Gorm Hansbøl, The Danish University of Education, Emdrupvej 72, DK-2400 Copenhagen NV, E-mail: gh@dpu.dk

Lejf Moos, Research Centre on Professional Development and Leadership, The Danish University of Education, Emdrupvej 72, DK-2400 Copenhagen NV, E-mail: moos@dpu.dk

This special issue seeks to reflect on the theme of the 31st congress of the Nordic Educational Research Association (NERA), March 6–9, 2003 in Copenhagen. The congress theme «Education as a Critical Force – Myth or Reality?» took its point of departure in the thesis that much education has traditionally conceived of itself as corrective or even as the critical edge in the criticism of oppressive mechanisms in society. Much has been said about the role of education in facilitating emancipation from unnecessary coercive measures, whether they refer to societal mechanisms of repression or inner self-repression. The need for education to reflect upon itself, its role in society, and its history seems evident in the light of late modernity and in connection with the thorough modernization of the public sector.

Has critical pedagogy contributed to emancipation from unnecessary repression? Or has critical pedagogy first and foremost been used as an instrument to intensify the dominating tendencies in the development of society? Has critical pedagogy performed other roles that need to be analysed and understood? In connection with the 31st congress of NERA we invited eight educational researchers from different countries to discuss the theme: Three (Karen Borgnakke, Henning Salling Olesen and Anne-Marie Eggert Olsen, all from Denmark) wrote articles for the special issue of Nordisk Pedagogik, no. 2/2002, prior to the congress and we had five keynote speakers at the congress: Peter Kemp (Denmark), Ann Phoenix (England), Gunzeling Smid Noerr (Germany), Søren Langager (Denmark), and Gert Biesta (England). All of them have transformed their speeches into articles for this special issue. In addition, we received a reflection on the conference from

Britt-Kristi Feldman, Germany, whose article is also part of this issue.

A starting point for all of the articles is that when we want to discuss Education as a Critical Force, we need to reflect on critical theory itself, the history of critical theory and critical educational theory. A major aspect of critical theory is criticism of itself, and it is therefore a natural activity to review and revise the foundations and reflections every now and then. The theory and discussion are often taken back to Germany and the 1920’s, but within the educational circles in the Nordic counties the discussions were more vivid in the 1960’s and 1970’s. When reflecting on the history we need to reflect on the societal and cultural contexts in which the discussions were embedded in order to find out what we can learn from or be inspired by in those discussions.

This seems to be even more necessary at this point in history than previously as the changes in society seem to be the most deeply rooted and drastic of the past many years: Globalisation, the Web and the shift in governance of the public sector, including education and educational research, from being politically governed and conceived to being taken over and governed by market logic. Karen Borgnakke (2002) discussed what body of theory is more sensitive to the object of our research, education, and she finds that Habermas is more sensitive than Luhmann, because his concepts and theory sharpen the analysis of contemporary societies. Henning Salling Olesen (2002) drew attention to the core interest of critical theory, subjectivity in a societal context, relating the dynamic and contradictory aspects of socialisation and subjectivity to social and historical dynamics. He discussed the key concepts of experience and self-regulation in contemporary educational research. Anne-Marie Eggert Olsen (2002) took her point of departure in Adorno’s centenary, which as a sad irony fell on September 11, 2003. She discussed Adorno’s central element of thought, the constitution of the self – of the rational ego – as a product of historical society.

The first keynote speaker at the conference, Peter Kemp, discusses in this issue his concept of the Citizen of the World on the basis of an analysis of contemporary society and global society that has changed dramatically over the last one hundred years or so. It is, he claims, no longer possible to conceive of education as a national activity. Because of a number of global and globalisation trends and tendencies we must turn our thinking and education towards the rest of the world. Peter Kemp is therefore interested in rephrasing critical theory from being exclusively a critical, negative theory into being a critical, visionary theory.

Ann Phoenix analyses educational concepts and practices in England. The English educational system does not give all students equal opportunities for optimal achievement in schools. The inequalities are mostly based on social class, gender and ethnicity: the aspects of life that critical theory is often aware of and interested in defeating. However, it seems that attempts in education have failed. Ann Phoenix points to the need for education to look beyond its own sphere and look into the everyday life of the pupils, because this is where the greatest part of identity construction takes place.

Gunzelin Schmid Noerr discusses emancipatory pedagogy in Germany from the 1960’s to today. He claims that we need to relate our concepts and understanding of emancipation to the fundamental tendencies in modern society. One paradox is that the individualisation that has taken place since the beginning of Modernity now takes the form of increased individual freedom and increased structural dependency and powerlessness.

Søren Langager’s argument is that the very basis for everyday life and education has changed. One important aspect of this change, writes Langager, is that digital media have become new and constructive forces of production. Instead of writing off the media as destructive forces in the lives of children and young people, he claims that they are on the contrary productive forces, because they enable them to produce and form their relations and everyday lives in new and emancipatory ways.

Gert Biesta points to very basic changes in contemporary English society, the transformation of learning from being part of education to being part of economical exchange, from being the subjective production of knowledge to being a delivery of knowledge packages. Education has changed from being a ‘Bildung’ activity to ‘meeting the needs of the learner’.

Introduction to the articles in this special issue

Peter Kemp: The citizen of the world as a figure in a critical vision

Peter Kemp argues that education today, whether at nursery school or university level, is far from a critical force. The question raised in the congress theme is thus very much to the point. Kemp argues that social criticism failed in education because it did not dare or refused to express an ideal or a vision of the true social life in the world of the late twentieth century with its many major problems such as financial globalization linked to supranational communication systems, tension between civilizations and nations, sustainability of the Earth in relation to exploitation of the natural capital of physical resources, etc.

The cooperation or complementarity of theoretical and practical interests in education does not provide us with an answer to the question of whether there still can be a critical force in education, or whether the idea of criticism was an illusion.How can we pass to a concrete vision that can guide our social criticism? The critical vision Kemp proposes makes the Citizen of the World a central figure.The concept of the Citizen of the World is quite old in European history, originating in ancient Greek Cynic and Stoic philosophy. But their cosmopolitanism remained on the purely personal level and was not concerned with global peace.This has changed in modern times. The most famous philosopher of the Enlightenment, Immanuel Kant (1724–1804), proclaimed in his work The Metaphysics of Morals from 1797–98 that cosmopolitan law is more developed than the law of people.

Kant finds the reason for the cosmopolitan law of the Citizen of the World in the fact that human beings as «citizens of the earth» originally inhabit a community of land forming a globus terraquens (the globe of the world), and as reasonable beings must therefore adopt the idea that they have the right to live together in peace and conduct commerce with each other in all regions of the earth. It is not merely by chance that the time of Kant coincided with the proclamation of human rights in North America and in France.Today, when some of the philosophers inspired by the heritage of Kant – for example, Jürgen Habermas, who speaks of a global order in accordance with the concept of the Citizen of the World – they mean an order based on the claim of universal human rights and watched over by the UN Security Council. And according to Martha Nussbaum, cultivating humanity by learning history is an education for shaping a Citizen of the World able to contribute to solving the major problems of our time.

Kemp believes that the question of educational transmission, i.e. the question about how we learn something from others without simply copying them, can be answered by Ricœur’s (1988) philosophy of mimesis. As the textual configuration the composition of the plot is the central event, but it is grounded in a pre-understanding of the world of action, i.e. a prefiguration, and it is followed by its reshaping of the world of the reader and the listener, i.e. by a refiguration.

Therefore, Kemp’s proposal is to apply this idea to the concrete context in which all education should take place. This context includes three of the great problems facing modern society: (i)First, the problem of financial globalization. (ii) Second, the problem of intercultural coexistence. (iii) Third, the problem of the physical sustainability of the Earth. Taking these three problems as tasks for the global citizen of today, we can transform the figure of the cosmopolite into the true guiding figure in a critical vision for our time.

Peter Kemp’s conclusion is that it is naive to believe that this ideal will someday be fully realized. As long as human beings continue to hide their financial transactions, prevent dialogue between cultures and destroy the conditions for future life, the Citizen of the World will remain an ideal. But we need education that promotes appreciation and construction of international structures and authorities able to safeguard the cosmopolitan ideal and direct efforts towards practising concrete solutions to our enormous international problems.This is the manner in which we may be able to restore social criticism to education.

Ann Phoenix: Using informal pedagogy to oppress themselves and each other: Critical pedagogy, schooling and 11–14-year-old London boys

Ann Phoenix gives a picture of the current and widespread inequalities in school achievement in Britain as a basis for discussing the function of critical pedagogy in solving these problems. In order to do so, she claims, critical pedagogy must engage with ‘informal pedagogy’ because the results of schooling are not solely the effects of teaching and the ‘hidden curriculum’ but also of the negotiations of the complex social relations in which students are involved. These relations are equally as important as the curriculum as a basis for the achievement of students.

The basis for the inequalities in education is often seen as social class, gender and ethnicity. There are at present no national statistics and research on these matters, but Ann Phoenix give an account of a number of smaller projects. It seems that social class is responsible for the differences to a greater degree than gender and ethnicity. However, a number of studies indicate that race and ethnicity are important factors in shaping teachers’ expectations and responses to students.

The notion of critical pedagogy is a very nice vision, says Ann Phoenix, but little has been written on how to put the ideas into practice. Therefore, she explores the idea of constructing identities in communities of learning and communities of practice. The starting point for this theory is that learning is a social activity and comes from participating in daily life. Therefore the match or the mismatch of gender, social class and ethnic identity production and the gaining of educational qualifications is important. As an example, the ways in which many girls express femininity seem more compatible with good educational performance because they match the expectations of the school better than boys’ expressions of masculinity. Girls are more orderly, more disciplined, more hardworking and more attentive towards teachers and so on.

This matter is very complicated as several research projects point to the fact that identity is also bound to the everyday life outside

school and that changes in society and culture heavily effect identity construction. In a study of masculinity in 11–14-year-old boys Ann Phoenix used life history interviews to get personal narratives. She finds that boys found it hard to deal with the dilemma of masculinity versus schoolwork: It is hard to have a «cool pose» and at the same time be a good student. It seems that critical pedagogy could come in handy here, giving teachers the incentive to be aware of the identity negotiations and giving black students better opportunities, but this is not sufficient according to Ann Phoenix; white students must also change their racial attitudes.

Another study shows that this analysis is similar to Nordic schools. The lesson that can be learned from these studies is first and foremost that school is not just about education; rather, it is also intertwined with the negotiation of complex social relations. School is not only about getting new experiences but also about constructing identity and if critical pedagogy is to succeed it must realize this.

Gunzelin Schmid Noerr: Emancipatory Pedagogy today? Pedagogic action in view of the paradoxes of modernity

Gunzelin Schmid Noerr take his point of departure in the idea that emancipation is a general regulative principle of modern pedagogy and acts as a criterion for specific partial goals within educational action. It is a fundamental aspect of the notion of education (Bildung). Emancipation, in the form of such a foundational concept, is defensible even today, in the face of weighty objections coming from the theory of Post-modernism or from sociological systems theory. Which is not to say, however, that it is still possible to connect directly to the concept of emancipatory pedagogy as it was conceived in the German Federal Republic towards the end of the sixties and the beginning of the seventies; rather, it has become necessary to take a closer look at what has become of emancipation as the foundational concept within education under the conditions of contemporary society, in which the individual is typically confronted with a confusing plurality of life forms and proffered meaning systems.

Gunzelin Schmid Noerr claims that for an adequate clarification of the notion of emancipation it is necessary to relate it to fundamental tendencies within modern society since the Enlightenment. Modernization is an ambivalent process, which from the point of view of the individual leads to pragmatic paradoxes. Regarded from the point of view of the individual, the paradox of individualisation takes the form of an opposition between increasing freedom and increasing structural dependency and powerlessness. The contradiction between freedom and coercion, which has always been central within pedagogic action, is increasingly exacerbated by modernisation.

The ideas of emancipatory pedagogy are tied to objective societal changes in the area of de-traditionalisation and individualisation. Emancipation is, in the first instance, not the idea of philosophers or educationists, but rather the reaction to a societal necessity. Emancipation as a normative concept in politics or education is hence to be distinguished from emancipation in the sense of a descriptive concept in the social sciences. The former notion denotes a subjectively intended goal, the latter an objective- structural change. Both are related, without the meanings being conflated.

Gunzelin Schmid Noerr claims that emancipation is (i) an aspect of the structural processes of modernization as they impinge on the young person, and upon the course of socialisation and education; (ii) personal identity formation as it adapts to socialisatory

pressure, and only in the final instance (iii) a foundational idea of pedagogy: The emphatic concept of emancipation which seeks to stimulate and correctively accompany the young person on his/her risky road.

Ego-identity and solidarity belonged to the core concepts of emancipatory pedagogy. The individual emancipating him/herself was supposed to learn to balance contradictory societal expectations and relate them to personal needs, thus enabling a realm of autonomy in the face of societal compulsion. Only an identical subject was deemed able to develop individualisation – itself the product of structural differentiation – to the point that it could free itself from the stage of mere role functioning; only a loyal individual held out the prospect of transcending the egoistic bounds of individualisation in the direction of a movement of collective, societal emancipation.

These assumptions have been put into question by the post-modern discourse on plural identities. Concepts such as patchwork-identity or hobby-biography are an index of the growing inconsistency and dilution of contemporary life-planning. The question thus arises of how emancipatory pedagogy today is to react to the challenges posed by this flexible capitalism. One must however distinguish between identity and subjectivity. Subjectivity presupposes self-consciousness and autonomy, and with it the ability to relate reflexively to one’s own identity. In this sense, the notion of the subject, in which individual and societal moments are interrelated, is as indispensable for pedagogy as it has always been.

Gunzelin Schmid Noerr concludes that emancipatory pedagogy today has to accept the fact that identity-work, first and foremost that of young people, is exposed to a multiplicity of dangers. While the notions of emancipation of the sixties and seventies focused intensely on liberation from internalised compulsions, which were said to impede the wish to move towards an unfolding of the self, emancipatory pedagogy today has to support young people in positioning themselves meaningfully in a reality that is experienced as contradictory and amorphous. Emancipation as a development towards autonomy is becoming increasingly an objective demand placed upon individuals, while at the same time it is restricted by subtle farms of discipline and regimentation. The construction of identity is, also under post-modern conditions, not something that can be revoked and reversed at will, but something that corresponds to individual expectations of a meaningful life. The purpose of an emancipatory pedagogy today consists in the meaningful moulding of such expectations, and in so doing, the facilitation of a subjectivity capable of resisting the paradoxes of modernity.

Søren Langager: Strange alliances on the threshold of the digital age – The reappearance of the critical pedagogy?

The core argument in Søren Langager’s article is that the very basis for everyday life and education has changed because digital media have become new and constructive forces of production. This has transformed the traditional discourse: The digital media form the foundation and the possibilities for both society and individuals that are in accordance with the human needs and wishes.

Søren Langager analyses trends in social psychology that are important to education. The trends are furthered by different kinds of digital media: (i) There is a tendency for people meeting in groups to act more like swarms then like tightly connected groups. The sms-logic lets people be together in a gathering but at the same time be more involved with people outside the gathering

through mobile phones and sms’s. (ii) The second trend is that mobile phones are attached to the owner but not to any fixed place in geography, like home. If you phone a person, you do not know where he/she is at this actual moment: Is your mother actually in your home? (iii) The third trend is that Internet logic makes it important for you to make yourself known in a way that encourages other people to start communicating with you. (iv) The fourth trend is that because of digital possibilities you do not need to read or listen to a text or a message in a linear way, as when reading a book; rather, you can wander in and out, connecting to other texts because of hyperlink logic. (v) The fifth trend is that because of e-mail technology you are able to communicate asynchronously: The receiver decides when he/she wants to respond to a message.

Those trends question educational conventions: The loose gatherings question the stabile group, the flexible places question the fixed places of schools, the individual self-referentiality questions social caring, the possibilities for complex learning question linear learning and the asynchronous communication questions synchronized activities. Therefore, education must transform its practices in four ways: It must further creative performance through a monomedia strategy, it must further playful exploration through serendipity, it must further Bildung in a radical way by the use of augmentation resources and it must further critical interpretation through faction contingency.

Critical pedagogy must find ways of mixing local communities, which are important to individual growth, and global communities, which are important to individuals’ Bildung, in educational practice. It is easier now that ever before, says Søren Langager because the digital media are in favour of sensible, creative, playful and critical learning.

Gert Biesta: Against learning – reclaiming a language for education in an age of learning

Gert Biesta asks what can be said by means of the new language of learning and, more importantly, what can no longer be said by means of this language. One of the main problems with the new language of learning is that it allows for a re-description of the process of education in terms of an economic transaction, that is, a transaction in which (1) the learner is the (potential) consumer, the one who has certain needs, in which (2) the teacher, the educator, or the educational institution becomes the provider, that is, the one who is there to meet the needs of the learner, and where (3) education itself becomes a commodity to be provided or delivered by the teacher or educational institution and to be consumed by the learner. This is the logic that says that educational institutions and individual educators should be flexible, that they should respond to the needs of the learners, that they should give the learners value for money, and perhaps even that they should operate on the principle that the customer is always right. It is also the ’logic’ that implies that educators and educational institutions should be accountable, since what ultimately constitutes the relationship between learners/consumers and providers is the payment that learners make, either directly or, in the case of state-funded education, indirectly through taxation.

But the more fundamental question is whether the educational process itself can be understood, and should be understood, in economic terms, that is, as a situation in which the learner has certain needs and where it is the business of the educator to meet these needs. Gert Biesta concludes that this is not the case, and that it is for precisely this reason that the comparison between an

economic and an educational transaction falls short.

The first reason, therefore, to be against learning, and against a language that makes it possible to present education in terms of ‘meeting the needs of the learner’, is that the underlying assumption that learners come to education with a clear understanding of what their needs are, is a highly questionable assumption. It both misconstrues the role and position of the educational professional in the process, and the role and position of the learner. It forgets that a major reason for engaging in education is precisely to find out what it is that one actually needs – a process in which educational professionals play a crucial role because a major part of their expertise lies precisely there.

There are, therefore, two arguments against the new language of learning or, to be more precise, against a line of thinking that is made possible by the new language of learning. One problem is that the new language of learning facilitates an economic understanding of the process of education, one in which the learner is supposed to know what he or she wants, and where a provider (a teacher, an educational institution) is simply there to meet the needs of the learner or, in more crude terms, to satisfy the customer.

The other problem with the logic of the new language of learning is that it makes it difficult to raise questions about the content and purpose of education, other than in terms of what «the consumer» or «the market» wants. This poses a threat, Biesta claims, to both educational professionalism and to democracy. He argues that we should not understand the educational relationship as a relationship between a provider and a consumer. But what, then, constitutes an educational relationship? And what kind of language would be appropriate to capture what is special about educational relationships? Biesta’s answer to this question, a proposal for a language for education, centres around three interlocking concepts: trust, violence and responsibility; or, to be more precise: trust without ground, transcendental violence, and responsibility without knowledge.

To negate or deny the risk involved in engaging in education is to miss a crucial dimension of education. To suggest that education can be and should be risk free, that learners do not run any risk by engaging in education, or that learning outcomes can be known and specified in advance, is a gross misrepresentation of what education is about.

Coming into presence is, therefore, not necessarily a pleasant and easy process since it is about challenging students, confronting them with otherness and difference and asking them difficult questions. This suggests that, in a sense, there is a violent dimension to education, and Biesta argues that it is important not to deny the violence involved in coming, or maybe we should say calling, into presence.

Therefore, the responsibility of teachers and educators towards individual students or learners is not, and cannot be based upon knowledge about what one takes responsibility for. Responsibility without knowledge is, then, the third aspect of the language of education that he wishes to propose. It is this dimension which makes the work of teachers and educators so difficult, at least, if they really engage with this responsibility and do not deny its existence.

Britt-Kristin Feldmann: Theme: Education as a Critical Force – Myth or Reality? On the special character of the discourses. Reflections on the Copenhagen Congress

Britt-Kristin Feldmann points out that there are differences in the national academic

discourses about education in general but also in the field of critical pedagogy or science of education: Namely differences inherent in the orientation towards either a practical pedagogical or a more theoretical educational understanding of the discipline, in the different reception of scientific sources as well as a precise definition of critique in the Nordic discourse. Those differences are indeed not a point of no return, but could be a fruitful junction, the author writes. Therefore, the author would like to re-open a discussion between the Nordic and the German academic discourses about the critical science of education/pedagogy.

Discussion of the character of the discourses

We agree that there are differences in the Nordic academic discourse on education in general but we do not agree that the main focus at the conference has been oriented towards a practical pedagogical understanding or that a precise definition of critique in the Nordic discourse is missing. Karen Borgnakke took her point of departure in rethinking Critical Theory as a challenge. In short she wrote:

Yes, education as a critical force is both myth and reality. Critical pedagogy is a living myth and at the same time a part of reality, contributing to emancipation and, used as an instrument, controlling trends. (Borgnakke, 2003, p. 195)

Firstly, she comments on the theoretical dimension of the congress theme. And she concludes that critical theory, like theory, is an instrument for thought. Theory does not prescribe any pedagogical action and the use of theory is only as a tool for thought. Theory can thus be of great importance as an analytical instrument in creating the correct diagnosis of trends. Secondly, she analyzes the tendencies in the present learning discourse and experiences from former critical educational practice.

What we want to emphasize is that Karen Borgnakke does not take her point of departure in either a practical pedagogy or a more theoretical educational understanding of the discipline; rather, she uses critical theory as an analytical instrument to understand and reconstruct the pedagogical field and emphasises as well the analysis of the complexity of learning as an important step in the development of a modern critical pedagogical science.

Henning Salling Olesen pointed out that in his perspective, critical theory mainly has a research strategy perspective:

Critical theory has the understanding of subjectivity in a societal context as its focus – relating the dynamic and contradictory aspects of socialisation and subjectivity to social and historical dynamics. (Olesen, 2003, p. 215)

This perspective is closely connected to the critical tradition of Adorno. Olesen take his point of departure in this very empirical tradition and sees it as a modern contribution to redefining the research area and the research.

Anne-Marie Eggert Olsen also defined critical theory in the Adorno tradition. Critical thinking therefore has to be formed as a negative dialectic, as it is not possible to define as positive something that is different and non-identical as a correction to the determination of the society of late modernity. Therefore, the conditions in the society always determine any kind of pedagogical action. And the only way out of this determination is through a negative dialectical pedagogy, legitimated through scientific analyses of the difference between the norm (Mündigkeit) and the real conditions of education and Bildung (Olsen, 2003, p. 242). These examples show that the main focus at the conference has not been oriented

towards a practical pedagogical understanding or that a precise definition of critique in the Nordic discourse is missing.

We now turn to the keynotes and we can sum up that Peter Kemp was interested in rephrasing critical theory from being exclusively a critical, negative theory into being a critical, visionary theory. Ann Phoenix pointed to the need for education to look beyond its own sphere and look into the everyday lives of the students, because this is where the greatest part of identity construction takes place. Gunzelin Schmid Noerr claimed that we need to relate our concepts and understanding of emancipation to the fundamental tendencies in modern society, because one paradox is that the individualisation, which has taken place since the beginning of Modernity, now takes the form of increased individual freedom and increased structural dependency and powerlessness. Søren Langager claimed that digital media have become new and constructive forces of production, because they enable children and young persons to produce and form their relations and everyday lives in new and emancipatory ways. And finally, Gert Biesta pointed to the transformation of learning from being part of education to being part of economical exchange, from being a subjective production of knowledge to being a delivery of knowledge-packages. Education has changed from being a Bildung activity to meeting the needs of the learner.

Our final conclusion is that there are many differences in the Nordic academic discourse about education and Bildung in general. We do not find that the above-mentioned examples, which we consider to represent the main focus at the conference have been oriented towards a practical pedagogical understanding or that a precise definition of critique in the Nordic discourse is missing.


Borgnakke, K. (2002). Skærpelse af kritisk teori og analytisk sans for praksis. Nordisk Pedagogik, 22(4), p. 195–214.

Olesen, H. Salling (2002). Pædagogikken som kritisk instans – myte eller virkelighed.Nordisk Pedagogik, 22(4), 215–231

Olsen, A-M. Eggert. «Nicht mitmachen» – Theodor W. Adorno 1903–1969. Nordisk Pedagogik, 22(4), 232–243.

Ricœur, P. (1988). Time and Narrative. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.