Consuming Education; BERA Panel on Challenges, Threats & Opportunities across the Post-compulsory Sectors

On the 8th of November 2018, the British Educational Research Association (BERA) held a conference at Liverpool John Moores University on the theme of ‘Transitions: Challenges, Threats & Opportunities across the Post-compulsory Sectors‘.  I (Alex Dunedin) was lucky enough to be invited to both take part in a panel discussion on the themes and to submit a paper. 

British Educational Research Association

Here you can listen to the panel discussion responding to the questions posed by the floor.  The panel was made up of Joel Petrie, Association for Research in Post-compulsory Education (ARPCE); Colette Mawdsley, Hugh Baird College; Paul Reynolds, Edge Hill University; Alex Dunedin, The Ragged University; and Sarah Amsler, Nottingham University; and was chaired by Dr Craig Hammond.



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Below you can read my contribution and response to the provocation which we were given introduce ourselves, our sector and the issues which we have to confront in relation to that sector.  I introduce myself at 14 minutes 23 seconds as being totally skint – which I am.  This is the position I am talking from in relation to education.


We live in a society which sees me through lenses of money, and I have no money; therefore it doesn’t really see me. So I started trying to provide the answers I needed to survive – psychologically, emotionally, and physically in Ragged University.  As a response to where do I start listing the problems, let’s look at our society; and I have written an answer – that is how I am attacking the problems; with answers…


Hannah Arendt
Hannah Arendt

“Arendt emphasizes the changes to society and culture that increasingly structure our experience of the world, ourselves, and each other.  Arendt shows that a fundamental propensity of the human being is to long for a place in the world and to seek to create one through political action.


The public is not an abstract category but a very fundamental component of human life.  She shows that consuemrism offers only a false promis of a place in the world, delivering alienation and what Aristotle calls the ‘loss of polity’, leaving us ‘either a beast or a god’. “


Norris, T. (2014). ‘Hannah Arendt: Consuming the Polis’ in ‘Consuming Schools; Commercialism and the End of Politics’, Toronto: University of Toronto Press.


Umberto Eco describes one of the four elementary phenomena of advanced cultures in “kinship relations as the primary nucleus of institutionalised social relations”.  I read this as sitting at the origin and centre, the organising principle of our institutions are the relationships as described by our behaviours of, and with, our kinsfolk; chosen and inherited.


[Umberto Eco, (1978), ‘A Theory of Semiotics’, John Wiley & Sons, ISBN: 0253202175, pp. 15]


So when someone asks me what i think of education, this is what is resident in my mind and in my heart, as it is something which is felt and about feeling as much as thinking.  Education is about what makes a home and as such, it is not just about a house – the bricks and mortar which shield us from the elements, the land which provides us sustenance – it is about the collective soul which animates us; society and what comes through companionship.


When someone speaks to me of buying or selling these precious things, these incalculable wealths and abundances, I know they have not got it; I know they dont know what they are doing.  Why would I enter into such a mercenary relation with all that I hold dear ? Why would I pollute and ransack a garden which provides me with succour, prosperity and delight ?


Immanuel Kant warned us of entering into such instrumental arrangements when writing about what constitutes ethical relations.  We have forgotten that money is simply a promissory note; a covenant agreed between two people – it is merely a token of trust and honour in arrangement.  These things neither would I put to finance to abstract and extract from my relations.


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I am neither a consumer nor to be consumed by such an empty, non-reciprocal culture which externalises the responsibilty I have to my companions, my society, my environment.  The true wealth is to be found in that responsibility – the abilities I develop to respond to the world and circumstances which I am a part of; the wellspring from which consciousness arises.


By consuming the world, we diminish our selfs, we engage in an act of cannibalism, we diminish each other.


Greed by Brittany Jackson
Greed by Brittany Jackson:


Instead, I have chosen to build, to be a part of education unconditional, ripe and sweet; everyone is a university, a unique and distinct body of knowledge, accredited by their life experience and with a membership of one.


“Education is the point at which we decide whether we love the world enough to assume responsibility for it and by the same token save it from that ruin which, except for renewal, except for the coming of the new and young, would be inevitable.”


Hannah Arendt (Arendt, H. (2006). Between past and future: Eight exercises in political thought. New York, NY: Penguins Books)



With Thanks…

It would not have been possible for me without BERA – in particular, the people who are involved in the organisation recognising that there is a valuable contribution to be made from people who have no formal qualifications, that knowledge and thinking are alive beyond the bounds of formal education, and that there is a need to provision some resources so that they can participate.


Kindly, they provided a bursary for me to attend, contribute and participate.  So my thanks extend to Dr Craig Hammond, Zita Dargužytė and all the people in BERA who made this possible.  It was a fascinating event and a valuable learning opportunity through meeting people who are dedicated to understanding education and making it better.


This kind of intellectually open perspective is important for our world which is becoming increasingly professionalised in ways which are not permeable or porous to what lies beyond those professional boundaries.  The boundaries are defined by finance in that people are paid to do the work but in many circumstances it is not finance which makes the thinker or the person who acts.


Existing and working in the informal world of community education and cultural production, it is valuable to hear and be a part of the conversations as it allows me to see the struggles which are going on inside Further Education and Higher Education, often with the same financiers who are dictating the rules of engagement for realms outside as well.