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Call for Papers on Citizenship Learning and Participatory Democracy

NCDD member Jason Diceman sent us word that the Transformative Learning Centre (TLC) and the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto (OISE/UT) are organizing a conference called “Learning Democracy by Doing: Alternative Practices in Citizenship Learning and Participatory Democracy” for next October 16-18 in Toronto. The conference organizers are calling for paper proposals on a variety of topics including: learning democracy in k-12 and higher education, learning democracy in non-formal education, learning democracy in civil society and government-sponsored initiatives, and learning democracy in transnational networks. Proposals are due December 31, 2007. For more information on the conference themes, cost of attending, and how to submit a proposal, read on.


Practices and understandings of democracy, citizenship, and citizenship learning are in transition. On the one hand, lower voter turnouts, declining citizen confidence in the political establishment, and criticisms about the ability of representative democracy to ensure social inclusion and equality of opportunity for all have sparked vigorous debates about how to address the “democratic deficit.” In the field of education, there have been paralleled growing concerns about the limitations of traditional civic education models that focus on the memorization of facts to nurture a critical, caring and engaged citizenry.

On the other hand, in the last two decades, innovative experiments in participatory democracy and citizenship education have proliferated in schools, universities, civil society organizations, social movements, co-operatives, workplaces, local and regional government, and many other spaces. Likewise, there has been an increasing awareness of the potential that opportunities for collective learning in democratic spaces have to advance the common good, to promote human development, and to complement the institutions of representative democracy with the insights of associative intelligence.

Despite the surge in the practice of the rapidly expanding fields of participatory democracy and citizenship learning, this remains a largely under-researched and under-theorized field, where networks for knowledge-sharing and collaboration remain nascent. This international conference will contribute to address this gap by bringing together researchers and practitioners interested in the theoretical and practical intersections between social action learning and participatory democracy, and their contribution to nurturing an enlightened and active citizenship. We are interested in attracting presentations that illustrate innovative and progressive practices of transformative citizenship learning and participatory democracy in different settings, including formal and non-formal educational institutions, civil society organizations, municipal governments and workplaces. We encourage presentations that pay attention to the strengths as well as to the weaknesses of those initiatives, placing them in their particular social and historical contexts.

Because work in these fields is being carried out across many disciplines, the conference organizers hope to draw participation from different sectors, including researchers, educators in K-12, higher education and adult education, community development workers, urban planners, community organizers and a variety of governmental and non-governmental organizations invested in improving local democracy, and particularly capacity building for local democracy.

This conference, which celebrates the 15th anniversary of the Transformative Learning Centre at OISE/UT, will provide a space for mutual learning and critical reflection about innovative and inspiring international initiatives. The conference will take place in Toronto, one of the most diverse cities in the world, and it will build on Canadian experiences in social action learning and participatory democracy, including indigenous models of democratic self-governance, the Antigonish Movement of Nova Scotia, the Citizens Forum, the Citizens Assemblies in British Columbia and Ontario, the Practicing Democracy initiative in Vancouver, and the emerging participatory budgeting initiatives in municipalities, public housing units and schools.

Conference Themes

Within the broad theme of learning democracy by doing it, we invite traditional academic papers, policy and practice papers and demonstration projects related (although not necessarily limited) to the following settings and sub-themes:

1. Learning democracy in K-12: school democracy; conflict resolution; new approaches to citizenship education; connections between content, method and environment; student trustees; school councils, children’s participatory budgeting, student-run newspapers and other media, intercultural curricula, global education, etc.

2. Learning democracy in higher education: self-governance, new approaches to teaching, community-university partnerships, internal democracy in faculty and student organizations, teacher education programs, university extension, service learning, etc.

3. Learning democracy in non-formal education: youth and adult education, popular education, legislative theatre, community development, courses, workshops, youth exchanges, learning communities, etc.

4. Learning democracy in civil society: community organizations, neighbourhood groups, online communities and digital democracy, indigenous communities, social movements, non-governmental organizations, residents’ associations, diasporic communities, family and networks, political parties, unions,, housing cooperatives, etc.

5. Learning democracy in state-sponsored initiatives: consultation processes, task forces, decentralization dynamics (democratization & redistribution or downloading and tokenism?), randomocracy, participatory budgets, citizen assemblies, communal councils, educating cities movement, urban pedagogy, libraries and community centres, e-government, public spaces, etc.

6. Learning democracy in the workplace: workplace democracy & work-based citizenship learning, co-operative enterprises, recovered companies, learning organizations, inclusive workplaces, etc.

7. Learning democracy in transnational communities: citizenship without borders? planetary citizenship beyond nationhood, world social forum, international exchanges, global solidarity movements, etc.

Submission Guidelines

Presenters are asked to submit a 300-word abstract of their presentation by December 31, 2007. The abstract should also indicate the relation of the presentation to the above themes, as well as the format of the presentation.

To help participants make an educated choice about which presentation to attend, sessions will be designated in four categories: workshops, dramatic presentations, paper/project presentations, and roundtables. All sessions will last 90 minutes.

Workshops: The goal of a participatory, experiential workshop is the involvement of workshop participants in a discussion or other exercise designed to learn, communicate, debate, etc. Workshops can be led by a single person, although workshops led by a diverse range of people will receive priority. “Presenting” by the workshop leader/s should be limited. Proposals should indicate how leaders intend to involve others in the workshop.

Dramatic presentations: This category includes a variety of dramatic representations, including theatre, video, poetry, role-playing, music, or a combination of different genres. The session should allow audience participation, be it during the performance (e.g. forum theatre) or after it.

Paper/Project Presentations: These sessions are designed for people to present their research, projects, ideas, accomplishment and failures. It could be a description of a project, a completed research, a study in progress, or a theoretical discussion. Qualifying presentations will be grouped together based on subject, geography or other thematic considerations by the committee. Each session will have 4 presentations of 15 minutes each, with approximately 30 minutes for Q&A and discussion.

Roundtables: Roundtables rely prominently on the ideas of four or five panelists, facilitated by a moderator. Adequate time should be allotted for audience participation and Q&A, but it need not be the primary focus, as in a participatory workshop. Priority will be given to panels that reflect diversity of opinions, backgrounds and geography.

Presenters who would like their papers to be considered for inclusion in a post-conference publication are asked to send their paper before July 31, 2008. Papers should not exceed 3,500 words (excluding references). All papers will be subjected to an anonymous, full refereeing process before publication.

Registration Fees

Early Registration (before July 31, 2008)
– Regular CDN $120
– Students: CDN $60

Late Registration (after August 1, 2008):
– Regular CDN $180
– Students: CDN $90

Important Dates

– Deadline for submissions of abstracts: December 31, 2007
– Deadline for submission of papers: July 31, 2008
– Deadline for early registration: July 31, 2008
– Conference dates: October 16-18, 2008.

Please submit your abstract by email in the body of the message to:

Nelson Rosales, TLC 2008 conference coordinator at tlc2008@oise.utoronto.ca

Amy Lang
Amy Lang is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions at the University of British Columbia. She wrote her dissertation on British Columbia’s groundbreaking Citizens’ Assembly process, and is currently doing follow-up research on the Ontario Citizens’ Assembly.

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