The School as a Playground for Educational Friction: Understanding Democracy in Dutch Secondary Education

Research output: ThesisDoctoral thesis 1 (Research UU / Graduation UU)


This research started in the context of this renewed attention for democracy education and questions about its implementation in practice. In this thesis, we aimed to understand the meaning of democracy in Dutch secondary education in debates about ‘good education’, explore the school as a place to practice democracy where conflict could be accepted as an inherent part of human relations, and study teachers’ practice in handling friction when teaching sensitive topics. In Chapter 2 we presented our first study, which was aimed at grasping the different meanings of democracy constructed within the debate about ‘good education’ in the Netherlands. The diagnostic frame showed how the concept of democracy is constructed as a response to what is referred to as a ‘neoliberal perspective’ on education, and the influence of ‘the culture of measurement’, two dimensions that, according to the selected documents, undermine education. This frame functions as a counter-terminology and sets the stage for the prognostic frame in which the meaning of democracy is constructed as a response in the selected documents. In Chapter 3, we asked Dutch experts from three categories of expertise to further grasp the local understanding of democracy in relation to education. This resulted in four emerging themes. These themes were: the distribution of responsibility of teachers and school leaders, questions concerning Article 23 about the freedom of education grounded in the Dutch constitution, the content and aims of citizenship education, and, the conceptualisation of ‘the school as a place to practice democracy’, which the panel described as the most urgent theme. We made this conceptualisation the focus of further research, and questioned how the school could be understood as such. In Chapter 4, we developed a theoretical framework that could function as analytical tool to understand educational friction. To articulate our framework in which conflict can be seen as educational, we used insights from democratic theory, narrative theory, and cultural theory. Mouffe (2005) emphasizes the importance of turning antagonism into agonism. To translate conflict for educational purposes, we proposed to turn political conflict into educational friction. In our final study, our aim was to study how expert teachers handle friction in the classroom. We purposefully selected nine teachers and asked them to develop a lesson in which multiple perspectives would appear. We observed and filmed their lessons and conducted a stimulated recall interview afterwards. Educational friction is about learning through experience that it is okay to be shaken from time to time, to not understand, to be surprised, or feel resistance. That is what it takes to live in a plural and diverse society. Democracy, if understood as experienced associated living with a capacity for growth, means allowing a form of learning in the classroom in which teachers in a subject-subject relation with their pupils, limit and challenge students and themselves on the playground in which the political can be learned. Consequently, there will be moments of interruption and disorientation as part of the friction. Educational friction is a move beyond democracy, for democracy.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Utrecht University
  • Bakker, Cok, Primary supervisor
  • van Liere, Lucien, Co-supervisor
Award date8 Jul 2022
Print ISBNs978-90-393-7477-1
Publication statusPublished - 8 Jul 2022


  • Friction
  • Playground
  • Democratic Education
  • Multiperspectivity
  • Sensitive Topics
  • Conflict
  • Citizenship


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