»Bildung« is an equally pivotal and ambiguous concept of the present age. In its German understanding, the term denotes the inner formation of the self as well as formal education. For the sake of brevity, the English term education can stand here for the manifold connotations of the German concept. Education is an important economic and national resource, guaranteed and formalised by curricula and educational qualifications. Yet, at the same time, it is also understood as a process of personality formation and of acquiring both knowledge and competencies. Education is often charged with a higher purpose, expected to contribute to resolve dysfunctional tendencies in society and to realise a more just and harmonious social order. Thus, the Human Development Index, created by the United Nations, identifies the length of the time spent in formal education together with life expectancy and income as a key parameter for the affluence of a society. In modern dynamic societies, education can be perceived as a constant challenge to add even further qualifications and rely on personal responsibility. The notion of »lifelong learning« can be experienced positively, as a form of personal enrichment, yet it can also be associated with the pressure to perform, with tough selection criteria and with situations of personal failure. Debates over social inequality, societal integration and on the future of democracy, to name just a few examples, hence always also revolve around the need for education. At the same time, education is an important structural parameter that shapes life courses, determines the social trajectory of individuals and their possibilities and implies different lifestyles and forms of community building.
How education and its social relevance must be understood and how political processes should shape its form, however, is highly contested. In German public discourse, Bildung is a highly emotive buzzword, one that often hinders agreement on the issues that are contested rather than enabling debate. Current discussions on notions of education are dominated by the expertise of social scientists, and the often muddled state of these discussions makes it a worthwhile endeavour to step back and look at them from the depth of historical processes. At the same time, it seems obvious that themes around education only play a minor role in current historiography, as a glance at the most recent works of synthesis confirms.
Against this backdrop, the Archiv für Sozialgeschichte aims to reassess the role of education in the longue duree of historical change during the last two centuries. What was the role played by education and formation in the social and political transformations of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries? How did social movements and political regimes shape the process of education? What were the achievements, but also the inherent contradictions and problems of educational reforms?
The Archiv für Sozialgeschichte invites contributions in regard to the whole range of topics in this wider framework. Contributions can address one of the following themes and agendas, but they can also take up other aspects of a social and cultural history of education since the nineteenth century.
Education and social inequality
In modern societies, education is always employed as an instrument to facilitate social mobility and reduce inequalities of various kinds (social status, gender, ethnicity). These attempts are often headed by flag words such as »advancement of the skilled« or »advancement through education«. As the French sociologist Didier Eribon argues in his book Return to Reims, the upward trajectory of individuals through education can also result in an alienation from the milieu in which the individual grew up and can thus further accentuate inequalities and class divides. There is also a controversial debate about the definition of social justice in relation to education.
Since the nineteenth century, education has always been used as a means to integrate different social groups, and here especially groups of immigrants, politically and socially into mainstream society. What are the contours of integration through education, both in terms of the social history of these groups and in regard to the political and institutional framework that pushes and integration agenda? Looking at education from this vantage point allows to probe into various forms of social and cultural capital that it provides in struggles for recognition in society. Educational institutions can, depending on the societal context, contribute to a strengthening of democratic processes, but they were also used to stabilise deference towards authorities and to create political loyalties.
In periods of reform optimism throughout the last two centuries, education policies often took centre stage, and the public infrastructure and conceptual underpinnings of education were placed on a new footing. How these educational reforms have to be assessed in their effectivity, in their agendas and outcomes was and is often contested. Thus, it is necessary to analyse different pathways to and forms of reform in comparative and diachronic perspectives, also taking into account key stakeholders such as the state and the churches. Educational reforms often aimed to reduce social inequality, but also created new distinctions such as between the »learned« and the »uneducated«, between »academics« and »subliterates«.
Work and education
The sweeping changes in the economy and the worlds of labour altered expectations in regard to the educational qualifications of the workforce and led to new forms of labour in ways which have yet to be explored in their dynamics and outcomes. How did education change in the context of the ongoing debates about »knowledge societies« and structural economic change towards tertiarization? Which concepts of education did employers and trade unions promote, and what was the role of education in industrial conflicts? In this context, changing specification of education in vocational training can be addressed as well as the efforts to cope with economic transformations through professional retraining, skills training and the promotion of degree-level training.
Economisation and privatisation
It has been widely criticised that education has been subjected to the imperatives of economic efficiency and that educational institutions have been privatised. However, these developments have yet to be scrutinised by historians. Is there an overarching trend towards the marketisation and monetarisation of education? In the wake of international agreements and standardised frameworks such as the Bologna-process, is education turned into a commodity? What is the role of non-state, private purveyors of educational qualifications, and how did the demand for privately organised educational resources by different social groups change over time?
Education was and still is a key aspect of development policies. Throughout the nineteenth century, education was a core element of the European »civilising mission«. In the wake of decolonization, it adopted a new meaning both during the nation-building process of the former colonies as well as in the development aid cooperation with of these states with the West. Under which circumstances did institutional co-operations, career trajectories forged by transnational education processes and study trips connections and mutual dependency between the former colonies and the western nations, either in terms of postcolonial hierarchies or by mutual learning and agreement?
Concepts and practices of education
Modern societies are characterised by a pluralism of world-views and social positions. Competing concepts of education reflect this plurality, and their competition can be understood, from the vantage point of a social history of education, as a struggle for interpretive hegemony. The current debates over populism, anti-science currents and »fake news« can be situated in a longer historical tradition of competing visions of a »proper« or »false« and exaggerated education – for instance between secular liberals and Christian groups and churches, between cultural elites and emancipation movements. In this context it is also promising to analyse different practises of education, for instance in educational associations, in adult education centres or provision for social pedagogy, or, more recently, in the context of digital learning and home schooling.
A workshop with short papers by invited authors will be held by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, according to our current planning on 28/29 October 2021. Here, we will develop ideas for contributions to the theme issue of the Archiv für Sozialgeschichte 62 (2022) and share and discuss relevant questions. We invite interested scholars to submit abstracts for possible contributions by 31 July 2021. Abstracts, presentations during the workshop and subsequent articles can be submitted in English and German. Abstracts should not be longer than 3,000 characters. Subsequently, the editors of the Archiv für Sozialgeschichte will select contributions for the theme issue, which should have a length of around 60,000 characters (including footnotes). The deadline for article manuscripts is 31 January 2022.
The Archiv für Sozialgeschichte is edited by Kirsten Heinsohn, Thomas Kroll, Anja Kruke, Philipp Kufferath (managing editor), Friedrich Lenger, Ute Planert, Dietmar Süß and Meik Woyke.