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7 - The importance of community-based learning

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 April 2023

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Summary

This chapter starts by examining definitions of community-based learning, focusing on the theoretical case for popular education, building proactive support for alternative futures from the bottom up and working towards shared agendas for solidarity and social justice. Community-based learning can enable communities to develop shared understandings of the underlying causes of their problems. This can provide the basis for developing strategies for collaborating across differences and divisions, tackling discriminatory attitudes and behaviours rather than blaming ‘the other’, building democratic alliances and movements for social change, and responding to climatechange challenges.

Such understandings have particular relevance in the current context, with increasing pressures from austerity policies along with divisive messages from Far Right populists, exacerbated by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. These pressures have been having the most severe impact on those who have been among the most disadvantaged already, particularly people from Black and minority ethnic communities, exacerbating tensions and prejudices, and posing major challenges for the future. Community-based learning can contribute to the development of more hopeful alternatives, it will be suggested in this chapter, without in any way implying that deep-rooted inequalities can be resolved by communities on their own, without wider structural changes. This is absolutely not about promoting ‘resilience’ as a backward-looking strategy for communities to turn inwards, as they attempt to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps – rather the reverse. This is about enabling communities to support each other inclusively rather than exclusively, as part of wider strategies for social justice.

Having outlined the potential contributions of community-based learning approaches as well as recognising their inherent limitations, the chapter moves on to explore these approaches in practice. How can the approaches be provided and resourced in disadvantaged areas in partnership with local communities, rather than being parachuted in from the outside? How can civil society organisations and public services work together without the former becoming substitutes for the underfunding of the latter? How can they manage the power imbalances within such partnerships? And what might local organisations learn about ways of addressing issues with wider ramifications, beyond the local?

Recent research has been exploring a range of initiatives that engage with these questions via informal as well as more formal approaches to community-based learning.

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Tomorrow's Communities
Lessons for Community-Based Transformation in the Age of Global Crises
, pp. 111 - 126
Publisher: Bristol University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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