Spotlight Interview with Dr. Mabel Encinas

Our London Met Lab Staff Spotlight this month focuses on interviewing Dr Mabel Encinas, who is a senior lecturer in early years and education.

Mabel is also a convener of the Sociocultural and Cultural-Historical Special Interest Group (SIG) for the British Educational Research Association (BERA) and is committed and passionate about education, equality, diversity, and social inclusion. She has always been engaged in a critical pedagogical approach to teaching, founded on the work of Freire, Vygotsky, bell hooks, and other educators that she has engaged with over the course of her career.

What is one of the most important challenge in the area of social wealth? 

You start with a really good question and maybe a basic question that we need to tackle both in any field of education and, more generally, in social sciences, So, I will start by defining what social wealth means to me. I understand it as the resources and assets that belong to us all, like the air that we breathe, as well as the family and community relationships that we establish and that nurture all of us in any given society.

Considering this definition, it becomes clear that the main challenge that thinking and producing social wealth comprises an ensemble of issues because we are part of a capitalist society, in which intersectional structural inequalities pervade our social life, such as racism, sexism, ableism, classism, ageism, discrimination based on gender, sexuality and other.

A capitalist framework creates a number of issues because human life is seen from an individualistic approach. Our social relationships are framed by competition rather than collaboration, and by a disengagement from community life where greed is not only acceptable but welcomed. In my opinion, this is the opposite of encouraging community cohesion and fostering social and civic engagement, which are fundamental to building a fair and sustainable society.

For this reason, our lives are marked by a big paradox: we live in one of the wealthiest societies in the world, whilst we live in a society with marked inequalities. We then may wonder what can be done to challenge inequalities in transformative and equitable ways. This is our greater challenge.


Why did you want to get involved with the London Met Lab? 

I have been working in higher education and in the field of education studies for most of my adult life. I am committed and passionate about education, equality, diversity, and social inclusion. From the beginning of my work in education, I have engaged in a critical pedagogical approach to teaching, founded on the work of Freire, Vygotsky, bell hooks, and other educators that I have gotten to know during my career. In my teaching, for example, I aim to support my students as they face intersecting structural inequalities.

Regarding my research, some years ago I created a board game to support reception children’s learning of maths while playing with their parents. The board game is called Our Shared Common Lands. I piloted it in schools in the UK and Mexico. In that pilot, I re-evaluated the potential of board games for children, families, and communities. Then the project could expand to older children with a selected range of games – playing board games is something that I dearly remember from my childhood. I thought that a “board game approach’ could support children and family learning. Before Covid-19, I approached Living Under One Sun (LUOS), a community-led organization of the voluntary sector that does fantastic community work with black and minoritised communities in Tottenham, and with which I had volunteered in events from time to time in the past.

Then we had the first lockdown.

With the pandemic, challenges linked to inequalities became more visible. Some community needs to be exacerbated, such as the need for digital knowledge and resources, exclusion in a world that heavily relies on digital technologies. LUOS was prepared to respond to those burning challenges and got funding for two projects Digital Inclusion and Welcome Women, which included a digital component. I reiterated my interest in working with them. My experience working in technology-enhanced learning was handy. Linked to this, I offered LUOS that we could coproduce an action research project to support their practices. This initiative could later expand to other areas, but we could start working on the digital projects, which we did.

LUOS works on a wide range of areas: sustainability, sports for young people and adults, art and cultural activities, English as a second language, ending violence against women and girls, and many more. All of them aim to support the individual lives of members of the community, transformation and shaping of services, and development of neighborhoods and community life in Tottenham. During my first six months of working with LUOS CEO Leyla Laksari, staff members, and volunteers, an interest in further engagement with London Met became apparent. It was then that I contacted Sophie Cloutterbuck, and my work with London Met Lab started. I feel honoured to be part of this amazing team. LUOS and London Met signed a memorandum of understanding in the spring last year to engage in further work.


What makes you hopeful about the future of social wealth? 

When I see so much community work, and so much engagement of people from all walks of life becoming a part of it, I cannot but feel hopeful about the future of social wealth. I have both witnessed and been a part of community-based projects which have impacted positively on the lives of local people, that have added thread and cohesion to the social fabric, where there was none or very little.
The responses from individuals and communities to local initiatives that are relevant to their lived experiences are often surprisingly expansive and encouraging. Many people want to make a difference and engage in mutual activity and support. I have also seen the amazing impact on individual lives of apparently small activities to bring people together, especially those most isolated and marginalised. Little can do big.
Let’s keep on working together!
Dr Mabel Encinas