Curriculum Theory and the Welfare State

Benjamin Justice


How do states make citizens? The question is as old as states themselves. Surprisingly, however, the approaches to answering it have emerged as a form of parallel play, uncoordinated (and poorly understood) across fields. This essay attempts to reconcile disparate realms of social research that address the question. The first, curriculum theory, grows out of educational research that for a century has focused almost exclusively on schools, schooling, and intentional settings for academic knowledge transmission. The second realm draws primarily on research from psychology, sociology, and political science to look empirically for effects of exposure to particular kinds of social phenomena. These include, but are not exclusive to, public institutions and policies. This essay begins by developing a mainstream conception of curriculum theory. It then compares and contrasts social science traditions that engage questions related to the state’s role in civic identity formation. Finally, it offers a case study on New York City’s controversial policing strategy known as Stop, Question, and Frisk, exploring how curriculum theory (developed in the context of mass schooling) can be a useful framework for understanding the educational features of a distinct social policy.


Curriculum; welfare state; education; criminal justice; police

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