London Metropolitan University Research Institutes

Inclusion, Power and Participation: Critical Perspectives

Author(s) Straume, I. S.  
Publisher London: CiCe  
Year 2010  
Editor P. Cunningham & N. Fretwell, Lifelong Learning and Active Citizenship  
Age group -  
Participation and inclusion in and through learning is a central idea in many current policy initiatives, e.g. the European Commission’s Lifelong Learning Programme. In this trend, a long struggle for participatory democracy in formerly hierarchical organizations seems to be fulfilled. Participation and inclusion are seen as central to fostering citizenship, entrepreneurship and self-realization. In idealized form, the needs of the community are met through the self-realization and full participation of all. Some scholars from ‘the Nietzschean left’ have been less enthusiastic, however, claiming that the rhetoric of ‘learning society’ and ‘inclusion’ indicates a transformation from a ‘social regime’ of (in-)equality, redistribution and justice towards a governmental regime of ‘human capital’ and control. When inclusion and exclusion are cast in terms of learning, the focal point becomes the individual’s opportunities to develop skills and competencies (i.e. human capital) in a ‘learning environment’. As claimed by the philosophers of education, Maarten Simons and Jan Masschelein (2008), the ‘state’ in this governmental regime is no longer a ‘welfare state,’ where problems are framed politically – in terms of justice, fairness etc – but a ‘managing state’ focused on the individual’s (lack of) resources to develop adequate learning strategies, entrepreneurship etc. This state “identifies problems as being related to a lack of adequate human and social capital and attributes this lack to learning problems” (Simons and Masschelein 2008, p. 406). Even though this critique tends to overlook the many empowering projects that are taking place under this regime, such concerns should still be taken seriously. This paper argues that it is necessary to be mindful of the “new language of learning” (Biesta, 2006) and its depoliticizing effects, and at the same time to keep in mind that ‘genuine’ democratic participation always implies power and agenda-setting; not just deliberation.

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