Study circle

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A study circle is a small group of people who meet multiple times to discuss an issue. Study circles may be formed to discuss anything from politics to religion to hobbies. They are differentiated from clubs by their focus on exploring an issue or topic rather than on activities or socializing. When they emerged in the early twentieth century they were based on a democratic approach to self-education and were often linked to social movements concerned with temperance or working class emancipation.[1]

Study circle basics[edit]

Study circles are typically created by persons who discover a common interest; other study circles may be created to analyze and find solutions to social, political, or community problems.

Often there is no teacher, but one member usually acts as facilitator to keep discussion flowing and on track, and ensure that everyone has an opportunity to become as involved as he or she desires to be. Reading material and audio/visual aids are often used to stimulate dialogue.

Study circles may be introductory level, advanced level, or any level in between. Study circles may be sponsored or assisted by government or community officials and have specific outcome goals such as generating ideas or suggesting courses of action; or they may be entirely independent and self-sufficient, existing simply for the pleasure of increasing the knowledge of their members.

There is no one right way to do a study circle. The method is simple and suitable whether the discussion is for deeper understanding, for weighing options and making choices, for making recommendations that lead to action, or for academic study.[2]

Study circles allow complex topics to be broken down into manageable parts. Single session programs can result in meaningful and productive dialogue, but study circles usually involve multiple sessions in order to fully investigate the question at hand. However, a study by Staffan Larson in 2001 concluded that while study circles foster participation they are only partly successful as civic change vehicles since their power to influence social action is weak. [3]

History and evolution[edit]

The concept and practice of the study circle appeared in the late nineteenth century. Narodnaya Volya, a Russian populist organisation, made extensive use of them in the 1870s.[4] The concept was taken up by the Georgian Social Democrat group Mesame Dasi in the 1890s. A youthful Joseph Stalin was involved in leading some of these.[5][6]

The concept later developed in early 20th century Sweden as a part of the activities in popular movements, such as the temperance and the workers' movements. Oscar Olsson was a prominent proponent of them. Since these movements' participants were working class or small farmers the study circles were important in relation to these classes' growing political power in the early 20th century. The issues that were studied were already from the early period broad – it could be as well political and social issues as literature or even school topics. The population as a whole were generally literate as early as the 17th century, and therefore literacy training was not an important concern as a topic for study circles. Other informal education such as folk high schools and popular lectures were already present, when study circles were developed and there were various kinds of connections between these different forms of studies open for adults with only compulsory schooling as formal education. Study circles arose with ambitions to create an educated citizenry.[7]

In Sweden today study circles are a mass phenomenon and have broad national support. Around 300,000 study circles have been reported each year since the 1970s.[8] National educational associations receive annual subsidies from the national government and work with folk high schools (folkhögskolor), university short courses, correspondence study and distance learning, allowing citizens to understand and participate more fully in their communities and nation. The Swedish study circle model was successfully transplanted into American culture, most notably in the National Issues Forums (sponsored by the Domestic Policy Association in Dayton, Ohio) and the Bricklayers and Allied Craftsmen's Study Circle Program which began in 1986.

Today, with the growth of the internet, virtual study circles are possible, but the original model of face-to-face communication and real-world, rather than virtual, interaction retains its wide appeal.

Study circles are also being employed as a change process and development activity within corporations. Some of the same ideas and concepts of community study circles can be applied to internal issues such as diversity, race relations and community-focused giving.

Study Circles have been used extensively in Australia for some years to engage citizens in issues as diverse as Reconciliation between Indigenous and Non- Indigenous Australians, and tackling environmental disasters like Blue-Green Algae in the nations river systems. Adult Learning Australia has championed the use of study circles for many years. More recently the Australian Study Circles Network has developed as a central resource for study circle practitioners in Australia.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Larsson, S. & Nordvall, H. (2010) Study Circles in Sweden: An Overview with a Bibliography of International Literature Linköping: Linköping University Electronic Press Available on Internet
  2. ^ Everyday Democracy (formerly the Study Circles Resource Center)
  3. ^ Larsson, Staffan. "Seven Aspects of Democracy as Related to Study Circles." International Journal of Lifelong Education v20 n3 p199-217 May–Jun 2001. [1]
  4. ^ Hillyar, A. & McDermid, J. (2000) Revolutionary women in Russia, 1870–1917: a study in collective biographyManchester: Manchester University Press.
  5. ^ "Beria: Stalin's First Lieutenant" – Google Books
  6. ^ "In The Russian Empire" – Dictionary of Georgian National Biography
  7. ^ Larsson, Staffan & Nordvall, Henrik. "Study Circles in Sweden: An Overview with a Bibliography of International Literature." Linköping: Linköping University Electronic Press, 2010. Available on Internet
  8. ^ Larsson & Nordvall 2010

Further reading[edit]

  • Andrews, Cecile. "Study Circles: Schools for Life." available online
  • Larsson, Staffan & Nordvall, Henrik. "Study Circles in Sweden: An Overview with a Bibliography of International Literature." Linköping: Linköping University Electronic Press, 2010. Available on Internet
  • Oliver, Leonard P. Study Circles: Coming Together for Personal Growth and Social Change (Seven Locks Press, 1987)
  • Velichko, Aliona. "Welcome to the World of Study Circles." html pdf

External links[edit]