People's Political Economy (PPE) was set up by four Oxford-based academics/activists in Summer 2012. Our personal experiences of being involved with the Tent City University at Occupy London, of studying and teaching at Oxford University, and of living in Oxford, have shaped our collective vision for our project. We founded PPE in an attempt to create and build a community education project here in Oxford that would bring people together in democratic spaces to learn about and respond to the current crisis.
In our pilot project last Autumn, we successfully set up and ran learning groups in four different community organisations. This gave us the belief that we could practically make this work. Since then, with our expanded Organising Committee, we have delved deeper into questions of method. Put simply, we have been trying to find out how to equip our learning group 'facilitators' with the techniques and tools to try to help groups of people who are often cynical about 'politics' and 'economics' as they conceive them and feel very disempowered begin to transform themselves into individuals and groups who recognise the crucial importance of understanding our position in society and history and believe in their individual and collective ability to change things for the better.
The method we are utilising at present is called the Psycho-Social Method, developed by Sally Timmel and Ann Hope in the 1980s and 1990s in a series of books called Training for Transformation. Timmel and Hope sought to really operationalise the ideas of Paolo Freire and we believe their method is very useful for us in our work in Oxford today. Praxis is at the heart of this method – a continuous feedback loop between thought (reflection) and action. What action our collective reflections lead to is down to the specific group, of course. This focus on action was not really there in the pilot phase last year, so we will report back as to what kinds of actions emerge from our learning groups this time round.
We feel that our strategy of creating strong links with partner community organisations is still the best way of trying to actually attract participants to our groups and get people into a room to begin to talk, listen, teach and learn. However, we would love to learn from others about other ways of effective community organisation, particularly in the field of education and political economy education.
This contribution has been commissioned for an editorial partnership between openDemocracy and Participation Now, a project that aims to support exploration, innovation and debate about contemporary forms of participatory public engagement. Participation Now is an Open University project supported by OpenLearn, the Creating Publics project in the Centre for Citizenship, Identities and Governance, and the RCUK-funded Public Engagement with Research Catalyst project. Explore the initiatives here.