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Towards a Urban Popular University - UPU

In the last decade the networking activities promoted by social movements as well as a collaborative process such as the World, Regional and Thematic Social Forum series of events (since January 2001) have drawn the attention to the need to overcome the rigid division between theory and practice (Santos, 2003) and to enable social activists to include the research, training, and action dimension of their work into a consistent strategy of refl-action.


The practical consequences of such attitude are at least two-folds. On one side it is a matter of networking in active ways with International, Academic and Research bodies whose activities are instrumental and are intersecting the activities of social movements. On the other side social movements are deepening their self-perception as entities capable of turning their action-research into both a source of media and awareness raising work and a basis for improved internal training and capacity building. International Alliance of Inhabitants (IAI) intends to respond to this scenario by promoting a "Urban" Popular University with multiple and complementary functions:
(1) to respond to the need for research and reflection about a global strategy of justice concerning the social construction of habitat and addressing housing issues; and
(2) to encourage, to facilitate and to strengthen the organisational development of the various members of IAI.


The global-local dimension and related organisations concerning housing issues
The social construction of habitat and the right to the city: key concepts, tensions and actors
The role of housing social movements within the Regional and World Social Forum movements
Key issues in organisation and capacity building: participation, lobby and communication, new (free) technologies, action-research, exchange and translation issues.


To provide practitioners with key networking, analysis, research and action competencies;
To strengthen the capacity building work of IAI members;
To contribute to IAI development and international exchange dimension;
To discuss and to identify strategical global and local housing issues.


The key idea is to place participation and reciprocity as central issues in facilitating a learning process involving exchanges among different organisations working towards greater social justice and among them and competent International, Academic and Research bodies.
The methodological approach draws from Mezirow's concepts (Taylor 1998) of centrality of experience and critical reflection based on critical social theory (Scott 1997). For learners to transform their "meaning schemes (specific beliefs, attitudes, and emotional reactions)," they must engage in critical reflection on their experiences, which in turn leads to a perspective transformation (Mezirow 1991, p. 167). "Perspective transformation is the process of becoming critically aware of how and why our assumptions have come to constrain the way we perceive, understand, and feel about our world; changing these structures of habitual expectation to make possible a more inclusive, discriminating, and integrating perspective; and, finally, making choices or otherwise acting upon these new understandings" (ibid.).
Perspective transformation explains how the meaning structures that adults have acquired over a lifetime become transformed. These meaning structures are frames of reference that are based on the totality of individuals' cultural and contextual experiences and that influence how they behave and interpret events (Taylor 1998). An individual's meaning structure will influence how she/he chooses to vote or how she/he reacts to persons who suffer physical abuse, for example.
The meaning schemes that make up meaning structures may change as an individual adds to or integrates ideas within an existing scheme and, in fact, this transformation of meaning schemes occurs routinely through learning. Perspective transformation leading to transformative learning, however, occurs much less frequently. Mezirow believes that it usually results from a "disorienting dilemma," which is triggered by a life crisis or major life transition, although it may also result from an accumulation of transformations in meaning schemes over a period of time (Mezirow 1995, p. 50).
Meaning schemes are based upon experiences that can be deconstructed and acted upon in a rational way (Taylor 1998). Mezirow (1995) suggests this happens through a series of phases that begin with the disorienting dilemma. Other phases include self-examination, critical assessment of assumptions, recognition that others have shared similar transformations, exploration of new roles or actions, development of a plan for action, acquisition of knowledge and skills for implementing the plan, tryout of the plan, development of competence and self-confidence in new roles, and reintegration into life on the basis of new perspectives (ibid., adapted from p. 50).


Distance and open learning common platform based on free-software such as Moodle and OpenConference (integrated with inclusive tools for members without easy access to such technologies)
Individual and common SWOT analysis
Refl-action centred on case-studies
Monitored exchange of practitioners
Series of thematic training courses/focus group


Internal IAI consultation (in progress)
External consultation aimed at academic and international co-operation, sponsoring and fund-raising (from July 25 2004)
Setting-up of a steering group and feasibility study (September 2004)
Pilot phase (from 2005)


Boyd, Robert D., and Myers, J. Gordon. "Transformative Education." INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF LIFELONG EDUCATION 7, no. 4 (October-December 1988): 261-284.
Mezirow, Jack. "Perspective Transformation." ADULT EDUCATION 28 (1978): 100-110.
Mezirow, Jack. TRANSFORMATIVE DIMENSIONS OF ADULT LEARNING. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1991.
Mezirow, Jack. "Transformation Theory of Adult Learning." In IN DEFENSE OF THE LIFEWORLD, edited by M. R. Welton, pp. 39-70. New York: SUNY Press, 1995.
Mezirow, Jack. "Transformative Learning: Theory to Practice." In TRANSFORMATIVE LEARNING IN ACTION: INSIGHTS FROM PRACTICE. NEW DIRECTIONS FOR ADULT AND CONTINUING EDUCATION NO. 74, edited by P. Cranton, pp. 5-12. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, Summer 1997.
Santos de Sousa, Boaventura, "A universidade popular dos movimentos sociais", www.ces.fe.uc.pt, 2003
Taylor, Edward W. THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF TRANSFORMATIVE LEARNING: A CRITICAL REVIEW. INFORMATION SERIES NO. 374. Columbus: ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult, Career, and Vocational Education, Center on Education and Training for Employment, College of Education, the Ohio State University, 1998


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