My report for Mids members on UCU NEC 18th June 21

NEC – 18/6/21

Report to Midands members from Rhiannon Lockley (Midlands HE) (she/her)

I attended my first NEC as HE Mids representative on 18/6/21. Here is a short report to include the main business covered and how I voted on decisions presented at this meeting.

President’s address

The president Vicky Blake welcomed the new NEC and outlined the day’s business. She updated NEC that there are no plans for face-to-face meetings in the short to medium term future and identified that hybrid meetings are likely before any full return to Carlow Street. She briefed the meeting on the success of the campaign to prevent the deportation of Osime Brown, congratulating the union including Midlands members (West Midlands members brought this campaign to Congress) for their work for this and passing on the thanks of Joan, Osime’s mum, for all the support. You can read more here: Together we win: statement from Osime Brown’s Mum – Detention Action

General Secretary’s report

The General Secretary addressed the meeting to give an overview of current UCU activity. Key points here included:

  • FE: strike ballots on pay opening in some FE colleges.
  • Slow negotiations in Northern Ireland FE following members taking strike action
  • Congratulations to Novus prison education members for the action they are taking
  • HE pay and pensions (USS): members have rejected the HEA pay offer, and there have been two subsequent branch delegate meetings which put the decision on any action in the hands of the HESC this June (the Higher Education delegate meeting). HE sector conference voted to push ahead, and branches should now be holding meetings ASAP to assess ballot-readiness and build on pay and where applicable USS to feed into HEC which meets on 2nd July. I will be in touch separately with branch officers about this in advance of this meeting but please do get in touch with me at
  • Funding: 50% cut to arts subjects funding (HE) in England: work with Equity and other unions to oppose this.
  • Working with the NUS to fight attacks on student funding
  • Government pushing through a levy on unions to pay for a certification officer: working with other unions to resist this being enacted
  • “Freedom of speech bill” – working with a broad coalition to oppose this attempt at increased control of staff and students in HE under the guise of “academic freedom”.
  • UCU LGBT+ report recently published:
  • UCU has been active in supporting the human rights of Palestinians
  • The union is supporting the People’s Assembly (we are affiliated) demonstration on Saturday 26th June:
  • PGRs: a campaign plan involving PGRs to increase rights is being developed
  • UCU has condemned the Sewell report on Race and is working with the affiliated group CLASS in response to this
  • ACE: adult education providers are facing 90% clawback where if targets are missed by 10% or more they face money being taken. This comes on top of a long period of cuts and in the context of delivery in a pandemic which has not finished, with an impact for colleges too where involved in this provision. Solidarity to those affected. Please do reach out to support our ACE and FE adult ed members in campaigning on this: I will update with any support actions I hear of.
  • Disputes: the GS mentioned a number of disputes: solidarity to all campaigning and fighting at the moment. You are updated about these weekly from HQ so please do use the national emails to see ways of supporting. I made a contribution on this point which I will briefly summarise after this section of the report.
  • The GS celebrated the success of the “Workers rising” programme and asked us to highlight the recently released resources for branches here:
  • Staffing: the GS welcomed John Hegarty who has joined the team in a new role and thanked Paul Cottrell (long standing head of democratic services) who is retiring after a long period of service to the union.

I made a contribution in response to the local disputes section of the GS report. I

  • extended solidarity to Leicester UCU and Novus (highlighting the brilliant work Midlands Novus members are doing),
  • updated on the BCU COVID dispute to identify our recent open day success
  • called on the GS and NEC to extend special solidarity to University College Birmingham as a branch fighting back against redundancies including a recent demonstration and a petition which I encourage all Midlands members to sign if not done so already and to keep sharing: this is available at

Motions from members

Motion titleActionsHow I voted and reasoningOutcome of vote
Emergency motion: Support for the #StopSIM coalition1. To formally support #StopSIM in demanding 1) an end to SIM and SIM-like models of mental healthcare and 2) an independent review. 2. To publicly acknowledge SIM as a symptom of the abusive mental healthcare system. 3. To actively support members affected by SIM and similar models.  In favour   These actions extend important solidarity to those experiencing abuse in the mental health system, a principle I have supported historically e.g. in bringing policy to the union to support the campaign for justice for Sarah Reed.Carried
Motion 1 Challenging LGBT+ exclusionfor NEC members to include pronouns in their Zoom names for NEC meetings ·    to encourage UCU members to display pronouns in all UCU online meetings and in email signaturesIn favour   This motion was opposed but I am elected on a clear mandate of supporting trans inclusivity which this motion builds within our unionCarried
Standing ordersChange standing orders to require the agreement of rather than consultation with the General Secretary so that a special meeting called under this clause requires a joint decision of two people.Against   I put in to speak against this motion but was not called. I opposed the motion on the grounds that our members have demonstrated their support of the principle of separation of powers between elected officers and representatives to ensure accountability and the right to challenge. NEC is chaired by the President and giving the GS the right to veto the President in calling an extraordinary NEC could prevent a meeting being called on an issue of GS accountability. While financial prudence was given as a reason to support this motion the treasurer admitted that there has not been a financial issue caused by NEC holding too many meetings and given our increased capacity to meet online if and when it is necessary this seems a more sensible route than reassigning more member power over calling meetings to the GS.   I was elected on a mandate of a member-led union (as evident in election material) so my vote was in line with this mandate.Fell
GDPR and potential member dataActions related to tackling mid use of GDPR to block union access to new staff for recruitment In favour   Deliberate blocking of access to information supporting recruitment has been reported to me by members in the Midlands over a period of time and it is useful for the union to support branches against this obstacle to recruitment.Carried
Strike pay for deductionsNEC agrees that days for which deductions are made will be treated in the same way as strike days, with payment made on a pro-rata basis for days with less than 100% deductions.In favour   This is an enabling motion which allows the union to respond to employers making deductions to curtail ASOS. I stood on a mandate of an organising, building union – ASOS is an important tool for branches taking industrial action as we have seen at BCU.Carried
Report on implementation of NEC motionsNEC calls on the General Secretary to organise the production of a report on the implementation of NEC motions for each NEC meeting, analogously to the report on the implementation of Congress motions, though not necessarily in the same format. This should include all motions where action is being taken, proposed for the future or where implemtation has not yet been completed. The report will be discussed if a member of NEC requests discussion prior to the start of the NEC meeting.In favour   This motion allows clarity and oversight in following up on the actions brought to the union nationally by NEC members on behalf of members. I supported in line with my mandate of standing for a member led union.Carried
Trans inclusion    To reassert the UCU position on trans inclusion*. · To increase efforts to provide practical support and policy guidance for reps and trans members in challenging acts of harassment and NEC/1419 discrimination against trans persons committed in the course of employment   (A friendly amendment was made and accepted to the contextual part of this motion which I supported)In favour   This motion allows the union to respond proactively to “emboldening” of trans oppressive behaviour following on from the recent 10th June Maya Forstater v CGD Europe and others (UKEAT/0105/20/JOJ*) ruling. As noted above my mandate on NEC is in clearly in support of trans rights, as evident in my election material.Carried as amended

A motion on “Rhodes must fall” fell due to business falling at the end of the day.

Please do get in touch with me to ask any questions, to raise anything you want to be taken to NEC or HEC, or to invite me to a branch meeting to support building, make connections with the national union and meet members:


Making chains: forging the future

My partner Dave Muritu speaking at the Dudley Black Lives Matter demonstration in June 2020. The buggies behind him act as a reminder of the extent to which the “commonsing” of public spaces for radical, collective education was built out of the labour of resistance and care undertaken historically and through COVID by Black mothers and families in the home

So far the rhythmanalysis undertaken in these pilot blogs has considered the collapse of labour into the home, and the chasm between formal trade union organising work and the fight for visibility and recognition of domestic labour. Domestic labour is recognised as something which upholds the system unions fight to defend workers within. On this basis is possible to look forward to the emerging challenges for education activism in the wake of the pandemic.

It seems highly likely that while schools will see a return to “normal” as childcare is once again moved out of the home to return women to the paid workplace, post-education leaders will grasp the savings exposed through digitisation and be pushing more work online and consequentially into the domestic sphere in something already widely being hailed as the new “hybrid model”.

One key question then, is to what extent does a digital education system threaten collectivism: does solidarity need to be organic to be authentic or “lived”? How might the digital and domestic education system be a frontier for forging new sites of resistance, and to what extent may it be part of a growing focus on surveillance and discipline as key state functions in the education system? The education system is not in a bubble, and attacks on freedom to dissent have grown during the last decade, including the Prevent strategy in classrooms, notable victimisation of outspoken trade union activists, and in recent months the Conservative pledge to drive anti-racist and anti-capitalist teaching resources out of the classroom, campus protest clampdowns under the guise of protecting “free speech” as well as the wider threat of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts bill.  

Another key initial link for further exploration is the conflict of “chain-making” as resistance but also reproduction of the state. What are the parallels between trade union organising, educating and nurturing as processes of making connections of resistance or collectivism and love, when these connections are formed within restrictions set out by the state? What are the challenges of trying to build interconnections of resistance between these different spheres? How can rhythmanalysis support this as a method of doing as well as seeing?

The home has been primarily discussed at this point as the site of invisible domestic labour. However, this is only part of the story in how it sits in the struggle in relation to the state and education of the future. The home should also be seen as a place of resistance and through a lens which acknowledges capitalism as racist, a sanctuary at times from the state as well as the site of unpaid labour for the state. Rhythmanalysis which takes in education and the home under COVID must include in its scope the repetitive work done in homes in organising for the largest, radical and publically owned education events of lockdown: BLM demonstrations. Bhattacharyya et al (2021) identify the crucial role played historically and during the pandemic by the United Families and Friends Campaign (UFFC) campaign in organising and building these radical takeovers of education. Education on the street had its most prominent moment when the statue of the slaver Colston was torn down and thrown into the Bristol Channel.

My strongest memory of the demonstrations, which took place in Dudley, Stourbridge and Wolverhampton as well as Birmingham, was seeing my Black partner being able to talk to the four children we have between us about his experiences of being routinely targeted for violence by the police, most recently in 2019 only months before the pandemic. This took place in a space outside of the controls of the state, surrounded by solidarity and love which shaped this education for them. It was work done prior to and during the pandemic in homes, and in particular work done by Black mothers, which created these alternative education spaces on our streets.

As Federici (2020) notes, the welfare movement in the 1970s has been neglected as a site of academic interest or renewed organising by the left. The outsourcing of domestic and other reproductive work to allow middle class women access to professional work outside of the home has a class basis which is situated in global movement of labour with women being paid small amounts of money (the coordination of this being the responsibility of the middle class woman, rather than the state) to carry out work they will not be paid by the state to do in their own household. Some of the most radical emerging union activism is taking place in migrant domestic workers. Connected to this is the challenge around organising in the home, missing the physical connection of the factory floor. This was a challenge faced in the past by the chainmakers, and is heightened in the “future university” where organising workers will not share the immediacy of shared streets to “commons” with their fellow union members like the chainmakers did. Federici identifies that we should reject the pessimistic limits set by a model that only allows factory floor conditions for organising, rightly pointing out that this reproduces the structures of the state and limits our imagination to the boundaries set by capitalism. Nevertheless there is an interesting spatial-temporal dynamic in the history and geography of Black Country organising. This dynamic is identified by Barnsley (2011) in his discussion of the challenges facing the chainmakers. It is perhaps connected to the ongoing difficulty of getting collectivist “purchase” in our terrain: most recently, for example, the small scale of Corbyn rallies and university pickets compared to those in the old sites of large scale industry such as Liverpool or Newcastle. It can also perhaps be mapped to the relative ease of developing fear of the “other”, from the shadow of Powell (Hirsch, 2018) to the crashing Black Country election defeats of 2019 and most recently 2021 council elections). The Black Country industrial complex developed around shallow seam coal, with numerous small scale pits and lots of small scale industry, including hearth industry (chain but also nails, the historic industry of the village I grew up in). This points to the enduring challenges physical distance and a lack of organic togetherness create, an area for much thought and work as we face the challenges of “hybrid” colleges and universities.

Finally, two echoes from my family history are of interest to me in developing rhythmanalysis work around the relationship between domestic labour, education activism, and union organising. A first echo is my Mamgu, who left South Wales for London at the age of 16 in 1926 and worked for many years looking after others’ children. As a single mother, she worked full time and had a latchkey child, my mum. This pattern, a common story of that time, is a previous and smaller iteration of the current global class system in terms of how it relates to the home and use of low paid migrant workers to shelve the issue of domestic labour. A part of the pattern recurred in my own story for a year or so before the pandemic when I would leave my children at 7 and return at 7 to commute for work in Birmingham as a lone parent. A second historical figure with an interesting position in relation to education activism and the relationship between domestic and public spaces exists in my family history on my father’s side: my great great Aunt, Emily Thomas. Emily was a trade union activist who fought for equal pay for women teachers, who I know of from recollections and anecdotes in family history but who was, perhaps not surprisingly, a spinster aunt, present at the family table in memory but firmly situated in public life in her activism.  

It is my hope that these blogs will be initial links, extending into my developing research but also into a wider organising space.


Barnsley, T. (2011). Mary Macarthur and the Chainmakers’ strike of 1910. London: Bookmarks

Federici, S. (2020). Revolution at point zero: housework, reproduction and feminist struggle (2nd edition). Toronto: Between the Lines books.

Blogs in this pilot study sequence:

Pandemic pinch point: invisible domestic labour

A key area for further consideration in terms of how the state regrouped under COVID to continue the “invisibilising” of domestic labour is the issue of furlough. While paid, legitimised labour was given some (often pitiful) status as needing sustenance during its halting under COVID in the form of furlough payments, this missed the material reality of much labour, including the gig economy, and illegitimate hidden, paid outsourced reproductive labour (including migrant domestic workers, and sex workers). The return of children to the home brought the dual labour of care and education to the household but while legitimate workers were paid (too little) to stop work there was no economic provision made for this work to be taken on (disproportionately by women) in the home, and the demand for this was not made across the left.

Perhaps understandably, the case was not made by organised voices of education workers, who were still working, at even higher levels, to manage hybrid classrooms of on-site and online students, and whose labour was facing a similar “disappearing” onslaught in the right wing media. It is easy to see how this marginalisation and false depiction of “idle teachers” could be reinforced further by a call to pay parents to teach and care for their children alongside the need to pay teachers for all the work they were doing. The case certainly was not made by a toothless opposition, which tried to retain the support of overwhelmed mothers through treating the need for children to be in school during a pandemic as the solution rather than a continuation of the ideology allowing the overwhelming of mothers in the home to be a feature rather than a bug. It is notable that the left in the Labour party were in exodus, doubling down, or fighting expulsion in the wake of the smashing of the Corbyn project. Almost in parallel, in UCU, a big hole in militant leadership was left by the untimely death in early 2020 of Nita Sanghera, first elected Black president and first left president since Liz Lawrence (elected 2013) who was due to take post that summer. Alongside this, there was a regrouping of a new section of elected activists close to General Secretary Jo Grady (who had emerged during the militancy of the 2018 USS strikes) now in partnership with the older Communist Party based right wing of the union in denouncing HE strike action in the immediate run-up to COVID as ill-advised and idealistic.

For Federici (2020) there is a clear parallel between the work of trade unions and the work of the family for the state: “Like the trade union, the family protects the worker but also ensures that he and she will never be anything but workers” (although both have the potential also for developing solidarity and resistance). This is a feature shared with radical education work in that all recreate as well as having the potential to resist the state. Left COVID inertia on the issue of domestic labour makes sense reading Federici (2020), who has identified over a long time how the liberal feminist focus on participation in (professional) paid work outside of the home has served to give access to power over other women. This is turn has broken the solidarity needed to mobilise on domestic labour or to make this mobilisation a central demand for women. As such it has served to reinforce the “invisibilising” of domestic labour (through outsourcing to poorly paid other women) which capitalism rests on, a scenario which also has to be understood in the context of global movement of labour and the hostile environment.

One clashing point which gained “viral” UK social media exposure for a brief time in the pandemic exposed the fractures in a coherent left response where liberal feminism and more “intersectional” responses alike ignore the need for domestic work to be treated as equal to paid work in our activism. When access to cleaners and nannies was prioritised by the government in the loosening of restrictions in the first wave, it was clear that removing barriers as soon as possible to the cheap outsourcing of domestic labour was the government’s pay-off to middle class women, who were disproportionately compared to their male counterparts experiencing career-stalling and overload as the pandemic collapsed education, care and the work of maintaining a lived-in house into the space and time of the working day normally allocated to professional work.

The lack of solidarity Federici identifies was in clear evidence. Working class, disproportionately Black women were expected to join the large body of “key-workers” (primarily also working class and as such structurally disproportionately Black workers) in risking their lives, in this instance to do the work in other people’s homes that the government would not pay them to do in their own. The solution proposed by a younger left more closely aligned with intersectional feminism was to continue to uphold a line between formally recognised labour (which can be suspended and paid for by the government), and by default invisible domestic labour which can be absorbed into household work. Neither side identified the need to suspend paid labour for unpaid labour to be accommodated collectively in the home during the pandemic, and for this to be a demand made of the state. This was captured in a particularly memorable exchange with Owen Jones stating on twitter that those who could afford cleaners would have more time in lockdown and should pay cleaners to stay home. The journalist Sarah Ditum took issue with the suggestion that she would have more time, memorably tweeting that the work of cleaning up with teenagers at home on top of holding down a job was (seemingly without irony) “KILLING” her. Jones’s response was to suggest she needed to manage her home better through distributing tasks to the teenagers: a better solution in the short term than forcing working class women to risk their safety in resuming paid domestic labour. Nevertheless, still a solution upholding a system of devaluing domestic labour through directing pinch points at individual female responsibility rather than collective action, and so one which upholds the conditions which set working class, disproportionately Black women up for poorer health outcomes and risky work.


Federici, S. (2020). Revolution at point zero: housework, reproduction and feminist struggle (2nd edition). Toronto: Between the Lines books.

Blogs in this pilot study sequence:

Arrhythmia: breaking chains

Daily Mail front page from Friday May 15th 2020 – a fragment from one of the battles which led to the January 2021 revolt

For the period of the 1910 lockout, the chainmakers’ strike disrupted the daily rhythm of the chainshop, a rhythm which Sarah Chater, a teenager during the strike, recalled in 1975 as follows:

“From Monday morning, 7 o’clock, till 7 o’clock at night, till 2 o’clock on a Saturday afternoon, half a crown a week. For that we had do errands, pull the… couple the chains and put them together, and learn to make it in between. ”

(1975 documentary Nothing to Lose – The Women Chainmakers Strike of 1910 Cradley Heath)

The chainmakers strike can be seen as a moment of collective defiance, with a specific relationship with the time and place it took place in: the breaking of the central rhythm of chainmaking drew strength from other strands of continuity. This included continuity of the imagined historic and natural role of women as gentle homemakers, mothers and English women: the strikers were depicted as the “white slaves” of Europe (MRC, 2021). Where it was visible, the “unnatural” imprints of labour on the female body were cause for a mix of discomfort and admiration. Wilf Williams, a boy during the strike recalls the term “Mon-oman (man-woman)”, a word still in circulation when I was growing up in the Black Country in the 1980s and 1990s, used to describe the strength and masculinity of a woman chainmaker, and also “raw-boned women” and the disfigurement of “ommer-and” (hammer-hand). Sarah Chater recalls being told as she carried heavy iron “You (a girl) adn’t ought to do that” (Nothing to lose).

The making visible of the “plight” of the chainmakers, framing this as an abomination against the natural female order of motherhood and homemaking was central to the strategy of raising strike funds and building a broad platform of support including local business leaders such as the Cadburys (MRC, 2021). A contemporary prayer documented as part of the 1975 Nothing to lose film includes the line: “Oh god, we pray we for our sisters who are leaving the ancient shelter of the home to earn a wage… may no pressure unfit them for the duties of home and motherhood”. There was a separate dynamic of continuity also running through the victory: alongside mobilising the chainmakers and building wide public support, winning the strike also involved continuity of the interest of the larger chain companies who agreed the higher wage early on on the condition of the union paying all strikers to keep going, freezing out smaller competitors (Barnsley, 2011).    

It is not unique to the chainmakers’ victory that it rested in part on mobilising around existing public beliefs about social order and morality, or that it seized the opportunity of a split in the employers which benefited monopoly-building. It is also reductive to think of the success only in the terms of the wage (a wage increase is only ever a stepping-stone to a world beyond wages, after all). The 1910 victory can be seen as a crucial point in growing the “great unrest” of that time which would include waves of strike action across the region and increases in wages and trade union organising. For the chainmakers, it involved movement from atomised and confined labour to taking over public spaces together, marching and singing: “the gaffers have had their day”: a form of “commonsing” under Federici’s (2020) definition of this. Growth in wages brought growth in respect, though the chainmakers were not naïve about the source of the contentment evident in the bosses, noting in the 1975 documentary that better behaviour must be an indication that the board “were doing better out of it themselves”. For Lefebvre (1991), political life and activity in the everyday is the opposite of despair, and is in its nature something which is repeated:

“Consciousness must be gained over and over again through action and struggle… (including in) unions” (171).

The chainmakers strike disrupted the domestic, because the domestic was the workspace. D’Atri (2021) carefully documents the victories of proletarian women around the late 19th and early 20th century as being worker led and centred around the demand for bread, agitation for better conditions in the workplace, and peace in place of imperialism (which she contrasts with pursuit of the vote and egalitarian ideals in bourgeois feminism). She does not include the chainmakers but they fit clearly into the wave she describes. Moving forward from this, D’Atri traces attempts to advance against capitalism as fractured in the growth of neoliberalism by the chasm in the left between trade union organising in the formal workplace, and attempts to fight the burden of domestic labour: a chasm which was clear in the response of the (formal and organised) left to the COVID pandemic.

From early late December until January 11th the biggest trade union revolt of COVID UK was built, primarily through disembodied collectivism, situated in members’ homes, by the National Education Union (NEU). Individual employment rights under section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 were used on an unprecedented scale to embolden members to resist a perilous large-scale return to the classroom. Tens of thousands of teachers and other education staff joined online meetings as the wave grew in the wake of the “Christmas” reopening alongside evidence of asymptomatic transmission amongst young people. A government intent on keeping schools open through the winter was forced to u turn. As my partner (an NEU official) moved in and out of online webinars, the power of the collective and the confidence in resistance was charged and seemed to have a body to it even through the flatness of multiple screens.

As D’Atri (2021) has argued, there is a case that the heart of the failure to resist at a large scale the violence of how the state has managed the pandemic is the chasm between the formal and state-sanctioned organising projects to disrupt paid labour (trade unions, including education unions) and the project of disrupting and reorganising domestic labour. I aim as my research develops to trace this chasm as something which reverberates through to the current crescendo point under COVID, and to consider how this key divide is bridged or linked for a meaningful challenge (education activism being one part of this) to the regrouping state in the wake of the pandemic. The NEU acted appropriately to protect members and in resistance to their designated and patriotic role in what was being positioned as a war on COVID. Arbitrarily teachers’ role in keeping schools open in this war was defence of “mental health”, “wellbeing” and “engagement with education” of children. This was a role designated by a government which had spent 10 years burning to the ground domestic violence services, early intervention social services, Sure Start, CAMHS and other state apparatus in support of child and household wellbeing, alongside huge cuts to education spending (Cooper and Whyte, 2017). However, under this veneer the clear project of keeping children in school was keeping them out of the home, a disruption with huge consequences for an ideological determination to preserve “business as usual”.

Solidarity statements were quick, and on the ground activists across different unions were inspired by the NEU (and in large numbers acting as parents to pressure schools). However, the fundamental and perhaps inevitable weakness in this moment was the failure of the trade union movement to see the invisible labour of the home and how making this visible and demanding its value as equal labour was central to mobilising forward from the victory of the NEU for a shut-down of deadly “business as usual” under COVID. At a UCU branch level, having won our ballot on 12th January, the day that large proportions of activity were again shifted out of schools and consequentially also universities, we called on members to support the NEU and tried to centralise the demand for paid leave for carers in our local dispute. At a national level UCU called for solidarity with the NEU but was also signposting guidance on the status of members’ children as key worker children (and thus entitlement to a place in the schools the NEU were trying to minimise all possible human contact in). The NEU had managed to ride the crest of a wave to create a huge moment of resistance but there was an organising vacuum in terms of how that would then spread across the movement in a way which recognised the movement of education and care labour from schools to the home and fought a “continuity-capitalism” under COVID as a bigger project. This was not so much an oversight as something built into the organising model of trade unions, with the spheres of “workplace” and “home” treated as separate. While spatially the two spheres were partially collapsing together, this was not met by a parallel ideological collapse of boundaries.


Barnsley, T. (2011). Mary Macarthur and the Chainmakers’ strike of 1910. London: Bookmarks

Cooper, V., and Whyte, D. (2017) The violence of austerity. London: Pluto Press

D’Atri, A. (2021) Bread and Roses: gender and class under capitalism (3rd edition). London: Pluto Press

Federici, S. (2020). Revolution at point zero: housework, reproduction and feminist struggle (2nd edition). Toronto: Between the Lines books.

Modern Records Centre. 1910. Account of the Cradley Heath Fund at 17 September 1910. [Page from account book] University of Warwick, Trades Union Congress. Coventry.

Modern Records Centre. 1910. Women slaves of the forge. [Press cutting] University of Warwick, Work in the sweated trades, 1910s – 1920s. Coventry.

Nothing to Lose – The Women Chainmakers Strike of 1910 Cradley Heath (1975 documentary). Available at: <; [Accessed 8 March 2021].

Blogs in this pilot study sequence:

The home, class and education

It would be wrong to suggest that formal education has been absent from the household prior to COVID 19. The adult education project has for some time delivered remote learning (simultaneously opening access up for working class adult learners whilst developing a model of education as an “add-on” to existing labour without its own space and time). There has been increasing demand for digital qualification prior to the pandemic in parallel with the sprawling growth of the “flexible” (casualised) workforce and erosion of site-based adult provision in ACE, FE and HE. The workloads of education workers also mean that the home has been increasingly the site of all work which cannot be completed “on-site” within the confines of the defined working day: in particular, marking and planning.  However, the pandemic has generated a huge-scale operation of home-based learning. It has been the key site of contest in trade union education activism under COVID. The right to and necessity of commandeering the household as a site of education has been the central demand of education unions in their activity to defend members and communities, and in parallel, the labour of education trade unionism has also been situated primarily in domestic spaces.

As Crossley (2017) notes, from the deviance of the bedroom (with its link to lone mothers and welfare payments) to frozen chicken nuggets (failure to nourish the future generation adequately), the working class household has long been a topic of bourgeois concern. Pre-COVID in the 21st century UK affluent professionals have been considered “at home” in public, engaging with leisure in the active consumption of arts and culture in galleries, theatres or wine-bars, with the home acting as an outlet for the expression of class and taste, and facilitating meaningful interaction in planned social events such as dinner parties. Education in the affluent professional home has been constructed as the conscious supplementary process of guiding the child in developing thinking and knowing in relation to the social world, as well as continual adult engagement in knowing about society. For the working class household absence of the capital needed to engage in these activities is represented socially as primarily being at home while passive and immobile in the home: TV dinners and takeaways, Crossley suggests. When the working class leave the household they are depicted as roaming around estates, in and out of pubs and each other’s homes, queueing for mass-produced, low-taste, low price goods or experiences such as Primark or Wetherspoons, restless and hostile. Education in the home is represented as imposed by the state rather than a conscious process. The domestic labour of maintaining the home as an everyday living space and as something linked to the rest of society is missing from both of these dominant bourgeois representations.

What has a lockdown meant in relation to this and how are class relations to the home and to society reconfiguring, in particular in terms of the home as a site of education? Two initial lines of interest stand out: firstly, the class divide on working from home under COVID, the key battleground for education unions which has created a sharp division on terms of protection further deepening health inequalities but also arguably (temporarily) reversed the proximal class relationship to the home/public life with consequences for future education.

An additional layer to consider and develop further from my own experience is the relationship the state has had in setting the boundaries of the home and intimacy in pandemic UK. My household has been an extended one for the duration of COVID: I am a lone parent, have two children who I have primary custody and sole financial responsibility for, but the household extends to include my partner who lives with us part of the time, and has joint custody of his two children. Under COVID our potential viral zone has extended across and involved the emotional/thinking work of calculating and avoiding risk across four domestic spaces to include my ex’s house (sealed off from the rest of the extended household for two long periods due to COVID in the nursing home he works in), the house I live in with my children, my partner’s flat, and his children’s other home with their mother.

The “support bubble” combined with the clarification that children were free to move between separated parents has meant that this work has mostly been logistical work in trying to protect and transport a range of people across a range of spaces. Nevertheless, I am conscious that the existence of the children has been the legitimating factor in having a physical relationship or even sharing an indoor physical space with a partner I don’t live with all of the time, which suggests a wider issue to consider around how the state has reinforced the nuclear family as the primary site for intimacy. This is relevant because it has consequences for how we organise around the relationship between the home, the sphere of education and the rest of the state. There are potential “after tremors” of this reinforced carving out lines of deviance of non-nuclear relationships. Historically a large proportion of the students I have worked with are entering education from home relationship systems not treated as “normal” by the state: indeed, under COVID the multi-generational household common for FE and post 92 students and associated heightened risk was widely ignored beyond a line or two in a Sage document. This sits alongside the burden of state labour shouldered unpaid through the pandemic by lone parents. This is something I wish to develop further as I move forward from my pilot.


Crossley, S. (2017). In their place: the imagined geographies of poverty. London: Pluto Press

Blogs in this pilot study sequence:

Interrogating the domestic: COVID and the collapsed home

“Me mother learned us… She got the work up… When we got it all right, we ad to make chain”

(Myra Hall, Cradley Heath chainmaker, speaking in the 1975 documentary Nothing to Lose – The Women Chainmakers Strike of 1910 Cradley Heath)

It is important to recognise that when we speak of housework we are not speaking of a job like other jobs, but we are speaking of the subtlest violence that capitalism has ever perpetrated against the working class” (Federici, 2020:12)

A picture of the Christmas tree taken one evening in December 2020 from my living room – a space layered with domestic/reproductive labour, education work, and the task of returning a ballot for industrial action


A snapshot: December 2020. BCU UCU are balloting members for strike action and action short of a strike in defence against on-site working in a growing second wave, with the ballot due to end in the early days of January. My son plays games on his Xbox in the corner of the room. I play Christmas songs on a mix out of the laptop which my daughter is sometimes singing to, at the same time running through a spreadsheet to text members who have not yet responded to check on ballot receipt. All around are books for my doctorate, half-written cards for the children to take to school, crumbs, discarded worn school uniform, notes from teaching, mugs and glasses, dust, dirt. My working environment is now saturated with the intimacy of the home, but the intimacy is lost in the detritus, a distraction. I am engaged in the work of trying to create and sustain digital collectivity, to somehow build inorganic intimacy in new terrain, with the immediate goal of protecting each cluttered (materially or psychologically) household for children to play and sing while mothers and others work.

Survival is work, and prioritised work, but by locating the project of the everyday in my/the labour- condensed COVID household I do not seek to limit myself to the immediate political project of survival. I hope that the exposure of disruption provides the cracks to imagine a future where education is nourishing, a future of “not only bread but roses”; a re-identification of how the neglect of the household has repeatedly limited the struggle against capitalism and the possibility of something different.

The material labour and the fire and heavy iron that made up the hazards of the Cradley Heath home/chainshops may be a distant memory for most of the Black Country, but the COVID pandemic has seen a large-scale return to the household as a collapsed site of education, paid and domestic labour. Like the Cradley Heath hearth, the COVID household is atomised, not (industrially) organised, and set up to compete rather than collaborate wherever it recreates the ideology of competition which runs through formal education and paid labour. The household has taken on a huge workload under COVID, including symbolic labour as an emblem of “society” and “the public” playing its part and receiving protection from the state through “staying home to save lives”.

My situation as a researcher is the “collapsed” household under COVID 19. The arrival of a global pandemic brought huge scale disruption of the state. Under COVID the state revealed itself as incompetent in relation to how everyday life is organised in every aspect of its role other than the disciplinary and punitive (Bhattacharyya et al., 2021): arguably as the pandemic unfolded the state has reconfigured with strength as a site of discipline, even while the virus exposed its gross incompetence in management of its other arms (including health, education and social care). Central to this disruption and renewal was the household: the site of multiple, competing layers of labour: for me, mothering, housework, teaching, studying, strike-building. The household is not a static site but an everyday which includes time as well as space: it generates our future as well as being formed from our past. Our action in the everyday is crucial in defining what comes next. As D’Atri (2021) identifies, whatever emerges from COVID (including what post-16 education looks like as it emerges from the pandemic) is not confined by the limits of the virus (which is the general scope of our imagination), but instead depends on the behaviour of the ruling classes and our opposition, and the impetus to organise on domestic labour is vital.


Bhattacharyya, G., Elliott-Cooper, A., Balani, S., Nisancioglu, K., Koram, K., Gebrial, D., El-Enany, N., De Noronha, L. (2021). Empire’s Endgame: racism and the British state. London: Pluto Press

D’Atri, A. (2021) Bread and Roses: gender and class under capitalism (3rd edition). London: Pluto Press

Federici, S. (2020). Revolution at point zero: housework, reproduction and feminist struggle (2nd edition). Toronto: Between the Lines books.

Nothing to Lose – The Women Chainmakers Strike of 1910 Cradley Heath (1975 documentary). Available at: <; [Accessed 12 March 2021].#

Blogs in this pilot study sequence:

Making and breaking chains: first link

This is the first in a short series of linking blogs forming the pilot study for my education doctorate. The aim of the pilot is to use rhythmanalysis (Lefebvre, 1992) as a methodology to investigate the domestic everyday of education activism and organising, in order to imagine and engage with future education activism and organising, the future “university/education-space”, and the relationship between these. The purpose of this first blog is to introduce the lived context and aims of the pilot study: to identify and clarify the key tasks the blog series will undertake.

For this pilot, I aim to analyse the rhythms and disruptions of chainmaking (past, current, and future-possible) to explore the conflicting process of building connections of resistance under the restrictions of the state. I am structuring this in the form of blogs as initial links for further development as my research progresses and also hopefully opportunities for interconnection with responses as a form of cybernetic collectivism (Shanken, 2003).

My starting point for this is the collapsed, layered labour space of the household under COVID. The chainmaking taking place in my household includes trade-union activism; the forging and strengthening of connections between workers to create collective strength around class interest. It includes radical education work; the linking together of the personal lived political world and the overarching structures of theory/analysis, as centred by hooks (1994) and Freire (1970). It also includes mothering and other housework; the construction and maintenance of links between dependents and “society”, which is presented as natural but is the labour of connection building and material and emotional maintenance all the same.  

The term chainmaking is an echo in part from 1910. The Cradley Heath chainmakers occupy a position of significance as women workers who disrupted industry in the Black Country and were part of the catalyst of wider revolt in the early 20th century (Barnsley, 2011). The chain is also a pertinent symbol to wrestle with the problems, tensions and boundaries of collectivism and resistance under the state which are central to my research, teaching, activism and domestic labour. It makes visible the extent to which critique, organising and resistance to capitalism must acknowledge capitalism as global, colonial and racial in its past, present and future (Robinson, 2019; Bhattacharyya, 2017). While the women strikers worked on smaller chain, they were not in a vacuum and the wider industry they disrupted but have also been used to commemorate created chain for slavery (Green, 2008).

For Chen (2017), rhythmanalysis roams around disciplines, looking for repetitions, allowing for a heightening of lived experience. It could be suggested that the everyday domestic has been fundamentally neglected as an organising space, even if there are numerous academic works across different disciplines which analyse the domestic sphere. Lefebvre (1991), like Marx, identifies a need to do as well as see. The roaming around of rhythmanalysis seems suitable for the fluid, layered task of undertaking research as a student whilst engaged in the work of a trade union officer/mother/domestic labourer/activist.

The household is a site of the everyday. For Lefebvre (1991), the everyday has been neglected by much Marxist analysis but its interrogation and critique is crucial in understanding and tackling alienation, reaching for not  abolition of wealth but abundance and universal access to wealth. For Marxist feminists including Federici (2020) and D’Atri (2021) the everyday of the home is a crucial and neglected organising site to deliver the unmet demand of “not only bread but also roses” in the defeat of capitalism. Rhythmanalysis as a multi-sensory tempero-spatial engagement with the mundane considers the gaps left by a focus on the extraordinary, the cracks through which the future-possible can be accessed. My approach to the (domestic) everyday is framed through Marxist feminism: as Carpenter and Mojab (2017) note, Marxist feminism provides a framework for inquiry for radical educators,

a way of looking at how the social world and everyday/everynight experience is organised through the everyday activity of people and a way of understanding how certain forms of knowledge come to dominate not only our consciousness, but our activity and forms of social organisation as well.” (74).

The everyday exists in the mundane and the mundane exists in and tells us about the broader ways in which race, capital and gender act as sites of power to organise our activities. My framework as a Marxist feminist sees race, racism and colonialism as central to and intertwined with the capitalist project, rather than a sub-strand to class and gender. Race and racism are seams that run through my everyday: the state, the home, the community. I am interested in learning from intersectional feminism past and present but do not take that term to define what I am trying to do as a researcher, perhaps because it appears to be increasingly commandeered by a white liberal feminist approach to the problems of race, gender and class. Potentially, a liberal feminist academic approach calling itself intersectional can include accumulating capital (whether cultural or material) from “white allyship” as a commodity which can be sold through training or accumulated through a competitive process of mutual-policing-as-solidarity. In this use, a commandeered “intersectionality” increasingly distances the matters of class, capitalism and collectivism from the centre of analysis in favour of individual self-betterment and as such for white education workers like myself could easily pull work towards such a project; something counter to collective struggle.

Using rhythmanalysis to interpret chainmaking as a rhythm of repetitions, I will consider previous iterations of organising in domestic labour-spaces and how they relate to, frame and give guidance for the present and future of education organising. For the pilot study I am looking in particular at the Cradley Heath chainmakers strike of 1910, including Barnsley’s research, the 1975 television documentary Nothing to Lose: the women chainmakers strike of 1910, Cradley Heath, and online archives from the Modern Records Centre (MRC) at the University of Warwick. The chainmakers were women who worked primarily in “hearth industry”: in the home, often with multiple tasks of caring for younger children or disabled relatives and training older children (MRC, 2021) who were able to collectively disrupt the rhythm of their working world to win the first UK minimum wage. The chainmakers revolt is interesting in many ways, including the forging of solidarity in conditions in which workers were not historically well organised, were isolated, and were pitched against one another (Barnsley, 2011). What can this previous disruption reveal in terms of the ideas and problems this disruption exposed can be forged into the current and future organising challenges for education activists organising in and out of COVID?

In the blog sequence I intend to use the moment of the chainmakers strike and the process of chainmaking to consider the following key challenges as starting links for the body of my main thesis:

  1. Interrogating the domestic: COVID & the collapsed home
  2. The home, class and education.  
  3. Arrhythmia: breaking chains
  4. Pandemic pinch-point: invisible domestic labour
  5. Chainmaking: forging the future?


Barnsley, T. (2011). Mary Macarthur and the Chainmakers’ strike of 1910. London: Bookmarks

Bhattacharyya, G. (2017). Rethinking racial capitalism: questions of reproduction and survival. London: Rowman and Littlefield

Carpenter, S., and Mojab, S. (2017). Revolutionary learning: Marxism, feminism and knowledge (3rd edition). London: Pluto Press.

Chen, Y. (2017). Practicing Rhythmanalysis: theories and methodologies. London: Rowman and Littlefield

D’Atri, A. (2021) Bread and Roses: gender and class under capitalism (3rd edition). London: Pluto Press

Federici, S. (2020). Revolution at point zero: housework, reproduction and feminist struggle (2nd edition). Toronto: Between the Lines books.

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. London: Continuum.

Green, A. (2008) Remembering slavery in Birmingham: sculpture, paintings and instillations. Slavery and abolition: a journal of slave and post-slave studies, 29 (2)

hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to transgress. Abingdon: Routledge.

Lefebvre, H. (1991) The critique of everyday life London: Verso (trans. John Moore: originally published 1947)

Lefebvre, H. (1992) Rhythmanalysis. London and New York: Continuum.

Modern Records Centre. 1910. Women slaves of the forge. [Press cutting] University of Warwick, Work in the sweated trades, 1910s – 1920s. Coventry.

Robinson, C. J. (2019) On racial capitalism, Black internationalism, and cultures of resistance London: Pluto Press

Shanken, E. A. (2003). From Cybernetics to Telematics: The Art, Pedagogy, and Theory of Roy Ascott. In: E. A. Shanken (ed.) Telematic Embrace: Visionary Theories of Art, Technology and Consciousness. Berkeley: University of California Press.

UCU NEC elections 2021 – vote Rhiannon for Midlands rep!

I’m a foundation year lecturer (Health, Education and Life Sciences) and doctoral student at BCU. I’m the only West Midlands candidate in 6, standing for one of three Midlands seats on UCU NEC. I’m asking for your vote for:

1) A democratic, member-led union

As a UCU left candidate, I support a member-led union with an active rather than service model of union work. As branch secretary at BCU (2019 – present), I’m proud of what we’ve achieved in challenging times:

· 25% increase in branch membership 

· 1 extra week of holiday negotiated

· Beating the anti-TU legislation to win our ballot for industrial action on Covid safety

Our successes demonstrate we’re most effective when we keep the branch up-to-date on and involved in the work we do, meet frequently, and always put decisions in the hands of members. 

2) Equality at the heart of UCU, and defending dissent

I’m proud to have helped shape UCU policy on trans rights, sex worker solidarity, defending abortion rights, defending migrants, resisting racism, and fighting barriers to accessing or working in education.

I will always support equality work as central to our union. 

As well as the challenges COVID brings, we face a critical period in defending dissent. While the growth this year of BLM and other anti-racist groups is inspirational, the victimisation of Gargi Bhattacharyya is another move to silence critical (often Black) voices in education. It sits alongside the Tory push (building on Prevent) to stamp out critique in the classroom, which requires urgent action from UCU. 

As your representative I will defend the voices of our officers, our members and our students. 

3) A strong Midlands voice on NEC, for all members

I’ve had the privilege of chairing West Midlands region (2014-17) and representing Midlands FE members on NEC (2017-19). Regional structures are key to building UCU, whether providing space for reps to share and strategise, or giving a practical and immediate solidarity network to branches in dispute. As a Midlands NEC rep I will once more:

· Report on national meetings to all branches and to regional committees: scrutiny of and space to feed into decisions are essential for democracy

· Work with branches and the regional committees to promote and support campaigns and disputes, and grow solidarity between branches and the wider labour movement  

UCU should be proud of all we do to fight for education. We must always remember the union belongs to all members. As a former FE worker I will remind NEC we speak for Academic Related and Professional Services staff, post-92, FE, ACE and prison educators as well as pre-92 academic members. 

I’m honoured on the basis of my regional work to be endorsed by representatives from sister unions including the FBU, NEU and Unite, students, and UCU members across our sectors: we’re strongest together. 

Please give your second preference for Midlands HE to Alan Barker, University of Nottingham. Alan has a proven record in defending the democracy of our union, defending the right of branches to bring motions ruled in order to congress in 2018 when he chaired congress business committee. He will always support a member-led union.

If you are an FE Midlands member, please support Dharminder Chuhan (Sandwell College). Dom, who is West Midlands UCU Black Members rep is an excellent organiser – the successes at Sandwell are in part driven by his meticulousness in canvassing and speaking to members, and his principles in always being led by the branch as an officer.

Whoever you vote for, make sure you vote!


Twitter: @illdoitanyway Facebook:

Ed D Blog 4: Methodology to method – sketching out the research for pandemic and post-pandemic FE

Looking into the future?

View to the path ahead from a lockdown walk in Buckpool nature reserve. It is lit up, and the light obscures the path.

In the last blog in this sequence, I want to outline and assess what methods will best facilitate the research I want to do. There are a number of issues to consider here. The first set of issues are of context: what will be permitted, and what will be imagined, in terms of what research looks like post-pandemic? Secondly, how do I utilise the research process as something which feeds into the “something-to-be-done”, the reflexive collaboration which is a part of as well as a documentation of the contest over the borders of what FE of the future is, who has agency within it, and who it is available to? Thirdly, issues of power, agency and capital in knowledge production and distribution. How will my methods democratise the research relationship? How can I best establish participant agency in research decisions, and establish a critical framework and structure? What does ethical, emancipatory post-pandemic education research look like?

In terms of what fora a research space might operate in, face-to-face research is currently suspended. It seems sensible to assume that for at least the next year it may not be sanctioned and where it is, may still be unethical. Under lockdown, social distance is a capital: for retail workers, delivery drivers, care and NHS staff, air is a shared and therefore biologically uncertain commodity. In the continued supply and handover of goods, touch is too repetitive a part of the exchange process to be under control and barriers are placebo more than protection. In care, physical intimacy is sheathed by patchy PPE. The governmental messaging has identified work from home as a privilege for those who “can”: the wheels of the economy may crush thousands unable to work from home as part of the “return to normal”. This being the case, there is a responsibility to build virtual research space and think carefully about how safety beyond the physical can be accommodated. What platforms are likely to facilitate consensual and democratic research? How can participants and data be protected in uncertain online meeting spaces, where shadowy rumours of predatory intrusions, surveillance and breeches persist?

In this context, what does research-as-activism (as well as into-activism) look like? A key perspective to learn from in trying to frame this is decolonial intersectionality (Kurtis and Adams, 2017): being mindful that oppressed voices are a source of expertise rather than a victim/object for study within the research process; moving beyond “monolithic conceptions” (Kurtis and Adams, 2017) of experience to instead locate experience in a web of multiple, intersecting power relations. In researching the contested boundaries of FE, I hope to frame this within an understanding of power and agency as intersecting and multiple. As Dennis (2015) notes, in the context of FE research, online spaces have the capacity to nurture dissent but also to reproduce existing “silences” (or the performed absence of dissent?), and it can be hypothesised that as online spaces are colonised in a post-pandemic FE, these silences may broaden. There is a tension between facilitating dissent, and doing this in a way which is secure without being neutralising.

Blogging appears to allow a number of advantages as a method. In recounting research using critical story blogs, Luschen (2014) notes the opportunity this gives for participant exploration of “educational hopes and experiences” facilitating both personal reflection and collective interaction, giving insight into community and mutuality in learning spaces. Supplying what Luschen refers to as prompts for bloggers to respond to will mean, similar to this principle in physical listening rooms (Heron, 2018), that a loose structure can be crafted to facilitate a critical framework with inter-participant friendship rather than the researcher/subject relationship as a methodological driver.

There are a number of problems to consider here. In a developing context of digital capital, and reflecting on the principles of decolonial intersectionality (Kurtis and Adams, 2017), what work needs to be done to ensure that marginalised voices can be heard? If I think of the migrant low-paid worker student as a key feature but a muffled voice of FE, how do I amplify this voice in the context of the oppressive barriers of material, time and digital poverty this student faces? There is a need to recognise my privilege as a white academic, acknowledging and responding to being part of a system these students are excluded from. Luschen (2014) notes that the digital story brings its own vulnerabilities, encouraging disclosure and articulation of trauma. There is a need to plan for rather than react to this as a possibility, and work to be done as to how to amplify oppressive experiences without exploitation of participants for academia.

In terms of prompts, one possibility within the blog framework is the use of self-directed walking video interviews. For Evans and Jones (2011), walking interviews allow intimacy in looking into both place and self. Given my interest in how place and time figure in the borders of FE, walking interviews (albeit virtually facilitated?) may be useful in allowing participants to engage with learning environments. They may capture the developing arenas of FE post-pandemic: the domestic, the extended thought space, and dependent on how things develop, the physical learning spaces of institutions. There are a number of caveats, of course: as Evans and Jones identify, the use of video may pose technical complications, and the multiple work of walking, talking and using the camera may create visual and cognitive disorientation. Nevertheless, the method provides an opportunity to evoke and analyse how personal learning spaces feature in and map against the physical and ideological boundaries of FE.

Another possible prompt is the self-selected artefact. As Yang (2017) has demonstrated, participatory visual methods may be particularly useful in research into adult and continuing education. This approach mirrors the emancipatory pedagogy of Freire (1970) and hooks (2009) in facilitating agency in knowledge construction in a way that may be more accessible for than dense text. Facilitating participants in engagement with self-chosen physical artefacts may support valuable reflection on their historical experiences of the contested borders of FE, whether in terms of obstacles in accessing education, or the battles fought over the sector more broadly.

As government and education leaders push a return to a (new) normal where business as usual is prioritised and educational access is considered in the context of brand and recruitment, there is a counter-movement of marginalised voices calling loudly and clearly for space to speak and develop knowledge. This transcends the kyriarchal (Schussler-Fiorenza, 1995) forces which form the very structure of FE and HE. The methodology appropriate to this struggle over the boundaries of knowledge and education post-pandemic is in germination; politically, the appropriate action is to listen and amplify.




Dennis, C., 2015. Locating post-16 professionalism: public spaces as dissenting spaces. Research in Post-Compulsory Education, 20(1), pp.64-77.

Evans, J. and Jones, P., 2011. The walking interview: Methodology, mobility and place. Applied Geography, 31(2), pp.849-858.

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. London: Continuum.


Heron, E., 2019. Friendship as method: reflections on a new approach to understanding student experiences in higher education. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 44(3), pp.393-407.

hooks, b. (2009). Teaching critical thinking: practical wisdom. Abingdon: Routledge.

Kurtis, T. and Adams, G., 2017. Decolonial intersectionality: implications for theory, research and pedagogy. In: K. Case, ed., Intersectional Pedagogy: complicating identity and social justice. London: Routledge.

Luschen, K., 2014. Exploring (Dis)Connections Through Digital Storytelling: Towards Pedagogies of Critical Co-Learning. In: K. Luschen, ed., Crafting Critical Stories: Towards Pedagogies and Methodologies of Collaboration, Inclusion and Voice. Oxford: Peter Lang.

Schüssler Fiorenza, E., 1995. Feminist studies in religion and a radical democratic ethos 1. Religion and Theology, 2(2), pp.122-144.

Yang, K., 2017. Situating Participatory Visual Methods in Adult Education. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 2017(154), pp.9-16.

Ed D Blog 3: Margins and new territories in post-pandemic FE – democracy, responsibilities, and critical frames

Layering of domestic and educational space

The household and the workspace collapsed together: a view from my “desk”

In formulating my research methodology, I aim to map the contested margins of FE: the contest over access to and transition into educational space and how this is experienced by students traditionally shut out of education, and the activists (students and workers) who contest these borders. In this third blog, I want to think about issues of power and knowledge: the power dynamic of the researcher/researched, issues of democracy and “ownership” of knowledge production and distribution, and what I as a researcher conceptualise as being the “truth” in the experiences of education I aim to evoke and document. All of this is shaped by the uncertain seas of lockdown and the deeper structural forces of racial capitalism, neoliberalism, and heteropatriarchy.

I perch on the end of my bed, feet next to a basket of clean washing ready for putting away, laptop balanced on my knee. I open a window taking me to a student’s kitchen table where she sits with her mug and smiles through at me, cereal boxes and jars balanced on a shelf behind her, a toy on the table. In the next room my daughter is curled up in her bed with her phone, watching BBC bitesize videos and sneaking Roblox games. My son lies on his bedroom floor, leafing through a textbook and checking wattsapp messages. Downstairs my partner sings as he makes coffee.

One key feature of education life under lockdown is our peeping into one another’s domestic spaces. This may be a primary feature of education research for some time to come, and will have echoes for what educational space looks like post-pandemic. For many adult returner students and education workers, the domestic space has always been colonised by the world of work, and learning has included the struggle to carve out time and space to think in the busy-ness and competing demands of the home. Now, in the pandemic, the cluttering between student, worker, parent, domestic-worker intensifies and divisions between tasks and territories blur. In the universalising if not democratic classrooms of our institutions we are afforded some anonymity. Now our interactions bring intimacy, as the cyber-windows on our living spaces open and close, each glimpse giving detail about the way power falls in and layers domestic space; the new cottage industries of learning.

This intimacy is not equal for lecturer/student or researcher/researched. What are the consequences for developing democratic research locations in pandemic and post-pandemic FE? In the absence of hierarchical education institutions, does cyberspace create a more level area for collaborative democratic research to take place? Or is it new territory to be colonised by existing power relations? For Dennis (2014), digital spaces allow reassertion of dissent and agency as features of FE, but also raise ethical questions through the blurring of public and private discourse. Researching the experiences of FE students and activists in digital spaces has the potential to leave a permanent trace: there is a need to facilitate a platform for critical reflection, but also a responsibility to protect the voices of those often facing a hostile environment.

There are other ethical issues to consider in whatever emerges as the research environment. In striving for what Hughes and Willinck (2014) refer to as co-reflexive critical dialogue, there is a need to recognise the expertise participants have in selecting and framing what is meaningful in their experiences of education. If education research is to be research-as as well as research-into activism, then the process should aim towards emancipatory practice as well as documentation. In naming and exploring the meaning education territories have for those who transgress into and occupy them, there is collaborative work to be done in exploring what the future shape of an education to be fought for might look like.

Our windows are not equal. Some students work from phones, devices vary in speed, application access, capacity. Participation is differentiated by digital capital in terms of hardware, software, skill, ability to access assistance. For students with no way of accessing the lockdown virtual world of the college or university, there is delay and the prospect of making up time (while socially distancing? with sterile equipment and PPE?) in partially-reopened institutions. For many students and education-workers, the home/work space is cluttered with chores, requests, the mess of domesticity and build-up of debris of condensed use of space. What Dunscombe and Marsden (1995) call the triple shift (of formal work, childcare/emotional labour, and domestic labour) is now happening competitively under one roof: a condensing of time and space without a proportionate reduction of demands, with lone mothers particularly vulnerable to the consequences of this workload (Zhou et al., 2020). We field demands for time, labour, emotional care and often simply a response to another’s question or comment as a donation of thought-space. There is increasing interruption to learning flow in increasingly condensed space. For many students and education workers, intersectionally layered by racialised class and heteronormative gender, the lockdown home may be an island in a chain of working spaces, labour in other environments (domestic work outside of the home, retail, care) continuing. This again has an impact on the time and mental energy available to “do” formal learning.

This has consequences for what the geography of learning spaces of the future as well as the present look like. Durham was the first university to publically opportunise the pandemic to push for permanent online learning (pushed back by resistance, for now) and the murmurs (Lefebvre, 2017) of senior management across FE and HE echo this. In an article for the TES on 22nd April Bedford College Group CEO Ian Pryce begins by reflecting on the lasting impact of his “classical” education in allowing him to make sense of the chaos of pandemic before going on to ponder over his previous belief that home-working disguises inefficiency, and reflect that

a lack of productivity is more easily disguised under the camouflage of office work. One outcome, therefore, may well be more home working but far fewer staff being employed… It is far easier to lose staff if they and their results are less visible”.

What does the “post-pandemic” mean for education? Some leaders will emphasise remote learning as a social leveller, allowing participation to transcend the barriers of physical attendance, childcare arrangements, time clashes with the employed shift pattern. On a simplistic level it works: one of the most radical interventions into the fortress of prestigious academia of the later 20th century was surely the OU, opening up the space for critical thought and the cultural capital of university qualifications to adult learners already engaged in working life (domestic and employed). However, what happens to the already casualised labour force of further and higher education in an incursion into online learning spaces? Invisibility, as pre-sensed by the Bedford principal, increases precariousness.

Chipping away and destabilising physical human interaction in learning could come at a great cost: as Smith and Duckworth (2020) identify, part of what makes colleges “engine rooms for social mobility and social justice” are the social relations they facilitate. Colleges undertake emotional labour in giving students self-belief. This comes in part as Smith and Duckworth note, through the teacher-student relationship. College life is intimate and stretches beyond the curricula in creating a shared “everyday” in which learning spaces can be collective, learning time is protected from other demands, and solidarity is forged. As Addo (2019) states, colleges exist as communities of human relations, so while buildings may be superfluous, intimacy of shared physical space is more central. For hooks (1994), it is in the shared space of the classroom that we have the co-existence of theory, self-recovery and collective liberation. It is difficult to imagine how this crucial feature of FE will persist in scaled-down virtual spaces in which protected time and social space-sharing is eroded. Without physical classroom spaces, learning for students at the margins of education may increasingly mean atomised negotiation for the time and space to think amidst the crowding of other daily demands.

If the process of learning involves having physical space to move around, to process, to develop “flow”, under racial capitalism, the learning environment beyond the college or university is already shaped by what Danewid (2019) has described as the “inherently global and colonial… violence of neoliberal urbanism”. This has surely intensified in the “geography of containment” (Crenshaw, 2020) of the pandemic, the inequalities of access to and policing of use of outdoor space.

Access to education includes access to the mental space to think, and to some extent, this maps onto the physical landscapes we live and move around in. Having already discussed the multi-layering of tasks and crowding of demands for cognitive labour in the problematic current lived space (and possible post-pandemic space) of the “household”, it is worthwhile also thinking about how this extends into wider territories. Like the home the wider lived environment is not neutral: there is a cognitive as well as material capital in having access to green space, freedom to walk unchallenged in places quiet and untroubled enough to induce reflection. Whilst trying to avoid romanticisation of oppression, arguably the impact of noise and risk create more urgent insights into what access to education means and what it may be fraught by in terms of whatever emerges post-pandemic. My task is developing research practices to develop a critical framework which facilitates this urgency in imagining and contesting the future in what access to participation in education looks like from the borders and margins.


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Danewid, I., 2019. The fire this time: Grenfell, racial capitalism and the urbanisation of empire. European Journal of International Relations, 26(1), pp.289-313.

Dennis, C., 2015. Locating post-16 professionalism: public spaces as dissenting spaces. Research in Post-Compulsory Education, 20(1), pp.64-77.

Duncombe, J. and Marsden, D., 1995. ‘Workaholics’ and ‘Whingeing Women’: Theorising Intimacy and Emotion Work — The Last Frontier of Gender Inequality?. The Sociological Review, 43(1), pp.150-169.

hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to transgress. Abingdon: Routledge.


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McKie, A., 2020. Durham VC moves to clarify plans for online learning. THE, [online] Available at: <; [Accessed 11 May 2020].

Pryce, I., 2020. Could colleges have more home working and fewer staff?. TES, [online] Available at: <; [Accessed 4 May 2020].

Smith, R. and Duckworth, V., 2020. In Praise Of Further Education Colleges: Empowering Students Who Have Been Written Off. [online] The Conversation. Available at: <; [Accessed 4 June 2020].

Zhou, M., Hertog, E., Kolpashnikova, K., & Kan, M. (2020). Gender inequalities: Changes in income, time use and well-being before and during the UK COVID-19 lockdown.