Reflections on Knowledge, Learning and Social Movements: History's Schools, 1st Edition (e-Book) book cover

Reflections on Knowledge, Learning and Social Movements

History's Schools, 1st Edition

Edited by Aziz Choudry, Salim Vally


260 pages | 4 B/W Illus.

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Hardback: 9781138059108
pub: 2017-12-14
eBook (VitalSource) : 9781315163826
pub: 2017-12-12
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How do educators and activists in today’s struggles for change use historical materials from earlier periods of organizing for political education? How do they create and engage with independent and often informal archives and debates? How do they ultimately connect this historical knowledge with contemporary struggles?

Reflections on Knowledge, Learning and Social Movements aims to advance the understanding of relationships between learning, knowledge production, history and social change. In four sections, this unique collection explores:


• Engagement with activist/movement archives

• Learning and teaching militant histories

• Lessons from liberatory and anti-imperialist struggles

• Learning from student, youth and education struggles


Six chapters foreground insights from the breadth and diversity of South Africa’s rich progressive social movements; while others explore connections between ideas and practices of historical and contemporary struggles in other parts of the world including Argentina, Iran, Britain, Palestine, and the US.

Besides its great relevance to scholars and students of Education, Sociology, and History, this innovative title will be of particular interest to adult educators, labour educators, archivists, community workers and others concerned with education for social change.


These are important histories that need to be read and honoured. This book needs to be read by anyone seeking to understand social change and the relationships between political activism, education and the pursuit of justice.

Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Professor of Education and Maori Development, University of Waikato, author of Decolonising Methodologies

‘At a time of serious assault on education and reason, Aziz Choudry and Salim Vally have produced a crucial book of essays that are a protest against that attack and that offer the road towards expanding what we expect of our world. Studies of struggles help us recognize how essential they were in producing the few decent things that exist about our world. That’s a spur to new struggles – and to new possibilities’.

Vijay Prashad, author of The Poorer Nations: a possible history of the Global South.

‘This is an exciting collection of essays by prominent activist scholars, who critically reflect on the production of historical knowledge, radical pedagogies and social movements from various geographical vantage points. Importantly, the edited volume draws attention to the often neglected educative role of social movements thus offering innovative insights into the character of these movements. A salient thread in the book is the exploration of the role of radical histories in shaping the imaginations and praxes of contemporary movements. By foregrounding the use and production of historical knowledge and of archives of struggles in the course of enacting emancipatory politics, the collection shines new light on activism and social movements. The book will inspire contemporary activists to rethink the place of historical knowledge in movements as they engage in the struggle of imagining and creating a socially just future.’

Noor Nieftagodien, South African Research Chair (SARChI): Local Histories, Present Realities, School of Social Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand

‘An outstanding book that makes a unique contribution to understanding social movements in both theory and practice. With its focus on collective knowledge production and the diverse ways in which people seek to win a better world, the book goes beyond standard, elite-focused, narratives of social change – a much-needed tribute to the histories and legacies of social struggles in South Africa and beyond.’

Adam Hanieh, Senior Lecturer, Department of Development Studies, SOAS, University of London

In this world dominated by market capitalism, developing a people's history is vitally important to clarify the lessons and preserve the heritage for today’s and future generations of struggles for freedom, from Palestine to South Africa. This important book foregrounds accounts by and about those who actually participated in fighting for freedom, invaluable primary sources, acute critical insights, and urges us to reflect and draw on the enduring legacies of radical ideas and action which in the passing of time should not be lost.

Ronnie Kasrils, former South African government minister

An excellent contribution to the literature on learning in social movements and the knowledge produced on the margins of society, to the understanding of the imperative of learning from history and then to grasp and analyse the present political circumstances and how this influences current decisions’.

Salma Ismail, Associate Professor, Adult Education, School of Education, University of Cape Town.

"In this remarkable collection of essays, the contributors draw on examples of social movements from contexts as varied as South Africa, Palestine, North America, Argentina, Iran and the UK to address a key question for these challenging times, namely how can we as activists learn from the past so as to give shape to the future?"

Professor Leon Tikly, Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol

‘This impressive collection asks crucial and timely questions about how progressive social and political movements invoke past struggles. In the tradition of the engaged scholar activism of Angela Davis and Walter Rodney, the contributions give a vivid sense of how past struggles both inspire and are contested through political organising. Further, by exploring the importance of popular education to social movements and left political cultures the collection offers important horizons of hope and possibility for contemporary left imaginaries.’

David Featherstone, Senior lecturer, School of Geographical and Earth Sciences, University of Glasgow, author of Solidarity: Hidden histories and geographies of internationalism

‘Thisbook is a milestone in terms of connecting past and contemporary struggles. It is both an act of solidarity and about solidarity that crosses time and space, from South Africa and Argentina to Palestine, and from South Asian struggles in Britain to Black Power and the struggle for Third World studies in the U.S. Reflections on Knowledge, Learning and Social Movementsis of profound importance for all who understand the necessity of social change in dread and destitute times.’

David Austin, author of Fear of a Black Nation: Race, Sex, and Security in Sixties Montreal

‘Learning from history has always been an integral part of radical approaches to education and to social movement learning, but is a theme on which very little has been written – particularly in the South African context. This is a invaluable contribution to our understanding of the value of learning from past debates, experiences and struggles, and how historical lessons may be passed on by activists involved in current struggles and social movements, locally and internationally.’

Linda Cooper, Associate Professor, Adult Education, School of Education, University of Cape Town

‘Reflections on Knowledge, Learning and Social Movements: History's Schools is a must read for all of us working towards a more socially just world. It is packed full of fascinating insights into the way social movements engage with their own histories and others, how movements learn, and how the histories of past struggles can inform the struggles of the present. This is a book for those who recognize that history is constructed from below, and that archiving, revisiting and re-engaging with our own - often hidden histories- is a vital task for us in the context of present struggles. The introductory chapter by Choudry and Vally, takes us on an inspirational journey through the life of Walter Rodney to the words of Angela Davis, and plants the intellectual seeds of why history, and the history of social and political movements movements is so important. The book’s impressive beginning is followed by some sensational chapters, representing the best traditions of committed scholarship, full of integrity, passion and insight from struggles around the world. A hopeful, inspiring read, in these difficult times.’

Mario Novelli, Professor in the Political Economy of Education, University of Sussex and co-author of Globalization, Knowledge and Labour: Education for Solidarity within Spaces of Resistance. London:Routledge

‘This text offers a powerful rethinking of the very meaning of the intellect by refusing the separation of knowledge and action. Each chapter offers profound insights on how learning and historical engagement happens in social struggles and why documenting and making visible such forms of learning is necessary to strengthen our contemporary work as educationists and activists. Reflections on Knowledge, Learning and Social Movements: History's Schools is an illuminating resource for those engaged in the academic discipline of history and education, as well as those involved in community-based, alternative, and radical forms of social movement organizing.’

Nosheen Ali, Assistant Professor, Institute for Educational Development at the Aga Khan University, Karachi

‘Building on traditions of radical and social movement scholarship, this book provides rich insights into activist uses of history in diverse international contexts. Without romanticising these, it shows how history has inspired an infinite resource of ideas and practices to inform social change. A timely book, it reminds us of the power of history in shaping contemporary social struggles.’

Professor Linda Chisholm, Centre for Education Research and Transformation, University of Johannesburg

"As a scholar-activist whose work looks at unearthing the rich activist histories of anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist migrant movements, I have often wondered why there has yet to be a monograph exploring not only activist histories, but also how activists learn from and build on past struggles. Choudry’s and Vally’s edited collection fills this gap. By providing compelling articles written by scholar-activists in South Africa and from around the world, the assorted authors of this collection show how we can learn from, recreate, and reconfigure activist histories through, for example, their use of community archives. This is a must-read for people studying and participating in progressive movements for change."

Ethel Tungohan, Assistant Professor, Department of Politics and Social Science, York University, Toronto

"This collection answers critical questions for anyone seeking progressive change: just how did social, civic, political and revolutionary movements succeed in different parts of the world, and at different times, to fight injustices? The relationship between knowledge production and political and social movements is traced to great effect here by bringing together case studies from South Africa to Palestine, Argentina to Iran. Education theorists, historians, campaigners and activists will find here an exciting, fascinating, and immensely useful book."

Professor Karma Nabulsi, Oxford University

"Reflections on Knowledge, Learning and Social Movements forthrightly explores how various social movements around the world can serve as pedagogical and curricular models for understanding contemporary and future social justice struggles and initiatives. The essays in the volume move far beyond conceptual and theoretical assessments and explicate how oral history, archival history, and "hidden histories" might be consulted to bring about social change. This book is destined to become a classic in the study of education and social movements".

Derrick P. Alridge, University of Virginia

"In their quest to achieve emancipatory change, revolutionaries across the world have long utilized, and substantially advanced, knowledge of the past. Yet, the distinctly rich connections between learning, research, and social transformation have often been overlooked by historians and education theorists alike. This highly original, broad-ranging, and insightful book crucially fills this glaring scholarly gap, while providing meaningful theoretical and empirical reflections for contemporary struggles."

Abdel Razzaq Takriti, Arab-American Educational Foundation Chair in Modern Arab History, University of Houston

As we enter into one of the most precarious political moments in the history of the world, Reflections on Knowledge, Learning and Social Movements powerfully brings us back to an important realization: we cannot accurately comprehend human oppression nor how to effectively counter its destructive impact upon our societies without a committed materialist analysis of people’s histories, social movements, and contemporary political processes. In response, Choudry and Vally have skillfully edited a set of outstanding essays by both new voices and seasoned scholars that offer thoughtful perspectives for understanding, resisting, and challenging the social and material mayhem of our time. Through unapologetic, anti-imperialist readings of South African struggles and other international examples, the book reinvigorates the socialist project in the face of growing despair, as it passionately offers new possibilities for educators and community activists to forge genuine liberatory participation and collective social action around the globe.

Antonia Darder, Endowed Leavey Chair of Moral and Ethical Leadership, Loyola Marymount University and Distinguished Visiting Professor, University of Johannesburg

Movement histories and archives are a rich source of lessons and strategies for contemporary struggles for justice. In "Reflections on Knowledge, Learning and Social Movements: History's Schools," South African-based scholars and activists with long histories in anti- and newer post-apartheid activism, including Rhodes Must Fall, are joined by leading historians and activist scholars from Argentina, Iran, Palestine, the United States, and Britain to uncover such lessons, and to reflect on the uses of history for those building movements today. It is an essential resource for organizers and activists, and a model of engaged historiography.

Sean Jacobs, The New School

Table of Contents

Part 1. Engaging with activist/movement archives

Chapter 1: Working with the past: Making history of struggle part of the struggle

Andrew Flinn (University College London, UK)

Chapter 2: Learning from the Alexander Defence Committee Archives

Archie L. Dick (University of Pretoria, South Africa)

Chapter 3: A lost tale of the student movement in Iran

Mahdi Ganjavi and Shahrzad Mojab (University of Toronto/Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, Canada)

Part 2. Learning and teaching militant histories

Chapter 4: Immediate history as personal history: The militant as a historian

Pablo Pozzi (University of Buenos Aires, Argentina)


Chapter 5: Anti-apartheid people’s histories and post-apartheid nationalist biographies

David Johnson (Open University, UK)

Chapter 6: African history in context: Toward a praxis of radical education

Asher Gamedze, Koni Benson and Akosua Koranteng (University of Cape Town, South Africa) 


Part 3. Lessons from liberatory and anti-imperialist struggles

Chapter 7: Tracking the states and the UN: From an Indigenous centre

Sharon H. Venne (Treaty Six/Cree) and Irene Watson (Tanganekald/Meintangk, University of South Australia)

Chapter 8: The legacy of the Palestinian Revolution: Reviving organising for the next generation

Akram Salhab (Independent scholar, UK/Palestine)


Chapter 9: ‘An act of struggle in the present’: History, education and political campaigning by South Asian anti-imperialist activists in the UK

Anandi Ramamurthy (Sheffield Hallam University, UK) and Kalpana Wilson (London School of Economics, UK)

Chapter 10: Learning in struggle: An activist’s view of the transition from apartheid to democracy in South Africa

Trevor Ngwane (University of Johannesburg, South Africa)

Part 4: Learning from student, youth and education struggles


Chapter 11: Alternative education: Examining past experiences critically

Enver Motala (University of Fort Hare, South Africa)

Chapter 12: Over the rainbow: Third World Studies against the Neoliberal turn

Robin D. G. Kelley (UCLA, USA)

Chapter 13: Alternative imaginaries on US campuses: Revisiting the origins of Black Studies

Martha Biondi (Northwestern University, USA)

Chapter 14: Remixing past and present struggles: cultural activism in the Western Cape, South Africa

Emile Jansen and Paul Hendricks (Independent researchers, Cape Town, South Africa)

About the Editors

Aziz Choudry is Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair in Social Movement Learning and Knowledge Production in the Department of Integrated Studies in Education, McGill University, Canada. He is a visiting professor at the Centre for Education Rights and Transformation, Faculty of Education, University of Johannesburg, South Africa.

Salim Vally is Associate Professor at the Faculty of Education and Director of the Centre for Education Rights and Transformation, University of Johannesburg, South Africa. He is also a visiting professor at Nelson Mandela University, South Africa.

About the Series

Routledge Advances in Sociology

This series presents cutting-edge developments and debates within the field of sociology. It provides a broad range of case studies and the latest theoretical perspectives, while covering a variety of topics, theories and issues from around the world. It is not confined to any particular school of thought.

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Sociology / General