There is growing interest in the political and policy importance of a certain set of personal attributes – in particular emotional control, empathy, application to task, personal agency, an ability to defer gratification – that might be summarized as ‘character’.
The possession of these character traits, or character capabilities, is an important predictor of a range of individual and collective aspirations, from health and educational outcomes to political engagement and civility. While the terminology differs – in different cases, terms such as emotional resilience, social and emotional skills, or life skills, might be used – the central, and perhaps growing, importance of character is being recognized across intellectual disciplines and across the political spectrum.
The question of character has been addressed from a range of different think-tank and academic perspectives in recent months. Politicians, too, are increasingly interested in the importance of character.
David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party said in his Hugo Young memorial lecture: “today, the character of our society - and indeed the character of some people themselves, as actors in society, is changing.”
Liam Byrne, shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, who has a long-standing interest in the importance of character, said in a speech to the Fabian Society: “Our young people want to develop, not only their understanding of the things around them – but an understanding of the things inside them – self-confidence, self-esteem, ambition, motivation, nerve. Things some of us but not all were lucky to get from our parents; things that a small few often get from the finest public schools…This is why I have come to believe that a new agenda for character education is so important.”
There are also a number of third sector organisations explicitly or implicitly addressing issues related to character, from schemes to help young black men in London to the work of organisations devoted to helping children of failing parents, and many organisations working with ex-offenders, and so on. In the case of some youth movements, such as the Scouts and Guides, character development is a long-standing aim. Recent debates about national civic service relate at least in part to developing character traits and what would once have been called ‘civic virtue’.
Joining Demos for this project are:
Lord Victor Adebowale
Professor of Education and Civic Engagement
Professor of Child Health and Behaviour
Writer and philosopher - julianbaggini.blogspot.com
Editor, The Philosophers’ Magazine
Director of Social Brain Project
Director of Every Child a Chance Trust and Government Communication Champion for Children
Journalist and commentator
Dr Sebastian Kraemer
Writer, journalist and researcher
Political historian and headmaster
There is then a wide and rich variety of thinking and practice around character issues. The aim of the Inquiry is to draw together the existing knowledge and apply it to contemporary public issues.
The Character Inquiry will:
The Inquiry will also conduct or commission research on the development of character in a number of settings, including:
The Character Inquiry is non party political, but will be able to draw on the advice of three parliamentarians, one from each of the three main parties, who have agreed to act as advisers to the Inquiry.
Demos will provide the secretariat and research support to the Inquiry. The Inquiry runs until June 2011.
For more information contact Inquiry Secretary Jen Lexmond.
David Cameron, Camila Batmanghelidjh and Frank Field at the launch of The Character
Character - empathy, application and self-regulation - counts. This report looks at the vital impact parents have on forming children's character in the pre-school years. It makes a case for greater focus on parental support during the early years and places character as the most important 'skill' a child can have.
This pamphlet explores the increasingly important role of parenting in policy and argues that economic and environmental circumstances can shape and influence parental approaches for better or worse.
This collection draws together emerging research from the social sciences about the formation and development of character to inform public policy.
Listen to the podcast of David Cameron's speech to Demos.