Lived Democracy in School

Project owner

Western Norway University of Applied Sciences,

Project categories

Applied Research

Basic Research

Project period

January 2013 - January 2018

Project summary

The project studies how democracy is lived and learned in education. In particular, it studies how classroom discussions on societal issues can promote democratic Bildung, and what are the cultural conditions for such development. Societal and social topics in the students’ local community are used to catalyze classroom discussions and learning situations. We will investigate how the students’ close connection to the issue at hand influences engagement, learning processes and identities in the making. Student engagement and the potential for democratic Bildung also depend on cultural conditions at work in classrooms, including inter-culturality, allowance of a multiplicity of views and interconnectedness with the local community. We study how students’ engagement is factual and how discussion and engagement generate content learning. The project’s focus on students’ democratic capabilities and critical citizenship can support connections between school and society and will benefit schools’ contribution to an integrated and democratic society.


Through qualitative and quantitative studies we wish to learn how democracy is lived and learned by students in lower secondary classrooms. The epistemology of the project is rooted in critical pedagogy and embraces critical civic education, critical mathematical education and critical reflection in general. Since the project highlights risk issues because of its unpredictable nature, the project is also inspired by the philosophy of post-normal science, developed by Funtowicz and Ravetz (1993). Post-normal science is characterized by uncertain knowledge supporting complex societal issues where stakes are high. Funtowicz and Ravetz argue that science in such situations cannot be complete in the sense that value-free science can feed decision makers with answers that generate the “best decisions” (Funtowicz & Ravetz, 1990; 1993). Rather, the citizen needs to be engaged in evaluating the relevance of a scientific approach and to ensure that various value aspects are addressed. Perspectives from post-normal science aid us in understanding reliability aspects of science-based risk assessments and how non-experts (including students) can express critical questions. Our understanding of lived democracy  will naturally affect what we look for in our studies. However, throughout the whole project we will revisit our description and further develop the concept. We see the interchange between concept development, analyses of classroom activities, recent democratic theory and analyses of policy documents as valuable and necessary.

Methods relevant for the research areas are diverse, ranging from qualitative to quantitative classroom studies, which also can be basis for comparative studies. Scenario building can be one way of developing teaching contents for facilitating discussion (see next heading). Discourse analysis is central as it will provide insights in students’ agency and their capabilities related to discussion and dialogue. The research design will both be based on observation studies and cooperation with teachers. One type of such cooperation will be through professional pairs, which consists of one researcher and one teacher investigating the concept of lived democracy and learning processes through developing teaching cycles together. The research areas will be studied from a range of disciplinary stances and with a variety of methodologies and designs. By analyzing national policies and local practices we will have a special focus on multicultural education, in particular communicative practices in classrooms and the role of the school in local communities. Theoretical developments are relevant as well. Together, the approaches will explore lived democracy and assist in developing a definition of the concept.