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‘Micropopulism’ may be turning education into a battlefield in the culture wars


A new analysis of education debates on both social media and in traditional media outlets suggests that the education sector is being increasingly influenced by populism and the wider social media ‘culture wars’.

The study also suggests that the type of populism in question is not quite the same as that used to explain large-scale political events, such as the UK’s ‘Brexit’ from the European Union, or Donald Trump’s recent presidency in the United States.

Instead, the researchers – from the University of Cambridge, UK, and Queensland University of Technology, Australia – identify a phenomenon called ‘micropopulism’: a localised populism which spotlights an aspect of public services, such as the education sector. Micropopulism is populist, they argue, in the sense that it expresses a fervent division between a disregarded ‘people’ and an unjust elite.

The paper, by Dr Steve Watson and Dr Naomi Barnes, sketches out how think tanks, among other organisations, propagate such controversies using both new media and old. They highlight how ‘wedge’ issues are being used to prompt bitter disputes on social media between those with traditional views of education, and those who are more progressive.

‘Traditional’ teachers, in this context, argue that their authority in the classroom has been […]

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