Learning Activism: The Intellectual Life of Contemporary Social Movements

Learning Activism: The Intellectual Life of Contemporary Social Movements

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By Aziz Choudry
University of Toronto Press, Higher Education Division © 2015
World Rights
216 Pages
ISBN 9781442607903
Published Sep 2015
ISBN 9781442607910
Published Sep 2015
ebook (EPUB format)
ISBN 9781442607934
Published Sep 2015
Full purchase $23.95

What do activists know? Learning Activism is designed to encourage a deeper engagement with the intellectual life of activists who organize for social, political, and ecological justice. Combining experiential knowledge from his own activism and a variety of social movements, Choudry suggests that such organizations are best understood if we engage with the learning, knowledge, debates, and theorizing that goes on within them. Drawing on Marxist, feminist, anti-racist, and anti-colonial perspectives on knowledge and power, the book highlights how activists and organizers learn through doing, and fills the gap between social movement practice as it occurs on the ground, critical adult education scholarship, and social movement theorizing. Examples include anti-colonial currents within global justice organizing in the Asia-Pacific, activist research and education in social movements and people's organizations in the Philippines, Migrant and immigrant worker struggles in Canada, and the Quebec student strike. The result is a book that carves out a new space for intellectual life in activist practice.

Aziz Choudry is Associate Professor, Department of Integrated Studies in Education, McGill University, and Visiting Professor at the Centre for Education Rights and Transformation, University of Johannesburg.
List of Figures

1. Knowledge Production, Learning, and Education in Social Movement Activism
2. Critiquing the Study of Social Movements: Theories, Knowledge, History, Action
3. Non-formal and Informal Learning in Activism
4. Activist Research
Epilogue: Lessons from Activist Learning, Education, and Research

The text brilliantly shines a light on the creative intellectual work generated by effective social movements, and simultaneously renews Gramsci’s concept of the ‘organic intellectual.’ Scholar-activists in Canada and internationally will embrace this text—as accessible in style as it is sophisticated in analysis.

Abigail B. Bakan, Ontario Institute For Studies in Education (OISE), University of Toronto

Learning Activism fiercely bridges the divide between activism and knowledge production, and innovates crucial analyses of decolonization and anti-globalization movements by illustrating how social movements are indeed grounded in research, theory-making, learning, and education. This book is a must read for anyone interested in social movements, education, and community studies.

Nadine Suleiman Naber, University of Illinois, Chicago

In contrast to mainstream social movement theory, Choudry illustrates how people learn about power, possibility, and social change in the course of daily struggles to remake their realities, while documenting the ineradicable capacity of ordinary people to 'organize, learn, and create knowledge together'.

Nisha Thapliyal, University of Newcastle, Australia

Learning Activism is informed by a vast swathe of intellectual thought concerned with politicization, political learning and collective struggle including critical adult education, institutional and activist ethnography and anti-colonial, feminist, anti-racist, indigenous, immigrant, migrant and working class struggles.

International Journal of Lifelong Education

Choudry makes a compelling case for looking at the various forms of knowledge production and learning taking place in social movement activism. Drawing from a rich array of activist and organizing experiences around the globe, the author encourages readers to consider social movements as classrooms where people come together to share ideas and conceptual tools for fighting oppression and bringing about social change. This book is particularly helpful for thinking about how radical imagination is profoundly shaped by actions in the moments of political organizing.


Learning Activism is an insightful exploration into the discourse and spaces where learning takes place in social movements but provides a critical examination into the lack of embeddedness among scholars in the field they research that is surely generalizable in the social sciences. Aziz Choudry thoughtfully challenges the types of activities and dialogue being held that can create experts and leaders in activist organisations and mobilizations that can contribute to silencing the voices of those who are marginalized.

Canadian Journal of Education

Choudry’s book carries great authority as it stems from his more than twenty years in activist organizations around the globe. The author takes the reader on a fascinating journey to different emancipatory movements on five different continents. Particularly intriguing is his analysis of gatherings, arts and poetry as form of collective activist learning. Putting into doubt the mobilizing factor of dry NGO leaflets and academic publications, Choudry convincingly points his (most likely academic) audience to the force of non-written material. He challenges social movement research to think outside the box and opens potential avenues for fruitful interaction between activist scholars and activist organizations. Choudry encourages scholars to move closer to activists in order to understand the complex ways knowledge is created in action. As a result, this is an excellent read for scholars and activists alike.

Marx and Philosophy Review of Books

The fascinating story of how contemporary activists learn from each other and disseminate their knowledge is still being unravelled by academia, as well as by social movements themselves. In Learning Activism: The Intellectual Life of Contemporary Social Movements, Aziz Choudry, an activist-turned-academic and professor in McGill's Department of Integrated Studies in Education, pays homage to the intellectual work that is inherently produced and circulated when people get together to challenge oppressive systems.

Montreal Review of Books