Making Moral Citizens. Democracy, Maturity and Authority in Postwar Western Europe

Making Moral Citizens. Democracy, Maturity and Authority in Postwar Western Europe

10-11 May 2012

Freiburg, FRIAS, Albertstr. 19, Seminarraum EG

Deadline for registrations: 8 May 2012


The workshop will focus on controversies over how to raise citizens in Europe after World War II. It aims to explore postwar European History in light of larger questions about the inherently fragile nature of democracy as a way of life. Even if struggles over legitimacy in democratic polities have long revolved around the idea of maturity (Mündigkeit), debates on the meaning of maturity and on ways to make mature citizens took on a particular urgency in postwar Western Europe.

After the end of World War II, elites and ordinary citizens in Western Europe reflected intensively on matters of education and childrearing. In these debates, Fascism and Nazism, war and genocide were interpreted as a “rupture with civilization,” a breach that seemed to call into ques-tion if not to invalidate liberal, conservative or socialist conceptions of morality and authority. The cataclysmic violence of the war years challenged any form of moral certainty. As a conse-quence, moral conflicts and dilemmas were at the heart of larger postwar European obsessions of how to establish stable democracies and avoid repeating the political breakdowns of the interwar period.

Utopian fantasies and dystopian fears about the political ramifications of private life have been central to how postwar Western Europeans imagined themselves as citizens. Debates about education, the family, and child-rearing served as key sites to negotiate the relationship between authority and democracy, maturity and delinquency, individual freedom and the common good. They essentially drew on the notion that the fate of postwar European democracies depended on the nurturing of moral sentiments and fostering of moral practices that would enable citizens to take on their role as bearers of democratic legitimacy. Through an analysis of these debates the workshop aims to encourage reflections on why the divide between the realm of politics and the private sphere has been more than usually unstable and contested in postwar Western Europe’s “Velvet Revolution” (Mark Lilla). Childrearing and education as fields in which the state increas-ingly aimed to shape practices often construed as private will be the main focus of the workshop. Against the background of anxieties over the future of the nation and of democracy in the wake of war and genocide, polities in postwar Europe struggled over the meaning and role of morality, responsibility, and maturity as educational goals. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s hopes for a better future that focused on the malleability of children and youth coexisted with concerns over their alleged gullibility. The highest political stakes seemed to ride on the question of how children and youth could and should be made into future democratic citizens. We are less interested in exploring the history of civic education (éducation civique, staatsbürgerliche Erziehung, educazione civica). Instead the workshop invites contributions that explore larger stories of entanglement between democracy as a way of life and concerns about education and child-rearing. It is about the making of moral citizens in the broadest sense.

The workshop aims to foster exchange between specialists in the history of education, child-hood, the family and youth and encourages them to develop comparative and transnational approaches to these questions. With a geographical focus on Western Europe we expect to be able to challenge and refine assumptions about the convergence of European societies, about the extent, limits and reasons of national peculiarities, as well as about frequently invoked notions such as “Americanization,” “Cold War Culture,” or “Youth Rebellion.” We also want to take seriously the idea, articulated by Jeffrey Herf and others, that the post-1945 era saw “multiple restorations”-not only forms of Christian conservatism, but also socialist, social democratic and liberal democratic impulses whose roots were internal to Western Europe.



9.00: Welcome and Introduction

Sonja Levsen (FRIAS/University of Freiburg) and Till van Rahden (FRIAS/University of Montréal)

9.20-12.00: Panel 1 – Making Citizens in War and Peace

Chair: Monika Wienfort (FRIAS/TU Berlin)

  • Richard Ivan Jobs (Pacific University): Democratic Stability through Transnational Mobility: The Travel of Youth in Postwar Western Europe
  • Ludivine Bantigny (University of Rouen): Making Soldiers and/or Making Citizens? The French Army and Youth during the Algerian War


13.45-17.40: Panel 2 – Teenagers into Citizens – Visions and Measures in Postwar Europe

Chair: Martin Geyer (FRIAS/University of Munich)

  • Louise Jackson (University of Edinburgh): Policing Youth in Postwar Britain

15.00-15.20: Coffee break

  • Efi Avdela (University of Crete): Youth ‘in Moral Danger’: Constructing a Social Category in post-Civil-War Greece
  • Christine Krüger (University of Oldenburg/FRIAS): Education for Service and Sacrifice. The Debate about the Introduction of Youth Community Service in West Germany, 1945-1965

17.45: Comment – Martin Conway (University of Oxford)





9.00-12.50 Panel 3 – Maturity, Democracy and the Nation

Chair: Peter Itzen (University of Freiburg)

  • Till Kössler (University of Bochum): Intelligence, Selection and Democracy. Psychological Debates after 1945
  • Daniella Doron (Colgate College): Rehabilitating Children and Rebuilding Nation: Jewish Youth in Postwar France
  • Marc Depaepe (University of Leuven): The Education of the So-called ‘Évolués’ in the Colonial and Postcolonial Era in Congo. Democracy, Maturity, and Authority in Times of Paternalism and Cultural Hybridity


14.30-17.15: Panel 4 – Contesting Authority, Defining Citizenship

Chair: Cornelius Torp (FRIAS/University of Halle)

  • Mieke Aerts (University of Amsterdam): Does Mature Have a Gender? Debates on Democratic Citizenship, Emancipation and Feminism in the Netherlands from the late 1950’s to the early 2010’s

15.40-16.00 Coffee break

  • Paul Ginsborg (University of Florence): ‘Civil Society’ and ‘Moral Citizens’: Resistance to Silvio Berlusconi in Italy, 2001-2011′

17.15: Comment: Michael Geyer (University of Chicago)


Final Discussion


For further information:

Emilia Robin

Chercheuse associée à l'UMR SIRICE. Violons d'Ingres : guerre froide, médiation scientifique, logiciels libres

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