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Cultural learning: benefiting the city by benefiting individuals

Posted on 27/09/2017

Adam Qadeer graduated from King's this September. He spent his summer months as an Undergraduate Research Fellow with the Cultural Institute at King's where he explored the research behind the role and impact of 'lifelong learning' in relation to civics and the city. Adam has written a blog about his findings, his experience of doing research and what he learnt in the process:

This summer, I joined the Cultural Institute at King's as an Undergraduate Research Fellow. The Cultural Institute wanted me to explore possible cultural policies, designed in accordance with the principle of lifelong learning, which would transform London’s social, physical and political fabric. Lifelong learning is a relatively new policy focus; encapsulated in the idea of a UNESCO Learning City, it promotes learning to one of the highest of societies values and intends to create and satisfy, the desire and needs people have to learn.

My Liberal Arts education has made me most comfortable in the clean, theoretical world. Initially, I was not sure how my skill-set would accommodate the needs of policy-oriented research. The study of philosophy cultivates a personal disposition to a particular method of inquiry. In crude terms; it directs your attention towards the use and meaning of words and concepts. When assessing a concept, the philosopher endeavours to expose the logic and motivations which secure it. Cultural policy does not necessarily demand the depth that philosophy can offer. But it does rest upon theoretical foundations, and if policy does not stand firmly upon these, it has no real justification.

I wanted to build the cultural learning city by understanding and establishing its component parts. Whilst I could have simply designed some policies based on other examples of learning city initiatives, I wanted to establish whether or not the cultural learning city was a conceptually coherent and practicable solution in itself. Additionally, given these considerations, I wanted to comprehensively elucidate the natures and properties initiatives in a cultural learning city should take. Consequently, I was interested in the questions: What are the characteristics of lifelong learning? What is the nature of the learning city strategy in policy? What is culture? What are the benefits of culture? What theory of value supports our commitment to these concepts? What kinds of problems can the cultural learning city solve? Whilst these questions are not exclusive to the domain of philosophy, they challenge policy makers to ask questions about the foundational concepts that govern their thinking and actions.

graphic adam 2

The thinking behind the learning city strategy is as follows: If citizens are equipped with necessary knowledge and skills, by having opportunities to learn throughout life, they will be capable of solving personal and societal problems by being discerning and adaptable individuals. Consequently, there would be less pressure on the government to intervene through different means. The city benefits by benefitting individuals.

Theoretical commitments make demands of those committed to them. They act as lens through which to assess problems and design informed responses. I claim that some problems are better suited to assessment through a particular lens. If we look at some of London’s social problems, which include a growing and changing population, the persistence of poverty and disadvantage, and an unequal distribution of the high quality of life London can offer; utilising the lens of culture can give a more accurate diagnosis of the problem. Culture can define a sense of place, give birth to a sense of belonging and generally improve a person’s quality of life. If policy-makers focussed on culture, they would consider different features of a person’s experience to be relevant and act in accordance with these new considerations.

Given all these considerations, I was able to give this provisional definition of a cultural learning city: A cultural learning city is a type of learning city, in which learning initiatives use culture as a means through which to learn and as the content which is learned about. A cultural learning city will empower people, allow them to live a meaningful life and contribute to the solution of certain kinds of problems, particularly the challenges facing the social domain.

I learnt things on my fellowship that I couldn’t have otherwise learnt and which I cannot do justice to in this short blog. I was exposed to the limitations of my own thinking, by spending time with knowledgeable and experienced academics. I discovered that a large chunk of the research process, was the academic equivalent of manual labour. Research is often frustrating and anxiety-inducing. It evokes a condition of uneasiness as you wrestle with yourself and unfamiliar material. But it has the capacity to offer a brief and unequivocally intense moment of satisfaction: one which cannot be found anywhere else.

adam Adam Qadeer BA graduated from the Department of Liberal Arts, Faculty of Arts & Humanities, King's College London with an undergraduate degree in Liberal Arts with a Major in Philosophy and a Minor in History.

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