Citizenship Education and Identity: A comparative study across different schools in Northern Ireland and Israel

  • Aline Muff

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The thesis explores the relationship between citizenship education and identity in conflict-affected societies, by comparing the teaching of citizenship across different schools in Northern Ireland and Israel. In both societies, citizenship education addresses issues that are deemed controversial, such as the recent or ongoing conflict, citizenship, racism, and sectarianism. The theoretical framework brings together (neo) Marxist, post-colonialist, and critical pedagogical approaches to citizenship education and identity. Fieldwork was carried out in four different schools (Catholic, Protestant, Jewish-Israeli and Arab-Palestinian), using individual interviews, focus group interviews, observations, and document analysis.

The major findings suggest that citizenship education at the policy, school, and classroom level is permeated by an avoidance of controversial issues related to the conflict and identity. In both societies, dominant narratives about the conflict glorify and justify violence, preventing a more critical examination of the conflicts. Additionally, educational policies promote a neoliberal/managerialist culture that censors the critical potential of citizenship education by determining that the priority for schools is academic standards and performativity. This limits teachers’ ability to develop students’ critical political thinking, to address controversial issues, and to challenge racist and sectarian views. However, the data also point to the employment of transformative forms of citizenship education, which became particularly evident among minorities.

The thesis contribution is threefold: first, drawing on a (neo) Marxist and postcolonial theoretical framework facilitates a structural examination of the state of citizenship education through the lens of power relations. Second, the multi-level study shows how processes of avoidance and censoring trickle down from the policy level into schools and into classrooms. Third, since citizenship education is permeated by sidestepping and censoring, it is at risk of reproducing the conflict, structural sectarianism and racism, and socio-economic inequalities. The thesis concludes with the assertion that there is a need to provide teachers and schools with political and institutional support through offering training programmes; guidance and more time during the citizenship lesson to teach about controversial issues related to the conflict and identity. It also points at the need to further research pedagogies of critical teachers, who are able to promote transformative citizenship even in an uncongenial political environment that subtly promotes avoidance and censoring.
Date of Award2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorCaitlin Donnelly (Supervisor)


  • citizenship education, identity, cultural hegemony, education and conflict, critical multiculturalism, antiracism

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