“I can think more aptly about the connections”

 

In 2016 we organized for the second time the training, Social inequalities in Hungary today, this time for the Heves County Penitentiary Institution’s female detainees in Eger. The training was based on the notion that knowledge about our society and its dominant economic and political processes is key to active social participation, while it is the most inaccessible to those whose chances of conscious civic engagement are already limited. We believe that by gaining knowledge about the causes and consequences of social inequalities, detainees can better grasp the social processes and socio-political circumstances around them, which will help them re-integrate into and live in this social environment after their release.

The training was again 12 weeks long and we processed altogether 9 topics, all related to the causes and structural reproduction of social inequality. Based participants’ feedback, the most important and interesting topics included the job market, gender inequality, school segregation and the criminalization of poverty. Besides these, we also discussed the theories of social stratification and discrimination; the topic of housing; spatial and geographic inequalities; ethnicity-based oppression; globalization; and cultural and symbolic inequalities.

Because our most important methodological principle was to enable participants to process and comprehend systemic social phenomena based on their own experiences, the conversations and the exercises always inquired into and built onto these experiences first. Besides, we also paid great attention to keeping the training inclusive, so that everyone could express their opinions and be an active participant. To this end, we applied a great variety of methods and practices. For instance we discussed the topic of ethnic inequalities using the method of “human bingo”; we used quizzes for understanding various statistical data; we performed some movement-based tasks; and we discussed the movie Suffragette (2015) to address the topic of gender inequality.

Several topics and subtopics were discussed in small groups or in pairs. It was an important pedagogical experience for us that these exercises were not popular among participants, and several of them told us that they would prefer working alone. Based on their feedback, we integrated more solo tasks into the second half of the training, but – in agreement with the participants – we kept some group work as well, because we consider cooperation an important and learnable skill that can be-developed by working in small groups if the appropriate pedagogical support is provided. Besides, one topic of the training was social solidarity (or the lack of it), which is closely related to cooperation skills, so we considered it important to work towards that during the training.

At the beginning we started the classes with of a playful warm-up exercise, but with time we learned that there are often personal tensions present in the classroom. After a while, we switched to beginning each class with a circle when everyone could tell the others how they were doing that day and what was on their minds. This made it possible for the participants to signal if they were not in a good mood, e.g.: if they had received bad news from their loved ones or that they were experiencing physical discomfort. This kind of introduction also helped us, the trainers, to handle to group better.

Each class had a few readings from the civic orientation textbook compiled by the School of Public Life, which contains Hungarian translations and summaries of classical social science texts. We discussed these readings and also applied them during the exercises. Based on the experiences gained during our previous similar training, we also spent some time talking about inspiring, successful projects that offer positive examples of challenging social inequality (e.g.: a successful municipal firewood campaign in Borsodbóta, the Prison Radio, The City is for All housing advocacy group). Participants showed great interest in these, and many of them declared that after their release they would gladly participate in the work of a civil organization.

Based on the participants’ feedbacks the training was successful: we piqued their interest in social issues, while their knowledge and awareness of social inequalities has also increased. The course helped them become of the structural reasons behind inequality and of their rights as citizens. Many of them said that they found the grassroots struggles we demonstrated very inspiring and that they are glad that they know where to turn for help.

We are currently negotiating a follow-up to the training and hope that in the fall we can start the training on civil rights with the same group.