Political emotions affect the future of democracy –  how should education respond?

Illustration: © Karin Eremia

What are political fear, anger, hope and compassion, and why should they be discussed in the context of education? In this blog post, I revisit my PhD study, in which I tackled these questions from the viewpoint of educating for a democratic way of life and touched upon movements that have been successful in mobilising young people politically in recent years, such as #BlackLivesMatter and #FridaysforFuture. My central argument is that political emotions play a significant role in the establishment of democratic culture and in the political mobilisation of young people, which is why they should be discussed in education.

About the study

My PhD study scrutinized a world-known philosopher Martha Nussbaum’s work on political emotions – a perspective that had not been comprehensively examined in the field of education. The study explored both the tensions and the possibilities involved in education for political emotions, especially with respect to constructing collective political aims and addressing various global social and political challenges.

The study combined educational sciences and political philosophy. The work comprised three interrelated studies that approached the relevance of Nussbaum’s work to education from different angles through various real-life examples. Through the studies, Nussbaum’s work was discussed in three frameworks of political education: global citizenship education, democratic citizenship education, and human rights education.

Why talk about political emotions now?

”Polarisation and global challenges in liberal democracies increase the need for research on political emotions.”

Political emotions such as fear, anger and compassion have been recently observed in connection with the war in Ukraine. What is more, in recent years, the political culture of liberal democracies has become increasingly polarized. At the same time, societies are faced with complex shared global challenges, including climate change or the Covid-19 pandemic, for which constructive solutions should be sought together. Perhaps partly for these reasons, academic research on the significance of emotions in political mobilisation has increased in recent decades. 

However, as I see it, emotions are not discussed in education or related research to a sufficient degree. This is strange, considering that education plays a significant role in establishing and supporting a democratic lifestyle.

What are political emotions?

“Political emotions are significant, as they tell us something about our values and can induce people and groups to act.”

In my research, I view emotions as cognitive judgements and as value judgements. That is to say, emotions are about something and they are always evaluative, meaning that the object of emotion is something that has some significance to the person experiencing the emotion (e.g. Nussbaum, 2001).  The cognitive element of emotions suggests that they are intertwined with the way we receive information about the world and with the way we communicate information to others.

What is ‘political’ about ‘political emotions’? I draw attention to the distinction between private and individual, on the one hand, and public and collective emotions, on the other (e.g. grief over a lost loved one as a private emotion vs. climate anxiety as a political emotion). I view political emotions as public, both in terms of their object and in terms of their expression. Furthermore, I wish to highlight that emotions are associated with political potential: that is, emotions can motivate the pursuit of social change and transformation, which can take a variety of forms, including voting, advocating for policy, activism, or sharing information about injustices on social media. Also, it should be noted that I understand the ‘political’ in political emotions in its broadest possible form, describing the public life and the public realm and not as restricted to, for instance, existing political institutions, party politics or voting. 


”Emotions should be thoroughly understood in all their ambiguities and possibilities to make them useful to the culture of democracy.” 

My PhD study offered several findings, starting with the problematic consequences that negative political emotions (fear and anger) can have for the democratic decision-making and education policy. Furthermore, the political, in citizenship education, should be understood as a collective striving toward shared goals, supported by constructive political emotions, rather than as a conflictual relation between ‘us’ and ‘them’. The study also took the first steps in envisioning a ‘Nussbaumian pedagogy’, suggesting different ways in which political compassion and narrative imagination could be reflectively practised in classrooms when teaching and learning about human rights issues, laying down a sustainable foundation for global democratic citizenship.

I argued that a well-functioning democracy should establish and pursue at least some shared political goals, and that political emotions, such as hope, compassion and trust, engender the desire and motivation to commit to these shared goals. Thus, political emotions become pertinent also for education. Education has an essential role in learning to adopt democracy and in the dismantling of political and social challenges, such as racist discrimination. 

However, not all political emotions are necessarily constructive and beneficial to democracy; emotions need to be analysed and understood, and critically assessed in today’s polarised social and political environment, so that they can be utilised in educating people for a democratic way of life. Therefore, I urge that emotions, their different manifestations as well as potential benefits and harms, should be introduced both to public and school discourse.

As a whole, my PhD study offered new perspectives and ways to explore the relationship between politics, emotions and education. The present times have been considered by many as exceptionally dark, so I have strived to articulate much needed suggestions for education which are constructive and hopeful.

Iida Pyy

PhD, Postdoctoral Researcher at DEMOPOL project

Faculty of Educational Sciences

University of Helsinki


Twitter: @iidapyy

Researcher profile: https://researchportal.helsinki.fi/en/persons/iida-pyy

ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-9138-166X

The PhD thesis Evolving Emotions: The relevance of Martha Nussbaum’s theory of political emotions in Education was presented for public discussion at the University of Helsinki, on the 27th of May, 2022. The thesis earned distinction, and its summary can be accessed here.

The PhD thesis was based on the following original publications that are available online:  

Pyy, I., Leiviskä, A., & Mansikka, J-E. (2020). Contesting the Politics of Negative Emotions in Educational Policymaking: A Ban on Asylum Seekers’ School Visits in Finland. Global Discourse, 10(2–3), 371–390. https://doi.org/10.1332/204378920X15802968112372

Leiviskä, A., & Pyy, I. (2020). The Unproductiveness of Political Conflict in Education: A Nussbaumian Alternative to Agonistic Citizenship Education. Journal of Philosophy of Education. 55, 577– 588. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9752.12512

Pyy, I. (2021). Developing political compassion through narrative imagination in human rights education. Human Rights Education Review, 4(3) 24–44. https://doi.org/10.7577/hrer.4482   

Who am I?

I am Iida Pyy, a Postdoctoral Researcher of the DEMOPOL project in the Faculty of Educational Sciences, University of Helsinki. Before my postgraduate studies, I studied at the University of Oulu and the University of Melbourne, Australia, with intercultural education as my major subject. Previously, I have worked as a bilingual class teacher and a special class teacher as well as at UNICEF Finland. In addition to research, I am involved in activities associated with antiracism and social responsibility. 

Digesting the ANGEL Summer School on Researching Global Education and Learning

The first ever International Summer School for early career global education researchers was organized by the new UNESCO Chair on Global Citizenship Education in Higher Education at the University of Bologna, the ANGEL network and Global Education Network Europe (GENE). Among the 32 young researchers from universities all over Europe – with many participants originating from countries outside Europe – I was happy to be the one representing Finland!

In this post, I offer a few of my reflections and tips from the Summer School week.

Tip 1: Global Education Digest

The theme of the summer school was doing systematic literature reviews. Three days were filled with lectures and discussions around the terminology of global education/learning/citizenship, databases and conducting literature reviews. At the end of each day, in groups we had an in-depth look on the Global Education Digest which is a bibliography of academic publications that the ANGEL network produces annually. The 2021 version included already eight languages (English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Polish, Italian and French).

As a first take-away from the Summer School, I would recommend anyone doing research on global citizenship education– or just interested reading the latest research for their work – to have a look at the Digest. I browsed through the 2021 Digest on the train to Bologna and added dozens of publications onto my reading list.

The introductions of different language versions of the Digest are also translated into English. It is interesting to read how the terminology on global education differs between countries and cultural-historical contexts. For example, check the Portuguese introduction to understand why “planetary citizenship” has become the preferred term over “global citizenship” in Brazilian research.

Tip 2: Mapping your own journey to global education

One of the keynote speakers, Annette Scheunpflug from the University of Bamberg first shared her own story, and then asked us to map our journeys in global education.

  • How did I end up where I am now?
  • Where did my journey start?
  • What kind of global learning have I been involved in?
  • How has this journey affected my understanding of the conceptual field?

We were asked to make Venn diagrams of our own paths, share them with the whole group and tell our stories in smaller groups. This was not only a wonderful icebreaker exercise, but useful for establishing our positions in the vast field of global education.

Some of our Venn diagrams are featured below.

In her keynote, Annette reminded us that we are dealing with fuzzy terms in global education. Global learning, sustainable development, global citizenship education or intercultural learning have various meanings – and power dynamics around the definitions of the terms should be clear to everyone involved in these fields.

It would have been beneficial for us to have much more time for this kind of informal sharing of each others’ research, methods, personal and professional stories. However, the schedule at the Summer School was extremely packed with speakers and group work from 9am to 6pm with only short breaks in between. Our energy levels to have academic discussions in the evening were further affected by the unusually hot weather (+34 on average, also inside many rooms at the venue). It was only at the very end of the Summer School when we were collecting contact details that I saw participants’ interests including topics such as epistemologies of the South, ecofeminism, critical pedagogy or decolonial theories, among others.

The final Summer School day was spent at a conference in the centre of Bologna: the hall is exquisitely beautiful, but was VERY hot (probably over 40 degrees inside). I would not have survived without a fan.
Photo: Riikka Suhonen.

Tip 3: Consider travelling on land instead of flying, even from Finland

Practicing what you preach can be tough: you know, acting as a responsible global citizen for more sustainable futures etc. Finland is not in the easiest geographical location to avoid flying. Yet, I was able to travel with ferry/train from Finland to Bologna (actually going to Manchester first, using the Interrail pass for the route Helsinki-Turku-Stockholm-Hamburg-Manchester, and then Manchester-London-Paris-Torino-Bologna). Many participants coming from countries much closer to Italy had flown to Bologna. Some statistics from my journey below:

Although it might be challenging for family, work or other practical reasons to organize travelling on land – as it takes at least two days to get to Italy from Finland, for example – it is worth at least to consider it. Interrail pass and booking seat reservations worked great for me. Offline work on trains is very comfortable, much more so than on airplanes. Due to time reasons, I did however fly back home, and the experience at the packed airport of Bologna with all flights delayed or cancelled (except mine) was not a pleasant one.

This is also a call for universities and other funding entities: please ensure more generous travel grants for those who want to and can travel ecologically. My participation to the Summer School was made possible by the Alfred Kordelin Foundation and I am very grateful for their support.  

Finally, here is our key reading list for the Summer School. Many of them are already well-known and widely used, but perhaps there are also new ones to the blog readers!

  • Bourn, D. (2020). (Ed.) The Bloomsbury Handbook of Global Education and Learning. London: Bloomsbury
  • Goren, H. & Yemini, M. (2017). Global citizenship education redefined. A systematic review of empirical studies on global citizenship education. International Journal of Educational Research, 82, 170-183.
  • Hartmeyer, H. and Wegimont, L. (eds) (2016) Global Education in Europe Revisited. Munster: Waxmann.
  • Oxley, L., and Morris, P. (2013). Global Citizenship: A Typology for Distinguishing Its Multiple Conceptions. British Journal of Educational Studies, 61 (3). 301–25.
  • Pashby, K., da Costa, M., Stein, S., & Andreotti, V. (2020). A meta-review of typologies of global citizenship education. Comparative Education, 56(2), 144–164.
  • Shultz, L. (2007). Educating for global citizenship: Conflicting agendas and understandings. Alberta Journal of Educational Research, 53(3), 248–258
  • Tarozzi, M. and Torres, C. A. (2016). Global citizenship education and the crises of multiculturalism. London: Bloomsbury.

The Summer School event report and evaluation are available at https://angel-network.net/SummerSchoolReport. A more visual report of the event can be seen below in the compilation of short video clips and photos from the week!

Compilation of video clips and photos from the Summer School by the organisers: UNESCO Chair in Global Citizenship Education in Higher Education.

Riikka Suhonen is a doctoral researcher in the Doctoral Programme in School, Education, Society and Culture (SEDUCE), Faculty of Educational Sciences at the University of Helsinki. In her PhD research, she examines how global citizenship education is understood and enacted in the context of upper secondary vocational education and training in Finland.

riikka.suhonen (at) helsinki.fi
Twitter: @Af_riikka
ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-6167-6352

Photos and video: Summer school organisers / UNESCO Chair in Global Citizenship Education in Higher Education.

“I felt I had no other options but to do something” – the transformative moment in climate agency formation among Finnish youth

The climate movement of youth is one of the most visible phenomena of our time in civil society. Youth have claimed the public sphere in order to address the climate crisis and the urgency of actions needed. The action and resistance practised by youth has evoked public discussion concerning not only the climate crisis, but also the political agency and citizenship of youth in the era of crisis. My master’s thesis “We have a say, we must act, now – youth as climate active citizens” (Ahola 2021) examines youth climate action from the perspective of political agency. The study focuses on the formation process of agency, in addition to which the supportive and preventive factors of agency are explored. Drawing on qualitative interviews with 12 Finnish youth aged between 15 and 19, the study also contributes perspectives on global education and global citizenship.

The Maastricht global education declaration (2002) states: “global education is education that opens people’s eyes and minds to the realities of the world, and awakens them to bring about a world of greater justice, equity and human rights for all”. In the interview data, descriptions of eyes opening and awakening to the reality of the climate crisis and its social consequences were identifiable (cf. climate realization, Pihkala 2019). For most of the youth, the process of climate active agency formation took the first steps in late 2018 followed by the IPCC report and global school strikes. The interviewees discussed about a moment of awakening, where their way of seeing the world and being in the world was transformed for good. Something that they cared for – whether it was nature, their future, the wellbeing of distant others, etc. – was threatened.

Before that I felt I had been in the dark, no one really talked about climate change. Some tiny matters at school sometimes, but one couldn’t understand the real severity of it. The increasing news led me to find out more… I was reading some studies. I don’t remember how far I read the report, quite far, and then… It made me feel terrible. (Roosa, 18)

As Roosa mentions above, becoming climate active happened outside of formal educational settings. For the youth, e.g. school was seen as a place where growth for political engagement was predefined and restricted instead of creating space for youth-led action. The moment of awakening was a rather self-educative experience, as the youth would not only get to know about, but feel the meaning of being connected to the world and understand their place – role, responsibility and lifestyle – in it. Questions of guilt, justice and moral responsibility or obligation stemmed from the understanding of the climate crisis as a social threat causing suffering both close and distant. For the youth, realizing they had to and they could do something in order to mitigate the climate crisis opened up and extended their political agency, and changes in individual behaviour, together with joining climate active collectives, followed.

I see the climate realization of youth as a counteraction to social inertia (Brulle & Norgaard 2019), as socially constructed silence around the topic of climate crisis begins to crack. Youth among other members of the public were faced with the uncomfortable reality of the climate crisis, caused by the unsustainable way of living. The IPCC report, school strikes, media attention and public discussion created a moment of crack (see Holloway 2010) by shedding light on the status quo. A moment of crack forges a space for saying no to business-as-usual, and saying yes to bringing about change. Saying no and yes by dissenting from the business-as-usual views, together with unconventional practices, may create disturbance, conflict and rebellion – both at individual and collective level of thinking, feeling and doing. But saying no and yes is first and foremost an act of care and an antidote to indifference and apathy. That is why moments of crack are a window of opportunity for the growth towards active and caring global citizenship.

Paula Ahola

Ahola graduated from social sciences in May 2021 with major in social pedagogy. Her master´s thesis is linked to Pedagogy of Concrete Utopias -project.


Ahola, Paula (2021) We have a say, we must act, now – youth as climate active citizens. Master´s thesis. University of Eastern Finland. Https://erepo.uef.fi/bitstream/handle/123456789/25125/urn_nbn_fi_uef-20210597.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y.

Brulle, Robert J. & Kari Marie Norgaard (2019) Avoiding cultural trauma: climate change and social inertia. Environmental Politics. Https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09644016.2018.1562138.

Holloway, John (2010) Crack Capitalism. London: Pluto Press.

Pihkala, Panu (2019) Mieli maassa? Ympäristötunteet. Helsinki: Kirjapaja.

The Maastricht Global Education Declaration (2002) Https://rm.coe.int/168070e540.

A metaphorical perspective on digital storytelling

In a study about digital storytelling as a metaphor, I discussed the term as a phrase where the noun (storytelling) is modified by the adjective (digital) to designate the target domain of the utterance. According to metaphor theorists (e.g., Lakoff 1992, Lakoff and Johnson 1980, Ricoeur 1978, Steen 2011), a metaphor occurs when we talk about something by means of something else and, therefore, a stretch or twist is required for sense making. This metaphorical twist involves a movement to a target domain (in this case: telling stories) to explain what it means, for instance, to integrate digital technologies into pedagogical practice, nowadays.

The sense descriptions of ‘storytelling’ in the dictionary (Oxford English Dictionary) involve both traditional and contemporary notions of telling or writing stories. These descriptions point to the medium, or the channel, used to communicate the story, with illustrative examples that refer to the hero/character as an integral feature of tales, myths and legends, but also personal narratives, political commentaries and evolving cultural norms through mainly visual technologies.

In oral storytelling, the communicative event involves a dialogue between a speaker and a hearer, where something is expressed and communicated to another. This is a shared dialogical experience for mutual understanding and reciprocal recognition. To this effect, the speaker produces an experience for the hearer in which the latter recognizes the intention of the former. This means that to understand the meaning of the dialogue is the same as to understand what the speaker means. To resolve misunderstandings, the speaker and the hearer can ask each other questions.

Can oral storytelling be another aspect of the metaphorical digital storytelling? It can certainly be. Current pedagogical practices with online platforms (e.g., Zoom, Teams etc.) with plenary sessions and group work are manifestations of dialogical experiences with opportunities for immediate responses, on-the-spot questions for clarifications, shorter and longer turns, and so on. The communication, therefore, and how shared understanding is constructed heavily depends on the co-presence of interlocutors (i.e., in a pedagogical setting, the teachers and the students).

In written storytelling, on the other hand, the story can take a life of its own, as the meaning is no longer dependent on co-presence. In this way, the story must be interpreted in the absence of a speaking subject or a shared dialogical situation that acts as common reference. Therefore, the meaning of the author and the meaning of the written story may or may not coincide.

The difference here is that while the shared dialogue mediates oral storytelling, it is the different forms of emplotment that mediate written storytelling. The participants in a group work discussion online, for instance, need to establish a joint understanding to complete a task. The way this blogpost, is received and interpreted, however, can very from reader to reader, which -as well- can be different from the author’s intended meaning.

The narrative of the written expression, therefore, differs from that of the spoken interaction, not only in structural terms (i.e., more or less spontaneous, more or less elaborated linguistic expressions etc.). As well, it differs in terms of immediacy (i.e., how much time is given for sensing the plot, interpretation etc.) and purposefulness. Evidently, the synchronous discussions and group work sessions can serve well when the purpose is to explore a thematic area. But when it comes to deeper reflections and understandings, the asynchronous mode of storytelling in the form of, e.g., reading/writing/commenting on etc. blogposts, seems to be a better fit.

Obviously, it is a complicated situation with digital storytelling that becomes even more complex when considering its multiple modes of expression through different types of symbols (i.e., not only linguistic) and multiple forms of media (e.g., video, audio, audio-visual etc.).

In this sense, ‘digital storytelling’ as a 21st century metaphor that signifies mapping of two domain areas in the meaning making process might not be enough to describe the multiple dimensions of the phenomenon. In such mapping, ‘digital’ signals the comparison between the domain of technology and that of telling stories. This mapping however is a dichotomy. In addition to the two-domain approach (characteristic of the contemporary theory of metaphor) and its expression though language (which is the focus of deliberative metaphor theory), digital storytelling is multimodal.

A new perspective is therefore needed to approach in a dynamic way the essence of contemporary digital storytelling.

But let’s discuss this new perspective in the next blogpost.

Stay tuned!

This post was initially published on the Pathways to scholarship blog.

GERIF creates space to discuss Global education research at the Finnish Educational Research Conference

The GERIF network has taken shape as a special interest group (SIG) of the Finnish Educational Research Association (FERA). The position as a SIG gives global education research visibility as an independent research field and helps interested researchers to present their work to an engaged audience.  

The 2021 FERA conference provided an opportunity to invite global education researchers to present their work in a thematic group on global education. The call was aligned with the general conference theme Sustainable education – sustainable future to focus on research on global perspectives and responsibility in creating sustainable futures. 

The call for proposals invited papers on topics of teaching and learning about how global and local sustainable development are connected.  

Following the Maastricht declaration, the call was welcome to presentations dealing with  Development Education, Human Rights Education, Education for Sustainability, Education for Peace and Conflict Prevention and Intercultural Education. Presentations may concern one or some of the following questions: What are the tasks of global education in promoting sustainable futures? What are the means and opportunities of global education in building of sustainable futures? How do teachers and students critically reflection their own activity in promoting sustainable development goals? How can we educate for responsibility and how responsible is the conduct of schools and communities of learners? What new opportunities are there in learning and education for global cooperation? What does addressing global and local contexts add to learning and sustainable futures? How are global and local responsibility connected in teaching and learning? What is the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on global learning? How can we develop virtual international cooperation as part of teaching and learning?

Picture: Soili Rinne

A total of 6 papers were presented in the two Zoom sessions of the SIG on 15 and 16 December. Abstracts 

Antti Kylänpää: Empowerment in human rights education: a thematic analysis of adult students’ answers

Inkeri Rissanen and Elina Kuusisto: New approach to studying teachers intercultural competencies: investigating the role of implicit theories of malleability

Heidi Layne and Siao See Teng: Developing intercultural mindedness through an experiential learning activity – case Singapore?

Riikka Suhonen: ”Kyllä amiskin voi olla sivistynyt” ‒ globaalin kansalaisuuden rakentuminen tulevaisuuden ammatillisessa osaamisessa

Antti Rajala, Pihla Soinnunmaa, Emma Kurenlahti, Anu Tasajärvi and Hannele Cantell: Nuorten kansalaisvaikuttamisen edistäminen konkreettien utopioiden pedagogiikan avulla / Fostering students’ active citizenship through a pedagogy of concrete utopias

Marja-Leena Juntunen and Heidi Partti: Taiteidenvälinen työskentely osana globaalikasvatusta: opetuskokeilu aineenopettajankoulutuksessa

The Annual meeting of the SIG was convened on 16 December in connection with the conference. Here are the highlights:

  • Professor Douglas Bourn (UCL) introduced the newly published Bloomsbury Handbook on global education and learning containing contributions from several GERIF members. 
  • Global education specialist Anna Kivimäki-Pelluz from Fingo presented key findings from the MFA’s Evaluation of Development communications and global citizenship education project funding
  • Selection of a new GERIF coordination group for 2021: Antti Kylänpää (chair), University of Tampere; Anna Kivimäki-Pelluz, Fingo;  Hanna Posti-Ahokas, University of Helsinki;  Riikka Suhonen, University of Helsinki; Oona Piipponen, University of Eastern Finland;  Audrey Paradis, University of Oulu;  Marianna Vivitsou, University of Helsinki
  • Planning of activities for 2021

SIG meeting minutes 
The GERIF Team thanks all presenters and participants for the interesting, hopeful and forward-looking discussions during these events! We look forward to seeing you and your colleagues in the next FERA conference in Jyväskylä in November 2021!