Panel A.09 — Popular and non-formal education in the fight against educational inequalities

Convenors Fiorenzo Parziale (Sapienza, Italy)

Keywords Popular education, Non-formal education, Educational inequalities, Neoliberalism, Third Sector


The neoliberal regulation of the economy has caused the “territorialization of public policies” (Brenner 2009; Sassen 2007; Bifulco 2009), opening spaces of convergence between the school system and the social actors that animate the different local communities.

This panel is interested in research contributions that examine the type of relationship existing between public schools and actors dedicated to non-formal education aimed at combating school dropout and in particular educational inequalities between social classes.

In this regard, in countries like Italy there has been a rebirth of the so-called “popular schools” in the last fifteen years, which try to recover the tradition of critical pedagogy of authors such as Lorenzo Milani, Mario Lodi, and many others educators (Zizioli 2023).

This type of experience leads us to question the possible political alliances that today’s popular educators manage to build with those teachers more oriented towards strengthening the universalism of public schools.

Despite the critical political matrix, the risk, however, is that educators from popular schools and teachers compete or even give rise to relationships that support neoliberal governance (Moini 2012), and therefore the privatization induced by the more general managerial reform of education (Ball 2021; English, Mayo 2021).

In fact, the managerial reform of education is increasing the bureaucratic activities of schools, intensifying the work pace of teachers who have less time available to dedicate themselves to teaching activities and in particular to supporting the most disadvantaged students (Thompson, Cook 2017).

Furthermore, support for disadvantaged students could be further discouraged by the managerial organization of the school, forced to satisfy the request of middle-class families not to lower the pace of learning in the classroom.

In this scenario, schools are thus led to design a tailor-made education for the middle class (Mayo 2015) to the detriment of the emancipation of the lower classes (Apple 2011, 2013). Therefore, teachers could delegate their democratic function of combating scholastic inequalities to the social actors who are engaged in this sense in the local community.

This type of sociological analysis can be extended to other experiences of popular education, from those existing since the 1960s in Brazil (Leher, Vittoria 2015) and in other areas mostly in the South of the world (Mayo, Vittoria 2017), up to the various forms of non-formal education expressed by the varied world of the Third Sector.

We therefore welcome abstracts that from different sociological perspectives (sociology of welfare, cultural sociology, sociology of education), and also in an interdisciplinary key, are aimed at analyzing all those experiences corresponding or similar to Italian popular schools, present in various countries and aimed at combating educational inequalities. The aim of this panel is to identify several case studies addressed to understanding whether popular, and more generally non-formal, education can support a more universalist school or is instead an instrument of neoliberal governance. The panel is also interested in those studies that focus on the type of alliance – existing or possible – between the social actors engaged in these non-formal educational activities and school teachers.


Guidelines and abstracts submission