ALTERNATIVE TO WHAT? ALTERNATIVE HOW? A STUDY OF MULTI-PUBLIC EDUCATIONAL AND CULTURAL SPACES IN ENGLAND SINCE THE LATE NINETEENTH CENTURY
This PhD is dedicated to the study of the foundational years of three organisations started in East London - Toynbee Hall (1884-present), Centerprise (1971-2012), and Open School East (2013-present) - which have combined the trinal functions of school, community centre, and cultural space. Multi-vision, multi-purpose, and multi-public, these organisations deemed themselves alternative, whether through their pedagogical, cultural, and social engagement and practice; their governance model; and/or their conceptualisation and use of architectural space. Core to their mission were their democratic ideals of togetherness and of equality of access to education and culture, along with a preoccupation with developing participants' agency, rebalancing power relations, and making the experience of education non-alienating and emancipatory.
This study is dedicated to questioning how these spaces understood and situated themselves as alternatives and how they enacted their alternativeness. Moving within and beyond the case studies, it examines the qualities, values, and prerequisites of what I have proposed to name 'multi-public educational and cultural organisations'. By the same means, it scrutinises the hurdles associated with the effort to remain alternative with the passing of time and that which comes with it: processes of habituation; temptation or pressure to scale up; ethos-bending fundraising exercises; long tenure; as well as the plain desire for stability and sustainability.
Drawing on literature from the fields of education, geography, architecture, art theory, and critical and utopian studies, and on empirical and situated research including interviews, the thesis works to assemble genealogies, trans-geographical connections, and narratives of entanglement between education, culture, community, and space, before exploring possible approaches to elude the fate of alternatives morphing into what they originally stood against.