Author Interview: Neil Hopkins

Questions: Naomi Hodgson, Reviews Editor, Journal of Philosophy of Education


Dr Neil Hopkins is Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of Bedfordshire where he teaches philosophy of education. He is also Branch Secretary of the Bedford Branch of the PESGB. Here, Neil discusses his book, Citizenship and Democracy in Further and Adult Education (Springer, 2013). 



Why did you decide to write Citizenship and Democracy in Further and Adult Education?

One of my main research interests is the relationship between political philosophy and education. Citizenship education has become prominent in compulsory education in England yet very little has been written about citizenship and post-compulsory education. I wanted to make a contribution to this area of research.


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

The book has two aims. Firstly, it attempts to incorporate citizenship education within post-compulsory vocational programmes in England. I argue that vocational education in England is very narrow in scope currently; there is little exploration of the social, cultural and ethical issues associated with professions, trades and crafts. The book makes a case for addressing this imbalance by ‘embedding’ citizenship education into vocational programmes (MacIntyre’s writing on the concept of a ‘practice’ is important here).

Parallel to this, I also explore what I call ‘the self-help tradition’ in adult education. The book looks at how adult students have often created their own educational provision because of a lack of support from the state. This act of initiating and maintaining educational structures is itself a form of citizenship education. The work of Chantal Mouffe was important here, particularly her ideas on democracy as a process of conflict. Adult students have often had to struggle for their right to an education and this finds an echo in Mouffe’s writing.

Secondly, the book makes a case for the need for democratic colleges. I argue that citizenship education is best facilitated within institutions that are themselves democratic. I use Joshua Cohen’s work on deliberative democracy as a model for how colleges could support democratic procedures and practices.


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

I worked in further and adult education for 12 years, initially as an adult literacy teacher before becoming a college lecturer in teacher training. As an adult literacy teacher, my work often took me into what would be considered ‘non-traditional’ educational spaces (factories, women’s refuges, etc.) I was fascinated how education can often be a source of genuine empowerment for students in these environments. My role as a teacher trainer required me to carry out observations in a very diverse range of vocational contexts. I suppose the book is partly a way of trying to marry these two educationally formative experiences for me.


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

My main motivation for writing the book was to make the point that further and adult education should not be forgotten in discussions on citizenship and democratic education. Sometimes, these two sectors are sidelined because so much focus is on compulsory education (or higher education); yet, in England, more students enrol on further and adult education courses each year than students in schools and universities put together. Further and adult education deserve to be taken seriously by philosophers of education.


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

I hope the book appeals to academics and students within the field of philosophy of education. Equally importantly, I wanted to write in a way that would appeal to teachers within further and adult education. I think anyone who has an interest in the interaction between political philosophy and education would find the book useful and, hopefully, enjoyable to read.


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

I am starting to write material around the concept of ‘the democratic curriculum’. The work of John White and Paul Hirst I am finding particularly useful in terms of background. I hope to publish some papers and, perhaps eventually, a book on the subject.


What is philosophy of education and why does it matter?

I couldn’t possibly sum up what philosophy of education is in a few words – it’s such a huge area of study! It’s important because philosophy of education is constantly asking us to think what education actually is and what it is for. It challenges us to justify our current practices and opens up educational avenues that we would not have considered otherwise. 


You can read a review of Citizenship and Democracy in Further and Adult Education in this month’s Book Reviews.