Contractualism as an element of democratic pedagogy?


  • Jürgen Budde Jürgen Budde, Europa-Universität Flensburg
  • Lotta Hellberg Europa-Universität Flensburg
  • Nora Weuster Europa-Universität Flensburg



Contractual pedagogy, ethnography, education, theory of practice, subjectivation


  • Pedagogical practices are based on establishing commitment.
  • Contractual pedagogy corresponds to a contract-based social order.
  • Contractual pedagogy aims at democratizing pedagogical relationships.
  • Contractual pedagogy involves a pedagogic process of collective subjectivation.
  • Contractual pedagogy does not represent the kind of pedagogical ‘counter-model’ familiar to progressive pedagogies that aspire towards democratic codetermination.

Purpose: This article investigates the establishment of commitment in pedagogical practices through what are known as ‘behavioural contracts’. Such contracts are seen as a participatory element of democratic pedagogy and are linked to the aim of strengthening students’ self-determination. The objective is to demonstrate that as a pedagogical phenomenon, contractual pedagogy is oriented towards a practice of self-control achieved through external control, assuming a basis of sovereignty and reason.

Methodology: The article provides an investigation of material from an ethnographic research project in Germany on social learning in school-based pedagogical contexts. The study is informed by practice theory, theory of school and theory of social pedagogics.

Findings: This article argues that contractual pedagogy as a subjectivising constellation is primarily directed towards re-establishing the pre-existing institutional order. It demonstrates that contractual pedagogy can neither be understood as a particularly participatory method of democratic pedagogy, nor as a governmental power strategy, but as a subjectivising exercise that introduces students to a central tenet in modern societies. Through this, connections are formed between specific forms of (collective) subjectivation.

Research implications: Further theoretical and empirical analyses are required, which make other pedagogical impulses, such as an ethics of care or the critique of the subject, fruitful for Democratic Pedagogy.

Author Biographies

Jürgen Budde, Jürgen Budde, Europa-Universität Flensburg

Jürgen Budde is Professor for Theory of Education, Teaching and Learning at the Institute of Educational Sciences in the Department of School Education at the Europa-Universität Flensburg. His research interests are education inequality, school research, social learning and character education, subjectivation and ethnography.

Lotta Hellberg, Europa-Universität Flensburg

Lotta Hellberg is a research assistant at the Institute of Educational Sciences in the Department of School Education at the Europa-Universität Flensburg. Her research interests are personal development, school research, teacher education, subjectivation and gender in school. Lotta Hellberg is doing her PhD and is writing her theses about personal development in nurseries. The research is based on an ethnographic access.  

Nora Weuster, Europa-Universität Flensburg

Nora Weuster is research assistant at Europa-Universität Flensburg, Institute of Educational Sciences. Her research focuses on practices of subjectification in formal and non-formal educational settings with a strong interest in character education, social learning and democracy education


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