Blocl activism

Promises of Freedom: Citizenship, Belonging and Lifelong Learning (Ifll Thematic Paper)

By R. H. Fryer

Everyday life throws up needs and society responds to them.

It is not through resignation but rebellion in the face of injustice that we affirm ourselves as human beings. Paulo Freire.

Since the Second World War, all-powerful social pressures, with real possibility for far-reaching transformation, have been readily changed out of recognition into projects and solutions, which have achieved exactly the opposite of the original objectives of the social struggles. The political system has demonstrated a notable capacity for appropriating pressures and proposals, assimilating and integrating disruptive elements, which in other societies have become an essential element in the process leading to profound social and political transformations. Jose de Souza Martins, Lecturer in Sociology, University of Sao Paulo

Citizenship concerns every one of us, with its accompanying rights (or lack of them), duties, relationships, obligations, activities and opportunities, to which we enjoy access to or for which we strive, or for which we feel we lack, or from which we are excluded. We may feel that we fully understand and accept the possibilities and requirements that our citizenship status confers on us, or else we may be oblivious of them or content for them to be mostly ignored. We may campaign or struggle, either to enhance our own rights or to secure them for others who are currently denied them or excluded from full citizenship.

Similarly, we all have our own experience of a sense of either belonging or being more of an ‘outsider’ in different situations. We may feel we are part of something that is wider than just ourselves, and identify with people who we feel are ‘like us’ in terms of their values, beliefs, culture, traditions, language, interests, objectives, locality or aspirations…Or else, we may experience exclusion and face unwanted barriers to inclusion.

In the UK and elsewhere in the contemporary world, we live in an era typified by ubiquitous change and social transformations in key aspects of our lives…characterised by an increasing degree of uncertainty, unpredictability and anxiety. In a world that constantly threatens change (or promises it), it is hardly surprising that people’s standing, their experience of citizenship, and their sense of belonging or being ‘on the outside’ are also subject to major shifts.

Globalisation and its consequences now figure centrally as a major force in social change. As finance, information, culture, people, technology, environmental pollution, knowledge and decision-making increasingly transcend or simply ignore the once-dominate boundaries and jurisdiction of independent nation states, so there are significant implications for citizenship and identity.

It is also sometimes clear that, although governments claim to seek to enlist lifelong learning in the cause of community development or renewal, in practice the learning focuses much more on regulation, control or the elimination of certain sorts of ‘undesirable’ behaviour than on enabling individuals and communities to challenge the limiting and exploitive aspects of their lives.

Conceiving of learners largely as the objects or targets of learning and placing them in positions of passivity and assumed subordination is in stark contrast to the conception of lifelong learning that stresses learners’ capacity for debate, critique, reflection, creativity, innovation and even transcendence, and for action according to their own needs, values and priorities.

What is disappearing…is a solid, once familiar world in which there is a common experience of the ‘we will meet tomorrow’ feeling, the sense of consistency and continuity suggesting a thinking, acting, quarrelling yet cooperating company cemented together by shared purpose and joint planning. In its place…we have consumption, an experience of life as a series of consumer choices made in response to the attractions put on display by competing shopping malls, television channels and websites.

Autonomy rests on people’s opportunities for, and capability of, debating, deliberating, thinking critically, reflecting and deciding for themselves - all of them central to the tenets of liberal, independent and humane lifelong learning.

Active citizens…usually learn their citizenship skills through trying to solve a problem or to fulfil a mission, rather than by setting out to learn to become good citizens. Learning and citizenship itself emerge as a consequence to this primary motivation.

For more than a decade now, perhaps the most striking arguments and most far reaching impactions for citizenship, people’s sense of belonging and even lifelong learning, have been those at the centre of the phenomenon of globalisation.

Many critical observers regard such developments with a mixture of horror and awe. Only a limited number of winners can thrive: international and transnational corporations in search of ever cheaper production and continually expanding and novel markets, and deracinated individuals who cheerfully shed attachments and loyalties in order to relish their alignment with nothing other than their own self-interest and the satisfaction of their appetites.

As a result of political globalisation, greater opportunities exist for people to participate in an emerging global civil society – a dense network of social movements and interest groups who organize and mobilise across and outside states.

The question facing us today, is not whether to recognise ethnic identities or protect nature or enable access to cultural capital or eliminate discrimination against woman and gays or to democratize computer-mediated communication, but how you do all at the same time.

Building people’s confidence in their ability to express views and have them take seriously, promoting involvement through genuine dialogue, subjecting ideas to critical and informed discussion and commitment to the deliberative and patient working through together of issues, towards agreed outcomes and, perhaps, common goals.