The Bildung Paradox

Norwegian extracurricular schools of music and performing arts as a social Bildung-machine

In cultural policy discourse, the Norwegian extracurricular schools of music and performing arts, kulturskole, is regarded a central arena for children and youth’s Bildung. The concept of Bildung, indicating human growth, has been linked to various philosophical, pedagogical and societal ethical paradoxes, in extension of, and as criticism of, Romantic philosophers like Herder and Humboldt. In sociology, the concept of Bildung is also associated with Bourdieu's concept of cultural capital and habitus, and the power of the dominant class to define good taste. The kulturskole is described as an arena that gives children and young people the opportunity to develop themselves and their creative abilities. Hence, the cultural school contributed to recognition, inclusion and mastery. The kulturskole contributes to this position by its vision “kulturskole for all”. However, at the same time, the kulturskole is not visited by almost 90 percent of all children and youth. One thus can observe a persistent tension between the kulturskole’s desire to be universally relevant and accessible. Given the fact that kulturskole is voluntary, is its exclusive character a problem? Has Bildung at any time been accessible for all? The latter question takes as its point of departure what we chose to coin the Bildung Paradox, namely the idea that Bildung inevitably contains a mechanism of exclusion. Its logic rests in the relational character of the concept; Bildung is defined from the idea that a proportion of the population does not have it. Consequently, if Bildung was available to all, it would be of no meaningful value. Building on Bourdieu’s theoretical framework, and taking use of an empirical data set on the Norwegian kulturskole from 2019, we further explore the Bildung paradox by discussing the following research questions: How could an institution that allegedly is such an effective Bildung machine and aims to promote something that is so good for both the participants and the society at large, be in so little use? And furthermore, as the Bildung-machine has been working for so long – educating and civilizing generations of pupils – why has the low attendance rate remained so stable?

Key words: Bildung, paternalism, cultural policy, play, kulturskole


Ola K Berge og Mari Torvik Heian





Last ned