Past Event

Sussex Development Lectures

Laboratories of learning – solidarities, education and knowledge-making in the Global South

3 May 2023 16:00–17:30

Institute of Development Studies (IDS) IDS Convening Space and online on Zoom

In 1989, Melucci’s Nomads of the Present argued that social movements were cultural ‘laboratories of experience’ within which ‘new problems and questions are posed. New answers are invented and tested, and reality is perceived and named in different ways’ (Melucci, 1989:207)

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In this Sussex Development Lecture, the speaker Professor Mario Novelli, University of Sussex, will explore the ways that social movements are crucial, but often overlooked, laboratories of learning, theorising and knowledge-making.  

Hear how, through a participatory, co-production approach, this work explored the learning and knowledge-making processes of four very different organisations that were part of broader social movements, located in Colombia, South Africa, Turkey and Nepal, as they advocated for peace with social justice in contexts of violent conflict and/or its aftermath: 

  • NOMADESC, a grassroots NGO based in Colombia 
  • The Housing Assembly, a grassroots organisation from Cape Town, South Africa 
  • The HDK (Peoples’ Democratic Congress), an umbrella organisation that brings together different social movements in Turkey 
  • Madhesh Foundation, Nepal, an organisation that works with and for the excluded Madhesh community of the Terai planes of Southern Nepal.  

The research explored three simple, but revealing research questions:  

  • How do social movements learn and make knowledge?  
  • What do they learn and make knowledge about?  
  • What is the effect of that learning and knowledge making on the movement, its members and the struggle the movements are engaged in?  

The answers to these questions provide a glimpse into the complex world of radical social movements in a period of increased authoritarianism, austerity and conflict – and sheds light on the nature, content and effect of movement learning and knowledge-making on social change.  

Each organisation, in different ways, advocates with and for marginalised communities, seeking to defend and extend their basic rights to education, health, housing, life, dignity and equal treatment before the law. Each organisation, to different degrees, has also been victim of state repression, violence against its members and activists, and sustained surveillance and persecution. 

From our research investigating these organisations and social movements further, our core argument is that social movements have the potential, to point the way forward to new modes of analysis, new ways of acting, thinking and resisting – as well as new strategic directions to aim for and aspire to. Furthermore, the richest and most innovative learning and knowledge-making processes are located on the frontlines of some of the most extreme global struggles.  

Emerging out of these struggles are insights and lessons that can make important contributions to the vital work of activists and social movements engaged in the struggle for global social justice, whilst simultaneously contributing to the renewal of radical social theory and global solidarity. 

The research underpinning this work was funded the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council and was carried out over a three-year period (2018-2021) and the book based on this research will be published in 2024: Novelli, M ; Kütan, B; Kane, P; Çelik, A; Pherali, T ; Benjamin, S, (2024) ‘Laboratories of Learning’: Social Movements, Education and Knowledge-Making in the Global South. London: PLUTO PRESS.  


Professor Mario Novelli, University of Sussex 


Dr Demet Dinler, Lecturer in Anthropology and International Development, School of Global Studies

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