The "Universidad de la Tierra (University of the Earth), is a center of intercultural dialogue in Mexico that attempts to make learning feel alive. It provides a space for self-organized learning, reflection and action.
In one of the cofounders words, Unitierra is about "learning to be free and learning to create the conditions for learning in freedom."
... a place of learning, that connects us to place, to nature and to community, where we engage with our whole being and not only with our intellect. (video below)
See also: Unitierra Philosophy, html
VIMEO 172681670 Relearning Hope: Ahe Story of Unitierra, A film by Udi Mandel and Kelley Teamey, 1:09:33
# Aspirational Goals
Unitierra is there to share the passion and commitment of learning in freedom, learning what we want to learn...
Unitierra is a self-educational space, where learning is an aspect of everyday life that can be nourished by everyone. Studying is understood as the autonomous and joyful activity of free people. Learning and studying aim at creating
a way of being and living beyond patriarchy, the Nation-State, capitalism and formal democracy.
This description of what an 'alternative way of being and living' means, was not existing at the beginning, it emerged during the Unitierra process.
# Legal Status & Location
# When did they start?
Le llamamos universidad para reírnos del sistema oficial y para reivindicar una vieja tradición de las primeras universidades: la de que un grupo de amigos aprenda y estudie juntos, alrededor de una mesa, no para obtener un diploma o avanzar en la pirámide educativa, sino por el mero placer de hacerlo, por la pasión que un tema de estudio les inspira.
Unitierra began in 1999 when a group of founders created a federation of indigenous and non-indigenous organizations. Many of those participants are not actively collaborating with Unitierra today, but they ended up creating their own organizations. Most of them are governed as commons and remain close to Unitierra.
# How do they work?
From the beginning, eight to fifteen people worked fully dedicated (which does not necessarily mean full-time) to organize Unitierra activities such as learning groups, thematic conversations, conferences, workshops, and resistance campaigns against enclosures. For the list of activites see html .
# How are they financed?
The core idea is that "learning and studying" is not considered a "service" or commodity to be paid for. The organization is supported by voluntary contributions, crowdfunding, and donations. There are no fees for the individual activities because "we don't want that the possibility to learn together will be contaminated by economic relationships" (Esteva, Dec. 4, 2017)
No financial support from the State is accepted. Funds are crowdfunding or raised in specific campaigns. Some services are offered to researchers or partners from Mexico and abroad (e.g., research stays, etc.)
# Which Core Dimensions of Commoning are enacted?
A "conversatorio". source
While it might appear that Unitierra participants Cultivate Shared Purpose & Values, they actually reject the idea of shared "purpose" and "objectives" in the sense of "where to go together." They believe that these notions have no meaning in real commons. Based on the experiences in indigenous communities, Gustavo Esteva explains that the people associated with Unitierra have shared motives (and reasons to act, to act together), which is different from a "shared purpose".
This means that Unitierra does not "pull from the future" -- an imagined idea of where people want to go -- but instead "pushes from the base," and from the past, that is from the experiences and motivations that people share. This is evident when activities can only be carried out within a specific period, explained Esteva:
We may assume specific short-term goals or purposes. For example, 'collecting signatures for the speaker of the Indigenous Council of Government, before the second week of February.' But these ‘goals’ or ‘purposes’ are not ends in themselves.
We have motives, compelling forces pushing us in a certain direction. We can express those ‘motives’ as reasons. Instead of asking ‘What for?’, we ask 'Why?'
Unitierra's methodologies and approaches are consciously intended to help Strengthen the Nested-I. The University seeks out collaborations with (young) indigenous people interested in learning in freedom. Unitierra works with social movements and regional, national, and international networks.
Participants Contribute Freely their time, energy, and things for the joy of doing it, without any expectation of compensation. "What we get from Unitierra is not equivalent to what we give, and in fact cannot be compared," said Esteva.
- Learning from the world, rather than about the world. This means students learn through activities and as apprentices to those who commit all their energies to them. - Learning to transform social reality and to work for others, particularly in their communities and regions of origin. - Taking control of the learning process with each person learning through his or her own rhythms, learning styles, and ways of working (and not as subordinates to teachers, educators, and bureaucrats). - Learning to learn by themselves, which enables students to master the methods for continuing to learn what one wants or needs to know. - Learning to learn with others, in study circles, workshops, seminars, and conferences.
Not surprisingly, this methodological approach by itself does a great deal to Ritualize Togetherness and to Deepen Communion with Nature. This can be seen in research and reflection about the theory and practice of conviviality in society; the study of pluralistic learning communities; and university-support for technological 'innovations' like dry toilets, homemade greenhouses, solar energy devices, pedal-powered machines, etc.
To Ritualize Togetherness is of utmost importance and cannot be overstated because the people at Unitierra believe that "rituals generate the beliefs; the beliefs do not generate the rituals."
For the past fifteen years, those engaged in Unitierra have met once a week at the same day and the same time "to share ideas we still don't have." [???] What the learners call "conversatorio semanal" -- the weekly talk -- IS such a ritual.
# Peer-Governance in the Commons
The main "tools" of internal organization at Unitierra (which participants point out is not "governance") consist of:
- general assemblies with all those who participate regularly in learning or work groups; - a coordination council, but no formal hierarchies; and - emergent councils or collectivities for specific activities. For more see html .
One of the founders of Unitierra, Gustavo Esteva, has no specific position or power anymore. His role is similar to that of a "council of elders": "What I contribute", he says "is my network of relations. I put it on the table, circulate it, talk it ... they connect to some of my relations. Or they don't. And other people do the same."
Nuestra idea no es tener un propósito comun, pero tener un motivo comun.
While Unitierra has its own sense of shared motives (rather than shared purpose), but in any case its participants clearly Keep Commons & Commerce Distinct, Assure Commoners' Consent in Decisionmaking, Honor Transparency in a Sphere of Trust, Respect Human Dimensions, and Share Knowledge Often & Widely.
ontological ground and political culture
# Inner Kernel
Even though Esteva asserts that "we don't have an Epistemology", the research methods applied by Unitierra suggests something else. Its approach is called "reflection in action," and it is defined as a "rigorous, disciplined, informed and public exercise. It is not a personal, arbitrary, improvised, superficial or private interpretation. Anyone who repeats the same exercise according to its rules should achieve the same result." The main working tools are "observation as an experience of relation, dialogue (dialectic and dialogic), systematic reflection and documentation (written and audiovisual)."
Ubuntu-Rationality. The way of living and learning is based on the very idea of a Nested-I. It
assumes that we are not individuals, but we are knots in nets of real relations, every one of us is a singular, unique knot. We are not separated from other living and non-living beings. (Esteva, Dec. 4 2017)
Unitierra is pretty straight forward in using a relational vocabulary and Relational Categories such as conviviality, as used by Ivan Illich. The Unitierra philosophy states: "Convivial life is a topic that commits us and brings us closer.... We are aware that affirming it with our dignity, the dignity of each of us and our relations with others and natures, represents a defiance to dominant systems." html
Essentialist terms are being explicitly rejected: "We don't have or operate with "resources," which we see as things and conditions produced through the enclosure of the commons," said Esteva. The term "resources" denotes the opposite of the commons. But it is hard to replace the term; perhaps "material elements" comes close, suggests Esteva.
A core notion of a new ontology is "carinho" - which is similar to care. Everybody intuitively knows what specific quality it points to. For instance, a plant doesn't need "water," it needs "carinho" -- care.
We don’t think that water, air, forests, oceans, etc. can become commons, which for us are only possible at our concrete human scale, that is, among people that know each other and can define by themselves the norms of commons. But we participate in the struggle to apply the rules and attitudes of the commons to all those elements we share with others, even if we don’t share the perception of what they are (for some sacred entities, blessings, boons; for others, commodities, things…) (G. Esteva, Dec. 4, 2017)
Emulate & Then Federate. The different people who have worked full-time with Unitierra have created their own autonomous organizations and projects as commons, with Unitierra's support. These include Centro Autónomo Convivial Indígena de Tecnología Alternativa (CACITA); Universidad de la Tierra in Chiapas; Universidad de la Tierra in Puebla; Universidad de la Tierra in California; la Universidad de la Tierra in San Pablo Huitzom, Oaxaca, and Unitierra Istmo. The natural way to grow autonomous circles is through federation.
# Realms of Commoning