MA for campaigners and radical educators at Maynooth University

Legendary activist Selma James speaking at Maynooth (March 13th 2013) during an event co-organised by CEESA.

The MA CEESA at Maynooth University is a path-breaking interdisciplinary course for practitioners in social movements and popular education: participants spend a year in a small-group environment working with participants in a wide range of other movements and projects. In this way they learn from each other’s experience and gain the perspective, capabilities and flexibility needed for a rapidly-changing field. One student commented “The mix of people in the class was electric and we all learned so much from each other.”

This course brings together students who want to learn how to make equality and social justice into realities and more experienced activists in community education and social movements looking for space to critically reflect on their own work, with a team of staff who are experienced teachers and researchers, community educators and social movement practitioners. Participants spend two 12-week terms in courses using a variety of pedagogies to explore issues of activist practice, power, social justice, feminism and masculinities, radical education, research methods and a range of electives, before carrying out a piece of participatory research geared towards improving their own practice and in a format relevant to other practitioners. The course is delivered by a committed team who are all experienced community educators or movement activists as well as academics; we regularly bring in other practitioners and researchers for talks and workshops. A field trip programme introduces the year and we make a point of engaging with movements and projects throughout the year, on campus, in Dublin and further afield depending on the campaigns of the day. As another student wrote, “It is fun and challenging, constantly changing”.

Adult and Community Education in Maynooth has long been a pioneer in popular and radical education both within Ireland and internationally, including the Popular Education Network, and research projects such as lifelong learning in Palestine (TEMPUS) and transformative community education in Malawi and Zambia (Irish Aid/HEA). The department is committed to taking actions and supporting actions that materially change the conditions in which people live, especially those who are disadvantaged and on the margins. It emphasises the importance of making organisations and systems more democratic, fair and socially cohesive.

Sociology in Maynooth is now one of Europe’s leading centres of social movements research: home of the international open-access journal Interface, the social-movements mailing list and the Council for European Studies’ social movements network, the department has several staff members and a research cluster in the area, a large number of PhD students as well as the MA, a decade-long programme of workshops, seminars and conferences in the field, and has attracted over half a million euro in research funding (most recently, a Marie Curie award to study comparative protests against austerity in Ireland and Spain). Students’ record of engagement has been such that solidarity activist Majella McCarron donated Ken Saro-Wiwa’s final letters before his execution by the military regime (to be published later this year). See our blog at http://ceesa-ma.blogspot.com for more.

Alongside the journal Interface, course staff have published books such as Understanding European movements: new social movements, global justice struggles, anti-austerity protest; Adult Learning in Groups; Feminist identity development and activism in revolutionary movements; Northern Ireland after the Troubles: a society in transition; Student Voices on Inequalities in European Higher Education: Challenges for Policy and Practice in a Time of Change; Marxism and social movements; Ireland’s new religious movements; New Managerialism in Education: commercialism, carelessness and gender, and as well as many journal articles, conference papers, public talks etc.

The course attracts a very diverse body of participants with varying levels of experience, including a George Mitchell scholar, a participant in Tahrir Square, key environmental and feminist campaigners, long-standing community organisers and trade unionists, development workers and refugees from dictatorship, GLBTQ and disability rights workers, anti-austerity and anti-war activists, NGO organisers, popular educators and grassroots participants in a wide range of other struggles for equality. Students find work as researchers, policy workers, campaign coordinators or educators within community, social movement or civil society groups or are already working in these fields and take the year to reflect on their practice and long-term strategies. Others, in a dramatically changed political and economic landscape, are more concerned to create new organisations which are directly sustainable as mass membership campaigning bodies.

Maynooth is Ireland’s only university town, an easy trip (15 miles) from Dublin and well-served by public transport. It is a small campus in a rural setting, with architecture ranging from the Middle Ages and nineteenth century to a new library opened this year. Rated by the Times Higher Education as one of the world’s top 100 universities under 50 years old, Maynooth University’s strategic plan highlights its commitment to international students and to public engagement, making it a congenial place to study and one which our international participants have consistently appreciated.

MA CEESA applications have officially closed for 2013-14 but late applications can still be considered. To quote a student: “for those like ourselves who are serious and committed about what we do, there is no time like the present to do this course. I already feel the knowledge I gained and more importantly the network of people I have met will be vital to any campaign or project I will be involved with in the future”.

Authors
Dr Laurence Cox, Dr Bernie Grummell
Programme website:
https://www.maynoothuniversity.ie/sociology