the necessity, the fairness and the effectiveness of the hierarchies in the first place.

What can students and academics do to promote workers' self-management? First, much remains to be done in the academic study of this area. 'Academic study' in this case often involves the actual promotion of self-management, for example through pilot projects and job redesign exercises. Second, academics can act as consultants and spokespeople for groups promoting workers' self-management, especially to counter the inevitable claims that it can't work, isn't efficient, etc. Finally, self-management can be promoted in academia itself. For example, at the departmental level, students and non-academic staff can be brought in as partners in decision-making. More importantly, the work can be redesigned, for example to allow non-academic staff to spend time studying and learning to do research, and allowing students to learn secretarial and administrative skills. Obviously it won't be easy to bring this about!

Participatory democracy. The catch-phrase from the late 1960s, 'participatory democracy', captures as well as any expression the aim of bringing democracy to all parts of life. This can be understood as the extension of self-management to all people, not just those who are conventionally called workers. Participatory democracy means designing child rearing, technologies, food production and so forth so that people have the opportunity and incentive to be involved in making decisions about things that affect them in their day-to-day life. This is likely to mean more local production of goods, elimination of professional monopolies and integration of learning into other activities.

Participatory democracy is still a visionary concept. There are many specific investigations that need to be made and practices that need to be tried out to see what it might mean in operation. In small groups, decisions can be made by consensus, a technique which has been used for millennia in many contexts, and which has been studied, formalised and refined in recent decades, especially within social action groups. Much more remains to be done to test the potential and limits of consensus.

For decision-making involving large groups, much more effort needs to be devoted to egalitarian alternatives to representative democracy. One alternative worth studying and trying out is the lot system: the random selection of formal decision-makers, as in ancient Greece or in modern juries. Another alternative is separate facilities for different groups of the population, as for smokers and non-smokers on trains.

As in the case of workers' self-management, students and academics can support efforts towards participatory democracy outside or inside academia.

Self-reliance. Nuclear power, agricultural monoculture, medical monopolies, massive transport systems for commuting: all these make people dependent on outside suppliers of goods and services and, as a result, dependent also on those who control them. Self-reliance means being able to rely on local skills and resources:

* instead of nuclear power, energy efficiency and modest local production of renewable energy;

* instead of agricultural monoculture, intensive animal production and corporate domination over food production, more local growing and processing of food;

* instead of medical monopolies, more emphasis on prevention through diet and exercise and more emphasis on community understanding and treatment of disease;

* instead of massive transport systems for commuting, design of communities to put work, services and recreation within walking or cycling distance of most people.

Self-reliance is an obvious part of the overall promotion of self-management, since it enables people to exercise more control over their local environment. Self-reliance can be a guiding concept in all sorts of fields, from communication to defence. There are innumerable research and practical projects that could be carried out to promote self-reliance. Only some of these are presently of concern to social movements. Unfortunately, more academics are doing research that promotes dependence on elites or experts than are doing research that promotes self-reliance.

Democratic socialisation. The development of personality and behaviour through living in a culture - talking to people, living in a family, working in a bureaucracy, and generally negotiating one's way through social systems - is part of what is called socialisation. Much of present-day socialisation serves to perpetuate acceptance and support of oppressive social structures - patriarchy, racism and social class are prime examples - and to encourage specific behaviours that benefit special interests. On the other hand, some aspects of socialisation provide people with tools to control their own lives individually and collectively.

The family is a key element in socialisation, especially in the reproduction of patriarchy and social class and in the domination of children. It can also provide protection for its members against outside attack, as often happens under repressive regimes.

Peer groups are extremely important in regulating behaviour in a range of situations ranging from the school to the factory floor to the boardroom. Peer groups often serve to transmit dominant social relations to individuals. Some peer groups though provide insulation from mainstream attitudes and behaviours.

Sport - especially spectator sport - often provides psychological involvement in ritualised competition. Spectator sport offers a means for social integration based on psychological identification rather than actual human involvement.

Television is vitally important in shaping the self-image and behaviour of many people. Although current events and some critical ideas are presented on television, the medium is essentially one-directional and in many people induces a dependence on an outside input of constantly changing images.

Advertising promotes not only particular goods but also consumerism. Most large-scale mass advertising - the usual form on television, billboards and glossy magazines - is based on developing and appealing to desires for glamour, status and instant happiness. Promotional (as opposed to informational) advertising is profoundly anti-educational in its creation of fantasy worlds in which image and insinuation replace content and satisfaction of needs. Very little of mass promotional advertising has the goal of promoting human autonomy!

These and other agencies of socialisation are vitally important in the 'educational environment', broadly conceived. Most educators focus exclusively on socialisation in the school, yet even the enlightened school must compete with influences from families, television and the like. If the goal is to promote autonomy in learning, the search for truth and other noble aims, then students and academics must confront the anti-educational aspects of the whole array of socialisation agencies.

It is pretty unlikely that much will be done about this inside academia. Family and peer group influences are simply accepted as 'givens': the usual course emphasises content with little attention to the array of experiences and influences that shape the background and learning environments of the students. Sport is routinely used to build loyalty to educational institutions, especially in the United States. Television and advertising have made fewer inroads into higher education, mainly because academics would lose some of their control over the learning process. But only a very few academics have been prominent in developing critical analyses of television and advertising, and very few indeed have been involved in active campaigns against them.

Social movements have not done all that much in these areas either. Their main impact has been in the creation of an alternative social environment which often gives protection against the more usual influences. Communal living often is an alternative to the nuclear family, while social action groups themselves provide a type of peer group. But organised campaigns to challenge the oppressive aspects of families and peer groups are not so common. The women's movement has played the most important role in its campaigns against male violence and male control in the family. As for sport, television and advertising, little has been done.


Colin Ball and Mog Ball, Education for a change: Community action and the school (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973). An argument and lots of examples on redirecting education into community action.

Cynthia Brown, Literacy in 30 hours: Paulo Freire's process in North East Brazil (London: Writers and Readers, 1975). A very clear explanation of how Freire's approach operates in practice, plus comments about applying it in the West.

Virginia Coover, Ellen Deacon, Charlies Esser and Christopher Moore, Resource manual for a living revolution (Philadelphia: New Society Publishers, 1981). Theory, group dynamics, consciousness raising, nonviolent action training, methods for organising and other tools for social movements.

Randy Divinski, Amy Hubbard, J. Richard Kendrick, Jr. and Jane Noll, 'Social change as applied social science: obstacles to integrating the roles of activist and academic,' Peace & change, vol. 19, no. 1, January 1994, pp. 3-24.

Blanca Facundo on Paulo Freire

Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the oppressed (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972).

Bart Laws, 'Taking it from the street: an organizer goes back to school,' Radical teacher, no. 34, January 1988, pp. 16-22. The strengths and limitations of higher education in relation to grassroots organising.

Tom Lovett, Chris Clarke and Avila Kilmurray, Adult education and community action: adult education and popular social movements (London: Croom helm, 1983). A discussion and hard-headed analysis of the prospects and problems for adult education and community action.

C. A. Rootes, 'Theory of social movements: theory for social movements?' Philosophy and social action, vol. 16, no. 4, October-December 1990, pp. 5-17. A sensitive treatment of the relation between theory and social action, including a critique of Touraine.

Alain Touraine, The voice and the eye (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981). A programme of "sociological intervention" to support social movements.