Understanding Learning Cities as discursive, material and affective infrastructures

Keri Facer*, Magda Buchczyk

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)
71 Downloads (Pure)


Cities around the world are increasingly developing city-wide lifelong learning strategies to promote individual and civic adaptation to major economic, technological and environmental challenges. Such initiatives, however, have not yet received commensurate research attention from education researchers and it is not yet clear that we have the theoretical or methodological tools to research the complexity of learning at a city-scale. This paper attempts to outline one approach that might respond to this challenge by drawing on the concept of ‘lively infrastructure’ from urban studies. Based on 11 months of detailed ethnographic fieldwork in the city of Bristol, the paper draws on this concept to trace how learning infrastructures are produced, accessed and reshaped by individuals facing challenges in terms of mental health, economic exclusion and precarious citizenship. In so doing, the paper argues that learning in the city can be understood as a social infrastructure that is discursive, material and affective; deeply interconnected with other city infrastructures particularly childcare and transport; and capable of morphing to create both radical new forms of learning activity as well as consolidating existing practices of exclusion and inequality. Such learning infrastructures are not merely ‘out there’ as a pre-existing reality, but are the product of active engagement by users, connectors and creators who constitute the diverse learning activities of the city as infrastructure. This day-to-day process of participation, nurture and care, however, is under threat in conditions of austerity, as key nodes, relationships and resources are being eroded. In such conditions new social actors are emerging to stimulate new learning infrastructures organised around economic critique and social mobilisation. The learning infrastructures of the city are dynamic and changing.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)168-187
Number of pages20
JournalOxford Review of Education
Issue number2
Early online date28 Mar 2019
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2019


  • Learning Cities
  • Adult Education
  • Urban studies
  • Mental Health
  • Refugees


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