How did young left wing political activists learn to become active and critical citizens?
Moir, Stuart Hall
This thesis explores the factors that inspired left wing young people to become politically active. In particular it examines their citizenship education experiences. It asserts a critical and maximal conception on citizenship education and offers insights into how it can be improved pedagogically to promote activism for social justice. This thesis draws on and contributes to the literature in three fields: political socialisation; citizenship education; Marxist analysis of education and critical pedagogy. Its central theme focuses on the contradiction evident in the citizenship education literature. Based on the perspective that young people are increasingly disengaged from formal political activity, citizenship education is fundamental in education policy in Scotland. Whilst the Scottish policy context suggest a maximal conception of citizenship education which aims to build young people’s capacity to engage actively and responsibly in political affairs and to encourage thoughtful action to achieve social justice, the evidence shows that the minimal conception is dominant. This produces ‘personally responsible citizens‘ who accept our unjust and unequal status quo, meaning that it is largely unchallenged and reproduced. By working with young activists who were already active, critically conscious citizens committed to social justice, this thesis uncovers the key reasons for their development as activists and highlights the pedagogical approaches that helped this process. It deployed a critical qualitative research approach and conducted 17 individual, in-depth interviews with political activists from the Communist, Labour and trade union movement. A theoretical thematic analysis method was used to analyse this interview data. Growing up in a political family and peer relationships were identified as key political socialising agents. This is consistent with the literature. However, music, which is often ignored in the socialisation literature, was also cited as a key agent. Another significant contributing factor to activism was their sense of political efficacy. This was underpinned by critical agency linked to a firm commitment to social justice. The Scottish Independence referendum and the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party were also identified as ‘critical moments’ that prompted their move to activism. The role of the formal school curriculum was complex. It supported the activism of some of the respondents, but for others it played little part. A few activists could identify taking part in some form of citizenship education. The influential role of the teacher was particularly significant in this context. Interestingly, this was largely restricted to one subject area, Modern Studies. Nevertheless, most of these active and critical citizens struggled to recall undertaking any clearly identifiable citizenship education in school. New knowledge and insights are offered for those interested in promoting a critical and maximal citizenship education that can support activism for social justice, particularly in school settings. The thesis shows that whilst schools do contribute to the reproduction of the current status quo, politically committed educators can also find the spaces in schools to resist this process. By adopting Freirean dialogical approaches to teaching and by providing opportunities for activism through participation in representative structures or community based voluntary opportunities educators can help nurture and inspire the development of young political activists.