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Connecting to make a difference: social learning and radical collective change in prefigurative online communities

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

  • Dorian Cavé
Publication date2023
Number of pages577
Awarding Institution
  • Bendell, Jem , Supervisor, External person
  • Grimwood, Tom, Supervisor, External person
  • Stuart, Kaz, Supervisor, External person
  • Lancaster University
<mark>Original language</mark>English
Externally publishedYes


In view of the current global social and ecological predicament, what might constitute relevant forms of radical collective change? What role can processes of social learning play in facilitating such change? And to what extent are online networks able to support the unfolding of such processes?
This thesis addresses these questions. I first present the results of two participatory action research projects, taking place in two different prefigurative online communities attempting to bring about very different forms of collective change. The first focuses on building a transnational, decentralised grassroots economic system as an alternative to global capitalism, but struggles to shake free from the toxic influence of global financial markets, and from unhelpful ways of relating and organising. The second aims to foster self-organisation and new forms of relationality between humans and with the rest of the living world, but struggles to address the heritage of historical violence and injustice, or to bring about visible political change. With the help of the Wenger-Trayner social learning theory and evaluation framework, I consider what processes of social
learning have been taking place (or not) in these networks, and their outcomes; and what other social change efforts may learn from these experiments and their limitations.
Finally, I present a reflexive account of my own process of learning and unlearning through my involvement with these projects and others, with regards to the question of what may constitute radical collective change. This critical assessment of my own thinking and aspirations leads me to argue in favour of decolonial approaches to social change as potentially relevant responses to the global predicament.
This thesis contributes to the understanding of social learning processes within prefigurative online communities, and to the practice of social change efforts in such contexts.