Act: Inspiration

Creating third spaces of learning for post-capitalism: lessons from educators and activists

Spaces that prefigure a post-capitalist world are all around us if we know where to look. In this article, we seek to explore counter-hegemonic social spaces, or what some call third spaces (Anzaldua, 1987/2021; Bhabha, 1994/2002; Soja, 1996) that have been created largely by social, community and artistic activists that prefigure a post-capitalist, multi-racial democracy. These spaces tend to be democratic, grounded in communities and challenge the hegemony of current forms of economic, political, cultural, and educational domination.

Building on these theorists, we understand third space to be a contingent, in-between location (figuratively and otherwise) that challenges binary and hegemonic forms of thinking. If the first space represents our cultural identities and everyday lives (which are not static) and the second space represents the hegemony of the dominant (or colonial) forces that attempt to define us, then the third space is a hybrid space in which to explore issues of domination, power, and emancipation. Since these are processes that are never fixed, but rather always in process, fluid, and inflected by history, third space is both a concept and a methodology that is committed to social justice and coalition politics as an alternative space of enunciation and intervention. As a generative locus, it allows us to imagine radical new ways of working together and relating to each other and in the process, new ways of learning and being.

Working in the field of education we were connected (in various ways) with a range of radical social movements, artist collectives, autogestiones, racial justice movements, student and youth groups, teacher organizations and education activists, we felt that many of these spaces offered important lessons and new forms of knowledge, pedagogy, and practices that could also inform the ways we think about education – and maybe even reform our formal education system to make it more relevant to the existential crises we currently face. Within these spaces, many people are organizing against and resisting extreme market fundamentalism, authoritarianism, racism, patriarchy, and environmental devastation, among other challenges. While some of these spaces may be in or part of “schools”, many are not often thought of as “education spaces,” they are nonetheless sites for a different kind of learning and reimagining. They are what some call “public pedagogies” (Sandlin, Schultz & Burdick, 2009), such as street art that takes over public spaces, a memory park dedicated to the horrors of American slavery and lynching, a torture center in Buenos Aires dedicated to 30,00 disappeared citizens under a brutal dictatorship, or a taken over or “recuperated” factory run as a worker cooperative. These third spaces are counter-hegemonic in that they exist surrounded by the constant drumbeat of second space public pedagogies, such as advertisements, corporate logos, corporate media, and social media sites. If we add to these second space public pedagogies, public and private schools that act as what Althusser called ideological state apparatuses, then we can better understand the need for counter-hegemonic spaces for learning in its broadest sense, both within and outside institutions.

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The creation of third spaces is a political project that aims at re-politicizing education so that it meets the needs of and is directed by marginalized communities. For instance, worker cooperatives are spaces of learning about participatory governance and social solidarity (Heras & Vieta, 2020). Street art collectives are learning new social relations as collectives and also occupying public spaces with narratives of political memory where the public can learn about past and current struggles (Grupo de Arte Callejero, 2009). Participation in social movements is another third space of learning (Torres Carrillo, 2020), particularly for youth as they struggle with what it means to be an engaged, democratic citizen (Gluz, 2013; Kriger & Said, 2017).

In the end, the following characteristic seemed to be those that most third spaces had in common:

  • Third spaces are intersectional spaces in which individual and collective identities are continually negotiated.
  • Third spaces are not the result of top-down reform efforts, but emerge from or are embedded within political activism, community organizing and/or social movements.
  • Third spaces seek to foster critical consciousness through a counter-hegemonic pedagogy of dialogue, co-learning and resistance.
  • Third spaces seek to democratize society through democratizing social relations and institutions.
  • Third spaces move beyond critique and resistance to foster radical imagination that prefigures a new social imaginary.
  • Third spaces are both cognitive and embodied multi-sensual spaces that involve emotions, desires, memory, artistic expression, ritual, social solidarity and performativity.
  • Third spaces are also physical, geographical spaces that illuminate and expose spacial injustices.
  • Third spaces embrace the notion of praxis, and are always evolving and filled with imperfections, contradictions and tensions that are acknowledged and are the focus of ongoing collective reflection and dialogue.

We have conceived our inquiry approach as a kind of third space. In the spirit of knowledge democracy, we have attempted to prioritize the voices and perspectives of educators and activists from the global South and North, using New York and Buenos Aires as our main sites of inquiry. Yet there are educators and activists in cities and rural areas around the world that are working on political projects similar to the ones we describe here. Many of the pedagogical tools we saw these groups enacting were based on artistic expression, transdisciplinarity, performativity and reflection-in-action. Attention is paid to human beings, in their relation to other beings-human and non-humans– in the world, and as sensory, bodily, and performing social actors in which the binaries of mind/body, emotions/rationality or individual/society, are challenged. Learning, then, is a continual process of subjectivation for solidarity that helps us understand who we are and what we need to do to create a better world. Especially in communities struggling with poverty and the trauma of both physical and symbolic violence both in the home and in the streets, learning in third space is also healing; it requires radical cariño and the centering of effect, which is often in short supply, especially in schools for poor and working-class students.

The groups we have worked with in our inquiry illustrate how learning through action has served to create a praxis of change both within third space organizations and collectives, and also beyond, as learning is shared and moves beyond local sites to broader forms of social transformation. We have highlighted the intersectionality of these third spaces of learning by showing how racism/xenophobia, gender-based violence, social class, climate change and neoliberalism are deeply interconnected. We have explored how educators and activists, through their everyday praxis, are interrupting authoritarian and reactionary populism and struggling to create pedagogies of solidarity to challenge injustices. In a sense, this article is a form of activism, a way to bring visibility to these political projects and hope to move the reader to action.


Teaser photo credit: By Lthomas2 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Gary Anderson

Professor Emeritus of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at New York University.

Tags: alternative education, postcapitalism, prefigurative politics, third spaces