Sigma – Spontaneous University: what it means to me.

by Aggie Forster, Education Convenor, Braziers Park


Sigma; A happy accident, as befits a spontaneous event you might say?

50 years ago Trocchi mused…

“How to begin? At a chosen moment in a vacant country house (mill, abbey, church or castle) not too far from the City of London, we shall foment a kind of cultural “jam session”: out of this will evolve the prototype of our spontaneous university.” Alexander Trocchi, 1964


50 years later in the process of revisiting the anti-university thing, perhaps from an interest sparked by the city states of the occupy movements of 2011 where spontaneous universities flourished and interest re-kindled in the Dialectics of Liberation (1967), or perhaps for no other reason than Trocchi’s Sigma happened at Braziers in an in-your-face juxtaposition between drug infused arrogant intellectuals and the already out of date backwater of pseudo-academia of Braziers Park. Whatever the reason, in that process, quite by accident, we fomented our own Sigma.


Except that some Braziers’s people would feel that to credit Trocchi as the catalyst belies our own traditions. We are, after all, Braziers Park School of Integrative Social Research and even if I’ve just described Braziers as ‘pseudo’ and although Integrative Social Research (ISR) has wriggled out of definition after definition over the years, it feels, to me, to approximate to Sigma. Braziers does research in the tradition of Kolb (and pre-dated him by 30 years) and latterly Mc Niff, even if it lacks the rigours of scientific inquiry.  Sigma sits as a comfortable synthesis of Summer Schools of old, the overlapping of the libertarian educational ideals that seeded schools that are still extant or others that have receded into a proud history of supporting human-centric ideas, the Common Wealth of leftish political leanings that have offered an alternatives, in a sea of selfishness, that society lacked, and arguably still lacks, the maturity to favour. Synthesises too Braziers’s group process, both everyday and deliberately sensory or executive, which give validity to individual opinion. This is Braziers’s own understated Sigma tradition that we bring out into the open.


Braziers’s orginal brochure states that ‘no aspect of life… can be said to be outside (our) purview.’ and so it is with Sigma


‘Sigma provided a surprisingly varied programme that left me with much food for thought. . A brave move to take us back to a stirring 1964 weekend when psychiatrists and artists spent time together at Braziers, to consider what challenges come out of the past.

Playful and involving, I came away feeling nourished and am looking forward to the next course’ — Lucy Harding, Course Participant, July 2014


Good memories I have include watching participants pass from inquisitive, but worried, to relaxed participants, fully involved and aware of themselves within the group, the gelling of the group, they way the weekend lived up to and beyond its name and became more than a sum of its parts.


We plan 2 sequels of SIGMA in 2015. The first, in April, is presently inviting contributors and so its theme is still fluid; however, the August bank holiday Sigma will be a camp based, family friendly experience focusing on environmental issues and education. If you think you have anything to offer as a contributor to either, please contact us; otherwise please do come as a participant.


We try to keep the costs low, try to merge the boundaries between the taught and teachers, to create a forum for sharing ideas, enthusiasm and knowledge. Some of our contributors are true experts in their fields, some tinkerers with more questions than answers. Our belief is that higher-level learning is not solely about the information sponging brain, but about the liminality of idea ping pong, unpacking pre-determined truths maybe, finding other ways of looking, doing things you don’t often, mentally going unlikely places and along the way, making new friends.

Links you might find interesting: