Author Interview: Johannes Drerup, Gunter Graf, Christoph Schickhardt, and Gottfried Schweiger

Justice, education and the politics of childhood: Challenges and perspectives (Springer, 2016), edited by Johannes Drerup, Gunter Graf, Christoph Schickhardt, and Gottfried Schweiger, is the focus of our latest Book Review. Below, the editors discuss how the book came about and the interdisciplinary future of philosophy of education.


Questions: Naomi Hodgson


Why did you decide to edit Justice, education and the politics of childhood: Challenges and perspectives?

The idea to edit Justice, education and the politics of childhood goes back to a Manchester Workshop in Political Theory (MANCEPT) we organized in 2014, where most of the papers were presented for the first time. The workshop provided a great opportunity for discussion with colleagues from all around the world. The volume encapsulates the results of our conversation.


What’s the main aim of the book, and why is it important now?

These are interesting times for everyone working on philosophy of childhood and philosophy of education. Especially in German speaking countries, where these topics have been rather neglected for quite a long time. Currently we are witnessing the development that representatives of different philosophical disciplines (e.g., political philosophy) increasingly engage with philosophical issues concerning childhood and children and that, as a consequence, new forms of interdisciplinary philosophical research emerge. The major aim of the book is to further these ongoing philosophical discussions by focussing on questions such as children´s rights, justice for children, educational paternalism, the well-being and autonomy of children, and the construction of ‘childhood’ and ‘children’ understood as political categories.


And what is it that draws you, personally, to this area of research?

We all share the view that childhood, children, and education are among the most fascinating and challenging philosophical topics out there. Education touches upon almost every aspect of life in modern societies and the categories of childhood and children are crucial for an adequate understanding of the way societies and human beings more generally reproduce themselves over time and across generations. Especially in light of the existential dimension and the (anthropological) fact of childhood and education, one cannot underestimate the philosophical importance of these issues. This is why, among many other reasons, we are interested in the philosophy of childhood and education.

Gottfried and Gunter began to work on these issues in the context of a project they coordinated on social justice and child poverty, sponsored by the Austrian Science Fund. The basic idea of their project was to provide a philosophical foundation for research on child poverty based on the capability approach. Christoph works, among others, on the ethics of childhood and is one of the first German philosophers that provided a whole book on these issues (‘Kinderethik’, which was published by mentis in 2016 in the second edition). Johannes is a philosopher of education who wrote his dissertation on paternalism and perfectionism in education. He currently works on a variety of topics, such as education for tolerance, neuro-enhancement, and indoctrination.


What sort of reaction do you hope the book will get?

We hope that the volume adds some new perspectives on the many challenges for philosophical theorizing of childhood, children, and also education. We are well aware, however, that many of the issues discussed in the book are controversial and that the reader should bear in mind the larger and ongoing debates on these issues. Still, the volume should provide some new and relevant contributions to current and future philosophical controversies.


What sort of audience did you have in mind when writing the book?

The volume deals with a variety of topics that most theoreticians working on the philosophy of childhood and education will be interested in.  


What’s your current project? What’s next?

Gunter is currently planning a project on the value of childhood and Christoph works on a project on children in bioethics and political philosophy. Gottfried and Johannes are editing a handbook of the philosophy of childhood, which will be published with J.B. Metzler in 2019. The handbook (‘Handbuch Philosophie der Kindheit’) will be the first of its kind in German speaking countries and a complement to the Routledge Handbook of the Philosophy of Childhood and Children edited by Anca Gheaus, Gideon Calder, and Jürgen de Wispelaere, which will be published in 2018.

Gottfried and Johannes are also planning two special issues on childhood and migration, which will be published in 2019 and 2020. Moreover, in collaboration with four colleagues (Michael Geiss/Zürich; Anne Rohstock/Tübingen; Catherina Schreiber/Vienna; Moritz Sowada/Münster), Johannes is currently founding a new open access online journal (On Education: Journal for Research and Debate), which aims at the stimulation of academic and public debates on the theory and practice of education. The first issue will be on Civic Education after Trump and will be published in March 2018.


What is philosophy of education and why does it matter?

There are probably as many answers to this question as there are philosophers of education living on this planet. It is possible, however, to distinguish broader and narrower conceptions of the nature and purpose of philosophy of education. According to more narrow conceptions, philosophy of education is all about asking, as Gert Biesta has put it, educational questions about education. In the German tradition of ‘Allgemeine Pädagogik’ or ‘Allgemeine Erziehungswissenschaft’ there is, for instance, a strong focus on theoretical questions such as: How should we theoretically conceptualize education? How is education possible? Thus, the basic idea is to clarify the distinctively educational dimension (in contrast to, for instance, a sociological or psychological dimension) of a certain problem or phenomenon. On a wider interpretation, philosophy of education should also deal with more general philosophical questions such as justice and the good life for children. We believe that both approaches have their merits and that they do not necessarily exclude each other. Moreover, we think that (in most cases) it is indicative of the – metaphorically speaking – health of a philosophical discipline when a plurality of competing approaches to the relevant questions and problems exists. If, for instance, primarily postmodernist and poststructuralist approaches to the philosophy of education dominated the field, such a hegemony inevitably would result in a kind of dogmatic echo chamber mentality and self-provincialisation. Philosophical debates, however, need a plurality of different perspectives, frameworks and – most importantly – arguments. This is why we believe that the most fruitful and productive way forward for philosophy of education is to engage in debates that transgress boundaries between approaches and disciplines. 

You can read Anders Schinkel’s review of the book here.