Chapter 1. Introduction: Qu'y puis-je ?

Chapter 2. Research context: Locating this study in the existing literature

Chapter 3. Methodology

Chapter 4. Learning from our failures: Lessons from FairCoop

Chapter 5. Different ways of being and relating: The Deep Adaptation Forum

Chapter 6. Towards new mistakes

Chapter 7. Conclusion


Annex 3.1 Participant Information Sheets

Annex 3.2 FairCoop Research Process

Annex 3.3 Using the Wenger-Trayner Evaluation Framework in DAF

Annex 4.1 A brief timeline of FairCoop

Annex 5.1 DAF Effect Data Indicators

Annex 5.2 DAF Value-Creation Stories

Annex 5.3 Case Study: The DAF Diversity and Decolonising Circle

Annex 5.4 Participants’ aspirations in DAF social learning spaces

Annex 5.5 Case Study: The DAF Research Team

Annex 5.6 RT Research Stream: Framing And Reframing Our Aspirations And Uncertainties


Informal learning and social learning evaluation

In this research, following insights from situated learning theory (Lave and Wenger, 1991), I have focused on learning as more than an individual act of cognition, but also as "a process that takes place through social action in particular contexts" (Duguid, Mündel and Schugurensky, 2013, p. 24). The learning processes I investigated took place outside formal or non-formal education settings4, which have "a set curriculum whose attainment can be identified and evaluated" (ibid, p.25). Such processes have been studied within the field of informal learning.

Hager (2012) shows that early theories of informal learning were largely focused on psychological changes within individuals viewed as rational beings, and studied in workplace settings. Later, from the 1990s, socio-cultural theories of informal learning, shaped by sociology and social anthropology, rejected many of these assumptions. These theories bring considerably more attention to social dimensions of learning, as they conceptualise learning as an ongoing process of participation in social practices and activities. They emphasise learning as an embodied process that integrates more human attributes than just rationality; and view contextual factors (be they social, organisational, cultural, or otherwise) as a key causal background for the learning. From this standpoint, learning is a central feature of human existence.5

The theoretical background of this thesis is particularly informed by one of these theories: the social learning theory that originated in the seminal work on situated learning by Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger (1991), and which was later developed by Etienne and Beverly Wenger-Trayner (Wenger, 1998; Wenger-Trayner et al., 2015; Wenger-Trayner and Wenger-Trayner, 2020). In Chapter 3, I will return to this theory and its main components, and explain why I found it useful to my research.

Considering my interest in processes of informal and social learning that may be relevant to the issue of radical collective change, especially within social movement organisations and online communities, I will review how such processes have been assessed and evaluated.

First of all, it is important to note, following Duguid, Mündel and Schugurensky (2013), that "informal learning from experience is seldom given the same prestige as learning that is acquired (and accredited) through either formal or non-formal systems," and that "informal learning has been under-theorized and under-researched, largely because it is more difficult to uncover and analyse than formal or non-formal educational activities that have a set curriculum and objectives whose attainment can be identified and evaluated" (p.25).

One reason for this difficulty is that, according to Schugurensky (2000, 2013), a variety of processes can be categorised as informal learning – including self-directed learning (intentional and conscious), incidental learning (unintentional but conscious), and socialisation or tacit learning (unintentional and unconscious); and in their literature review on the subject, Duguid and colleagues (2013) point out that “most informal learning tends to be tacit” (p.26), and thus, unconscious. It is therefore particularly challenging to study.

Besides, Jeong and colleagues (2018) argue that there is a lack of methodologies that are able to assess the broad scope of activities and the multi-dimensional nature that characterise informal learning, which occurs in individual, interpersonal, or collaborative contexts. This makes the Wenger-Trayner social learning evaluation framework (Chapter 3), particularly interesting, as a sophisticated instrument to assess learning processes within communities of practice and social learning spaces.

Finally, while informal learning – especially at the group level, which is my focus here – has frequently been studied and theorised within the context of the workplace (Eraut, 2004; Lohman, 2006; Marsick, 2009; McNally, Blake and Reid, 2009; Thompson, 2010; e.g. Choi and Jacobs, 2011; Schürmann and Beausaert, 2016; Jeong et al., 2018), comparatively fewer studies have taken as their object small groups dedicated to creating social change, especially online.

I will present an overview of studies investigating processes of informal learning, or social learning – following the tradition of situated learning – within two main contexts:

  • 1. online activities of social movement organisations; and
  • 2. prefigurative online communities.
1.1 Online activities of social movement organisations

David Snow and colleagues define social movements as “collectivities acting with some degree of organization, and continuity outside of institutional or organizational channels for the purpose of challenging or defending extant authority, whether it is institutionally or culturally based, in the group, organization, society, culture or world order of which they are a part.” (2018, p. 10)

A social movement organisation (SMO), following McCarthy and Zald’s classic definition, is “a complex, or formal organization which identifies its preferences with a social movement, or a counter‐movement and attempts to implement those goals” (1977, p. 1218). According to Zald and Ash (1966), SMOs “differ from ‘full-blown’ bureaucratic organizations… they have goals aimed at changing the society and its members; they wish to restructure society or individuals, not to provide it or them with a regular service” (p.329).

The first of my case studies examines the informal learning that took place within the online spaces established by an SMO – FairCoop (Chapter 4). What similar studies have been carried out in the past?

According to Kluttz, Walker and Walter (2020), “the learning aspects associated with belonging to, and learning from, social movements have historically been underexplored” (p.50). Discussions on adult learning processes within social movements began in the late 1980s, with authors considering the potential of “New” social movements as learning sites (Finger, 1989). Later, in his landmark work Learning in Social Action, Foley (1999) further explored the importance of incidental learning taking place in various social struggles. His work provided insights into the theorising and knowledge production in activist settings, and into the complicated and contradictory nature of these incidental processes. Drawing from Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development theory and Melucci’s new social movement theory, Kilgore (1999) set the foundation for a systematic theory of collective learning, located in the identity formation of activists. And Hall and Clover (2005) provided a useful overview of noteworthy scholarship in the field of social movement learning, within which they include both “learning by persons who are part of any social movement,” and “learning by persons outside of a social movement as a result of the actions taken or simply by the existence of social movements” (p.1). In both settings, the learning may be related to the informal and incidental acquisition of knowledge and organisational skills, or to more intentional educational activities organised by or within the movement itself.

Since then, interest in this field of study - and in particular, attention to informal learning as part of effecting social change - has increased considerably. This has included studies on situated learning taking place among lifelong or circumstantial activists (Ollis, 2011); public pedagogy strategies enacted within social movements (Walter and Earl, 2017); popular and radical adult education (Crowther, Galloway and Martin, 2005; Jesson and Newman, 2020); or the reflexivity of activists who compare and adapt their practices in encounters with other activists (Choudry, 2015; Earl, 2018). A useful framework developed by Scandrett and colleagues (2010) conceptualises informal learning processes potentially taking place at the micro, meso, and macro levels within social movements – from individual-interactive learning (micro) to reframing or reorientation within groups (meso), and cultural-ideological change (macro) (Kluttz and Walter, 2018). And Rogers and Haggerty (2013) have analysed multiple ways in which collective action within a Mexican social movement produced collective learning both within the movement, and in connection with other movements.

ICT, and social networks in particular, have come to play a fundamental role within social movements and SMOs (Murthy, 2018). However, very few studies consider the extent to which socio-technical networks enable learning processes to take place within or among SMOs.

For instance, Fotopoulou (2017), in her study of feminist activism taking place on digital networks, examines the “embodied, material practices of knowledge production, mutual learning and self-experimentation with digital media and smart technologies” (p.26) that take place in feminist activist networks, for example on topics such as reproductive technologies. Although she mentions mutual learning taking place within online communities of practice (p.112-3), learning processes are not explored in depth. Similarly, Irving and English (2011) study the role of feminist websites in promoting community-based learning through information dissemination, but do not consider social learning processes within the organisations running these websites. As for Schroeder and colleagues (2020), or Mercea and Yilmaz (2018), they study the extent to which transformative or social learning may take place among social movement participants active on Facebook or Twitter, but their studies do not involve any specific SMOs.

The only studies I have found that explicitly investigates informal or social learning enabled by ICTs or social media within SMOs were carried out by Crowther et al. (2008), and Hemmi and Crowther (2013). The former provides insights into the cognitive learning that occurred through ICTs for SMO participants, and the latter discusses processes of learning around the notion of activist identity. Neither of these articles investigate other dimensions of informal or social learning, such as relational dimensions.

Therefore, this thesis aims to fill this gap in knowledge with regards to the role of ICT-enabled informal social learning within SMOs.

1.2 Prefigurative online communities

The two social entities considered in this study (FairCoop and the Deep Adaptation Forum) both have ties to certain social movements, which I will describe below (Chapters 4 and 5). And both of them rely strongly on ICTs to structure their transnational activities. However, they cannot fully be characterised as SMOs. Rather, I will argue that they can also be viewed as prefigurative online communities.

1.2.1 Prefiguration

According to Miettunen (2015, p.19), “prefigurative groups seek to embody in the political practise itself those forms of social relations, decision-making, culture and human experience that are ultimately desired for the whole society.” In his seminal work on prefiguration, Boggs (1978) presents prefigurative thought as primarily concerned with: opposing hierarchical relations of authority; criticising political organisations that reproduce this hierarchy; and a commitment to democratisation through local, collective structures that anticipate a future, liberated society (Miettunen, 2015, p. 19).

Prefiguration has been featured prominently in contemporary social movement activities and analysis, for example in the alter-globalisation movement (Maeckelbergh, 2011); the Occupy movement (Graeber, 2013; Reinecke, 2018); feminist organising (Siltanen, Klodawsky and Andrew, 2015); or the anti-austerity movement in Spain (Simsa and Totter, 2017). According to Yates (2015, p. 2) prefiguration appears conceptually “embedded in the political orientation common to what have been called ‘new social movements’ and is directly implicated in wider paradigmatic debates in social movement studies about strategy and culture.” For Monticelli (2021), “prefiguration largely aims to challenge and transcend the culture and structures of contemporary capitalism, the capitalist state and representative democracy by embodying a different type of society within the old one” (p.107).

Discussions of prefiguration have also taken place beyond the field of contentious politics (Yates, 2021; Fians, 2022). For instance, Schlosberg and Craven (2019) describe as “prefigurative” the practices of environmental groups promoting more sustainable practices in everyday life – be it through new food systems, community-based renewable energy projects, or even sustainable fashion; Monticelli (2021) refers to ecological villages and intentional communities; and Laamanen and colleagues (Laamanen and den Hond, 2015; Laamanen, Bor and den Hond, 2019) examine through a prefiguration lens the organisational practices of a local time bank. In such cases, the emphasis is placed on the building of alternative activities, projects or institutions, that are experimental and experiential, and which strive to represent distant goals directly (“here and now”) through everyday practices that have longer-term political goals (Franks, 2003; van de Sande, 2015). This will be my perspective in this thesis, as the online groups I have studied are less directly concerned about participation in protest activities and directly confronting dominant power structures than about experimenting with new alternatives.

However, it is important to point out that prefigurative groups have often been criticised precisely for failing to pose a meaningful challenge to dominant institutions. For example, Soborski (2019, p. 81) argues that “some prefigurative movements end up celebrating themselves in an inward and narcissistic fashion rather than trying to have any impact on the world outside activist spaces”; and that while prefiguration may have a “transformative impact” on its participants, it “leaves the rest of the world unchanged.” In a systematic review of critiques, Yates (2021) shows that “detractors have persistently contrasted prefiguration with strategy and effectiveness” (p.1034). According to such critics, prefiguration is either:

  1. “too localised, small-scale and focused on the present, and too easily co-opted by existing actors”; or leads to
  2. “fetishising process, alienating newcomers” and over-emphasising “identity and self-expression” (Yates, 2021, p.1042).

Yates then goes on to address these criticisms. He recommends more attention to how prefiguration can productively inform certain practices and processes of social movement activity, such as the reproduction of resources, the mobilisation of these resources, and the coordination of various activities toward political goals.

Prefigurative politics have been studied within online contexts, mainly in relation to the role of social media in enabling protest events run by SMOs (Castells, 2009; Mercea, 2012). Other examples have focused on libertarian activism on the Dark Web (Maddox et al., 2016), and blockchain projects (Husain, Franklin and Roep, 2020). Online communities of activist software developers producing new forms of ownership, ethics, and aesthetics (Coleman, 2013), as well as free software enabling more democratic communication and the pursuit of social justice (Milberry, 2012), can also be considered prefigurative. However, there is only limited scholarship on prefigurative practices in the context of online communities, and their potential for radical collective change. My research thus aims at addressing this gap in knowledge.

1.2.2 Online communities

According to Townshend, Benoit and Davies (2020), the term “community” refers to “a group of people that have something in common among them” (p.344). These common features – be they relative to a similar ethnicity, religion, kinship, shared interests, or location - may create a sense of belonging due to the interpersonal relationships that stem from them. The authors emphasise that the term carries strong positive connotations: communities tend to be seen as a source of empathy, well-being, as an antidote to isolation, and even as the embodiment of a better life. This can lead to ignoring the potentially coercive nature of communities, for example when group norms are imposed on their members (Thompson, 2011). Therefore, communities shouldn’t be viewed as homogeneous units, “but as inherently pluralistic, conflictive, and inclusive of diverse value systems, interests, and behaviors” (Townshend, Benoit and Davies, 2020, p. 344).

Scholars (Preece and Maloney-Krichmar, 2003; Porter, 2004; Thompson, 2011; Angouri, 2015) have noted the difficulty of defining online communities beyond focusing on the general characteristics of cohesion and belonging mentioned above, as displayed by groups of people communicating via the internet. This difficulty is compounded by how communities manifest themselves in different ways, reflecting changes in socioeconomic and technological environments (Angouri, 2015).

A very broad and consensual definition of online communities could be: “an Internet-connected collective of people who interact over time around a shared purpose, interest or need” (Preece, 2000; Ren, Kraut and Kiesler, 2007; Ågerfalk, Edenius and Hrastinski, 2008). Further, Susan Herring (2004, p. 355), summarising insights from the literature on virtual or online communities, identifies six sets of criteria (or component behaviours) that help distinguish a community from other kinds of online assemblages:

1) active, self-sustained participation; a core of regular participants;

2) shared history, purpose, culture, norms, and values;

3) solidarity, support, reciprocity;

4) criticism, conflict, means of conflict resolution;

5) self-awareness of group as an entity distinct from other groups;

6) emergence of roles, hierarchy, governance, rituals.

These criteria do highlight important characteristics of the interactions I have observed in the online groups within which (and with whom) I carried out this research.

Finally, scholars also point out that some online communities may interact purely online, while others also engage in offline interaction (Andrews, 2002; Ågerfalk, Edenius and Hrastinski, 2008). The communities I examined in both of my case studies were predominantly interacting online, but members occasionally took part in offline activities.

Online communities are often objects of studies focusing on how to design online spaces - with a focus on the technical infrastructure (Komlodi et al., 2007; Hanrahan et al., 2011; à Campo et al., 2019). This seems particularly true of evaluation-focused studies. These studies often use social network analysis to evaluate how these communities function, and how they can be "improved" (e.g. Yang and Chen, 2019). Indicators leading to the "success" of such communities tend to be based on quantifiable metrics (Malinen and Ojala, 2011; Chebil, Chaari and Cerri, 2017). Such methodologies do not form a good fit with the constructivist, participatory approach that I embrace here (Chapter 3).

Fewer studies go beyond technological usability factors, which have to do with software changes, and focus instead on evaluating the sociability – or the social interactions of the members, and the policies that guide them (Preece, 2000) – characterising an online community. An example of such a study is that carried out by Preece, Abras and Maloney-Krishmar (2004). It argues for online community designers making use of a participatory community-centred development model, which involves consulting community members and involving them in the design of the online space from the start. This leads the authors to develop a set of community-centred heuristics for evaluating the success of online health communities. However, while this evaluation involves consulting online community members about the design of the community, the researchers did not invite them to reflect on what they were learning thanks to this community.

Therefore, my research aims at addressing this gap in the field of knowledge and practice of participatory informal and social learning evaluation within online communities.

1.2.3 Communities of practice

In Chapter 5, I mobilise the social learning theory developed by E. and B. Wenger-Trayner (Wenger, 1998; Wenger-Trayner et al., 2015; Wenger-Trayner and Wenger-Trayner, 2020) to investigate social learning processes taking place within communities of practice. As I will discuss in more detail in Chapter 3, this theory is centred on an analysis of learning as the production of social structure, involving dynamic processes of personal participation in social activities such as conversations or reflections, intertwined with the production of artefacts (reification) such as concepts, stories, methods or documents. Over time, these processes create a social history of learning that combines individual and collective aspects, giving rise to communities of practice - that is,

groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn to do it better as they interact regularly (E. Wenger-Trayner and Wenger-Trayner, 2015a, p. 2).

Since it was coined by Lave and Wenger (1991), the concept has been explored and applied in a variety of fields, including academe, business, government, education, health, and the civil sector (Wenger, 2010), and has become “one of the most widely cited and influential conceptions of social learning to date” (Smith, Hayes and Shea, 2017, p. 211). It has also been critiqued in various ways, in particular:

  • for not placing enough emphasis on issues of power and conflict (e.g. Fox, 2000; Barton and Tusting, 2005; Roberts, 2006);
  • for overly relying on the concept of community, perceived as “quaint” or “anachronistic” (Wenger, 2010, p.189) in an era of networks (e.g. Brown and Duguid, 2000; Fox, 2005; Jewson, 2007);
  • for not clarifying the actual relationship between the terms community and practice – with some theorists arguing that the former produces the latter, instead of the other way around (Nicolini, 2012; Angouri, 2015).

These challenges, and others, have led to ongoing clarifications and developments of the theory (Duarte, 2020, p. 13). One that is worth mentioning here, given my focus on community processes happening online, is the invitation to consider networks and communities as complementary processes, instead of as distinct structures (Wenger, 2010; Wenger, Trayner and De Laat, 2011):

Community emphasizes identity and network emphasizes connectivity. The two usually coexist. Certainly communities of practice are networks in the sense that they involve connections among members; but there is also identification with a domain and commitment to a learning partnership, which are not necessarily present in a network. More generally, I find it more productive to think of community and network as combined in the same social structures—but with more or less salience. So the question is not whether a given group is a network or a community, but how the two aspects coexist as structuring processes. (Wenger, 2010, p.189)

Wenger (ibid) goes on to argue that “network and community processes have complementary strengths and weaknesses” with regards to enhancing the learning capability of a group: fostering connectivity and “networking energy” can allow an ossified community to “open its boundaries” and engage in new avenues of social learning; and conversely, through community processes, an overly fragmented network may become endowed with more collective intention and develop learning partnerships. I find this an important insight with regards to considering social learning processes within online communities, and how to steer such processes in order to bring about radical collective change.

Over time, this social learning theory has been increasingly used within the study of online communities of practice, with a particular emphasis on professional and educational settings (e.g. Gray, 2004; Fontainha and Gannon‐Leary, 2008; Vavasseur and MacGregor, 2008; Hara, Shachaf and Stoerger, 2009; Smith, 2011; Booth and Kellogg, 2015; Lejealle, Castellano and Khelladi, 2021). However, I am not aware of any research deploying this theory and framework to consider learning processes within online communities of practice dedicated to social change.

In order to do so within the case study presented in Chapter 5, I rely on the value-creation framework developed by Etienne and Beverly Wenger-Trayner (Wenger-Trayner et al., 2019; Wenger-Trayner and Wenger-Trayner, 2020). This analysis and evaluation methodology allows for a rigorous and fine-grained assessment of the value that participants in communities of practice gain from their participation, which is an under-researched issue (Guldberg et al., 2021). This framework “embodies both a theory of change regarding how social learning can make a difference in the world and a rigorous method for assessing learning in a community” (ibid, p.97).

The value-creation framework has been used previously within various contexts, including a transnational community of practice in autism education (Guldberg et al., 2021), a cross-border learning network (Clarke et al., 2021), communities of sports coaches (Bertram, Culver and Gilbert, 2017; Duarte, 2020; Bowles and O’Dwyer, 2021; Vinson, Huckle and Cale, 2021), sustainable dairy farming (Triste et al., 2018), and an online community for educators (Booth and Kellogg, 2015). My study appears to be the first recorded instance of its use within online communities that are clearly prefigurative.

Decolonial studies
2.1 History and key theoretical components

Finally, in Chapter 6, I present a reflexive account of how my own aspirations unexpectedly evolved with regards to the topic of radical collective change itself, over the course of this research. The chapter allows for a fuller presentation of insights from the first-person inquiry that was an essential complement to the whole research project (as explained in Chapter 3). An important insight for me was the critical usefulness of decolonial perspectives as part of any effort aiming at creating collective change, including through prefigurative online communities. Although such theoretical frameworks did not explicitly shape the doctoral research, they increasingly influenced my process of analysis and write-up. Therefore, I will briefly outline some key theoretical elements from this field that have been most relevant to my reflection.

Postcolonial studies are “a body of thought that critically evaluates colonialism, colonial legacies, and imperialism, frequently with a focus on representations and discourses” (Murray, 2020, p. 315). Scholars such as Frantz Fanon (1961), Edward Said (1979), or Gayatri Spivak (1988) have called for a relinquishment of Eurocentrism in knowledge production, and to open space for the formerly colonised or those beyond the West. In particular, Spivak’s seminal writings have foregrounded an ethical imperative of unlearning one’s privilege. This can be summarised as a commitment, particularly by persons originating from a more privileged background and who intend to engage meaningfully with the struggles of more marginalised (subaltern) people, to actively relinquish one’s self-image as better or fitter (and therefore, uniquely positioned to “save” the other); to question one’s assumptions and deconstruct one’s prejudices (including those of racism, sexism, classism, or ethnocentrism); and to show solidarity including in ways that may go against one’s own material or reputational interests (Andreotti, 2007). These are all themes that have become important to me, given the complexity of pursuing both knowledge production and radical collective change from my position as a white Franco-British scholar.

In the 1990s, researchers from Latin America and beyond – such as Aníbal Quijano, Walter Mignolo, Enrique Dussel, Catherine Walsh, or Edgardo Lander – initiated what is commonly regarded as the decolonial turn, that is “an epistemic critique of the colonial fracture… a critique of the categories of those worldviews that were imposed upon the Americas by colonization” (Ferdinand, 2021, p. 176). This movement can be viewed as the continuation of a series of critiques going back far longer in history (Maldonado-Torres, 2011).

Aníbal Quijano introduced the concept of coloniality to refer to social, political, epistemic, and territorial forms of domination that have remained in the world, as a result of Euro-American colonisation and the patterns of knowledge production and meaning this process brought with it, even after colonialism itself ended as an explicit political order (Quijano, 2007). For decolonial scholars – who have explored dimensions including the coloniality of power (Quijano, 2000), of knowledge (Lander, 2000), of being (Maldonado-Torres, 2010), or of gender (Lugones, 2016) – coloniality is the “other side” of modernity: there can be no modern technological advancements, industrial capitalism, or conspicuous consumption, without coloniality or the hegemonic ordering logic of the colonial matrix of power (Murray, 2020, p. 322). To highlight this mutually constitutive relation, Walter Mignolo (2000) introduced the compound expression modernity/coloniality6.

As a result of these analyses, these scholars have focused on epistemic decolonisation as a critical domain of struggle and transformation of the world, and to further the enterprise of decentring Eurocentric thought by foregrounding non-European perspectives (Escobar, 2014). According to Ramón Grosfoguel (2008), the Cartesian philosophy that emerged from the European Enlightenment era, and which was forcefully imposed through colonisation and genocide, led to an elimination of other knowledge systems (epistemicides). This highlights the fact that knowledge production, such as that which I am attempting through this thesis, is never innocent, natural, or unproblematic, but inherently political. Such an awareness has important implications with regards to the very act of carrying out research, especially considering my wish to enable radical collective change by this means.

In Chapter 6, I will return to decolonial approaches and will highlight some of the main criticisms that have been addressed to them. In what follows, I first need to say more about one particular strand of decolonial research that has influenced my study.

2.2 The Gesturing Towards Decolonial Futures collective

Through my involvement in the Diversity and Decolonising Circle, a self-organised group convened within the Deep Adaptation Forum (Annex 5.3), I have been particularly influenced by the work of the Gesturing Towards Decolonial Futures (GTDF) collective - “a group of researchers, artists, educators, students, and activists involved in research, artistic, and pedagogical experiments in education” (Stein, V. Andreotti, et al., 2020, p. 45). The collective brings together participants from both Global North and Global South contexts, including representatives of several Indigenous collectives.

Their work has been helpful to my reflection in that it openly engages with the possibility that modern-colonial social structures (and the habit-of-being they created) are inherently “beyond reform,” and therefore, that decolonial thinking should be used to consider how to “hospice” these structures as they begin to crumble (ibid, p.51). The GTDF gestures “toward alternative possibilities for knowing, being, and relating” (Stein, V. de O. Andreotti, et al., 2020, p. 1). As a result, they encourage a radical reconsideration of socio-historical legacies, and how these socio-cultural constructs may be reshaped in order for modern humans to live into new stories, and to become healthy elders and good ancestors for all relations (Machado de Oliveira, 2021).

An important theoretical foundation of the work of GTDF is a set of four constitutive denials, which lay at the heart of the story of modernity (GTDF, 2019; Machado de Oliveira, 2021; Suša et al., 2021). These denials stand for “what we need to (be made to) forget in order to believe what modernity/coloniality wants us to believe in, and to desire what modernity/coloniality wants us to desire” (Machado de Oliveira, 2021, p.51). These denials “severely restrict our capacity to sense, relate, and imagine otherwise” (ibid.). They include:

  • “the denial of systemic, historical, and ongoing violence and of complicity in harm (the fact that our comforts, securities, and enjoyments are subsidized by expropriation and exploitation elsewhere);
  • “the denial of the limits of the planet and of the unsustainability of modernity/coloniality (the fact that the finite earth-metabolism cannot sustain exponential growth, consumption, extraction, exploitation, and expropriation indefinitely);
  • “the denial of entanglement (our insistence in seeing ourselves as separate from each other and the land, rather than ‘entangled’ within a wider living metabolism that is bio-intelligent); and
  • “the denial of the magnitude and complexity of the problems we need to face together (the tendency to look for simplistic solutions that make us feel and look good and that may address symptoms, but not the root causes, of our collective complex predicament).” (ibid.)

This typology, which synthesises a number of insights from the broader field of decolonial studies, strikes me as particularly useful to reflect on what radical collective change might look and feel like. I will return to it in Chapter 6.

GTDF have also paid special attention to what epistemic decolonisation and hospicing modernity might entail within educational contexts, at a time of “the end of the world as we know it” (Stein et al., 2022). This is also helpful to me, considering the focus of this research on informal and social learning. In particular, I will return in Chapter 6 to the idea of unlearning, and how it may be relevant to my own experience in the course of this research.

In the next chapter, I will introduce the methodology I have followed over the course of this doctoral research.