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Overall focus of the programme:

What characterises the trajectories of children and young people’s development, subjectification and social belonging, which are conducive to their engaging in school and everyday life in ways typically considered as positive outcomes (e.g. wellbeing, school attainment and socialisation)? Which school and institutional frames support such processes in which ways? On the other side, what characterises the trajectories instigating children and young people to disengage from school and everyday life, engage in counter-communities leading to isolation, marginalization, bullying and other forms of destructive, radicalized or even violent life conducts (i.e. school shootings, malicious damage, school burning)? And through which kinds of complex subjective, social and cultural formations are interchanging, sometimes even simultaneous, belongings to both kinds of trajectories enacted?

It is these research issues that lie at the heart of the research programme. Existing research points to different outcomes of engagement and disengagement among children and young people, and in particular to the problems effected by disengagement, but fails to develop knowledge about the complex and often opaque processes leading to such phenomena.

The ambition is to delineate and crystallise a new field of cutting edge (basic and applied) research of children and young people on their trajectories within and across different experiences of schooling, and of social and subjective becoming as part of such schooling. The research will examine conceptualizations, enactments and social practices of engagement and disengagement, and the effected character of participation and community belongings; it will investigate the consequences for children and young people’s shifting and dynamic becomings in terms of competences, identities, agency and social belongings. Focus will be placed on the ways in which educational environments and dynamics can interact with children and young people - and shape different experiences, relationships and communities. The research will develop knowledge about the ways in which such processes co-produce or contribute to children and young people’s legitimate engagements if things go well, or indifference, disengagement, resistance, radical anger and perhaps violence if not.


Children and young people’s (dis)engagement, enacted through processes of subjectification, identity formation and positioning in and across the diverse communities, as embedded in and shaped through schooling, are utterly under-researched topics within the educational research landscapes in Denmark and internationally. Contemporary societies, Denmark being no exception, face serious challenges emerging from occurrences of lack of wellbeing, loneliness, school anger, failed engagement with learning and didactic endeavours, school dropout or even violence or radicalization. When addressed, these issues are implicitly or explicitly researched in instrumental ways, in the service of advancing educational outcomes and ensuring speedy integration within the labour market, contributing to social cohesion and/or economic growth. Although valuable, such research is not sufficient to fully understand children and young people’s “coming into presence” (Biesta 2014) and related tensions and contradictions in their life trajectories and communities. What is indispensable, we suggest, is a theoretically sound and empirically validated research which would challenge the compartmentalized understandings, oversimplification and ritualization of the concepts of wellbeing and engagement, of social belonging and participation and of community building related to school-aged children and young people. This research aspires at unpacking the dynamics of schooling on children and young people’s own premises, engagement, ambivalences or subversion.

Research has shown that the formation of identities, subjectivities and communities is enacted by a wide range of intra-acting forces including personal and shared history, families, digital communication and social media, classroom culture managed by teachers and school leaders and the culture of the school and/or institution at large, public and professional discourses and concerns about children and young people intra-acting with the social categories and the socio-economic frames given to unfold a life within. The many forces cannot be reduced if the complexity of children and young people’s becoming is to be grasped and thereby addressed in practice (Schott & Søndergaard 2014; Mørck 2014; Kristensen & Mørck 2016; Kousholt 2015; Nielsen and Olesen 2015; Søndergaard 2013). Furthermore, research has also shown that the conceptualizations of wellbeing, participation and community are surprisingly vague and consequently work as easily blurred discourses in schools and other educational institutions (Simovska & McNamarra, 2015; Lysgaard & Simovska 2015). In Denmark, for example, wellbeing has entered the educational policy and practice fields as one of the pillars of the comprehensive school reform (The Danish Ministry of Education, 2014). A measurement framework has been developed and piloted (SFI, 2014) with a view to be implemented on an annual basis by all the schools in the country to monitor the wellbeing of pupils. However, the meaning of the concept remains on an aspirational, rhetorical level, and is not followed with, for example, research and professional development of teachers, or school leaders, about what wellbeing in schools actually means, how school practices and pupils’ experiences are mutually intertwined, and what are the possibilities of educational intervention in this respect (Carlsson & Simovska, 2012; Plauborg 2015; Simovska, Nordin and Madsen, 2015; Simovska & Prøsch, 2015).

The research programme will further develop these lines of research and create synergies between them to generate knowledge and conceptualize practice about social forces, dynamics and interactions involved in producing opposing emergent consequences, such as well-being, plurality and inclusion, but also marginalization, exclusion, loneliness, and bullying; or emerging communities, participation and learning, but also growing polarization, disempowerment, conflict and potential disengagement and radicalization among young people (Mørck 2011).