The conference will be organised around a process that takes us from historical analysis through dialogue and into practice. We will facilitate this process by using and adapting an approach developed by Urban Land Committees in Venezuela, and invite anyone who is interested in learning about or contributing to this project to get in touch to participate.
Step one: history An intrinsic element of building sustainability today must surely be to learn from the history of previous projects of popular, democratic and radical education here in the UK, and beyond. Therefore, we invite representatives of each free university to conduct and present research into the history of these traditions in their specific locality, drawing on their own particular influences. Researchers should keep in mind the practical purpose driving this research and consider issues such as: Who participated in these efforts? How were they structured, organised, and sustained? What was the significance of their historical and spatial context? What lessons can be derived from these efforts for our own endeavours today?
We hope that this shared research effort will allow us to both map out a history of popular/democratic/radical higher education in the UK, and to identify ways these can inform our own current projects. Ultimately, this collaborative research endeavour could also help us trace the roots of our network.
Step two: dialogue The next step is to engage in dialogue with one another, and with our histories. We need to both imagine our ideals and talk freely and openly about the challenges and obstacles that impede our ambitions and objectives today. We need to name the material, social and subjective conditions that constrain the actualisation of our imagination and hopes. At the conference, we aim to draw on our collective experiences in democratic education to create a supportive, democratic space in which participants feel able to share their thoughts, feelings, and ideas in these areas.
Step three: practice Finally, we need to take the lessons and ideas derived from our historical research and dialogue and put them into practice. The conference will culminate in a session in which we all make plans for practical action to take things forward on a local and national level.