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Anti-Poverty Community Organizing and Learning (APCOL)

APCOL Working Paper Series

Abstracts and Keywords

WP#1 Journey through Food Activism in Toronto, Ontario

Rachelle Campigotto, University of Toronto

Abstract: In 2009-2010 the Anti-Poverty Community Organizing and Learning project (APCOL) collaborated with FoodShare Toronto to study the community organizing processes focused on food activism.  In total, a group of seven (7) individuals, active within their respective communities were recruited from low income areas of Toronto.  The group of seven ‘Food Activists’ as well as a FoodShare facilitator and two university graduate students met weekly to develop education materials through a popular education process. These materials were created with the needs of the respective communities at the forefront and some were delivered at the community level.  Food Activists also agreed to be interviewed at length about their personal experiences with poverty and navigating the local food system within Toronto. The interviews and the facilitation of popular education techniques provided a space for the Food Activist group to reflect on their personal journey, using food and poverty as a lens. The interviews aimed to capture information on the role of social networks aiding or barring action and the role or social differences due to education, income or immigration.  Ultimately what emerged was a narrative of their struggles and actions within the food system in Toronto. This paper attempts to convey their journey as Food Activists and show how food is leveraged as a tool to organize and address inequity issues within Toronto.

Keywords: popular education, food, personal history, Toronto


WP #2 Re-Thinking Learning-Work Transitions in the Context of Community Training for Racialized Youth

Karen Carter, University of Toronto

Abstract: The City of Toronto experienced a particularly tremulous year in 2005.  Dubbed the "year of the gun," the marked increase in violence among racialized youth lead to an increase in community cultural programming. These programs provided preventative measures for at-risk youth by exposing them to aspects of the arts and cultural sector, utilizing their interests in related fields as an alternative to other less-constructive alternatives.  Many of these spaces acted as safe productive environments for youth to gather and develop self-esteem and as well as important marketable life skills that could be used in the labour force.

However there is currently some challenges within the inter-institutional learning work transition process. The training and learning-to-work transitions have not enjoyed the success that was envisioned in many cases. The research documented in this paper offers an opportunity for practitioners, policy makers and program funders to re-think the traditional approach as it relates to the arts and cultural programs for racialized at-risk youth in Canada's largest urban centre.

Keywords: learning and work transitions, racialized youth in Toronto, youth at risk, youth centred programming, arts and culture


WP #3 Engagement, identity, emotion and learning: A pre-apprenticeship program case study

Sue Carter, University of Toronto

Abstract: The aim of this paper is to sketch out a relationship between competency, agency, identity construction and learning in the context of a pre-apprenticeship program at an urban Ontario community college.  It takes as starting point that learning is a social practice and applies theoretical and methodological practice of cultural historical activity theory, with a particular focus on the practice of  identity construction.  Applying a socio-cultural perspective to the pre-apprenticeship case study yields insight into learning that is useful for educators (in terms of project planning and evaluation and more broadly) and for social movement learning theorists concerned with the intersection between anti-poverty initiatives and anti-poverty activism. 

Keywords: apprenticeship, cultural historical activity theory, figured worlds, social movement learning theory, identity, engagement, emotion, sociocultural learning theory, narrative, testimony, peer networks, perezhivanie, masculinity


WP #4 Community Learning and Mobilization Through Research

Joe Curnow, University of Toronto

Abstract: This study examines the learnings, the how and the what, of community researchers involved in a participatory action research CURA. It interrogates the impact of involvement on people’s willingness and ability to engage in community organizing at the conclusion of acommunity survey. The results of this research will enable university-researchers and community organizations to better accommodate the learning needs of community- researchers and ensure that they have an experience that empowers them to become more politically active in their communities.

Keywords: Community-University alliance, participatory action research, community- based learning



WP#5 The role of anti-poverty organizing for citizenship: Living and learning citizenship and agency through community activism

Ashleigh Dalton, University of Toronto

Abstract: This paper presents analyses of activism in low-income racialized neighbourhoods in Toronto, Canada. Using original survey data from the Anti- Poverty Community Organizing and Learning project, the paper presents a specific model of active citizenship and considers its relevance to community activism among immigrants to Canada. Through the analyses of activist involvement, knowledge, identity and agency, it is concluded that there is a link between active citizenship and activism in the community. Activism opens up spaces and processes for people to learn important things related to citizenship, what it is, and how it is lived and learned. The findings have implications for adult and community education, toward building more effective and knowledgeable citizens who can work collectively in their communities around issues that concern them.

Keywords: citizenship, activism, anti-poverty organizing, learning, adult education, immigration



WP #6 A Seat at the Table in Downtown Toronto Centre East, Canada

Doreen Fumia, Ryerson University, Toronto

Abstract Drawing on two local examples of community conflict, this paper examines four neighbourhood enclaves in Downtown Toronto Centre East as a way to think about shaping public concepts of belonging. In this area, low and moderate-income populations clash with middle class populations over claims to space. Within these conflictual struggles to stake claims to space are constructions of working class ways of living as disorderly and middle class ways of living as rational. While downtown elites mobilize cultural capital that serves to deliver spaces to the middles classes, the working poor also mobilize to push back at being displaced. These class and race encounters not only highlight the unequal social relations that exist there, but also the power and privilege that is used to create what Cathy van Ingen calls, “boundary consciousness” (2006:160). In this way geographies of privilege are marked on the social landscape of the DTCE. It is critical to note these moves and pay attention to the homogenizing implications for re-visioning urban spaces that contain a rich social mix..

Keywords: revitalization, urban neighbourhoods, belonging, middle class elites, working poor, community conflict


WP#7 Anti-Poverty Activism from a CHAT Perspective: A Comparison of Learning across Three Organizations

Peter H. Sawchuk, University of Toronto

Abstract: Based on research from the Anti-Poverty Community Organizing and Learning (APCOL) project, Marxist Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) is used to explore forms of anti-poverty activist learning: i) program-based community anti-poverty activism; ii) grassroots capacity building; and iii) direct collective action. Different types and origins of contradictions and key mediating artefacts are shown to offer a means of defining distinctive processes of learning and collective development.

Keywords: social movement learning; activity theory; anti-poverty organizing


WP#8 Social Networks and Socio-­economic Integration: Immigrant Experiences and Approaches in Toronto

Agnes Thomas, University of Toronto

Abstract: This paper analyses the findings from the Anti Poverty Community Organizing and Learning (APCOL) survey and case study done in one of the selected neighbourhood in Toronto. These findings will be examined from the context of social network theory. this paper will attempt to answer the following questions: What role do social networks play in the lives of people who live in the margins of this city? what integral roles do social networks play in organizing their work lives? What are some limitations the present social network analysis theory has in analysing these types of community networks and informal connections.

By exploring these questions, this analysis critically examines the themes established from the preliminary findings of the survey and case study in the context of social network. These four themes are i) immigrant women and their social organization in the community; ii) immigrants and issue of social mobility; iii) gendered division of labour in the informal sector through informal networks (mainly in the cash sector); and iv) activism carried out in informal networks to fight oppression and poverty. This paper also provides an overview of the social network theory and labour market trends of immigrant populations in Canada.

Keywords: Immigrants, social networks, community organizing and collective action


WP#9 Economic and Educational Inequalities and Support for Occupy Movements: Some Recent North American Evidence

D. W. Livingstone, University of Toronto
Milosh Raykov, University of Alberta

Abstract: The recent emergence of Occupy movements around the advanced capitalist world suggests widening perceptions of serious inequities and injustices and willingness to be involved in actions to change them. This paper will draw on evidence from a series of Canadian and U.S. opinion surveys of economic oppression, educational inequality and class consciousness, as well as support for Occupy movements, to assess the strength of these attitudes.

Keywords: social movements; consciousness; perceptions of injustice; Occupy Movement; Canada/US comparison 


WP #10 Decolonizing Methodologies: Reflections of an Interviewer

Erin Oldynski, University of Toronto

Abstract: This paper explores the theme and relationship across several interviews conducted as part of a participatory research project focused on how people construct themselves within the narrative of poverty. Throughout this paper I reflect on the process of interviewing and the ways in which my own research methodologies both reproduced and challenged particular forms of cultural and colonial knowledges. The findings of this project provide implications for how to conduct research through participatory, communal, local, and subjective methodologies that can be emancipatory for the communities that produce such research.

Keywords: anti-racism; cultural knowledge; anti-colonialism; poverty; participatory research


WP #11 Promoting Holistic Community Organizing: FoodShare Food Activist Workshop Series

Christine McKenzie, University of Toronto

Abstract: This paper discusses the activities and outcomes related to the APCOL Case Study with FoodShare. The focus of this case study was the development of FoodShare Food Activist Workshops to support intervention by activists on food security issues in the City of Toronto to expand participation. Description of the development of the food activist network of community leaders is provided. Specifically, the content of these specially designed workshops is seen to be informed by the challenges and successes Food Activists have faced with the goal of strengthening the capacity of community members to start, sustain, and create a better environment for projects such as community gardens, markets and kitchens. In parallel with this the paper speaks to questions regarding what leads individuals to become active in transforming their communities, what keeps them engaged once the work becomes difficult, and what interventions and approaches can help community leaders and supportive agencies to be more effective in bringing about larger change. The paper quotes at length in order to share the Food Activists stories, experiences and reflections of the FoodShare Food Activist group.

Keywords: FoodShare, food security, activism development, popular education


WP #12 Exploring (de)alienation in social movement learning: Case study findings on participant motivation and the role of movement organisations

Joseph E. Sawan, University of Toronto
Abstract: This paper engages in questions of empowerment, transformation and de-alienation among social movement participants and reviews selected findings from two APCOL case studies. Beginning with a brief review of key literatures in sociology and adult education, I explore the following questions: How can we understand everyday activities as resistance to estrangement, powerlessness and isolation? Can further development of theoretical and conceptual approaches to understanding (de)alienation provide us with necessary tools to understand how social movements relate to de-commodification and basic human needs?  Based on these research questions, I explore findings on two major themes; 1) motivational dimensions for community activism, and 2) the role of organisations (and resources generally) in supporting and hindering holistic community-based activities for de-alienation.
Keywords: social movement learning, theory of alienation, de-commodification, basic human needs, cultural historical activity theory, anti-poverty activism


WP #13 Learning in action: How ‘radical habitus’ mediates social movement activity and learning

Joseph E. Sawan, University of Toronto
Abstract: Social movement theory has seen influences from a variety of disciplines, beginning with traditions of psychology and social psychology, followed by an emphasis on resource mobilization and political process. Some promising literature in socio-cognition, and specifically Cultural-Historical Activity Theory (CHAT), provide new approaches to understand learning in social movements. At the same time, there have been efforts to incorporate Bourdieu’s theory of practice in analyses of social movements. In this paper, I argue for a need to utilize Bourdieu’s concepts of habitus and field within CHAT activity systems as a means to improve analyses of individual/collective learning and transformation in social movements. By looking at a case study on anti-poverty organizing in Ontario, I illustrate a promising conceptual approach to understand the dynamics of social movements.
Keywords: theory of practice, cultural historical activity theory, anti-poverty activism, social movement learning, radical habitus


WP #14 Social Movement Learning in Union and Community Coalition: An Activity Theory Perspective

Peter H. Sawchuk, University of Toronto
Abstract: Building on recent contributions toward the synthesis of cultural analysis of social movements on the one hand, and Marxist Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) on the other, this paper presents an empirical analysis of union and community mobilization in Toronto (Canada) (2003-2009). Drawing on semi-structured interviews with union staff, hotel workers and a range of associated social activist communities (n=30), the analysis summarizes the application of the CHAT approach.


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