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Building an Ethical and Shared Future through Education in a Glocal Perspective
Sep 1, 2012

Glocalisation is a relatively new word or idea for a new time. Information technology, greater communications and travel have now placed us in a global village. We are being shaped by a larger yet, at the same time, shrinking context. Politics are primarily geo-politics. Our social home and environment is planetary. Yet glocalization is holding the local and global together. The global is in the local and the local is in the global. This is true of foods, cultures, faiths, politics and economics. We are having to learn to live, not with one narrative, but many narratives, many stories, cultures, faiths, ideologies and philosophies. We are immersed in a local - global context and that means a glocalized way of seeing peace building and education.

What I would like to say in this paper is from a glocal perspective even though the case study I will offer at the end is local. That does not mean that I believe that Ireland is the centre of the universe, though for three decades at the end of the twentieth century we had that tragic privilege. An introverted narrative is negative, be it Irish, British, American, Canadian or wherever. My Irish case study is informed and underpinned by global perspective and is therefore, I hope, a glocal story. I would also like to explore two key components of peacebuilding which education can address, indeed I believe, must address, if humanity is to live at peace on the planet as well as with the planet.


In June of this year Aung San Sui Kyi visited Europe. She is a woman who has suffered greatly, remains committed to non-violence, and is a champion for democracy in her own Burma. She reminds us that peacebuilding is about building democracy, which is essential to sustainable peace.

Just over two decades ago many of us sat glued to the television screen. The image is indelible, that of Nelson Mandela finally emerging from his Robben Island prison compound. He walked to freedom to lead, with others, the transformation of apartheid South Africa into a Rainbow Nation. It's still a work in progress. Mandela has reminded us that peace building is the creation of a pluralist, participative democracy. Peace building is pro-democracy and it is about actively creating rainbow nations and societies, pluralist, participative democracies - at least! Education has a crucial role to play in all of this.

Education for pluralist democracy

Democracy is developing. There is no finished product and there is no one model to be imposed universally irrespective of contexts and cultures. It is not a flawless system either. Winston Churchill once said, "Democracy is the worst of political systems, except for all the others." Democracy is about freedom. What the promise of freedom and potential for democracy does induce is an almost universal abhorrence of tyranny. Dictatorships, totalitarian regimes and fascist states do not last and do not satisfy the deepest longings and needs for freedom and participative belonging. Whatever past history, newly liberated nations usually move towards democracy. In 1918 when Czechoslovakia was born, its President said, "Our whole history inclines us towards the democratic Powers." That was repeated in 1989-91 by leaders of all the countries of the ex-Soviet bloc (Norman 1997, 131).

Education for pluralist democracy as part of peace building needs to engage history. Democracy has a lineage, a family tree and young people and adults should be aware of it.

The Greeks invented politics and it began with our city states. The polis needed governance and there was a recognition of a public good, a shared public interest and common concerns, and over these issues there could be argument, debate, discussion, decision and policy making. The assembly of citizens was known as the ecclesia, though it was far from being fully participative. It was only for wealthy males, people of power, excluded women and certainly had no place for slaves and lower classes. Athenian democracy lasted for 185 years. It had limited participation and Plato even thought that democracy meant the rule of the incompetent. Democracy was forgotten for a millennium.

European democracy owes more perhaps to the democratic practices of the Viking world. Popular assemblies enter European history in the 9th century in Sweden and Denmark. Iceland's national assembly came into being in 930 CE. Long before England had such a democratic assembly, it existed in the Manx assembly, the Isle of Man, a small island between Britain and Ireland with a Viking history. The Manx Tynwald or assembly is also 9th century. Wherever the Vikings went, Nordic democracy went with them.

In the modern era the two great shapers of democracy were the French Revolution and the American Revolution. Any education in pluralist democracy needs to be aware of these seismic events. The history of the 18th-19th century Europe was a history of wars and conflict, and absolutist monarchies and imperial powers. The first political revolution of a new time in European history happened outside of Europe and it led to the dissolution of the first British Empire. It began in 1773 with the Boston Tea Party and a decade later at the Paris Peace Conference American Independence was recognised. Now the people of North America "could work out their problems virtually untroubled by foreign intervention, a blessing to much that was to follow" (Roberts 1997, 347). Popular sovereignty was embodied in the opening words of the Constitution, "We the People." All governments derive their just powers from the assent of the governed. The American Revolution was a landmark in world history.

Then followed the French Revolution and by 1789, notwithstanding the Terror, great reforms were achieved.

The formal abolition of feudalism, legal privilege and theocratic absolutism, and the organisation of society on individualist and secular foundations were the heart of the principles of '89 distilled in a Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen... legal equality and legal protection of individual rights, the separation of Church and State and religious toleration were their institutional expression. The derivation of authority from popular sovereignty acting through a unified National Assembly, before whose legislation no privilege of locality or group could stand... (Roberts 1997, 353-354).

Modern democracy is born and by 1900 the principle of democracy was an idea, albeit still resented in some parts of Europe, whose time had come. An education process needs to engage with the historical development of democracy. We may have little consensus about its essence and it remains flawed in practice. "We the People" may even be impossible, strictly speaking, in practice. But democracy as a theory of governance and the ordering of the public good has promoted "all the virtues, from freedom, justice and equality to the rule of law, the respect for human rights, and the promotion of political pluralism and of civil society" (Davies 1997, 131).

Democracy is not amoral. It implies a need to be underpinned by a value system. Values and ethics are the foundation of democracy at work. Peace building is an ethical task, it needs democracy and the values and ethics that underpin democracy. Democracy involves pluralism and freedom, it also requires tolerance or respect. The education process needs to draw the distinction between passive tolerance and active tolerance. The former is the tolerance of indifference. The latter is "The attitude of one who positively co-lives with the other because one respects the other and accepts the multi-faceted richness of reality" (Boff 2011, 8-9). At the heart of any education for democracy is justice, especially justice as distributive and restorative. Democracy is for human, social flourishing. And distributive and restorative justice are core to peace building.

Education for global citizenship

Yale historian, Jay Winter, believes that a new kind of vision emerged at the end of the dark 20th century after the momentous events of the late 1980s and early '90s. It is a vision set in the framework of globalisation which aims to create a new kind of politics called the "politics of global citizenship." It has also been described as "globalisation - from - below."

Global citizens are emerging out of an array of transnational social forces animated by environmental concerns, human rights, hostility to patriarchy, and the vision of humane community based on the unity of diverse cultures seeking an end to poverty, oppression, humiliation, and collective violence. (Winter 2006, 169-170)

A new kind of political consciousness is developing which is transnational and is flowing across national borders. It is a glocal movement holding together the local and global. "Global citizenship is a political project helping people to imagine a different kind of world." Citizenship is not tied to the state, it is "participation in a transnational set of struggles for dignity and justice" (Winter 2006, 170). The nation state is no longer primary. We are no longer just Irish, American, Turkish or Indian citizens but global citizens, in a different and larger solidarity on environmental rights, women's rights and human rights. Transnational citizenship is about all of these glocal justice issues none of which is limited by national boundaries. Community now is in the local and the global.

Perhaps this began for many of us as children when we put our name and address on the inside page of a school text book. Name, street, town/city, Ireland, Europe, The World, The Universe! It is now the reality in a globalised world. Transnationalism and global citizenship may still have an unmapped future, but like modern democracy at the beginning of the 20th century this new local - global reality is and will shape who we are in the 21st century. It will be a peace building project stretching us well beyond any introverted narrative. Citizenship education now needs to be global for all ages, and it is not only an alternative to introverted narratives, but also to economic globalisation as the sole determinative factor for human and environmental life on the planet.


I currently work on an initiative called Ethical and Shared Remembering. It is an initiative which will respond to the centenaries of events that occurred in Ireland between 1912-1922 and shaped the rest of the 20th century for the people in Ireland. It was a decade of enormous political change ending with the partition of Ireland, and it was also a decade of brutal violence.

How the centenaries will be handled between 1912-1922 will shape the decades ahead for better or worse. Ethical remembering is an approach that is critical in relation to the militarisation of politics and the violence that was so deeply embedded in culture and practice. Shared remembering is an approach that encourages the protagonists in all their complexity to engage with each other as human beings and to understand better each other's perspectives on this crucial Irish decade and its legacy. The legacy has left many issues unresolved which have been re-played in the more recen phase of violence and conflict in Ireland. Some of these issues are; nationalism, nation-state, faith and politics, faith and violence, class and labour relations, feminism and equality issues, trauma and peace building. These constitute for any educational programme a generational peace building agenda which needs to be set in a global or glocal context.

There are multiple Irish narratives from this decade. Not only will this initiative try to recover them, especially the alternative, repressed or forgotten narratives, but the events of 100 years ago will be carefully set in the larger global, at least European context of that time. The memory of the Irish narrative(s) has often been introverted, but this community education initiative will seek to provide a larger and more critical perspective on a century ago by placing the events in a more global context. Early 20th century imperialism and the catastrophe of the Great War, provide a larger and rather different perspective.

The framework for an educational exploration will not only include global contextualisation but also narrative hospitality. This is about generosity of spirit and openness to engage with multiple narratives, especially those of one's sectarian tradition or narrative perspective. Narrative hospitality will also include narrative pluralism and narrative flexibility. These latter two approaches will encourage an openness to recognise that there are multiple histories and diversities of interpretation of historical events and never a fixed or final norm. It is openness to realise that history is a plethora of interpretations, little of which may be about what actually happened even if ever that can be fully known.

Another educational framework will be integrative complexity. This is also getting beyond mono-narrative or mono-truth, simplism or fundamentalist politics or religion. Integrative complexity (IC) is a way of seeing history, culture, politics, faith, the world in all their diversity and complexity and integrating or weaving together the complexities of personal, communal and historical existence, and to see this complexity in the other.

Key to this project will be the development of critical thinking skills in a community where there has been, through the dynamics of violence and conflict, a culture which is unquestioning. The latter has often been understood as being disloyal or unpatriotic. Few people have thought for themselves and this educational methodology will engage with critical reflection on matters of history, politics, religion and cultural identity without reducing their complexity.

Essential to the educational exploration of the past will be future visioning. This is not just about a 2030 vision for Ireland. It is about transcending local nationalist politics of whatever shade and visioning a common good. It will also be about global citizenship, a transnational vision that will require the imaginative creation of a larger identity myth, beyond introversion, and glocal in perspective and complexity. Not only will the initiative encourage the development of an ethical vision for future society but will also unpack the need for ethical leadership in a society where the moral authority of the major institutions has collapsed. The initiative is being delivered through community education programmes, dialogue events, training resources and materials and a series of in-depth publications, and also the use of the arts. The community of ethical and shared remembering will include people from the community development and community relations sector, education, youth, the faith sector, politicians, ex-prisoners, commemorative groups and institutions. This is an initiative which we hope will make a positive contribution through education to peace building as a glocal task.


  1. Davies, Norman. 1997. Europe: A History, London: Pimlico.
  2. Roberts, J.M. 1997. The Penguin History of Europe, London: Penguin Books.
  3. Boff, Leonardo. 2011. Virtues: For Another Possible World, Oregon: Cascade Books.
  4. Winter, Jay 2006. Dreams of Peace and Freedom: Utopian Moments in the 20th Century, New Haven and London: Yale University Press. The extended quotation is from Richard Falk.