Swedish teachers’ views on the relation between ethics and aesthetics when it comes to text-based works of fiction.
The aim of the dissertation is to study the idea of teaching literature as a means of democratic fostering in relation to the ideal of measurable knowledge prominent in contemporary policy discourse.
In focus is the reform of the Swedish upper secondary school in 2011, viewed against the background of the major developments in global and European education policy discourse during the 2000s. The study examines how the interconnections between subject and society are understood in relation to the teaching of literature by different actors in the education system. The analysis is divided into a transnational level, a national level, and a didactic level. The study also shows how policy discourses are recontextualized between these levels.
On the transnational level, the study argues that the EU’s educational policies increasingly stress economic gains, while at the same time lowering its democratic ambitions. The benefits of entrepreneurship are highlighted by the EU, and creative dimensions of the arts and humanities are seen as valuable for economic growth. In the framework for the PISA tests conducted by the OECD, reading literacy is considered important both to critical thinking and economic development. The reading of fiction, however, is singled out by the OECD as a recreational activity. By addressing the reading of fiction as an individual and psychological, rather than societal and structural, concern, its emancipatory value is further depoliticized.
On the national level, the study shows how the concepts of democracy and the teaching of literature in the Swedish school have undergone changes since the 1940s. Most importantly, democracy has gradually come to be understood as a completed project rather than a critical concept. Theories on teaching literature as a means of democratic fostering are analysed through Gert Biesta’s three dimensions of citizenship education. As I argue, most of these theories emphasize democratic fostering as socialization rather than subject- ification. In other words: they do not challenge society but promote an adaption to it. Using Peter Dahler-Larsen’s concept of constitutive effects, the study also shows how the school reform in 2011 de-emphasised democratic dimensions of the teaching of literature as compared to the previous curriculum.
On the didactic level, the study uses qualitative interviews to show how teachers’ pedagogical choices are affected by administrative duties and the curriculum. As I argue, the teachers’ interpretation of the written curriculum serves as a means of negotiating with governing policies. In several cases, teachers downplay the relevance of the written curriculum and instead base theirpedagogical choices on personal work experiences.
The concluding chapter suggests that an important political implication of teaching literature as a means of democratic fostering – in particular when subjected to expectations of measurability – is the marginalisation of the educational dimension of subjectification. Instead of an education centred on core values and measurable competencies, I argue for a pedagogy that recognizes the pupil’s need to be exposed for uncertainties.