Accepted Paper:

Unlearning the city: critical ethnography of the learning strategies and tactics in Bristol, UK  


Magdalena Buchczyk (Humboldt-Universit├Ąt zu Berlin)
Keri Facer (University of Bristol)

Paper short abstract:

This paper will present an ethnographic study of Bristol Learning City through mundane learning practices, focusing on learning as a site of intersection with neoliberal practices as well as potential contestations.

Paper long abstract:

The conception of the learning city is increasingly promoted in the fields of lifelong learning and international policy through UNESCO, EU and OECD programmes. The framework of the learning city emphasises the proliferation of learning and innovation on individual, community and city-wide levels as well as the development of human capital, competitiveness and economic growth. Recently, however, the ideas of lifelong learning and of the learning city have recently been problematized in terms of their connections to neoliberal paradigms and links with power and knowledge (Fejes and Nicoll 2008). Critics pointed to the rhetoric of the learning city vision as an uncritical rendering of the ideological froth (Harvey, 2003) of neoliberal transformations of the knowledge economy (Plumb et al 2007).

This paper, based on a multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork of the city of Bristol and the Bristol Learning City program, provides a critical understanding of urban learning in an anthropological perspective. This research combined participant observation and participatory research in the streets, community centers, urban protests, informal learning activities and conference rooms around Bristol. Through a discussion of the multiple arenas of the learning city, in particular the ordinary domains and alternative learning practices, it is demonstrated that learning sits at the intersection of neoliberal practices and spaces of contestation and possibility. An insight into mundane urban learning infrastructures as well as emerging learning instances of dissent allows us to overcome the essentialized and individualistic frameworks of the learning city.

Panel RM-SPK09
Everyday neoliberalism