Democracia y Libertad (CC) by Flickr ID Elisabeth D'Orcy

Democracia y Libertad (CC) by Flickr ID Elisabeth D’Orcy

Digital citizenship and digital literacies are topics with a growing popularity, given the impact of the so called digital economy debate on curriculum design. Obviously this is debatable and heavily reliant on the mindset of both individuals and institutions involved in it.  In trying to look for critical approaches to both the themes of citizenship and literacy I found the work of Habermas and of those associated with him. As already alluded to in a previous post, the combination of such topics with interpretations of the ‘digital world’ are however more difficult to find. This opens a research gap, and an area of study that I aim to explore with my students in my new Module on Digital Literacies: Living, Learning and Working in a Network Society.

Searching for key readings, I found a book chapter by Tomas Englund (2012) on ‘Educational implications of the ideas of deliberative democracy’.

Englund puts an emphasis on deliberative communication as a democratic form of life, of which the school should be part. Although he does not make explicit links to digital technologies, or the web in particular, as a potential forum of democracy, I can see how his arguments for ‘(…) an open and deliberative pedagogical context’ (p.21) could be enacted via the participatory web, given the communication channels it enables and the opportunities for learning through deliberative and democratic participation that can be created.

I am interested in the role of education in developing contemporary forms of citizenship literacy. Refocusing Englund’s argument on the digital context, what does it mean for institutions, educators, and learners alike to develop open communication between different perspectives that Habermas explains through the concept of Lebenswelt (life-world)?

Englund answers this question by stating that citizenship literacy

 …implies a certain responsibility on the part of professionals such as teachers and others who are in charge of teaching situations and who lead communicative interactions (p.21)

Yet the responsibility is mutually shared with learners who

…should have opportunities to expand their competence and literacy in terms of understanding and deliberating upon plural ideas and arguments in communication (ibid)

Englund calls this citizenship literacy through pluralism. The principle of pluralism, closely aligned to the characteristics of deliberative democracy – i.e, different views, tolerance, respect, collective will formation, and autonomy –  provide a good framework for interdisciplinary learning. And although, in Scotland, Curriculum for Excellence aims, to a certain extent, to serve this purpose, it fails to make explicit links between citizenship literacy and the participatory web. The same issue persists in other curricula around the world, I am sure…

Including the web as an integral part of the curriculum, not only means to create a space where the characteristics of deliberative democracy can be enacted through visible participation, but it also provides a way of activating Dewey’s idea of experiential continuum in that learning is directly related to practices that increasingly permeate our lives; especially that of ‘being’ online.

On reflection, the characteristics of deliberative democracy might be a more persuasive way to convince institutions, educators and learners to adopt the web as a space of interdisciplinary learning through democratic participation.  After all, life is one big lesson, in which different areas of knowledge supposedly interact to support (de)liberations.


Englund, T. (2012). Educational Implications of the ideas of deliberative Democracy. In M. Murphy & T. Fleming (Eds.), Habermas, Critical Theory and Education (Reprint edition., pp. 19–32). London: Routledge.
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