Fostering democracy through literature education

Submitted by: Gustav Borsgård
Abstract: My thesis aims to describe how globalized economic relations and neoliberal political rationality has affected the policy discourse and educational system in Sweden since the marketization of education in the 1990’s. Even though I examine this development on a transnational level, my primary focus is on the role of literature education in Swedish upper secondary school. Since 1946, the Swedish school has had two main objectives according to the written curriculum: one is to provide knowledge and the other is to foster democratic citizens. During the later half of the 20th century, literature education in Sweden has been viewed as one important way of fostering democratic citizens through the reading of fiction.

Since the reform of Swedish upper secondary school in 2011, the democratic value of reading fiction has been toned down in the written curriculum in favour of more easily measurable skills and knowledge. A potential critique of the conception of knowledge that defines the written curriculum of 2011 is its increased focus on pupils’ employability and decreased focus on what is called “Bildung” in the German tradition, namely the moral and intellectual side of education that has to do with citizenship and personal growth, i.e. things that can not easily be measured. This development can, in turn, be viewed as a symptom of an increased interest in quantitatively measurable learning outcomes, which is not an isolated Swedish phenomenon but an international tendency when it comes to policy discourse.

I am interested in the democratic implications of a more standard-based curriculum and the strengthened performance culture when it comes to literature education in general and the reading of fiction in particular in Swedish upper secondary school. I am not only examining the development from a transnational and national level, but am also conducting interviews with mother tongue language-teachers in Swedish upper secondary school to get a view of how practice has been influenced since the reform in 2011.