Book Review: Citizenship and Democracy in Further and Adult Education

Book Review: Citizenship and Democracy in Further and Adult Education, by Neil Hopkins

Dordrecht, Springer, 2014. Pp.178. e-book £74.00, Hb. £90.00.

Reviewed by Richard Davies

Neil Hopkins contends that, unlike in schools, citizenship education in formal post-16 education in the United Kingdom is underdeveloped. In a wide-ranging book he explores some of the underlying reasons for this, reconnoitres alternatives provided by our close European neighbours, and formulates a response. Hopkins offers a plethora of background reasons for the present state of play in further and adult education, including debates in political theory, curricula, further education policy, the institutional arrangements in further and adult education, and the relationships between various stakeholders in vocational education.

Hopkins makes clear that by ‘further education’ he is referring, largely, to 16-19 year old students on vocational programmes of study (including apprenticeships) and by ‘adult education’ he means a multitude of different courses, many with limited contact hours and often taken for leisure rather than work/vocation related purposes. Although there are some similarities between these two educational tasks, I found it unhelpful to address both in the same monograph. Adult education was a minor theme and did not illuminate further education in any significant way. This review, therefore, reflects the dominance of the discussion of further, over adult, education.

The book is roughly divided into three, unequal, sections. The first section (chapters 1-4) deals with a range of issues in political philosophy and educational practice and draws attention to two theoretical resources employed extensively by Hopkins, namely, Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue and Richard Sennett’s Craftmanship. The short second section (chapters 5 and 6) deals first with further education in France and Germany and then with adult education. The third section (chapters 7 and 8) begins by considering the institutional arrangements for further education and summarises Hopkins’ suggestions for developing citizenship education in further and adult education. Along the way, Hopkins deals with employers’ limited provision of teacher professional development, the historical development of vocational education and the craft guilds, the importance of democratic practices, and argues against instrumentalist curricula in further education.

In relation to citizenship there are three themes that emerge from Hopkins’ account. The first is that more could be done to help students locate their chosen occupations within a broader conception of the public good. The second is to identify where ‘citizenship skills’ could be promoted within further education courses. The third is a consideration of ways to promote students’ democratic activity within further education institutions, with a clear rationale that democratic engagement is an aspect of citizenship education.

The first of these themes is developed through the lens of a ‘social practice’ (MacIntyre, 1985). Having briefly introduced the idea early on, Hopkins returns frequently to the relationship between occupational role and broader social role; though nowhere does he provide a systematic consideration of MacIntyre’s project and the way these ideas (and citizenship) are explored there. Hopkins interprets MacIntyre as having an overly strong focus on the way roles prescribe our perceptions about, and actions in, the world. Thus, occupational role is seen as bringing with it a certain substantive account of social responsibility.

The emphasis MacIntyre places on the citizen having a specific role within specific communities could have potential benefits regarding citizenship education…The focus on local communities and the roles and responsibilities professionals have within their localities could give the study of citizenship an ‘anchor’ to students and trainees…(Hopkins, 2013, p. 69)

He notes that there are difficulties with using MacIntyre, whom he sees as a communitarian, in the context of a liberal democracy. Nevertheless, he holds that application in this way is legitimate.

The second theme is more scattered through the text, but is perhaps the most obvious. Hopkins identifies a number of examples of the way in which ‘citizenship skills’ could be included in a range of vocational courses. He does not, however, offer a systematic analysis of what citizenship skills are required, though he does provide a brief summary of the Crick Report’s suggestions for pre-16 education. Nowhere is there a clear development of Crick’s analysis for further or adult education. In concluding Hopkins sets out his definition of active citizenship:

…as a set of skills, dispositions and motivations that include…rigorous questioning of norms and the status quo, effective communication…the ability to collaborate, and to deliberate in a respectful way with others (as equals) in terms of decision making. (p. 157)

While this captures some of Hopkins’ account it reduces ‘citizenship’ to component skills and dispositions and fails to capture his pursuit of a more holistic approach. In this regard he does not consider the potential conflict between his recommendations and his rejection of an instrumentalist curriculum. Surely the segmentation of citizenship into a number of skills and dispositions lends itself to an instrumentalist approach to the subject. Instead of being inducted into one’s public obligations and opportunity, the risk is that students simply acquire a disparate range of political skills.

The third theme is picked up in the latter chapters of the book. Hopkins considers the possibilities and barriers to improving the involvement of students in the democratic practices of their further educational establishment. Here he offers a number of potential avenues to develop and improve student involvement.

Hopkins tells a particular story about citizenship in further and adult education. I found the story interesting and informative, but perhaps not compelling. In part this is because of the breadth of the material covered at the expense of some depth. Doing justice to the range of ideas presented and themes discussed is impossible in a short review; in his enthusiasm for the subject, Hopkins draws on a wealth of experience, research and analysis. My difficulty was that I found such richness difficult to digest. The first section in particular raised issues and directed the reader to future points in the book when these would be developed. While this can be helpful, all too frequently I lost the narrative of the argument as I bounced from one idea to the next. As an academic reader, I would have liked to have seen more detailed consideration of the theoretical ideas Hopkins deploys and of why these particular ideas frame the problem in a fruitful way. Perhaps the biggest difficulty I faced, however, was Hopkins’ use of MacIntyre. This is not the place for a detailed review of the potential of a social practices-based analysis, but I raise two issues. The first is that Hopkins employs a view that I see as an early part of MacIntyre’s thesis developed in the course of ‘After Virtue’. The strong determining nature of social roles in Hopkins’ account does not fit well with MacIntyre on this point; it neglects in particular his discussion of Odysseus and Neoptolemus’ mission in the Philoctêtês (MacIntyre, 1985, p. 131ff.). Social role is not strongly determining, as MacIntyre explores by introducing the idea of the ‘unity of a human life’. The second issue is that a social practices account of citizenship is not given, yet this would seem to provide a strong basis for Hopkins’ own analysis of citizenship skills as a critique of an instrumentalist curriculum. MacIntyre has more to offer here, which may support Hopkins in his quest for a more holistic form of citizenship education.

For all these deficiencies, Hopkins has written an insightful and interesting book, raised a range of issues with further and adult education and offered a challenge to improve the quality of citizenship education. It will no doubt provide a platform for further exploration and discussion to come. In terms of practice, the book will enable interested teachers to explore the possible spaces for citizenship education in their places of work.  As such it both adds to practice and promotes the application of philosophy of education to a neglected field.



MacIntyre, A. (1985) After Virtue (2nd Edition) (London: Duckworth)

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