The 2019 Edition of “collaborative learning”

In a second phase of the project, namely in the Spring semester 2019, Anne Clément-Vollenbroich offered two courses at the University of Bern which covered the core topics that inform the broader idea of the “Collaborative Learning in Anthropology” project: a BA seminar entitled “Alternative Education in the contemporary Arab World” and an MA seminar entitled “Emancipation, Freedom, and Agency in the contemporary Middle East.”

While the readings invited the students to pay special attention to the contested ideological and academic contexts in which the notions emancipation, freedom, and agency have been deployed, both of these courses also proposed to open up spaces for the implementation of and experimentation with emancipatory and alternative pedagogies. In this sense, the course inscribes itself within the “Engaged Connected Practice” co-lab of the Taking the Humanities on the Road (THoR) initiative.

More specifically, the first course aimed at exploring, how pedagogues, educators, and activists in the Middle East – such as Amin Mursi Qandil, Khalil al-Sakakini (1878-1953), Hamid ‘Ammar (1921-2014), or Munir Fasheh (born in 1941), to name a few – have evolved over the past century in colonial/neo-colonial and repressive socio-political environments. The students were invited to explore how these pedagogues have translated, engaged with, re-appropriated, and/or critiqued the various educational models emanating from the “West,” and how they have turned alternative education (i.e. both emancipatory theories and practices developed in other parts of the world and recovered indigenous forms of learning and knowledge) into a tool of resistance and liberation.

The second course focused on exploring contemporary local meanings, contestations, and re-appropriations of notions such as “freedom” (حرّية), “emancipation”( انعتاقor تحرّر) and “agency” (فعالية), to better understand their relationships, and to assess their current analytical value and limitations. For instance, these terms have witnessed renewed interest in both journalistic and academic circles since 2011 and the wave of revolts and revolutions that spread throughout the MENA region. In most cases, however, the concepts remain unproblematized and very vaguely defined. This unease around the notion stems both from actual theoretical difficulties and the fear that the emancipatory project be inherently not only a modernist but also an imperialist one. The course work thus included the analysis of foundational theoretical texts, ethnographic case-studies, and literary essays focusing on the following aspects:

  • Political emancipation: emancipation and revolution?
  • Social and economic emancipation: emancipation and/through work? – cooperatives & collectives Intellectual emancipation: emancipation and/through knowledge?
  • Psychological emancipation: emancipation, individuation, and subjectivation
  • Women’s “liberation”: emancipation and gender
  • Aesthetic emancipation: art, taste, and creativity – emancipated spectator & free artist
  • Emancipation through imagination: the “spirit of Tahrir,” utopia, and prefigurative politics

Throughout the semester, the students also had the opportunity to engage in conversations with local scholars and activists who were invited to contribute as guest speakers. In this framework the students could benefit from the many inputs brought by Farida Makar, Eman A. Maarek, Nariman Moustafa and Hussein El-Hajj – all of them activists, community organizers and researchers in their own right.

On October 24th 2019, at the occasion of the “Lange Nacht der Bildung», participants from both the 2018 and 2019 edition of “Collaborative Learning” organized a workshop entitled “Alternative Education. From Egypt to Switzerland – discovering, exchanging, building solidarities”. At this event, the group shared their experiences as participants of these projects and facilitated a number of interactive discussions about alternative education and decolonial methods, forms of exchange free of hierarchy, strategies of unlearning and the possibilities of collaborations.

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