28 SES 11, Citizenship, Cultures and Practices I: The Social Construction of the Self
Parallel Paper Session
[E]ducation should not be seen as a space of preparation, but should be conceived as a space where individuals can act, where they can bring their beginnings into the world, and be a subject. The educational question is no longer that of how to engender or “produce” democratic individuals. The key educational question is how individuals can be subjects. (Biesta, 2006, pp. 137-138 emphasis in original)
In recent years a significant focus of research in the UK and many western countries has been upon the development and evaluation of curricula and school-based practices, with the emphasis on socializing young people in a way that furnishes them with the skills and wherewithal to act and behave in a “responsible” way and become “good” and contributing citizens. Here the assumption is that once young people are prepared for democratic participation and equipped with “the ‘right’ set of knowledge, skills and dispositions’ that foster appropriate “qualities of democratic personality” (Biesta, 2007, p.748) they will develop the power of reason, and think for themselves in a particular way. The emphasis upon “social engineering”, and the “manufacture” of compliant yet “active” citizens as preparation for their future roles as citizens, is a fundamental component of the mainstream discourse of citizenship education. This has been characterized as citizenship-as-achievement (Author, 2006a). It is predicated on a model of young people as “not-yet-citizens” and is exemplified in the work of T.H. Marshall (1950) whose seminal discussion about citizenship in the aftermath of the 2nd World War continues to cast a shadow over policy and practice.
The key argument of the paper is that another, but no less important function for education, is to enable young people to claim their subjectivity through a deliberative and relational engagement in the world. Articulated as citizenship-as-practice (Author, 2006b) this starts with the assumption that there is a role for education that transcends its socialization function, is uniquely individual and is achieved through a deliberative and relational engagement in the world. It is about action and its origination, the ability to reflexively shape actions and events in and through everyday practice – in a manner that takes account of the reaction of others as a precursor to new and further origination. One could say that subjectification involves processes of realization. These run counter to liberal claims that once young people are prepared for democratic participation they will develop the power of reason and think for themselves rather than in some predefined and “correct” way. Such arguments are closely allied to philosophical questions about the primacy of the individual over the social. They are represented in the social sciences as structure versus agency, where agency refers to the capability of the individual to act autonomously and socialization refers to the constraints of structure on individual action and behavior. Hence the assumption of a realignment of educational practice in favor of providing opportunities for young people to learn democracy within the spaces where democratic and non-democratic practices are performed.
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