Come build in the empty house: Reimagining Democracy and Education in a Time of Change

Dr Fergal Finnegan makes the case that technological change and new political and cultural formations have opened up the possibility of novel and empowering forms of reflexive action.

We live in a period of transition and profound crisis marked by widening inequalities and looming ecological threats. It seems particularly acute because over the past four decades here has also been a winnowing of the social imagination. To paraphrase Frederic Jameson for many people it has become easier to imagine mass catastrophe than envisage the possibility of progressive change. This distinct type of cultural exhaustion and sense of paralysis that accompanies it is directly linked to the widespread perception of a democratic ‘deficit’. In Europe and further afield there is crisis in legitimacy in mainstream political institutions because there seems to be so little popular control over resources, wealth and decision making. It is not at all coincidental that we have also seen in recent decades the hollowing out of established educational ideals and significant shifts in the organisation and dominant understanding of the purpose of mass education. The first part of this presentation will explore these changes, ask why this has occurred and what this might indicate about the relationship between democracy and education and the various ways this relationship is envisaged, shaped and acted upon.

In the second part of this presentation Dr Fergal Finnegan will go beyond the terrain of critique and move onto a landscape of possibility. He outlines why he believes we need, as researchers and practitioners, to now take the work of reimagining and conceptualising the possibilities for education for democracy and democratic education seriously. Dr Finnegan makes the case that technological change and new political and cultural formations have opened up the possibility of novel and empowering forms of reflexive action. This has profound implications for how we think about education. In the light of this, he asks what can be done, and what is being done, to elaborate new principles and practices of democratic education that can fully respond to the challenges, startling disjunctions and opportunities of our time. The paper will conclude by identifying some of the fundamental aspects of democratic education in a time of change.

Dr Fergal Finnegan

Dr Fergal Finnegan is from Dublin, Ireland and was educated at Trinity College Dublin and Maynooth University. He the Director of the Higher Diploma course in Further Education and a Lecturer in the Department of Adult and Community Education at Maynooth University. He worked as a community educator in Dublin’s inner city with a wide range of student groups before he became a lecturer. These experiences as a practitioner have strongly informed his academic research on inequality and non-traditional students in higher education. Fergal has conducted extensive mixed methods and biographical research on non-traditional student experience both in Ireland and across Europe and is an editor of a recent book from Routledge entitled Student Voices on inequalities in European Higher Education: Challenges for Policy and Practice in a Time of Change. Other research interests include biographical research, learning theory, the nature of reflexivity and the role of recognition in teaching and learning. Fergal currently teaches the philosophy of education and learning theory on a range postgraduate courses in Maynooth. He also teaches and writes about education in relation to state formation, political economy and social movements.

Dr Finnegan was a Keynote Speaker at The European Conference on Education 2015 (ECE2015) in Brighton, England.

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