Active Democratic Citizenship and Adult Learning

Aims and themes of the network

What, if anything, is the role of adult learning and education in fostering active democratic citizenship and the making of a democratic society? The ADC network is dedicated to exploring these central and longstanding questions through research, debate and discussion of active citizenship by studying and reflecting on these issues. We are currently particularly interested in adult learning in social movements; civic education for adults; the social and political construction of citizenship in relation to various discourses on adult learning and education and the historical and contemporary role of popular education.
The ADC network welcomes a variety of approaches dealing with the nature, possibilities and limits of adult education in encouraging active citizenship and promoting democracy as well as relations between and changing roles of

  • adult education and active citizenship,
  • adult education, democracy and democratization,
  • popular education and social movement learning,
  • adult learning and (active) citizenship, democracy and democratization,
  • local, national and global citizenship.

History of the network

ADC has been in existence since the early 1990s, has carried out numerous seminars, and has been recognised as one of the most active and productive networks within ESREA. Prior to the establishment of ESREA in 1991 adult education researchers from Europe met at the conference organised by Wroclaw University in Poland on the theme Adult Education as a Social Movement. This was effectively the beginning of the ESREA network, which held its first meeting 1994 in Wroclaw, Poland. After that, several meetings were held: in 1997 Strobl, Austria; in 1999 Poznan, Poland; in 2001 Bochum, Germany; in 2003 Leuven, Belgium; in 2005 Tallin and 2007 in Braga, Portugal.
The network was established as a challenge to the breakdown of the East and Central Europe under Soviet influence. Adult education and active citizenship have a long history of interaction and cross-fertilisation. Europe’s recent past provides a myriad of examples of a mutually sustaining partnership between the practices and institutions of adult learning, on the one hand, and of active civic engagement, on the other. Think of the coffee shops of eighteenth century London and Rotterdam, the struggle for a free press, or the creation of public libraries and museums, as well as the founding of many local and voluntary associations for bourgeois, popular or working-class enlightenment. Yet if we move from past to present, the relationship becomes much less certain. Is this one more example of a modernist project, now losing its relevance and purpose in a more individualistic and fragmented society? On the contrary: European research into active citizenship and adult learning is flourishing, not the least because the questions that it addresses are as lively and as challenging as ever. (Introduction, in Bron, A., Field, J. & Kurantowicz, E. (Eds.), 1998.)
The social and political context in Europe has changed radically since the foundation of this network. However, the issues addressed by the network remain crucial to adult education. The network started in a time of democratic progress in many parts of Europe. Today we experience a rise of fascist movements in Europe, growing racism and a situation where democratic and humanitarian ideals are facing many challenges. In the time of crisis in Europe with its economic, social and political dimensions, there is an urgent need to address the contemporary role of adult learning in relation to a democratic citizenship in local, national and global contexts.


Fergal Finnegan  Maynooth University 

Diana Holmqvist

Linköping University 

Maja Maksimovic University of Belgrade


[coming soon]