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The German Tradition of Self-Cultivation (Bildung) and its Historical Meaning

Alexandre Alves About the author


This article aims at analysing the historical meaning of the German ideal of self-cultivation (Bildung), considering its different uses and interpretations over time. Based on the historical semantics of Reinhart Koselleck and the bibliography on the subject, it reconstructs the core transformations in its semantic structure from the beginnings in the late Middle Ages to its institutionalization in the German school system in the nineteenth century. The development of the ideal of Bildung in Germany is characterised by the tension between its function as means of integration through education and its function as instrument of social distinction. The reflexion on this educational ideal is presented as a counterpoint to some of the contemporary educational practices, based on the imperatives of the market and the neoliberal management of human capital.

Self-Cultivation; Germany; Ideal of Bildung; Historical Semantics

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