What makes an alternative space? A conceptual, organisational and physical exploration of alternative learning, social and arts centres in the UK, 1884-2022.
The alternative space that constitutes the object of my study is a building-based, locally-rooted, democratic and emancipatory cultural, educational and social centre in which different forms of learning, sociabilities, publics and uses cohabit. In a nutshell, what I name an alternative space combines the functions of a neighbourhood centre, a school and an arts centre, and places the interdependence of education, art and social work centrestage. This space might consider itself alternative for the pedagogical, artistic and programmatic methods it uses; for the ways in which it engages and hosts publics; for its involvement with social welfare and local politics against the status quo; for its governance and funding models; for it self-scrutinizing and adaptable nature; or for its conception or use of architectural space.
My research revolves around four case studies belonging to four discrete periods and/or movements:
- The late 19th century University Settlements (Toynbee Hall, London, 1884-present);
- 1920s socialist utopias (Dartington Hall, South Devon, 1925-present);
- The 1970 to 1990 community arts movement (Centerprise, London, 1971-2012);
- Present-day experiments in arts education and community learning (Open School East, Margate, 2013-present).
Exploring the conceptual, organisational and physical attributes that make learning, arts and social centres alternative, my research endeavours to answer the following questions: What spatial and pedagogical forms do alternatives assume? What constitutes relevant governance, financial and business models for such spaces? What does it take to remain alternative as internal and external circumstances change? And how do alternative spaces relate to the broader, society-wide production of political, economic and social alternatives?
The topics and fields of enquiry relevant to my research further include the social reform movement, the cooperative movement, the welfare state, the politics of social exclusion and inclusion, the adult education movement, the educational turn, community arts practice, participatory art, utopian studies, and feminist and intersectional studies.