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Interrupting 'The People': The Critical Education Project At Times Of Rising Populism

Sant Obiols, E and Brown, T (2018) Interrupting 'The People': The Critical Education Project At Times Of Rising Populism. In: AERA 2018, 13 April 2018 - 17 April 2018, New York.

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Abstract

The purpose of this paper is to consider the curricular possibilities for critical educators in a context of rising populism. Recent results in democratic processes (e.g. US and the Brexit Referendum in the UK) have been seen as symptomatic of a resurgence of populism in Western societies (Zaslove, 2008). Defined as an ideological, practical or discursive division of social and political spaces into opposing groups, ‘the people’ and ‘the elite’, the rise of populism is understood by some as a democratic challenge and by others as a democratic opportunity (Canovan, 1999; Martinelli, 2016). The question some radical educators pose is how to ‘react’ to this rise of populism. This paper addresses this question by introducing the political analysis of Ernesto Laclau. This paper considers these possibilities by looking at the example of Catalonia (Spain). Since 2010, Catalonia has lived an intensive nationalistic-separatist mobilization (Crameri, 2014). The Catalan separatist discourse is here understood as a legitimate political position that we identify as ‘populist’ only because it divides the social spaces between the Catalan ‘people’ and the ‘stablished’ (Spanish) ‘order’. In this context, we draw upon questionnaire and interview data with secondary students (n=339) to illustrate three possible ‘reactions’ (acceptance, rejection and challenge) towards the ‘populist’ construction of the Catalan ‘people’. We discuss the challenges and possibilities of these three perspectives if undertaken by critical educators.

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