Publications : Learning through third places

If third places allow the apprehension of complex subjects and the commitment to sometimes radical societal and political transformations, it is in particular because learning configurations can take shape there. An article co-written by Luc Gwiazdinski, Benjamin Gentils and Benjamin Chow-Petit.

Reflection on learning through third places is part of a context of growing uncertainties, increasing complexity and changing lifestyles. The article explores the notion of third places in an undisciplinary way by questioning the learning configurations that can take shape there. This art of third-places is conceived as an object of mediation, a form of diplomacy through collective and individual learning, a means of restoring the power to act to citizens by getting closer to acting through the commons 1 .

The importance of being in a learning situation

The reflection proposed is part of a context of uncertainty 2 3 in a complex world which makes necessary the crossing of people, cultures and knowledge. Beyond the amazement in the face of situations that are beyond us (consequences of global warming, pandemics, armed conflicts, etc.), it is possible to imagine learning configurations through meeting, being and doing it together, through “devices” – in the sense of “a heterogeneous whole made up of discourse, institutions, architectural arrangements, rules and laws, etc. » 4– adapted. In this sense, the still unsettled notion of learning organization – where learning is promoted in situ and in vivo, outside the walls of institutions, by involving other actors from the environment. Situational process in which the sharing of knowledge by doing becomes a fundamental function for deploying an imaginary, creating visions and participatory policies for the cross-development of individuals, organizations and territories and the well-being of all” 5 – constitutes an interesting avenue of engagement and the making of possibilities, going beyond the temporalities of urgency.

Places of interactions and synchronization of actions

Citizens, researchers, committed actors and even activists, we are not here by chance. We believe that the future is being built and we want to take part in it through observation, analysis but also through practice, doing it, in vivo and in situ. We subscribe to an approach of “ transmodernity” where it is not a question of saying what the future will be, but of putting in place the means and the collective devices to make it happen. Third places are part of these devices within which things can emerge. We want to overcome the anxiety of our societies to maintain nuance and cross convictions, thus avoiding the ideological confinement that reduces the capacity for action and extracts us from reality. We are looking for a better connection between the imaginations that we discover and confront, and the fact of living them concretely. We believe in the importance of places of interaction and synchronization of actions and wish to exist in the sense of the philosopher Henri Maldiney: ” to be in front of oneself in the encounter”. For us, learning is a way of understanding and acting on the world individually and collectively.

For access to learning configurations

Freedom, self-determination and emancipation only have meaning if we equip ourselves with the ability to understand our environment, if we manage to acquire the life skills and know-how that allow us to choose our lives. Having access to learning configurations is therefore consubstantial with fundamental rights. The freedom to do what we want without the practices, know-how and interpersonal skills is not enough. This right to learn is a human right that determines not only our individual capacity, but also our collective capacity to understand and act on the world. Yesterday in popular education 6like the learning configurations in school today, we have educational possibilities allowing citizens to equip themselves with the capacity to act on their worlds.

The school outside the walls and the school that welcomes, two examples for a school that is a third place

After several confinements and periods of distance learning, digital, in a context of increasing sedentarization of children, disconnection from nature, a movement of regular practice of the class outsideincreased in public schools. This practice is neither new nor specifically French. Nevertheless, for teachers to acquire the freedom to be able to teach outside, it is imperative to set up local learning configurations that mobilize academies, communities, popular education and environmental education associations. . How can a teacher give himself the freedom to go outside, without prior pedagogical sequencing work? How to carry out this demanding work, in addition to the daily load, without support from those who have some useful experience such as environmental educators? How to access a park in an urban environment whose lawns are “resting” in winter without prior consultation with the green space services of the town halls? How to overcome the prejudices that sometimes persist within the academic hierarchy, on this practice whose educational values ​​are nevertheless recognized by research and by the Ministry of National Education?

Another topical example is the armed conflict in Ukraine which has invaded schools. It raised questions and concerns from the students. In an attempt to answer it, the teachers organized themselves into a learning configuration, showing incredible creativity and sketching out a pedagogical history of the return of the war in Europe. From primary to university, they create, appropriate and share resources: articles, maps, reviews, videos, press clippings related to history-geography, media and information literacy, English, etc. At the same time, in Savoie, in Paris, in Saint-Aunès near Montpellier, in Alsace… Pupils who have fled the war are welcomed into the classes. It is the question of hospitality at school that is at stake. Here again, knowledge is exchanged and solidarity is created with parents, staff and students. Webinars are being organized to allow teachers who have already welcomed allophone students, sometimes victims of trauma, to share their experience. Blog posts with  educational resources and meetings in schoolsmultiply to learn together how to welcome students who have known the war.

The hypothesis of the factory of learning devices

Organizing in third places is one of the ways to deploy a learning configuration. The notion, attributed to Ray Oldenburg 7 has taken on a particular dimension in France. Antoine Burret 8 sees it as a “ particular social configuration where an encounter takes place between individuated entities which intentionally commit themselves to the conception of a common representation ”, that is to say with shared responsibility. In the same way that the richness of learning is sometimes reduced to a diploma, the genius of (doing) third places cannot be reduced to responses to calls for projects and to an administrative management policy, characteristic of public policies. support for innovation 9. The richness of learning configurations and third places does not lie in a technique. It is a being in situation, in doing, sharing and transmitting, even a collective in resistance. The philosophy of the third place is that of open knowledge, available. It is not a closed territory, but an “infinite place” 10where one grows and enriches oneself permanently, without limits. We can speak of learning organizations in the sense that they enable continuous learning from the actions of their members and those of others, in a logic of reciprocity. This approach can be opened up to the whole of society around the idea of ​​living knowledge, which circulates and is enriched in contact with reality. Moreover, learning does not only concern the education of children, professional training, but integrates all stages of life. Faced with complexity, all of society needs learning configurations, places and moments of hybridization and crossing. The learning posture that has proven itself in dramatic emergencies (wars, oil spills, solidarity during the first confinement in March 2020, etc.

The contribution of third places to learning (cultures, practices, tools) put to the test of doing

In third places, we can find refuge, tinker and improvise 11 . Beyond what we learn concretely, we also learn from others, from their history, their words, their practices and their vision of the world. In this silent learning of each other’s cultures, we end up understanding others, including those with whom we would be incompatible, opposed. We can talk about popular education.

In 2013, the Tiers-Lieux manifesto , a collective work on the initiative of Yoann Duriaux and Antoine Burret, was published with the original intention of improving understanding of what is done (or revealed) in third places. It lays the foundations for a device that promotes learning and is based on encounters, the unexpected, surprise and serendipity 12. In the third places practiced and explored since then, we find some important principles, including: collective acculturation through exchanges and doing; an absence of hierarchy which does not exclude training dynamics; mutual respect; the meeting between people from different backgrounds; non-judgmental comfort; accountability of each and everyone; self-confidence and the ability to learn from mistakes; trust in others; putting the knowledge acquired to the test; the documentation under open license of the knowledge produced, the possibility of forking (“ Fork”). The possibilities of learning through third places and the links with formal education, non-formal education and informal learning have been particularly well described by Jean-Baptiste Labrune 13 in his contribution to the report “  Faire Ensemble pour Mieux Vivre Whole of the CGET, which became ANCT. Asked about their commitment, the participants in these collective adventures generally find there: the acquisition of knowledge and skills, a right to make mistakes and experiment, a personal and professional network of support, socialization, flows of qualified information, exchanges and interactions, a reduction in social distance. Many speak of pleasure, conviviality and even joy, in an ever-renewed curiosity. The third place appears both as a learning and mutual aid community. When the paths of life change, when the actors end up letting go, there remains a striking experience that allows you to take and regain a place between the I and the we 14. These approaches are available as desired, from the roundabouts of yellow vests to the fablabs mobilized during the Covid-19 crisis, through learning training systems.

Healing instead of magic potions

Third places and learning configurations are not miracle recipes, territorial magic potions, just entry keys, invitations to adventure. Silent and cultural learning, the learning third place is “ the desire to act with others to open the field of the possible and interrupt the immutable repetition of time and servitude15and possibility of worlds. The reflection around third places and learning configurations is a call to encounter, to trust and to do together, a call to act from links and places. It is a challenge and a connection with existing institutions – national education, teachers’ associations, popular education actors – with which to co-build, and a call to those who are outside the framework and who can find there material for commitment and accomplishment.

At different scales and in different territories, we have been able to measure the positive impact of these approaches such as the new inventiveness of teachers, the production of knowledge, life skills and know-how to respond to complex and unprecedented situations. In third places you can learn informally and deal with all subjects. However, despite the joy and confidence, they are also receptacles of the pains of society, places of exacerbation of these tensions. This requires taking care of the people who are there and avoiding participating in the managerial discourse on adaptation and flexibility. Be careful also not to want to impose it. Third place? Learning configuration? If I want it…


1 Commun, Essay on revolution in the 21st century , Dardot P., Laval C., Paris, La Découverte (2015)

2 The rise of uncertainties. Work, protections, status of the individual , Castel R., Paris, Seuil (2009)

3 Acting in an uncertain world, essay on technical democracy , Callon M., Lascoumes P., Barthes Y., Paris, Le Seuil (2001)

4 Monitor and punish. Birth of Prison , Foucault M., Paris, Gallimard (1975)

5 learning territories. An emergent learning process put to the test of reality , Cholat F., Gwiazdzinski L., Grenoble, Elya (2021)

6 People and Culture Manifesto , 1945

7 The Great Good Place, Oldenburg, R., Paragon House ( 1989)

8 Third places: and more if affinities , Burret A., Limoges, FYP (2015)

9 Reforms in the French Industrial Ecosystem , Berger S., Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation (2016)

10 Infinite Locations. Build buildings or places? , Still happy (ed.), Paris, B42 (2018)

11Uncertainty, environment and planning: what rupture? », Chalas Y., Soubeyran O., Published in How actors manage with uncertainty (under the direction of Y. Chalas, Cl. Gilbert, D. Vinck), editions of contemporary archives (2009)

12 Serendipity in Science, Technology, Art and Law: Lessons from the Unexpected , Van Andel. P., Bourcier, D., Chambéry, L’Act mem (2008)

13 Third Place Learners , Labrune, J.-B. (2018)

14 We and I who invent the city , Andrieu J., Heurgon E., La Tour d’Aigues, L’Aube (2002)

15 The territory of nothing or the patrimonialist revolution , Dollé JP, Paris, Leo Scheer (2005)

For further reading

Principle of Hope, vol. 1 , Bloch E., Paris, Gallimard (1976)

Study of the configuration in the Third Place: repoliticization through service , doctoral thesis, Burret A. (2017)

Epidémyne, story of a collective action , Collective (2020)

Care is a humanism , Fleury C., Paris, Gallimard (2019)

On the yellow wave. The utopia of the roundabout , Floris B., Gwiazdzinski L., Grenoble, Elya Editions (2019)

The Rites of Interaction , Goffman Edwin, Paris, Editions de Minuit (1974)

Conviviality , Illich I., Paris, Seuil (1973)

The Age of Doing. Hacking, work, anarchy , Lallement M., Paris, Seuil (2015)

Our Cabins , Macé M., Rieux-en-Val, Verdier (2019)

Gaze, speech, space , Maldiney H., Paris, Cerf (2012)

The child in nature. For a green revolution in education , Fauchier-Delavigne M., Chéreau M., Paris, Fayard.

How actors deal with uncertainty , Vinck D., Editions des archives contemporaines (2009)

The original article can be found here.
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