The Just Change! Movement

four people holding signs up that say "power for the people" and "power by the people" standing in front of an audience
A group of Mixed Classroom students present their project at the 'Just Change! Movement' launch (by Cara Flores)

Turning the classroom into a social movement?

Between November 2023 and January 2024, the Urban Futures Studio turned its’ annual Mixed Classroom into a fictive social movement. Over the course of 10 weeks, students, policymakers, artists, and activists learned from and with each other about just transitions and social movements. The course ended with a public launch of the newly established Just Change! movement on 24 January 2024.

There is a considerable possibility that the transition from fossil to renewable energy will lead to adverse, not positive, social justice outcomes: citizens have unequal access to affordable energy and low-carbon technologies, and the transition has unequal ecological and social implications across borders. Citizens and activists increasingly call for a just transition from climate court cases to energy cooperatives to street blockades. At the Urban Futures Studio, we therefore saw merit in viewing just transitions not as centrally coordinated ‘plan’ or ‘strategy’, but rather as a ‘movement’ in which knowledge is actively connected to action.

  • Four people in a row start walking as part of an exercise during the 'Just Change! Movement' public launch
  • women with pink blazer in the center listens to another women adressing a group of people
  • A group of people gathering around a table with coloured post-its

No lectures, but ‘action meetings’

At the Urban Futures Studio, we take the dramaturgy of social interaction seriously: different settings, roles, and rules give shape to different types of conversations about the future. In the annual ‘Mixed Classroom’, we continually engage students and professionals in unconventional settings to learn with and from each other, such as in the fictional Museum of the Linear Economy and an interactive bus tour to five neighbourhoods of the future with the Coach for Conversation. Building on last year’s mixed classroom on Rural Utopias, this year, we experimented with turning the classroom into a social movement.

Instead of lectures and seminars, each session was staged as an ‘action meeting’, in which key decisions were made: what topics do we focus on? What are our core principles and values? What are the actions that we will undertake? Participants also learned from experts on just energy transitions as well as leading climate activists from Extinction Rebellion, FossielvrijNL and Klimaatbureau HIER. This setting and staging enabled equal and reciprocal conversations between students and practitioners and sparked creativity. One practitioner noted:

When I was a student, I thought everything was possible. But once you’re working, you keep facing closed doors. I really enjoyed to just think freely about possibilities with students without thinking of all those constraints.

A fictional setting: sparking creativity vs. deep reflection

Staging the classroom as a fictional social movement was an experiment. In the past years, we learned that fictional and recognisable contexts, such as a museum in 2050, allow people to engage with a topic in a new way, with more room for reflection and new ideas. In academic language, it allows participants to ‘suspend their disbelief’. With the classroom-as-movement, a key challenge was to strike a good balance between sparking creativity and deep reflection. Students were tasked with developing creative interventions that the movement would undertake in 2024, with the help of two theatre makers. While participants appreciated the creative nature of the course, they also often noted that they would have liked to learn more about just transitions. The public launch of the Just Change! movement also reflected this struggle: interventions were creative, playful and compelling but sometimes lacked critical engagement with just transitions. Becoming a social movement also takes time: the democratic nature of decision-making took away space for deep reflection on what just transitions actually are or what different approaches exist.

Two mixed classroom students giving a pitch, on wears a garland of tropical fish. Behind them a banner with "Welcome at the public launch of the JUST CHANGE! Movement"
Two Mixed Classroom student giving their pitch (by Hilde Segond von Banchet)

Productive confusion: policymaker, student, or activist?

However, the form of the movement certainly created a productive pedagogical space. When people sign up for a course on just transitions, they do not expect to become part of a social movement, even though it’s a fictive one. From the start, some practitioners expressed discomfort with being part of a social movement. The teachers addressed this issue by framing only students as core members of the movement and practitioners as ‘fellow travellers’ who sympathise with the movement but are not core members. Deep reflection on societal roles was also crucial to the conversations with students and assignments. As one practitioner noted:

I was constantly confronted with myself: I have become what I said I would never become.

Fact or fiction?

Lisette van Beek standing on a soap box adressing the audience of the 'JUST CHANGE! Movement' public launch
Lisette van Beek standing on a soapbox (by Hilde Segond von Banchet)

Perhaps the most persistent obstacle we encountered was people's belief in being part of a social movement. We learned this during the first session, which was kicked off as a social movement: course coordinator Lisette stood on a soap box and presented herself as a movement representative. She thanked participants for joining the movement and explained their task of developing an action plan for 2024. This staging worked so well that participants were unsure if the movement existed or not. Playing with fact and fiction thus certainly aided the dramaturgy but also brought challenges: how do you suspend people’s disbelief without unethically tricking them? When does productive discomfort turn into disengagement?

If there is one thing this year’s Mixed Classroom teaches us, it is the importance of maintaining the creative and playful use of dramaturgy. But with the format of a social movement, the playful element can be more difficult to maintain compared to a Museum of the Future.