UPop Montréal: A free, grassroots 'université populaire'

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On this week's episode of Talking Radical Radio, I speak with Étienne Lepage about UPop Montreal, a "popular university" that aims to create community-based spaces for ordinary people to engage in critical learning and dialogue about the world.

It might initially seem to be a bit puzzling to suggest that there is much that's very interesting about a project focused on popularizing knowledge. After all, many of us these days have the opportunity to go to some kind of formal post-secondary educational institution. And many of us in North America today have at our fingertips access to quantities of knowledge that are unprecedented in human history, via our computers and tablets and phones. But the landscape of that knowledge and access to it are highly uneven, highly divided, and highly oriented towards reinforcing the dominance of knowledge that is either already dominant or is intensely non-threatening to the status quo. We have relatively few opportunities to come together in a deliberately social way to collaboratively develop critical tools for thinking about the world and to encounter knowledge that is in one sense or another marginalized or excluded or insurgent.

Étienne Lepage is an organizer with UPop Montreal, a "université populaire", or a sort of grassroots, free "popular university" that aims to create exactly that kind of space, and to do so outside of restricted and often-inaccessible formal academic contexts. Its founders were, at the time, mostly but not only students at the University of Quebec at Montreal, or UQAM, who built on two earlier experiments with similar but smaller scale ventures to launch UPop about five years ago. And today, they are continuing to offer free courses in community-based contexts featuring a wide range of teachers and facilitators on a wide range of themes, ranging from things like feminism and critical understandings of the economy, to more specialized topics like the functioning of the brain or experiences of aging and dying in Montreal. They emphasize marginalized voices and perspectives, critical thinking, and broad accessibility. Lepage talks with me about the origins of the project, about the challenges they face, and about the importance of fostering critical learning and dialogue outside of formal university settings.

To learn more about UPop Montreal, click here.


Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada. We give you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show in general, visit its website here. You can learn about suggesting topics for future shows here.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Sudbury, Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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