Citizenship Education in the Context of a Transcultural Conception of Education

We are happy to share the abstracts for the conference What citizenship education for what democracy? Transnational Perspectives from the 19th to the 21st Century.

From Citizens to Cosmopolitans? Citizenship Education in the Context of a Transcultural Conception of Education

Wolfgang Sander

This contribution seeks to answer the question, which theory traditions can be used to determine the aims and tasks of citizenship education under the conditions of globalisation and the consoldiating world society. First of all, it will be explained in what sense world society and globalization are discussed in the lecture. World society is understood as an analytical, not normative concept (Luhmann: „Gesellschaft ist heute eindeutig Weltgesellschaft“ — “Today society is clearly world society”). The concept of globalization refers to processes of expansion and compression of worldwide interchange relations. The main part of the lecture explores the question of in which ways a globalization of political education can or cannot be conceived at the level of its conceptual self-understanding. Three theses are presented and discussed:

1. The globalization of citizenship education requires a general consensus at the global level on its fundamental goals and tasks

With reference to John Rawls, the theory of an „übergreifender Konsens“ (“general consensus”) in modern societies will be outlined and related to world society. From there, it is discussed which theoretical challenges citizenship education faces if it wants to be understood as an element of such an general consensus. Two impasses of this discussion will be critically addressed: the expectation that globalization will lead to the worldwide assertion of Western ideas (taking Francis Fukuyama as an example), as well as cultural-relativist views from the context of post-colonialism. As an alternative to these impasses, the attention will be drawn to Shmuel N. Eisenstadt’s theory of “Multiple Modernities”.

2. A general consensus on citizenship education will not be possible through political-instrumental expectations

In the German term “politische Bildung”, similar to the English term “citizenship education”, there is a tension between more political and more education-theoretical self-conceptions — is it primarily about political objectives, for example a certain citizenship model (“Bürgerleitbild”), or more about pedagogical ones that refer to education (Bildung)? Using the UNESCO concept of Global Citizenship Education (GCE) as an example, this contribution shows that a general consensus on a citizenship model for political education is not to be expected in world society.

3. A global general consensus on the understanding of education, which underlies a globalizing citizenship education, is conceivable

In contrast, such a general consensus in the sense of Rawls on the dimension of the English term “education”, for which the concept of “Bildung” stands in German, seems to be imaginable. A separate theoretical-historical study (Sander 2018, 95-130, Sander 2019) shows that theoretical considerations relating to education in that sense exist in different cultural contexts throughout thousands of years of human cultural history. Examples of this range from early academies in the Hindu-Buddhist cultural environment, over Confucius, the Jewish educational tradition, European antiquity and the discourses on education theory in the classical period of the Islamic world, to the pioneers of today’s European educational theories in the long history of Christian educational thinking. Education is a trans-cultural heritage of humanity and could therefore contribute to a general consensus in world society.

A globalized political education must therefore be based primarily on education theory. It does not aim at the pedagogic adaptation of a politically prescribed citizenship role, but at a reflexive relationship to the political dimension of human coexistence. Citizenship education opens this dimension to its addressees as a field for thinking, understanding, judging and acting and thereby aims at broadening horizons in people’s understanding of the world. Such a fundamental understanding of political education, as the thesis of the lecture suggests, can be founded on trans-cultural commonalities in the history of educational thinking. In terms of content, i.e. with regard to the subjects taught (die fachlichen Lerngegenstände), political education can only promote a reflective understanding of the world if it consistently takes into account the global interconnections and conditions of politics in our time.

Cite this blog post
Olivier Lamon (2020, November 30). Citizenship Education in the Context of a Transcultural Conception of Education. Can We Learn Democracy? Retrieved April 25, 2024, from

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