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Democratic agency can be researched as an embodied experience. Kuva: Kaisa Sirén

Research to Enhance Democracy through Aesthetic and Embodied Learning – the University of Lapland coordinates EUR 2.7 million project


The Faculty of Social Sciences of the University of Lapland coordinates the project of six universities, which has been awarded 2.1 million euros of EU Horizon funding and 630 000 euros of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) funding. The purpose of the international AECED project is to enhance awareness, appreciation and understanding of democracy as lived and embodied experience, and to develop pedagogies to support this.

Democracy is an integral part of European civilization and free societies. However, recent years have seen the rise of political movement, leaders against democracy and the constitutional state, a strong polarization of social debate, as well as populist political forces that have a negative attitude towards education and culture.

The leader of the AECED project, Professor Susan Meriläinen emphasizes that if democracy is to be protected and maintained, it is important to evoke awareness and understanding of social diversity and the importance of joint decision-making. This can be supported and promoted in education for democracy in multiple ways.

– At present the dominant focus is on cognitive learning and acquisition of technical interactive skills. The non-cognitive dimensions of democracy are rarely discussed. The AECED project responds to this challenge by concentrating on the aesthetic and embodied nature of learning, says Meriläinen.

– Through methods that enhance aesthetic and embodied learning, democracy becomes a more personal part of our everyday lives instead of being something abstract, distant or happening only in administrative and political bodies, says Researcher Pauliina Jääskeläinen.

The project aims to increase understanding on how democracy can be enhanced through aesthetic and embodied learning at different levels of education. Recognizing the variety of ways in which others and oneself see and experience democracy, engaging in collaborative reflections and experiencing others in new ways helps mutual understanding of differences and commonalities. The aim is to design a pedagogical framework that facilitates educators and learners’ creativity to nurture feelings, awareness, sensibilities and energies of momentum vital to living democracies.

– Empathizing and aesthetic experience are crucial for enabling open minded and considerate dialogue. They may prevent alienating otherness in individuals, constructing and maintaining societal margins, describes Postdoctoral Researcher Joonas Vola.

AECED: Transforming Education for Democracy through Aesthetic and Embodied Learning, Responsive Pedagogies and Democracy-as-becoming, 2023–2026

The three-year project will develop an evidence-based, innovative aesthetic and embodied pedagogical framework, teaching toolkits, and guides through ground-breaking, transdisciplinary participatory research on various educational levels. There is a total of 19 case studies in six countries. The emphases of aesthetic and physical methods vary across cases, from visual and narrative approaches to methods based on movement and senses.

The consortium consists of six partners: In addition to the University of Lapland, the University of Hertfordshire (UK), Riga Technical University (Latvia), University of Zagreb (Croatia), Phillips-Universität Marburg (Germany), and Universidade Alberta (Portugal).

The total funding of the project is EUR 2.7 million, of which EUR 2.1 million is funding from the Horizon Europe 2022 Reshaping Democracies programme and EUR 630 000 funding from the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). The financial contribution received by the University of Lapland is 690 000 euros. The project will start on April 1, 2023.

Further information:

Professor Susan Meriläinen (PI), susan.merilainen(at)ulapland.fi
Project Manager Pilvikki Lantela, pilvikki.lantela(at)ulapland.fi
Researcher Pauliina Jääskeläinen, pauliina.jaaskelainen(at)ulapland.fi
Postdoctoral Researcher Joonas Vola, joonas.vola(at)ulapland.fi