Promotionsprogramm "Transformationsprozesse in Europäischen Gesellschaften"

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Dorijan Vahtar, M.A.



Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences
Department of Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology
Ivana Lučića 3
HR-10000 Zagreb

Phone: +385 91 515 8003

Further Information

Ethnographic research of school culture and learning for democratic citizenship – a case of a Zagreb elementary school

The Republic of Croatia is a member of the United Nations, the Council of Europe and the European Union, which, among other things, means that by ratifying international and European instruments it is formally and legally bound to protect and promote human rights and freedoms of all citizens. However, like most modern European societies, Croatia is, too, facing the strengthening of political populism and radical conservativism, which have a negative effect on full realization of human rights. Over the last few years, Croatia has witnessed strong ideological controversies related to the protection of women’s rights and the rights of national, ethnic, religious and sexual minorities. Apart from that, ideological antagonisms permeate public debates around the question what is a “good” citizen and how they are “formed”. Conservative political elites advocate for the understanding of citizenship as a legal status separated from national affiliation and national identity, which is a perspective closer to the countries regulated according to the ethnic model of nation-state. When faced with the mentioned ideological controversies, young people mostly react with political passivity, and an ever-growing portion of them are louder in articulating the attitudes and values from the radically conservative political spectrum.

One of the ways of solving piled European problems, including Croatian problems, is the strengthening of participative democracy which leans on informed, active and responsible citizens who act in line with human rights principles, the principles of equality, non-discrimination and the rule of law. Such citizens are not a biological category; they develop through education, i.e. learning in school. However, not all schools prepare their students for democratic citizenship. For that, it is necessary to have a school entirely set on democratic principles, which promotes democratic norms, values and relationships, i.e. democratic school culture.

In line with that, the aim of my research is to determine what characteristics of school culture emancipate the student and prepare them for the role of an active citizen in different political, social and cultural contexts in which a school operates. The methodology used in this process is ethnography, and the participants in the research are the teachers, the students, the experts (the pedagogist, the psychologist, the librarian), the principle and technical staff (the cooks, the cleaning ladies, the janitor) of a Zagreb elementary school. The elementary school as the locus of the research has been chosen because elementary education is obligatory for all the citizens in the Republic of Croatia, and the skills and knowledge students acquire in the process represent the bare minimum for participating in the life of the society. The research questions I pose are the following:

  • How do participants in the research determine school culture and its components?
  • Do the participants in the research recognize the concept of democratic citizenship and how do they determine it?
  • Do the participants in the research see a functional connection between school culture and democratic citizenship?
  • Do the participants in the research differ in understanding the way in which democratic citizenship develops in the context of the school?
  • Do the participants in the research differ in understanding the influences democratic and non-democratic school practices have on the development of active citizens?

Supervisor: Ass. Prof. Sanja Potkonjak