Pilot Summer Session




The Purple Thistle in East Vancouver, Coast Salish Territory is super-pleased to announce that in JULY 2011 we will be running a three-week summer institute.  We’d be thrilled if you would consider attending.


WHAT IS IT? The PTI will be something like an alternative university, or maybe better: an alternative-to-university. The idea is to bring together a bunch of engaged, interested people to talk about theory, ideas and practise for radical social change.  We’ll have a great time, meet good people, get our praxis challenged and with luck refine and renew our ideas, politics and energies.

Importantly, the conversations will very deliberately cut across radical orientations – anarchists, socialists, lefties, progressives, anti-colonialists, anti-authoritarians, ecologists of all stripes are welcome. The idea is to work, think and talk together – to articulate and comprehend differences sure – but to find common ground, get beyond factionalized pettiness and stimulate radical ecological and egalitarian social change. We want to get good people with good ideas together to talk and listen to each other.

WHEN IS IT BEING HELD? July 4th – 23rd, 2011

WHAT WILL THE SCHEDULE LOOK LIKE? For the first two weeks we will be running 6 days a week with Sundays off. We will be offering 8 morning classes of which participants will be able to choose up to four to attend. Then we will all have lunch together, then every afternoon community work placements will be offered. Evenings will be a mix of open-space activities, shows, speakers and films.

The third week will open up a little with essentially the same class schedule, but instead of faculty-run classes there will be participant-led workshops, some combined events, and collaboratively we will build on the previous two weeks by developing some documentation: a website, a zine, a short movie and/or a book project. Participants are welcome to attend just the first two weeks, or all three.

WHAT WILL THE CLASSES BE LIKE? We have put together an awesome roster of instructors and speakers including Astra Taylor, Cecily Nicholson, Carla Bergman, Manisha Singh, Am Johal, Matt Hern, Geoff Mann, Glen Coulthard and lots more.  The classes will be fairly rigourous (loosely at an upper-year university level) and include a certain amount of reading and some writing. Attendance is not mandatory and you can engage with as much or as little as you like. The classes include: Decolonization, Activist Art, Urban Studies, Deschooling, Understanding Economics, Contemporary Social Philosophy and Critical Theory.

WHO IS THIS FOR? The PTI is for anyone, of any age, but we will be giving priority to youth, racialized and low-income folks. As mentioned the classes will be pretty rigourous intellectually, but please don’t let that scare you off. The language will not be overly academicized and as long as you like to read, think, talk and listen you’ll probably be OK. The one real requirement is that you are keenly interested in radical social transformation and come with a generous spirit ready to listen and collaborate.


WHAT WILL IT COST? The three weeks are priced on a sliding scale: $350 – $500. This includes lunch six days a week. If you are coming from out of town, need a place to stay and want to kick down an extra $100 we will find you a good billet who will give you a bed and feed you. There will be a few bursaries available, but we are going to need most people to pay at least the minimum.


HOW DO I APPLY? Hit us with an email at institute@purplethistle.ca and we’ll send you a formal application and instructions.


Group Photo!

July 25th! The Institute was amazing! stay tuned for blog post of words/art and other creatives from participants!


Hello! We are excited for July and the institute to begin (July 4-23)!

Vancouver Rad map HERE


Here is the link to the 3 week schedule. It will change a bit over then next few days as participants fill in the open spaces!


And here is a reading (after the institute we’ll get many of the readings from the courses up here) but for now this is one that we gave to everyone!

From a Pedagogy for Liberation to a Liberation from Pedagogy!


Meet the Organizers and Faculty of the Institute!

Astra Taylor’s class: Examined Life: Contemporary Philosophers Worth Knowing

This is a class built around my documentary Examined Life, a series of excursions with eight contemporary philosophers: Kwame Anthony Appiah, Peter Singer, Martha Nussbaum, Avital Ronell, Cornel West, Michael Hardt, Judith Butler, and Slavoj Zizek  Using the companion book and additional texts we will look at the work of these philosophers in greater detail while also investigating some of the wider themes I hoped to raise with the film, namely philosophy and its connection to the following: walking, public space, politics, the body/everyday experience, the academy, the written word, cinema, and other topics as well.

Astra is a writer and documentary filmmaker. She was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1979 and raised in Athens, Georgia.She holds an MA in Liberal Studies from the New School for Social Research and has been an instructor in sociology departments at the University of Georgia and State University of New York, New Paltz where she has taught classes on social theory, globalization, and the sociology of film. Her writing has appeared in the Monthly Review, The Nation, Adbusters, Salon, and other outlets. Website


This course will address the conditions and constructs of gender as grounded in the experience and problematics of “the everyday” (Dorothy Smith).  As these conditions are not uniform and change historically and materially relative to racialization, class, mobility, sexuality and more; and as these conditions contribute to marginalization, oppression, poverty and violence we will also think about gender in relation to power and justice.

The course will address topics such as work and the division of labour, health, violence against women, media and the imposition of colonial and neoliberal state policy as well as forms of social organizing. Through a critical engagement with a selection of texts — theoretical, literary and visual — we can develop our own ideas about how feminist thought and practice can “aid in the process of self-recovery” in ways that “transform self, community and society” (bell hooks).

This class will introduce relevant feminist theories, goals, and concepts grounded in movements and social activism. We will focus on knowledge producers who strive to make their work relevant and accountable to communities most directly impacted by the issues studied. Through discussion, writing and creative work students will be encouraged to engage the issues presented in class and to think critically about their implications while working together in a constructive dialogue to imagine alternative process and practices.

Cecily has worked with women of the downtown eastside community of Vancouver since 2000, and is currently a coordinator of the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre. Cecily has instructed courses in international relations and women and gender studies at SFU and UBC. She has collaborated most recently as a member of the VIVO Media Arts collective, the Press Release poetry collective and the No One is Illegal, Vancouver collective. Her first book “Triage”, a collection of poetry, was published by Talonbooks, 2011.

Manisha Singh Decosas’s Class: Seed Swaraj/Food Sovereignty

The class will explore radical concepts like food sovereignty and earth democracy, broad market, specifically agribusiness, dynamics, cutting edge social movements, social movement theory, and the biodiversity and symbolic value of indigenous food knowledge.

Manisha is an educator, activist, artist and yoga teacher who received her doctorate in communication from Simon Fraser University.

Carla Bergman’s class:  unsettling education/deschooling

this class will be a series of workshops and hopefully a lot of participant led/contributed work too because as John Holt says: “We learn to do something by doing it. There is no other way.”

the class will be a mash up of the history of deschooling, a critical look at alternatives, how-tos, and questioning the theories and praxis of creating alternatives to schooling through counter-institutions and projects– with a focus throughout on solidarity and de-privileging the school resistance movement.
there will be guests coming in to workshop different areas such as: unschooling ethos; listening well to children; radically organizing with youth/power relationships; decolonizing education and yourself; freeskools, etc. (Helen Hughes, Selena Courture, Mathew Davis, Dustin Rivers, Cheyenne La Vallee, Hari Alluri and a few others). given the topic and nature of this class, we, together, will shake-up how we engage with material and with each other. Be prepared to be unsettled!
*Readings on the History of school resistance, deschooling and freeskools will be given to participants before the classes begin.

Carla does the above, personally and with others. she is a community artist, activist and organizer, the co-director of the purple thistle centre, maker of zines, unschooler and loves to resist. she is currently working on a couple of books, one titled “unsettling education” and a film about creating counter-institutions with the thistle as a case study.  she lives with her partner and two unschooling kids in east vancouver, unceded Coast Salish Territories.


Geoff Mann’s class: “understanding capitalism”

This course is based on two assumptions. First, strategies for overcoming capitalism will be most effective if based upon an understanding of how it works. Second, while violence, coercion, and oppression are integral to its history and prese…nt, much of capitalism’s power and stability resides in “everyday” mechanisms of governance that we either rarely think about, or often seem too “technical” to matter. If so, then some knowledge of how the modern capitalist economy is organized, governed, and legitimized is crucial. Moral grand-standing about “greed” and “profit” doesn’t cut it analytically or politically; these existed long before capital, and they may very well out-last it. So what exactly is capitalism, and what are its distinctive features? What roles do the state, finance, industry, and labour play? What theories of the world make it seem to make so much sense to so many?

Geoff is an Associate Prof in SFU’s Department of Geography and the Director of the Centre for Global Political Economy. He works with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and writes lots about Gramsci, monetary policy, political economy, work, labour and capitalism in general. He is a fine hockey player and long-time Boston Bruins fan who lives in East Van with his partner and sons.


Glen Coulthard class: Theorizing Settler-Colonialism and Indigenous Resistance

This seminar will explore the relationship between Western political theory and the settler-colonial imperatives of genocide, dispossession and occupation through four lenses: liberalism, Marxism, feminism and anarchism. In doing so, we will attempt to answer, in a provisional way, the following two questions: in what ways have these diverse traditions within Western political thought served, either implicitly or explicitly, to justify the dispossession of Indigenous peoples’ lands and self-determining authority on the one hand, and in what ways have Indigenous peoples and their allies been able to critically appropriate and transform these theoretical frameworks to support Indigenous peoples’ struggles for land and freedom on the other?


Glen is a member of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation and an assistant professor in the First Nations Studies Program and the Department of Political Science at the University of British Columbia, Canada.  Glen has written and published numerous articles and chapters in the areas of Indigenous thought and politics, contemporary political theory, and radical social and political thought. He currently has two research projects underway. The first is a book project on Indigenous peoples and recognition politics. The second project explores the potentially transformative and critical character of “revenge” in Indigenous anti-colonial struggles. Glen lives with his partner and two children in Vancouver, British Columbia, unceded Coast Salish Territories.

Matt Hern’s class: Radical Urbanism

Perhaps our only hope for an ecological future is to re-imagine human settlements as densely organized, cooperative projects that do not inherently deplete/desecrate their bio-regions. This class will explore a radically democratic urbanism built on neighbourhood-based horizontal organizing: a vision… that rejects cities as vehicles for capital accumulation, suggesting instead a participatory urbanism that necessarily requires an appreciation for difference and messiness. The class will investigate contemporary urban theory and consider a host of local and international examples


Matt lives and works in East Vancouver with his partner and daughters where he co-directs the Purple Thistle Centre and founded Car-Free Vancouver Day. His books and articles have been published on all six continents, translated into ten languages and he continues to lecture globally. He holds a PhD in Urban Studies and teaches at SFU and UBC.



Am Johal

One of the founders and organizers of the institute, Am will be hosting evening events and putting on a array of amazing talks and culture nights. stay tuned!


Am is a social activist who has worked in politics, human rights and journalism.  He was Chair of the Impact on Communities Coalition, is a co-founder of UBC’s Humanities 101 program and has worked as an advisor to two provincial cabinet Ministers.  He has an MA in international economic relations from the Institute for Social and European Studies and is starting a PhD in Communication this summer.

Marla Renn

Marla will be providing us all with amazingly delicious food daily, mentoring folks in the thistle gardens during community engagement afternoons,  and dialoguing about all things radical in the kitchen and in the parks, everywhere!

Marla lives in East Vancouver (coast salish territory) with her wicked awesome partner, a cat that adopted her, and an amazing community that is always bringing creativity, rage, and joy her way.  Marla is committed to working for a liberated healthy world – but is especially interested in how learning and community care could be organized within it.  One way she works on that is through her involvement in the Purple Thistle radical gardening program.  Marla loves to cook and eat with others, to walk and smell lilacs.

Guest Speakers and Workshops

Cease Wyss

Harsha Walia

Gord Hill

Cheyenne La Vallee

Helen Hughes

Selena Courture

Anthony Meza-Wilson

David Dennis

Mathew Davis

Hari Alluri

Keith Lennig

Corin Browne

Local Activst/Groups round table

Press Release Poetry Crew


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