Free universities are diverse but loosely networked projects that resist repressive capitalist and state configurations of power by re-imagining teaching, learning and research on their own terms, often through radical and ongoing experimentation. Drawing from my own experiences as a co-founder and organiser of the Brisbane Free University, along with research I conducted with around twenty-five different free universities across the U.S.A., Canada and Mexico, I focus in this article on activists’ attempts to develop emancipatory counter-capitalist pedagogies. Using notion of the tension between ‘study’ and ‘education’, with the former connoting a vast realm of possibilities for learning and the latter pointing to the presence of pre-defined end-points, I ask: when does activists’ prefigurative work orbit around explicitly counter-capitalist end-points to learning (against capitalism), and when do they attempt to abandon end-points altogether, in favour of ‘radically open’ forms of ‘learning for its own sake’ (beyond capitalism)?
Fern Thompsett is currently working towards her PhD in anthropology at McGill University, Canada, where she is investigating radical forms of environmental activism. Originally from Australia, she cofounded the Brisbane Free University in 2012, and continues to rank it amongst her most formative learning experiences. E-mail: email@example.com