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August 11, 2009

Pedagogy of the Depressed

Bob Hamilton, who has for many years been involved in the development of training for community workers, has published a paper highly critical of the community work professions in Scotland. He accuses it of being remote and elitist – in servitude to govt. – rather than working in partnership with the communities its supposed to serve

Bob Hamilton

A Critique and Riposte – The Edinburgh Papers 2008
The Edinburgh papers under the general title “Reclaiming Social Purpose in Community Education” were written by members of staff from three University Departments with a vested interest in the education of Community Learning and Development workers formerly known as Community Education Workers
An electronic copy of the papers can be obtained by contacting either: or

A full version of Bob Hamilton’s critique of these papers can be viewed here

Below is an edited version of Bob’s concluding comments……
As far as Community Education as an entity is concerned it is in my view, a spent force. That is if it ever was a potent force. A major problem has been the central contradiction of a ‘service’ tied into a power structure through the control exercised by the major employers and funded by the government. Its rhetoric has always been around a commitment to the community’s agenda and often within that to those who lack power. The result of this often conveniently ignored contradiction has been the inability to pursue the logic of a commitment to those with little power and few resources. This would almost certainly cause problems and is usually discouraged. Instead those with a vested interest in the preservation of the status quo have followed the conventional route of attempting to establish an elite group whose major task was to serve that status quo often in the name of democracy.
In simple terms they decided whose side they were on and you can be assured it wasn’t on the side of the communities that they claim a commitment to serve.
Too simple – yes it is too simple, unfortunately that fundamental decision to follow the well worn path of establishing a profession helped emaciate Community Work as a genuine educational force. There are of course other forces at work whose aims are inimical to initiatives that aimed at establishing a much wider involvement of people in the affairs which influence their lives.
Somewhere some people lost the plot and instead of nurturing the ability, integrity, commitment, experience and humanity of those who wished to get positively involved with people who for whatever reason were having a rough time.  They turned the whole thing into a charade where competition, elitism and the hunger for power became paramount. Thus creating room for the charade that is New Labour’s answer to involving the poor in their own affairs.
From the acceptance of the recommendation that “Entry to the career of community education worker should be limited to graduates” the Carnegie Report 1977. The battle to have integrity, talent and ability as benchmarks of a worker gave way to mediocrity as the standard. Fortunately some of those who possessed the original qualities still applied and were accepted but overall the focus changed and along with the change so did the quality. And certainly not for the better.
While there is no way of going back and that is just as well. I must admit that I am loath to think that Community Work will wither on some bureaucratic vine constructed by New Labour. Fortunately, whether the values of community work survive is not down to the current hegemony whose stewardship is to say the least questionable. If, however, the values underpinning Community work need to be nurtured the recipe spelt out in the Edinburgh Papers simply won’t do. It is rather ironic that the situation Community Education is in reminds me of New Labour. Change is desperately needed with no sign of anything happening. Why? Because what is being proposed is more of the same and in both cases the empire was built on sand and people can sense it. If the Edinburgh Papers do anything it may be to at least kick start a debate which could act with other developments as a catalyst for fundamental change. If not then the withering will come sooner rather than later. The real tragedy lies in the misuse of resources that could have encouraged people to get involved and instead effectively excluded them.
Bob Hamilton has worked in a variety of Community Work jobs over the past 40 years. During this time he has had responsibility for the delivery of a number of Certificate, Diploma and Degree programmes in Community Work and has contributed to other undergraduate and post graduate courses. As Head of the Youth and Community Department in Aberdeen College of Education, and working with local authorities in the North of Scotland, he was responsible for the development of a 3-year work based Community Work diploma. This was funded by the ‘first in Europe’ programme run by the European Social Fund. Subsequently, he was involved in it’s metamorphosis into a work based Degree programme based in the University of Glasgow. He is currently working as a Tutor and as a part time Development worker.

Robert Hamilton