Reinventing Learning Cities at the 13th PASCAL International Conference

The 13th PASCAL International Conference took place in June 3rd to June 5th 2016 in Glasgow. The conference focused on future directions for Learning Cities at a time of considerable challenge and opportunity for cities, with significant development in the role and contribution of Learning Cities. The conference served as a forum to share ideas and experiences on the development and role of Learning Cities in this challenging context, discussing new research directions and innovative forms of partnership.

As part of the conference we presented the “Reinventing Learning Cities” research project. Below a short abstract of Prof. Facer’s presentation entitled “From silos to skylines: Reconnecting learning cities with urban studies”:

The Learning Cities movement is one that seeks to locate learning and education at the heart of wider initiatives – from health and wellbeing to technological and environmental change. As this conference call observes, however, learning institutions and processes often seem to be marginalised or misunderstood by other city-wide programmes. This paper argues that this oversight might be understood as having epistemological foundations. Specifically, the paper argues that mainstream educational theory and practice has become fundamentally divorced from the learning theories that are emerging in fields such as urban studies (e.g. McFarlane, 2011/2013), infrastructure studies (Amin, 2015) and socio-material studies (e.g. Thrift, 2014). Indeed, this disjuncture is so profound that an urban geographer can argue that ‘it is crucial that we open the black-box that learning has become’ (McFarlane, 2011, 373); clearly demonstrating the extent to which research on education and learning has become increasingly invisible in the wider field of urban studies.

The paper outlines two approaches, one theoretical, one methodological, to attempt to reconnect the fields of education studies, urban studies, socio-material studies and cultural geography.

The first intervention is to frame the Learning City as necessarily a plural and overlapping set of practices that are simultaneously in operation, in which formal educational practices can be understood to function alongside 1) the practices of dwelling and improvising that constitute the process of learning to live in the city (from cultural geography); 2) the intentional political practices of learning to change the city (from urban studies and social movement theory) and 3) the emerging socio-technical practices of the city itself as a digital learning organism (from socio-material theory). Such an articulation of the Learning city creates opportunities for connection between researchers working in fields ranging from classroom practice to political studies to computer science.

The second intervention is methodological, it employs ‘inventive’ (Wakeford & Lury, 2014) devices from archaeology and participatory arts practice in order to 1) produce an ‘ontograph’ (Thrift, 2014) of the multiple learning practices that are taking place simultaneously in the city; and 2) frame cities and neighbourhoods as having distinctive ‘learning skylines’, which are as specific to each place as their physical architecture. Through walking the city and mapping the city, these methods make visible how the practices of learning (both formal and informal) are always already deeply enmeshed with the urban practices of adapting to environmental and technological change and with the creation of health and wellbeing. No silos exist between learning, health and technological change at streetlevel.

In this way, the paper demonstrates how productive collaborations might be built between researchers and social actors already working to adapt cities for contemporary change. It will evidence this with reference to the use of these techniques in Bristol and their implications for city actors at local government level.

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