Critique of contemporary civilisation with regard to cities, 1890-1930

Start date: 01.10.2006
Duration: 2 Jahre
Funded by: DFG (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft)
Local head of project: Prof. Dr. Eva Matthes


In this project, at first the critique of contemporary civilisation with regard to cities at the end of the 19th and at the beginning of the 20th century is reviewed. This discourse intensified to a general criticism of large towns; its emphasis often lay on a coarsely simplified and ideologically distorted polarization of the relationship between cities and the countryside. Cities were stylized as a crisis phenomenon of the modern age, while country life was romanticized at the same time. The question will be whether pedagogical criticism of cities must always be regarded as a – backward – criticism of modern forms of life or whether rational, socially critical patterns of argumentation were not taken up, too.


The background of this project is constituted by the history of urbanization which has already been got through thoroughly. Thus, for this investigation we can refer to important studies, e.g. about the rejuvenation of the urban population and about the living conditions of children and young persons in large towns.

In the diverse studies about the criticism of the cities, the pedagogical analysis of large towns is rarely taken into consideration. This is even more amazing as many pedagogues declared themselves advocates of children and young persons who seemed to be in danger morally and with regard to their health in the face of the processes of secularization, pluralization, and individualization within urban culture; its consequences were experienced as critical ones.

Starting point of the research are two central strings of argumentation: on the one hand the endangering of children and young persons with regard to their morality and their health, on the other hand the construction of the ideal pedagogical area.

The pedagogical discourse about cities cannot be considered without embedding it into contemporary patterns of perception and mentalities. Therefore, a contextualization with regard to sociocultural history and the history of ideas and institutions is carried out.

Other points of reference in this project are constructs, pictures, and concepts of childhood, youth, and family which form the basis of the pedagogical (crisis) discourse about cities in the investigated period.

In a second step, the results of the reconstruction of the (crisis) discourse about cities will be compared to the representation of this topic in primers. In this context, schoolbooks can be regarded as an important indication for the reconstruction of the „grammar of schooling“ in the three dimensions „Verschulung“, „Pädagogisierung“ und „Wissenserwerb“.

The centre of our investigation are the reasons and the motives for the cause and the maintenance of the discourse, the mechanisms of reproduction of the discourse, the patterns of argumentation, the changes of the discourse, the intentions of the persons involved in it, and its effects and functions. In addtion, the linking to other strings of discourse, such as the historical or the theological ones, and the reaction on oppositional discourses will be considered.

Altogether, the project shall get into the issue of the relationship between progressive education and the modern age which has been discussed more intensively in educational science for a while. Under a social policy perspective, the reconstruction of the (crisis) discourse about cities promises conclusions with regard to the still urgent problem of children and young persons in large towns.

The dealing with the topic takes place by means of a discourseanalytical process on the basis of relevant material about the pedagogical (crisis) discourse about cities (monographs, anthologies, magazines, and primers).

The relevant texts will be subjected to a qualitative and quantitative content analysis.