Democratic Education in History: Ethics, Justice, and the Politics of Recognition


  • Maren Lytje Department of Teacher Education, University College of Northern Denmark (UCN)


democratic education, history, ethics, justice, identity politics, powerful knowledge


Democratic education is a controversial category in Denmark, particularly in the subject discipline of history: should we familiarize students with Danish culture and history, focus on their personal development and the art of living, or help them acquire skills for the labor market? These questions are related to the ethics of democracy and ask us to consider the “good life” and how we might recognize the valuable citizen. In this essay I argue that the ethics of democracy reduces democratic education to identity politics and eschews the question of democratic justice. In addressing this problem, I ask two questions: 1) How can we conceive of recognition in the educational setting as an issue of justice?, and 2) How can this conception be institutionalized as a curriculum principle? To address these questions, I first discuss Nancy Fraser’s status model of recognition and her three-dimensional theory of justice as it intersects with the subject discipline of history. I then discuss the conception of powerful knowledge in relation to the three-dimensional model, and finally I provide a list of suggestions for the knowledge content appropriate for democratic education in the subject discipline of history.  


Maren Lytje, Department of Teacher Education, University College of Northern Denmark (UCN)

Maren Lytje holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history (2015) and currently works as senior lecturer at the Department of Education at UCN. Her Ph.D. thesis explores how democracies decide on the lives worthy of protection, and analyzes contemporary just war literature and the political justification of the War on Terror. Her post-Ph.D. research has primarily focused on Holocaust education, Holocaust memory, critical theory and the use of primary source material in history teaching.