Doing Democracy

Global Doing Democracy Research Project

Democracy, political literacy and the quest for transformative education

Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Grant 2013-2015

Paul Carr Lakehead University

Gina Thésée Université du Québec à Montréal

Brad Porfilio Lewis University

David Zyngier Monash University

While some students/schools may be achieving high academic outcomes based on established standards, indicators and benchmarks, there is ample evidence, at the same time, of a range of concerns about deficits in the existing models of political engagement within education. These deficits are characterized by insufficient engagement in relation to citizenship and democracy, a weak connection to social justice, and an absence of a more holistic approach to building a society through a critical democratic education. The traditional educational approach of encouraging voting and understanding the formal political structures of government, often isolated to a single class, as a method for teaching about and for democracy, is problematic.


The research seeks to broadly address important, systemic issues in an interdisciplinary way, favouring a thicker interpretation of democratic thinking/perceptions/experiences within education, including political and media literacy, critical engagement and emancipation. This research will have significant benefits to educators, decision-makers, scholars and other stakeholders. While a substantial amount of research in this area exists, the proposed research will provide a critical assessment of how democracy is, and could be, undertaken within the educational context, making use of a critical, qualitative, comparative framework that has been missing from the literature.


The research focuses on the following question: How do educators give meaning to democratic literacy, engagement and transformation, broadly defined as democratic education, through the educational process? The research team will follow this main question with an inquiry that examines educators can build a more inclusive, emancipatory, critical and democratic educational experience for all students.


The study seeks to contextualize, identify, problematize and analyze how educators experience, understand and perceive democracy, and how this connection to democracy actually shapes the democratic experience for themselves and students in and though the education experience. The methodological approach for this project favours critical, qualitative, interpretivist inquiry. The research involves interviews and focus-groups with samples of teacher-education students, teachers, principals, professors of education, and community members (n=750 participants) at five sites (Orillia, Ottawa and Montreal in Canada, Chicago (US) and Melbourne (Australia)). In addition to local and synthesis analyses and reports, the project will develop detailed reports on five key themes, including policy, institutional culture, pedagogy, curriculum, and epistemology in relation to democratic education. During the five-year project, consultation with specialists is also planned, and these events will provide further support, documentation and evidence to be disseminated throughout the educational sector. Another innovation of this project is the proposed development of instruments, tools, policy, practices and proposals that focus directly on local and international contexts.

 The aim of the project is to further democratize education and, concomitantly, society, to develop not only competencies, skills and knowledge but also curriculum, pedagogy, policy and practices that may positively affect the institutional culture of education.


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