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Please check back again – futher details of all participants and contributions will be appearing as they are confirmed.

Alan Gurbutt set up Dyslexia Lincolnshire in 2010 as a not-for-profit co-operative which provides open source assistive software for people from low income backgrounds. He is looking to develop it further as a prime mover for innovation through democratic action and collaboration to provide equal access to educational resources from junior school to Higher Education and across all walks of life.

Alex Dunedin started the Ragged University to update the historical Ragged Schools movement, which brought about free education in the UK and develop Dr. Andrew Bell’s Madras peer-led teaching technique which resulted in the creation of over 12,000 community schools. He believes that the experience of running free education events over the last three years, plus the knowledge of extensive networks which have lent support, could be of use to other people and organisations. Similarly, the Ragged website can be made available to highlight and promote other education projects.

Beth Tichborne‘s main relevant project is on Self-Organised Postgraduate Study (posted on the website of the International Organization for a Participatory Society). It is still in its very early stages, so she’s been exploring lots of ideas around online/open source/self-organised/anarchist education, but pretty amorphous in terms of plans as yet. She’d be very interested in discussing methods and formats with others about the role of the Internet in forming sustainable educational communities. Also interested in discussing whether/how people can create space and time for learning while working or child-rearing.

Bianca Elzenbaumer and Paolo Plotegher are part of a group of people who are planning to set up a free school in New Cross in 2013. For thoughts and ideas gathered so far, see here.

Clive Menzies is a member of the Occupy Economics Working Group in London and established the Critical Thinking course at the Free University at the (subsequently evicted) Bank of Ideas. He’ll talk about the first year of the course and plans for 2013.

Deborah Withers is interested in discussing the role of accessible educational spaces such as blogs and exhibitions that circulate/exist in the public domain as an alternative to the enclosed education space of the neo-liberal university. She wants to network with other ‘para-academics’ who want to continue to research and write despite precarious work cultures and scarce monetary resources. She wants to explore how research can still be meaningful and useful outside of assessment frameworks such as the REF, and the pressure to be ‘productive’. She is also interested in the role that independent and open access publishing can play in the circulation of information and critical writing.

Gail Chester could present the same brief history of free education as she did [at the first Free University Network conference] in Birmingham. She is sorry to say she hasn’t done anything more with it since that time, but as she won’t be arriving in Oxford until lunchtime on Saturday, she could not present it as historical background at the start. Also, the Feminist Library has just launched the Women’s Studies Without Walls project, and they are going to be having their launch weekend gathering on the 19th/20th January, after which they will be having a series of ongoing talks/skill shares/consciousness-raising sessions at the library in London. But they are also looking to spread their wings, especially nationally. The steering group consists of a cross-section of older and younger feminists, more and less academic, and she is hoping that a few will be able to come to Oxford to run a session/participate more generally.

Gigi Argyropoulou is a researcher, curator, artist and scholar based in Athens and London. Gigi has initiated festivals, conferences, performance projects, cultural collaborations and actions both inside and outside institutions. Last November a group of us occupied a disused theatre in the centre of Athens. Embros theatre was temporarily re-constituted as a public space for exchange, dialogue, meeting and rethinking, hosting a variety of theoretical, cultural and community activities. During Embros Occupancy and over the last few years she has been engaged with collective strategies and precarious structures.  Modes of practice that can produce and sustain modes of self-organisation. She would be interested to explore and discuss further modes of self-organisation that rethink current cultural and educational structures and bear the potential to produce new alternatives.

Grace Gurbutt would like to bring a young person’s perspective to the conference. She is still at school, but participates in activities at the Social Science Centre in Lincoln.

Jane Quin would be happy to do participatory workshop around feminism or teacher education/development – or simply share with others about feminism or education generally, and teacher development in particular, about ways of working with and for critical social justice education in and outside of formal institutions. She brings decades of experience of basically Freirean pedagogy from non-formal and informal work in radical organisation, adult education and teacher development programmes. Her work is about contextually appropriate ways of teaching for social justice. [P.S. Happily, the ‘facilitating sessions methodology’ for FUN is pretty much described my historical approach going back about 30 years to work beginning with literacy groups in South Africa about 30 years ago : )’.]

Joel Lazarus will talk about the Political Economic Literacy Project and attempts to re-establish Oxford’s Plebs’ League.

Joyce Canaan will share about the kind of changes in thinking that have been going on in the 8 months that Birmingham Free University has been created. She would like to highlight the shift in moving away from considering the public university as our model for praxis and towards creating an educational process that aims to facilitate a greater understanding of the world we live in, of the powerful constraints we face and therefore of how we could most effectively build a critical understanding of and activism to combat the current order of things. Joyce, who is currently no longer a paid academic, finally has the privilege to be a praxis-oriented intellectual. She was a Professor of Sociology at Birmingham City University and now a collaborator with Birmingham Free University. She is also a member of the Midlands Critical Pedagogy Collective. She continues to research the attack on the public university and the ways that critical education can contribute to the creation of evolutionary alternatives to the public university in and against the wider capitalist system.

Kevin Molin is currently researching for a PhD at the Centre for Cultural Studies in Goldsmiths, focused on an aberrant taxonomical and historiographical study of ‘school’ as an institution in its multiple formations and experimentations.

Laurence Davis will discuss his experiences as a co-creator of and active contributor to  three alternative education projects – the UK Anarchist Studies Network; the  Contemporary Anarchist Studies book series published by Bloomsbury Press; and  the M.A. in Community Education, Equality, and Social Activism at the National  University of Ireland, Maynooth. He will focus in particular on the challenges  involved in working within hierarchical and market-oriented institutional  frameworks. He will also attempt to situate this analysis in the wider historical  context of activist scholarship in the university from the Middle Ages to the  present day.

Maria Vlachou is currently doing her PhD, which is on the neoliberalizaton of the contemporary univeristy. She would be interested in discussing how and to what extent the neoliberal biopower penetrates not only the institutional parameters of higher education, but also the subjectivities produced in it. She is interested in discussing questions such as: how is the neoliberal capitalist university shaped in pedagogical terms; what are the pedagogical tools used? What is the danger of the entrance of neoliberalism onto campuses and what is the significance of critical pedagogy, if any, to the disruption of the neoliberal effect? How has the temporality of teaching and academic work in general changed in order to follow the speed of neoliberalism? Which subjectivities are produced in a neoliberal university and what is the role of pedagogy in the production of different subjectivities? Can we also build alternative universities within the neoliberal university? Given the increasing globalization of higher education, she would be very much interested in exploring the possibilities of incoporating international students in alternative universities.

Mike Neary would like to share with others my experience of setting up and sustaining the Social Science Centre, Lincoln.

Paolo Plotegher and Bianca Elzenbaumer are part of a group of people who are planning to set up a free school in New Cross in 2013. For thoughts and ideas gathered so far, see here.

Paul Stewart is a member of the Alternative Art College (AAC). Following an event held in May 2012 (Education As Experiment) the AAC has found itself questioning the autonomous functionality of something that operates as an ‘alternative’. Maybe the main question we would want to discuss is how  important is the spontaneous eruption of these spaces in reflection to their constant eradication or death; the positives to a time limit.

Sarah Amsler is a member of the Social Science Centre, Lincoln and currently riding a steep learning curve about how to create and theorise work in popular higher education. She is interested in learning how to create sustainable material, social, intellectual and emotional environments in which transformative knowledge can be produced, and in developing pedagogies which facilitate this, particularly in pluralistic and divided contexts. She is also interested in exploring the politics of such work in the present historical moment.

Sara Nawaz is an MPhil student involved in the Political Economic Literacy project at Oxford, and very interested in working in critical pedagogy and alternative, emancipatory education. In particular, she is interested in alternative health and nutrition education; she did her summer fieldwork on food autonomy projects in the north of the Cauca in Colombia.

Spyros Themelis would be interested in taking part in discussions around the political of the Occupy movement and the protest movement, as well as about the alternatives to the commodified university. He can bring in a perspective from an ongoing project with Joyce Canaan on the protest movement in Greece and the UK.

Stevphen Shukaitis has been involved in autonomous media production (with Autonomedia and Minor Compositions, as well as Indymedia and WBAI in NYC) for 10 years, and has organized a number of popular education classes and gatherings around radical theory. He’d be happy to facilitate a discussion, make a presentation or be involved in a discussion as is desired. He’d also be happy to help run the childcare space if there is one.

The University for Strategic Optimism is a nomadic ‘university’ with a transitory campus, based on the principle of free and open education, a return of politics to the public, and the politicisation of public space. To date, the UfSO has operated as a framework for the collective production of political activity, as a space for study, discussion and collective writing as well as delivering a course of performative ‘lecture’ interventions in public spaces ranging from police kettles to supermarkets. Its shifting site of study has drifted from riots to newspapers, from occupations to art galleries, video to audio, academic journals to détourned adverts, from banks to tube trains. In recent times the UfSO’s activity has ebbed somewhat. Various faculty members would like to take this moment of discussion with other Free University Initiatives as an opportunity for collective reflection on their activities so as to better understand the position in which they find themselves, to think through the problems they encountered and the successes, if any, they achieved. Attending: Dr. Sofia Himmelblau, Prof. Marcus Karlsberg, Prof. Grave Riddle, Prof. Elmo Hackett and Prof. Jimbeau Pickett

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