Creating the democratic self: Democracy, citizenship and education in Europe’s twentieth century

Phillip Wagner's picture
Call for Papers
November 7, 2019 to November 9, 2019
Subject Fields: 
Childhood and Education, Contemporary History, French History / Studies, Intellectual History, Modern European History / Studies

As populist parties emerge across Europe, increasing numbers of politicians and intellectuals are urgently calling for citizenship education to strengthen the public’s democratic mind-set. However, democracy and education share a more troubled history than these recent calls might suggest. The question of what citizenship education means and how it should be applied has changed significantly over time and has been at the centre of controversial debates throughout the twentieth century. Different political and professional groups espoused competing concepts of (liberal, socialist and even communist) ‘democratic’ citizenship and education. These factions also collided with groups aspiring to various forms of ‘authoritarianism’. Moreover, all varieties of ‘democratic’ citizenship education face a fundamental practical dilemma: Modern democracies need at least a loose set of democratic values and attitudes, but they cannot simply decree what these principles are without violating the democratic premise of freedom. In educational institutions, changing notions of citizenship and democracy also clash with the various forms of power that these organizations exercise over (young) people.


This workshop will trace the efforts undertaken to create, maintain and reform democracy through citizenship education during Europe’s tempestuous twentieth century. Our aim is to examine concepts and practices of ‘democratic’ citizenship education, and how these notions and procedures conflicted and/or hybridized with nationalist, authoritarian and religious pedagogies. The workshop will study these issues on a European scale, mapping trajectories of ‘democratic’ citizenship education in different social, cultural and national contexts from a comparative and transnational perspective (and beyond a Western European bias). Reflecting on education as one of the principal instruments of social and political reform, we aim to achieve a more comprehensive understanding of the contested histories of democracy in Europe’s twentieth century.


We encourage contributions that might focus on:

- concepts of ‘democratic’ citizenship education and their effects on educational institutions, curricula, youth organizations and wider reform agendas;

- practices of ‘democratic’ citizenship education in (model) schools and youth institutions, and the associated dilemmas and contradictions;

- the role of human sciences such as philosophy, psychology and sociology in shaping, legitimizing and questioning notions and practices of citizenship, democracy and education.


Papers could also address specific periods in European history by exploring one or more of the following questions:

- How were controversies surrounding democratic citizenship in education connected to the disputes about future political order in interwar Europe? How did these conflicts reflect both democracy’s potential and its increasing fragility after the Great War?

- How did education contribute to changing definitions of democratic citizenship after 1945 against the background of fascism, a devastating world war, new psychological research and the dawning age of superpower conflict? (Here, we especially encourage contributions that go beyond the well-researched case of West German re-education.)

- What role did education play in the controversies surrounding democracy and citizenship between the 1960s and 1980s? How did the appearance of new social movements, the advent of mass consumption, and the emerging ‘neo-liberal’ cultures of self-improvement (and associated ideas of social order) feed into these disputes across Europe?


The workshop will take place at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg on 7-9 November 2019. Please send your proposal (500 words max.) and a short CV to by 15 January 2019 at the latest. We aim to cover travel costs and accommodation for panellists, and are planning to publish at least a selection of papers.

Contact Info: 


Till Kössler (Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg)

Phillip Wagner (Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg)