Empowered Individualism in World Culture: Agency and Equality in Canadian Textbooks, 1871-2006.

Abstract: The sacred status of individuals is a central pillar of world culture in research on education and beyond. The intended socialization of students is increasingly to become empowered individuals that respect human equality and diversity in a globally-interconnected world. At the same time, we have little understanding of what exactly the concept of individual empowerment means or how to capture it empirically. This study builds on prior observations about the growing status of individuals by delineating the rise of two separate but related dimensions of empowerment – agency and equality – and outlining the rise of these dimensions in the Canadian educational context. To this end, it draws on a unique dataset consisting of a systematically designed coding of eighty history, civics, and social studies textbooks used in Canada from 1871 to 2006. Refining the concept of individual empowerment reveals that its manifestations are shaped by the local context, in addition to the influences that come from world culture. Overall, increasingly empowered individuals and the structures they create (often organizations and associations of various types) become key actors in national and international society. Looking to the future, if taken to an extreme, expansions in individual empowerment may lead to instances of “hyper-empowerment”, where depictions and enactments of individual choice, control, and equality far outpace reasonable expectations.

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