People & research: Katariina Tiainen explores the philosophical foundations of critical democratic education

The AGORA Research Centre brings together a wide diversity of researchers and research groups interested with current issues of social justice and equality in education. Here, we will present you with their current research. Katariina Tiainen's PhD research explores democratic education from the standpoint of the philosophy of Critical Pedagogy.

What is the focus of your research?

My focus is on ethical and political commitments underlying Critical Pedagogy, especially on the notions of political subjectivity and radical democracy. My aim is to bring philosophies of critical pedagogies in conversation with critical feminist theories, that is, theorization that have brought critical social theory and feminist philosophies together. Thus, I also scrutiny contemporary feminist-political epistemologies, theories of justice, and democracy and how these may contribute to Critical Pedagogy as democratic education.

How does your research relate to issues of social justice and equality? 

Commitment to transformative education that would change the social, political and economic structures of the present society towards more equal, socially just and democratic form is a common thread for critical theories of education. A starting point in analyzing social justice from critical theory and critical pedagogy perspective is to grasp present injustices, and making them explicit.  From a point of departure of critical pedagogies, education is inherently political and always intertwined with power.

Tell something about your latest/current research?

My latest article is about ethical and political commitments underlying the Freirean philosophy of critical pedagogy, and how these could be formulated as concrete ethical-political principles to guide and inform contemporary democratic education. Objective is to understand those mechanisms in education and culture at large that produce cruelly optimist and false hopes, and thus reproduces political and democratic passivity among people. Underlying assumption is that democratic education needs to contest neoliberal common sense, especially false hopes or cruelly optimist hopes prevailing in the education and in neoliberal culture.

At the moment I explore the concept of political subjectivity in order to better understand contemporary conditions of possibility for political agency.

What kind of discussions would you wish to initiate with your research?

Discussion I would like to continue in my research field is the enduring relevance of the philosophies of critical pedagogies for theorizing education, as I think it provides valuable insights for theorizing democratic education today, especially since it holds both perspectives; the crisis diagnosis of society I.e. historical-structural perspective on contemporary societies as well as utopian possibilities for counter activities and larger economic, social and political transformation. I also aim to dissolve theoretical tensions between critical pedagogies and feminist- and poststructuralist departures and to continue theoretical discussions between these frameworks as for to bring them together.

Discussion and societal debates I would like to participate with my research project is to call for the urgency of political and democratic education. Future citizens and citizens today must be able to take a stand on issues such as globalization, growing socio-economic gap between ´the well-of`´ and ´have nots´, multiculturalism, increasing movement of immigrants, human rights, radical extremism, climate change and ecological sustainability.  The prevalent educational policy reforms have brought up inconvenient consequences for democratic and political education as they have taken a distance from the goals of democratic citizenry, and moved towards supporting economic and competitive skills instead. Meanwhile questions concerning democratic citizenship, issues of justice, and how one could take part in democratic decision-making has diminished. Indication for these recent developments is low rates of political participation especially among young adults, common public indifference towards public issues, and ignorance of politics. This is also articulated as a "crisis of democracy". Especially teacher education as for curriculum planning and educational policies on the whole must be aware of these present as well as future challenges of democratic education, and civic engagement.

Published 15.4.2020