Re-thinking education in conditions of converging crises and proliferating possibilities

Target audience

All early career researchers, and in particular PhD students with interest in education, social pedagogy, social work, social policy, sociology of childhood, gender studies et cetera. No prior experience or training is required.

Organizing and scientific committee

  • Jochen Devlieghere (Ghent University, Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, Department of Social Work and Social Pedagogy). Contact via
  • dr. Rudi Roose (Ghent University, Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, Department of Social Work and Social Pedagogy)
  • dr. Michel Vandenbroeck (Ghent University, Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, Department of Social Work and Social Pedagogy)
  • dr. Hilde Van Keer (Ghent University, Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, Department of Educational Studies)
  • dr. Mieke Van Houtte (Ghent University, Faculty of Political and Social Sciences, Department of Sociology)
  • dr. Wim Van Lancker (KU Leuven, Faculty of Social Sciences, Centra for Sociological Research)

Topic and objectives

Neoliberalism has been ‘powerfully framing the economic debate of the past thirty years’ (Raworth, 2017, p.67) - but much else besides. As Stephen Ball, a leading scholar on neoliberalism and education concludes, ‘neoliberalism now configures great swathes of our daily lives and structures our experience of the world – how we understand the way the world works, how we understand ourselves and others, and how we relate to ourselves and others’ (Ball, 2020, p.xv). Not least, neoliberalism has had a profound influence about how we understand the welfare state and public services, such as education, but also how these are organized and practiced.

But like all hegemonic projects, neoliberalism has peaked and 'may be now in decline, having lost credibility and legitimacy; for ‘[neoliberalism’s] promises did not survive the test of the real world… [and] today, they are largely exhausted’ (Beckert, 2020, p322). In its wake it has left a trail of damage having ‘taken us to the brink of ecological, social and financial collapse’ (Raworth, 2017, p.61). Moreover, by its undermining of democracy, solidarity and collaboration, it has left societies weakened, and less capable of responding to the converging existential crises that mankind is confronting, and which have led the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists to recently move their Doomsday Clock to 90 seconds to midnight, the closest to midnight the clock has been since it was established in 1947.

We find ourselves, therefore, in fateful times, full of Gramsci’s morbid symptoms in the interregnum between the old dying and the new being born. But also times when new possibilities are opened up, both because the neoliberal stranglehold (its motto ‘there is no alternative’) is weakening and because of the urgency to rebuild societies that are democratic, just, sustainable and caring. Education and educational institutions have a role to play in this process of exploring and developing alternatives. We need, ironically, to take the advice of one of neoliberalism’s godfathers, Milton Friedman, who wrote, back in the 1960s when social democracy was in the ascendent, that only a crisis ‘produces real change. When that crisis occurs the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, we believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable’ (Friedman, 1962/1982, p.ix).

It is this analysis, of the conditions of our times and of our responsibility when faced by these conditions, that provides the context and direction for this ‘class of future possibilities’, the aim being to create what Geoff Mulgan has called a ‘Possibility space’, when referring to the role of social sciences in ‘understanding, mapping and shaping the future’. The focus of the seasonal school will mainly be education, but in relationship with other perspectives relating to pedagogy, social work, disabilities studies, sociology, gender studies, political sciences and early childhood education and care. In doing so, the seasonal school aims to engage with major issues such as democracy, the environment, care and gender relations.

Dates and venue

  • 31.01.2024 (from 13h30 until 15h00) : Ghent University, Faculty of Psychology and Pedagogical Sciences
  • 01.02.2024 (from 9h00 until 15h30): Ghent University, Faculty of Psychology and Pedagogical Sciences
  • 22.02.2024 (from 9h00 until 15h30): Ghent University, Faculty of Psychology and Pedagogical Sciences
  • 21.03.2024 (from 9h00 until 15h30): Ghent University, Faculty of Psychology and Pedagogical Sciences
  • 25.04.2024 (from 9h00 until 15h30): Ghent University, Faculty of Psychology and Pedagogical Sciences
  • 16.05.2024 (from 9h00 until 15h30): KU Leuven, Faculty of Social Sciences


Opening Seasonal School Lecture (31.01.2024): 13h30-15h00

Keynote by Professor Peter Moss

In the opening seasonal school lecture, Professor Peter Moss will provide a framework for the forums that are to follow. He will set out (in the words of Karl Mannheim) a ‘diagnosis of our time’, an analysis of the challenges confronting education (and beyond) and argue the urgency of developing alternative policies and practices as these challenges are making the ‘politically impossible become politically inevitable’. He will locate the forums that are to follow within this framework, and also open up a discussion about the meaning of transformational change and how that might be pursued, as well as the place of research in this process. A central issue will be how to turn, in education and ‘policy relevant’ research, from what António Nóvoa has called a ‘science of solutions’, epitomised by the technical question ‘what works?’ and which ‘has strongly contributed to a homogenised view of education…[drawing] on the examples, images, and models of the “Anglo-Saxon North”’, to a ‘science of difference’, that allows, indeed welcomes, a plurality of perspectives and ways of thinking’ (Nóvoa 2018, p.553).

Forum 1: Towards a democratic culture of education and politics as first practice (01.02.2024): 9h00-15h30

Keynote by Professor Diana Soussa

The first forum will address the argument that neoliberalism, with its mantra that there is no alternative and the high value it places on markets and privatisation, has been antithetical both to democracy and to political practice, both of which, it might be argued, are essential to an effective response to the converging crises we face and to rebuilding a more just and more sustainable post-neoliberal world. The central question of this forum is: What might a democratic and political turn mean in education, both early childhood and beyond and how might it be achieved?

Forum 2: Re-thinking the purposes of education and the future of the school (22.02.2024): 9h00-15h30

Keynote by Professor Esther Priyadharshini

The second forum will engage with the political questions ‘what is education for?’ and ‘what is the image of the school?’ The starting point is that under neoliberalism and its educational manifestation (what has been termed the Global Education Reform Movement) ‘educational purposes have been re-defined in terms of a narrower set of concerns about human capital development’ (Rizvi and Lingard, 2009); while images have emerged of the school as a business competing for parents’ custom in the marketplace and as a factory producing predefined outcomes. What could be the purposes of education in a post-neoliberal world facing converging crises, and what alternative images are there for the school?

Forum 3: Building an integrated education system (21.03.2024): 9h00-15h30

Keynote by Professor Ariana Lazzari

The third forum will address the encouragement of neoliberalism for the fragmentation of the education system: market logic seeks autonomous schools competing with each other; while its drive for ‘childcare’ services to ensure labour supply sustains a long-standing split in early childhood services between ‘care’ and ‘education’. At the same time, it amplifies a hierarchical relationship between the different sectors of education based on ‘readyfication’ and the creation of human capital for a productive labour force. Also, government investment in ECEC tends to benefit well-off families more than poor families, exacerbating social inequalities and hampering social mobility. In a society that recognises the importance of inter-connectedness and inter-dependencies and of rebuilding cooperation and solidarity, what should be the relationship between education and care? And might it be possible to move towards a more integrated education system based on a ‘strong and equal partnership’ across and between sectors? How could an integrated education system overcome inequalities? What can be learned from a multi-disciplinary perspective on an integrated education system?

Forum 4: Pedagogies for the new times (25.04.2024): 9h00-15h30

Keynote by Professor Vasco D’Agnese

The fourth forum will deal with neoliberalism’s encouragement of what David Orr (1996) calls ‘fast knowledge’ and of pedagogies that deliver predetermined outcomes as quickly as possible, what Loris Malaguzzi (cited in Cagliari et al., 2016) termed ‘prophetic pedagogy’ (that ‘knows everything that will happen…[and] has no uncertainty’), pedagogies in which wonder and surprise have no part and that stifle the ‘hundred languages of childhood’. In post-neoliberal times, seeking thoughtful responses to the existential crises we face, do we need to look towards pedagogies that value and encourage reflection, responsibility, creativity and the unexpected – slow pedagogies to build slow knowledge?

Forum 5: Policies of gender, care and employment (16.05.2024): 9h00-15h30

Keynote by Professor Rense Nieuwenhuis

The fifth forum will return to the theme of care and the importance of care in sustainable and flourishing societies. This will include the relationship between education and care and the role of leave policies as a universal right of citizenship, supporting adults over the life-course to better reconcile care and employment, and promoting gender equality and the well-being of both carers and those who are cared for. Leave policy also connects with education, in that an effective leave system should (but rarely does) work in synergy with education policy so that, for example, parents face no gap between the end of well-paid leave and the start of an entitlement to early childhood education; but also because the goal of men taking a greater share of caring responsibilities needs to involve both men in the family and men working in schools and other services for children. Among the issues raised will be: What would a life-course approach look like? What policies can promote more equal sharing of care responsibilities in a variety of settings? How does this square with current policy developments in European welfare states?


Registration fee

Free of charge, including free lunch, for researchers who are affiliated to one of the Five Flemish Universities. Lunch is not included for external researchers.

Participants who are located outside Flanders, can join online, but cannot participate in the presentations.

Number of participants

Maximum 35 participants to guarantee sufficient participation and interaction.

Upon registration, participants are required to indicate if and in which forum they will present their research (45 minutes) or a pedagogical talk (15 minutes).



Evaluation method

Attendance at at least 4 out of the 5 forums and in the opening seasonal school lecture as well as active participation, including participating in group discussions and grasping opportunities to present ongoing research.

After successful participation, the Doctoral Schools will add this course to your curriculum of the Doctoral Training Programme in Oasis. Please note that this can take up to one to two months after completion of the course.

Biography keynote speakers

Professor Peter Moss (UCL Institute of Education, University College London) has researched and written on many subjects including early childhood education and care, and the relationship between early childhood and compulsory education; the relationship between employment, care and gender; and democracy in education. Much of his work has been cross-national, and he has led a European Commission network on childcare and an international network on parental leave. From 2005 to 2016 he co-edited (with Gunilla Dahlberg) the book series ‘Contesting Early Childhood’, whose aim is to question “the current dominant discourses surrounding early childhood, and offer instead alternative narratives of an area that is now made up of a multitude of perspectives”.

Professor Diana Sousa joined the University of Winchester in 2014 as a Lecturer in Education Studies, and has since been actively involved in developing the early childhood pathway within the Education Studies programme. She currently teaches a range of modules on the BA (Hons) Education Studies with particular references to policy, education and society; progressive and participatory approaches within education; and early childhood. Originally from Portugal, Diana arrived in the UK in 2007 as an early-years educator with a passion for arts, democracy and social justice. She worked in different ECE settings and found democratic practices at the heart of her interests. Her PhD scrutinised how democracy is described and interpreted both historically and in education policy, whilst providing an understanding of how democracy is enacted in early childhood education in Portugal.

Professor Esther Priyadharshini is an Associate Professor at the School of Education & Lifelong Learning.  She is Co-Director for Research in the school and co-leader of the Cultural Studies in Education research group. Her research is on educational futures, youth/childhood, schooling and gender. Her work is located in the intersection of futures studies, youth studies and education. She is interested in how processes of education and learning can be made to respond to the challenges of the Anthropocene, and to support youth/children/students in the making of more desirable futures. To do this, she draws on feminisms, postcolonialism, new materialisms, and post humanist perspectives. She is interested in experimental and innovative approaches to research methodology (non-representational, speculative approaches and participatory perspectives). Her research aims to deploy ideas from social theory to processes of learning, and to critique and re-think educational organisation and identities. 

Professor Vasco d’Agnese, PhD, is associate professor of Education at the Department of Psychology, University of Campania Luigi Vanvitelli, with interests in educational theory, Dewey, Heidegger, postmodernism and educational policies. He just published a book Reclaiming Education in the Age of PISA in which provides a critical analysis of the OECD’s educational agenda and its main tool, namely, PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment). Based on an analysis of the OECD’s public documents, including publications, webpages, and videos, d’Agnese argues that PISA is not just an assessment tool, but rather an all-encompassing framework that intends to govern education, schooling, living and society worldwide. This creation of what d’Agnese calls a life-brand raises concerns that education and learning are becoming wares and that, consequently, we run the risk of transforming schools into providers and teachers into agents of preconceived learning packages. D’Agnese  suggests a different educational logic, emphasizing that schooling is not just a place to produce the correct skills, but is also a matter of experimentation, hesitation and wait, one in which teachers and students attempt to dwell in pure potentiality for growth. 

Professor Ariana Lazzari (University of Bologna) is affiliated with the Department of Education Studies and has been working in the field of Early Childhood Education and Care for over ten years in Italy, the UK, Ireland and Sweden. Her research focuses on professionalism and professional development of practitioners working in early childhood settings across Europe, pedagogical approaches to the education and care of young children elaborated within different European traditions and ECEC policy developments in cross-national perspective.

Professor Rense Nieuwenhuis (University of Stockholm) is Professor in sociology at the Swedish Institute for Social Research (SOFI), where she examines how family diversity and social policy affect poverty and economic inequality. Typically, his research is country-comparative and has a gender perspective. His recent focus was on single-parent families, how women’s earnings affect inequality between households, and family policy outcomes. In addition, he was involved in developing statistical tools. He published in journals such as Journal of Marriage and Family, European Sociological Review, Acta Sociologica, and Review of Income and Wealth. Recently, he co-edited the book ‘The triple bind of single-parent families’ and he is currently co-editing the ‘Palgrave Handbook of Family Policy’. Occasionally, he acts as independent expert doing commissioned work on gender equality for organisations such as UN Women, the European Commission, and the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE).