Philip Finn

Graduate of Politics & Philosophy, and MA CEESA.

I returned to education in 2010 to study Politics and Philosophy as a mature student in Maynooth University.  This decision was guided by my interest in equality and social activism with the aspiration to learn what I considered useful knowledge for achieving social justice.  I found a welcoming atmosphere conducive to learning in Maynooth University, and particularly the Department of Sociology.  The department's emphasis on developing your own research and theoretical understanding is enhanced through the small class sizes in the Politics programme, which allowed me to develop my own interests in the struggle for social change.
After graduating with my degree in Politics and Philosophy I participated in the MA programme Community Education, Equality and Social Activism (CEESA) in Maynooth University.  It is difficult to offer an account of my experiences in CEESA which could adequately reflect the originality of the course; it is quite unique! It is a course dedicated to creating a dialogue between academic research and social activist practitioners.  As such, it is designed for practitioners and those who wish to become activists, without adhering to a predefined criteria of what counts as an activist. 

The course is informed by a diversity of backgrounds; both students and lecturers are dedicated to the co-creation of useful knowledge through understanding and 'learning from each other's struggles'.  Learning from one another can be a challenging experience as ideas and interests clash and differences begin to emerge.  Yet, such discussions not only highlight the pervasiveness of oppression and injustice in society, but that in being too uncritical about our own actions we can and do re-enact these oppressions and injustices in our own practice.  Throughout the course my own ideas and practices were challenged through dialogue with others which encouraged an increasingly reflective engagement on my part regarding my own practice. 
Yet, what I take from CEESA is an enduring belief in the willingness and ability of ordinary people to effect change.  Indeed, there is a refreshing sense of hope embedded within the course serving to remind us of how often social movements 'from below' have reshaped our society for the better.  This idea of a learning community comes with the expectation of participation as students help to shape the learning environment, while also being afforded the opportunity and responsibility to facilitate class discussions.  The course is dedicated to thinking seriously about genuine alternatives to existing structures of oppression; it is at times a challenging and demanding endeavour, but it is without doubt the most rewarding learning experience I have had.  Beyond this, it was a lot of fun as the emphasis on co-creating knowledge largely displaces the traditional lecture format in favour of a variety of interactive learning methods ranging from group work to acting.
This introduction to genuine active learning has been invaluable and continues to inform my own thinking and practice as a tutor within the Sociology department.  After being awarded the John and Pat Hume scholarship, I was able to begin my current PhD research on voluntary unemployment and welfare which maintains a 'politics from below' which emphasises the active agency of those facing oppression and injustice.