Mutual aid research project

Hello everyone!

My name is Sam. I’m a PhD researcher at Loughborough University and I’m doing a project about how the pandemic has shaped grassroots political organising. I was put in touch with Sergio who suggested that I post on here introducing the project and to see if you’d be happy to participate, as individuals and/or a collective. I am an activist myself in Brighton and the type of research I’m doing is something like ‘militant ethnography’ – research which is with (and for) the groups who participate, creating knowledge and reflections together collaboratively. As we go through the project we will explore lots of things that I hope will feed back into the way CB operates and understands itself, helped by the fact that I’ll be able to put our ideas, challenges and dynamics into dialogue with the other groups I’m working with.

I want to find out how the current crisis is transforming organising – how are new political and shared identities created through what we do and the context we do it in? Part of this means looking at our goals, how we understand and deal with problems, how we look after ourselves and what practices and ideas keep us working together effectively. The project will look at several organisations that have jumped into action during the crisis and use interviews and literature that you give me to answer, among others, these questions:

What made what you do now possible: how does the state of CB’s component parts before the crisis explain what is happening now?

How has the crisis transformed the way you organise and what practices keep you effective, resilient and dynamic?

My intention is to find answers to these questions that will be useful to you and interesting to other grassroots groups more broadly. The research is overseen by the University’s ethics committee and, if you are happy to participate, I will send you a consent form to fill in and a more detailed information sheet about it. Everything we talk about or share would be completely confidential and will be securely encrypted. Anything I record or store will be with your permission and you can withdraw from the project whenever you like.

I would be really excited to work with CB as you seem to be concerned with many of the things that I think are really interesting about the current explosion of mutual aid organising – openness, considering the relationship with the social world you’re part of, warding off co-optation by the state, reconfiguring what labour, social reproduction and care means, among other things. Please do drop me an email for a chat and for more info. I’m hoping to get started with interviews in the next month or so, but it’d be good to be in contact generally before that so I can get a sense of what’s been happening so far. Thanks!


This is my researcher profile:


Hi @SamG thanks for reaching out!

We’ll try and see if anyone has the spoons to speak to you. We’re all super busy at the moment and simply running the various projects takes up most of our time.

Hopefully all the info on the website and forum should give you an idea on how we’re operating.

My questions would be, how is the research going to be made public? What license will it be under? How is it useful to us as a coop?

I’m not really into doing it if it’s not going to be published publicly and under a license which allows public use as opposed to locked away in an academic silo.

Hi Leo, thanks a lot for your reply. I appreciate that there is little time available for something like this, which is one reason why for now I am starting small and building up to more engagement once everyone is clear that the project is worth the investment (and when there may be more appetite for looking back and documenting things). My progress on the project has been pretty slow since March also because organising in Brighton is also taking up so much energy!

I have two purposes for the research which should overcome this difficulty: It must be actively useful to groups organising around and beyond the pandemic - if it’s not then it’s just another academic study locked away in a journal or archive, as you say. It must also be fun! I don’t want already overloaded participants to feel like this is adding more responsibilities. It’s an exciting project (well I’m excited about it!) so I hope that enthusiasm can be contagious.

Practically, I hope there are many ways that the research process can be useful, not least of which is having someone who is documenting and co-ordinating reflections about the dynamics of and problems encountered by the coop and feeding back what other groups are doing and experiencing with similar issues. The idea is to reproduce something like a workers’ inquiry (Plan C were recently working on the idea of a social inquiry which also fits), where you are able to steer the research towards what would be most useful for Cooperation Birmingham while I unearth questions that there doesn’t seem enough time to think about and explore otherwise.

The research is for a PhD thesis, which means that it will be publicly (and freely) available in the university’s repository on creative commons licence CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. That’s for the end ‘product’, but our work as we go through will be available and shared however we want to organise that, whether its forum posts, reports, workshops which come off the back of things that have come up, a blog or co-producing articles for non-academic distribution (with the actual data anonymised as appropriate) etc.

Hope that clears up some of the questions you have. I’m also very happy to talk directly. The website and forum have plenty to get started with for sure. Thanks again!


Edit: Here is an article about the workers’ inquiry, to give a sense of how the research might fit into the broader goals of anti-state, anti-capitalist transformation. I’m not allowed to post two links, but the Ed Emery article linked at the bottom is also worth a read:

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