Article: “Learning in social action: The informal and social learning dimensions of circumstantial and lifelong activists”

It’s by someone called Tracey Ollis

Australian Journal of Adult Learning Volume 51, Number 2, July 2011

here is a link to the pdf

Here’s the abstract

This paper explores the informal and social learning dimensions of activists as they learn skills and knowledge through participating in social action. In doing this I draw on Lave and Wenger’s epistemology of situated learning and Bourdieu’s theory of ‘habitus’.
I argue activists learn an array of community development skills in the social environment of activism. I claim activists’ learning is cognitive, embodied and situated in practice. This paper is based on empirical research in Australia, where in-depth interviews were conducted with activists to uncover their important pedagogy. It explores the learning dimensions of two groups of activists. ‘Lifelong activists’ who have generally been involved in student politics and have participated in activism over many years, and ‘circumstantial activists’ who become involved in protest due to a series of life circumstances. This paper claims that while both groups’ learning is social and informal, lifelong activists tend to develop their skills incrementally by being involved in the fertile site of student politics.
On the other hand, circumstantial activists, not having had the benefit of early immersion in a community of practice, are rapid learners. They are frequently taken out of their comfort zone as activists and need to acquire new knowledge and skills urgently in order to practise effectively. Some circumstantial activists remain on the periphery of activism and never fully immerse themselves in the practices of activism. I argue there is much to be gained from understanding learning in social action, an epistemology of adult learning which deserves greater prominence in current adult education discourse.

and here’s a bit from near the end –

Circumstantial activists do not always identify themselves as activists and they do not tend to identify as members of social movements, although they may have other identificatory expressions of why they are involved in protest. For example, some identify as a concerned parent or a concerned resident. As Terry Hicks states, ‘I’m just an ordinary bloke … I’m not an activist, [I’m] a concerned parent’. Grace finds the practices of so called radical activists disconcerting. She does not identify with the term activist and claims she feels quite uncomfortable with it, feeling there is ‘a radical connotation to it’. John identifies as an environmental activist but not a ‘greenie’.

Whilst some circumstantial activists participate in social movements, it is piecemeal and not always ongoing. For some activists, the identificatory dispositions of the group are alienating to them and thwart their full immersion in the movement. They remain on the periphery of the practice and never fully become engaged in social movements. If learning is a process of becoming, then social movements need to be more inclusive to these newcomers to protest, especially if they want to engage new movement members an potentially create larger and stronger social movements.

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