ERG SES G 06, Intercultural Education
The concept of democracy as an individualistic and rational process is a fundamental cause for the framing of difference as problematic (Mouffe 2000). In this framing, there are two main strategies dealing with strangers: one that aims at assimilation and the other that aims at exclusion (Bauman 1997). As such, social organising today is based on what is common between citizens bolstering “tribalism” (Bauman 1997) and “monological” type of thinking (McCarthy 1984).
Radical democracy, however, suggests that citizenship can be enhanced through acceptance of difference and an ongoing social disagreement (Ranciere 2014, Sandel 2015, Mouffe 2000). In particular, agonistic pluralism (Laclau & Mouffe 1985) contends “how best to promote democratic participation and decision making without impeding sociocultural difference” in an inclusive and just way (Kapoor, 2002, p. 460). The concept of agonistic model of democracy (Mouffe 2000, 2005) argues that the success of a democracy purports an inclusive perception towards otherness and difference and thus a re-consideration of the dichotomy ‘us’ vs. ‘them’. The problem and the question is not how to overcome the ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ dichotomy, as it is impossible (Mouffe 2000). The question at the center of my research is: how can plural societies develop a more comprehensive understanding of difference, and find ways of working together that allow them to collectively come to terms with, and benefit from, their diversity?
The concept of agonistic pluralism has been problematized for being utopian, too abstract and neglecting practical outcomes (Dryzek 2005). In particular, the main practical question of how citizens enter into agonistic debates and how “alternative subjectivities may be produced, or organised, does not figure in [Mouffe’s] account” (Zehle & Rossiter 2009, p. 242). As such, the practical aspect of “human coexistence” (Mouffe 2000, p. 15) is left without answer.
Through my research, I will test how practically social connections across difference, which I name radical alliances, emerge, develop, disperse or sustain over time. Namely, by approaching the problem through the lens of the post-structuralist point of view, I will explore how difference, as a contingent point of reference for identity constitution and hegemonic re-articulations, become the organising principle in plural societies.
I will explore the problem in the case of tensions in my home country, Latvia – a society that has been torn apart by inner-ethnic conflict and tensions (Silova 2006), which have ramifications in social exclusion and low political engagement (Aasland and Fløtten 2001).
I will contextualize the concept of agonistic pluralism in school settings, drawing support from the thinking of scholars working in critical pedagogy (e.g. Biesta 2006, Fielding and Moss 2010, Amsler 2015, Davies 2004, Youdell 2011). Youdell (2011) defines critical pedagogy as “pedagogic approaches that aim to open up students’ and educators’ understanding of their social and political context, understandings that are seen to underpin social and political transformations” (p. 85). Schools become key institutions for reproduction of the hegemony of neo-liberalism and, in particular, inequality (McLaren, 1995), and related processes of inclusion and exclusion (Willis 1977). As such, schools become key institutions where young people can learn and practice democracy, by emphasizing the political aspect every-day practices and social relations (Youdell, 2011). Therefore the objective of my research is to understand how agonistic pluralism can be engendered amongst young people in Latvia. My research questions are defined as follows:
- How is difference perceived and manifested amongst young people in Latvia?
- How are radical alliances perceived and manifested amongst young people in Latvia?
- How can difference be re-imagined amongst young people in Latvia?
- How can radical alliances be re-imagined amongst young people in Latvia?
The method of the research will be ethnography with elements of participatory action research and self-reflexivity. The fieldwork will take place in my former school, where I will be observing and co-creating spaces for alternative articulation of difference with young people (age 15-17). The selection of the age group is predicated upon: increasing political and social awareness; language skills (ability to interact with other ethnic groups); social long-sightedness (Grisso et al. 2003). The fieldwork will take place in two stages: 1. understanding the perception and the manifestation of difference and radical alliances today. It will involve an ethnographic study during the spring and autumn of 2018. The methods will include participant observations, research journaling, organised and informal interviews. Reflecting my post-structuralist epistemological position, instead of having a pre-defined list of questions, I will allow seeing what will emerge naturally throughout my observations and during my interventions with the participants. 2. re-imagining the different and radical alliances. It will be executed through a series of future creating workshops taking place in the autumn 2018, the exact format and content of which will be informed by the outcomes of the spring field work. Drawing on the thinking of the advocates of radical education, I will ensure, however, these spaces are: participatory, inclusive, open to contingency, emancipatory and utopian. Ethnography is conceived as a useful method for studying identity and politics in schools (Youdell 2011). It is also being recognised as surfacing the complexity of the social: challenges of authenticity and reciprocity as well as concerns with the subjectivating power of academic discourses (Youdell 2011). A turn to reflexivity has been seen as a response to the above (Delamont & Atkinson 1995), by foregrounding location of a scholar in the context and discourse of the research. I position myself on the contingent border between the insider / outsider categories. From one side I am returning home, twice – to Latvian and to the native school. I might, however, be perceived as an outsider by the young people of today – because of the age disparity and because of the years spent abroad. My researcher status can impact power dynamics in my relations with children and adults, as it might be seen in the light of authority and expertise. Self-reflexivity will help me to keep the right balance between insider and outsider as well as between emotions and scientificity (Yang 1972).
The aim of the research is to further the thinking of radical democracy and in particular contribute to empirical evidence of the practical applicability of the agonistic pluralism approach in post-totalitarian settings. This makes the research interesting on two fronts. Firstly, it will contribute to testing the ideas of radical democracy and radical education in settings, where education and schools have a long history of being ideological instruments: rooting the hegemony of the Soviet state earlier and that of the market economy in our days. As such, schools in Latvia become an interesting environment for exploring the questions of difference and antagonism. Secondly, there is a gap in the post-socialist education research (Silova, Sobe, Korzh, & Kovalchuk, 2017): “viewed through a singular Western lens, the complicated experiences of the post-socialist world have been involved merely as a lagging temporality in the processes of global educational convergence” (p. 1). Given the two aspects of the local context, my research hopes to contribute to generating a more accurate depiction and knowledge, which, in its turn, might later be used as a basis for theory generation and developments of the local policy.
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