The topic of citizenship education is one that has been explored in great detail. Some of this research has focused on citizenship education in general, but a more select group has centred on ideas relating to citizenship education in schools and other formal educational institutions. The idea of exploring citizenship education in such settings brings with it its own challenges: not least the challenges of working with often disengaged or disenfranchised youth in a setting that is often focused on discipline and authoritarian power. This shows the citizenship education discourse to be part of a wider educational debate, including such topics as student voice and student engagement.
Of course, there have been numerous explorations in this area already, in Australia and around the world. Overseas, some of the most important work has been linked to Terence McLaughlin and David Kerr, as well as Joel Westheimer and Joseph Kahne, who have explored either what kinds of citizenship is encouraged through citizenship education programs in schools, or the effectiveness of various different forms citizenship education. As far as I know, citizenship education has generally been interrogated from a critical theory or critical pedagogy perspective – in the minds of many researchers, citizenship education and the desire to become an active citizen is linked to the idea of empowering young people – a notion that is far from untroubled.
This leads me to the central point of my research – in my mind, citizenship education and active citizenship are necessarily linked to notions of power. As far as I understand it, becoming an active citizen is about learning to understand and use one’s power – democratically, socially, personally – to effect meaningful social change. Therefore, it is vital that, in my research, I need to discuss issues of power – however I conceive of that.
It is also necessary to consider how I will interrogate my data. A Ph D must make a contribution to theory on some level – at what level will my work do that? Essentially, there are numerous ways of exploring my findings. My original bent was on a critical pedagogy approach to citizenship education, inspired by Freire and Giroux, but I find that approach troubling, not least because of the broad strokes of the structuralism that it is based on. In a classroom, there is a mix of oppressed and oppressors; in fact, an individual might be both at the same time. There are no easy class structures to divide groups into – even more so in a middle class school like the one that I undertook my research in.
A more nuanced approach to power is based on the work of Foucault, and especially his notions of governmentality. In particular, as I understand it, Foucault explored the way that governments apply power in order to create the citizens that best fit their policies. From my reading, I see this kind of power as being very similar to the ideas of hegemony, as espoused by Gramsci.
Another way of exploring power is through postmodernism/ feminist. This is an area that I need to explore in more detail – I intend to to do that through an exploration of bell hook’s work, as well as some others.
Finally, I have also considered the notions of social and cultural capital. This is based on the work of Bourdieu and Coleman, who in the 2nd half of the 20th Century, explored the idea that there were other forms of capital besides economic capital – and that this capital could be transferred, earned and transformed from one type to another. In particular, I think that ideas of social capital, and the way that it is formed and negotiated have particular relevance for my work – is active citizenship, in some way, linked to the development of social capital.
This is an area of research that has already been explored to some extent. David Zyngier, from Monash Uni, explored the way active citizenship and social capital, as well as cultural capital, are linked. Nevertheless, I believe my work has shed important light upon the practice of citizenship education and the development of active citizenship. My findings include:
- Young people seeing action for social change as possible by other young people, but not necessarily by them.
- Young people see citizenship as a matter of belonging – and they are unsure about how such citizenship is granted.
- Young people generally are more likely to be interested in causes rather than general groups or parties.
- Citizenship education should be but is not often linked to events of importance to young people’s lives.
- Importance of local effects – engagement – but engagement on whose terms?
- Follow-on effects – young people engaging in other matters of CE based on previous experience
- Follow-up effects – young people deepening their engagements in CE matters based on previous experience.
In my next section, I am going to try to draw these disparate strands together.