Keywords in the Social Studies

Concepts and Conversations

by Daniel G. Krutka (Volume editor) Annie McMahon Whitlock (Volume editor) Mark Helmsing (Volume editor)
©2018 Textbook XXXIV, 382 Pages
Series: Counterpoints, Volume 527


Keywords in the Social Studies takes words commonly used in social studies education and unsettles them in ways that will redefine the field for years to come. Throughout the book, leading and emerging scholars in social studies education experiment with keywords central to the field seen as either taken for granted (such as family and technology) or perennially contested (such as terrorism and freedom), offering readers new positions, approaches, and orientations to what is possible to teach in the social studies. Focusing on democratic ways of living and being in the world as citizens, this innovative collection offers chapters organized around twenty-six keywords and ten invited responses to survey the unsettled terrain we call "the social studies." Each chapter attends to a specific keyword selected for both its contemporary applicability to different aspects of K–12 social studies education and to its dominant presence in the curriculum thought that structures social studies education in classrooms, museums, and beyond. Drawing inspiration from Raymond Williams’ work on keywords in culture, over fifty authors discuss complex and contested components of each keyword by way of offering diverse accounts that range from autobiographical narratives to historical genealogies, from critical implications of specific curriculum texts to offering vignettes of classroom teaching that deploy a keyword concept in practice. Keywords in the Social Studies is timely and essential reading for graduate students and faculty in social studies education and curriculum studies; students and teacher candidates in undergraduate and graduate education courses; and practitioners teaching in schools, museums, and other spaces of learning.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise For Keywords in the Social Studies
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Tables
  • Acknowledgments
  • Foreword: Innovations in Knowledge Construction (Anne-Lise Halvorsen)
  • Introduction: Unsettling the Social Studies (Mark Helmsing / Daniel G. Krutka / Annie McMahon Whitlock)
  • Section I: Culture
  • Chapter One: Indigenous (Sarah B. Shear / Christine R. Stanton)
  • Chapter Two: Ethnic (Tommy Ender)
  • Chapter Three: Spilling the Lemonade in Social Studies: A Response to the Culture Section (Amanda E. Vickery / Delandrea Hall)
  • Section II: Time, Continuity, and Change
  • Chapter Four: Time (Mark Helmsing / Annie McMahon Whitlock)
  • Chapter Five: Not So Fast!: A Response to the Time, Continuity, and Change Section (Gabriel A. Reich)
  • Section III: People, Places, and Environments
  • Chapter Six: Borders (Sajani Jinny Menon / Muna Saleh)
  • Chapter Seven: Environment (Jodi Latremouille)
  • Chapter Eight: Home (Gabriel P. Swarts)
  • Chapter Nine: Place (Whitney G. Blankenship)
  • Chapter Ten: Space (Stacey L. Kerr)
  • Chapter Eleven: Between There and Here: A Response to the People, Places, and Environments Section (Jason Harshman)
  • Section IV: Individual Development and Identity
  • Chapter Twelve: Gender (Megan List)
  • Chapter Thirteen: Race (Kristen E. Duncan)
  • Chapter Fourteen: Sexuality (Daniel T. Bordwell / Ryan D. Oto / J.B. Mayo, Jr.)
  • Chapter Fifteen: On and On: A Response to the Individual Development and Identity Section (Ashley N. Woodson)
  • Section V: Individuals, Groups, and Institutions
  • Chapter Sixteen: Community (Erik Jon Byker / Amy J. Good / Nakeshia N. Williams)
  • Chapter Seventeen: Family (Erin C. Adams)
  • Chapter Eighteen: Religion (Colleen Fitzpatrick / Stephanie Van Hover)
  • Chapter Nineteen: Embracing Complexity in the Social Studies: A Response to the Individuals, Groups, and Institutions Section (Sara A. Levy)
  • Section VI: Power, Authority, and Governance
  • Chapter Twenty: Democracy (Jane C. Lo / Amanda Geiger)
  • Chapter Twenty-One: Freedom (Eli Kean / Jeffrey Craig)
  • Chapter Twenty-Two: Terrorism (Wayne Journell)
  • Chapter Twenty-Three: Passwords to Citizenship?: A Response to the Power, Authority, and Governance Section (Cathryn van Kessel)
  • Section VII: Production, Distribution, and Consumption
  • Chapter Twenty-Four: Consumption (Kim Pennington)
  • Chapter Twenty-Five: Class (E. Wayne Ross)
  • Chapter Twenty-Six: Entrepreneurship (Matthew T. Missias / Kristy Brugar)
  • Chapter Twenty-Seven: How Should We Teach the Children?: A Response to the Production, Distribution, and Consumption Section (Mary Beth Henning)
  • Section VIII: Science, Technology, and Society
  • Chapter Twenty-Eight: Technology (Daniel G. Krutka)
  • Chapter Twenty-Nine: Media (Lance E. Mason)
  • Chapter-Thirty: Cyber Salvation and the Necessity of Questioning: A Response to the Science, Technology, and Society Section (Scott Alan Metzger)
  • Section IX: Global Connections
  • Chapter Thirty-One: Global (Kenneth T. Carano / Robert W. Bailey)
  • Chapter Thirty-Two: Immigration (Dilys Schoorman / Rina Bousalis)
  • Chapter Thirty-Three: Crossing/Erasing Borders: A Response to the Global Connections Section (Cinthia Salinas / Melissa Rojas Williams)
  • Section X: Civic Ideals and Practices
  • Chapter Thirty-Four: Discourse (Rory P. Tannebaum)
  • Chapter Thirty-Five: Citizenship (Sarah E. Stanlick)
  • Chapter Thirty-Six: Teaching Civics Amid New Discourses of Citizenship: A Response to the Civic Ideals and Practices Section (Beth C. Rubin)
  • Afterword: Keywords, Windows, and Content Selection (Walter C. Parker)
  • Contributors
  • Series Index

← x | xi →




Table 1.1.Resources for Indigenous Education
Table 12.1.What Does It Mean to Be a Masculine/Feminine/Meta Person in Ancient Spartan Culture?
Table 12.2.What Does It Mean to Be a Masculine/Feminine/Meta Person for Indigenous American Peoples?
Table 31.1.Teachers’ Definitions of Global
Table 35.1.Knowledge, Skills and Attitudes for Global Citizenship Competency ← xi | xii →

← xii | xiii →




We would like to thank all the contributors to this book. To Anne-Lise Halvorsen and Walter C. Parker for beginning and ending this book with wisdom and spirit. To our respondents for their thoughtful contributions and quick turnaround times. To our chapter authors for their care in unsettling their keywords and challenging us with compelling, provocative, and fascinating ideas. Thanks to Shirley Steinberg, Sarah Bode, and others at Peter Lang for helping shape this book into a final form. Finally, we would like to thank our friends, families, and local coffee houses. Without each of you, this could not have been possible. ← xiii | xiv →

← xiv | xv →



Innovations in Knowledge Construction



In its vision statement, the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) declares, “Meaningful social studies builds curriculum networks of knowledge, skills, beliefs, and attitudes that are structured around enduring understandings, essential questions, important ideas, and goals” (NCSS, 2016, emphasis added). In recent years, many educators have developed and promoted innovative methods for teaching skills, such as conducting inquiry (e.g., Grant, Swan, & Lee, 2017; NCSS, 2013) and discussing (e.g., Hess, 2009; Hess & McAvoy, 2015).

However, less attention has been paid explicitly to the first dimension: knowledge. Although educators have emphasized the critical role of disciplinary knowledge (e.g., Dimension 2 of the C3 Framework is Applying Disciplinary Concepts and Tools [NCSS, 2013]), and knowledge construction can be embedded in pedagogy focused on skills (e.g., Parker et al., 2011, 2013), direct focus on students’ development of knowledge has not been foregrounded in recent pedagogical innovations. Perhaps the explanation is that, traditionally, knowledge is viewed as “fixed,” rather than as dynamic and fluid. Or, perhaps educators are pushing back against traditional teaching approaches that are fact-based and involve memorization.

The notion that knowledge building tends to be lower-level than other forms of social studies learning is dispelled by Keywords in the Social Studies: Concepts and Conversations. This book demonstrates that knowledge is complex, contested, and “unsettled.” Chapter by chapter, social studies scholars review the meanings of 26 keywords used in historical and current social studies teaching and scholarship. ← xv | xvi → They examine the competing perspectives and debates on these keywords. The result is an imaginative, impressive, and thoughtful examination of some of the principal concepts and conversations found in the thinking on social studies. Rather than separating knowledge from beliefs and attitudes, the authors show how our collective understandings and knowledge of these keywords are driven by diverse beliefs and attitudes.

The inspiration for this book, as coeditors Daniel Krutka, Annie McMahon Whitlock, and Mark Helmsing explain, was Mark’s ambition that the ideas and methods found in cultural studies can motivate social studies educators. Specific reference is made to Raymond Williams’ Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (1976/1983) and to Walter Parker’s (2015) interest in the dynamic and contested nature of knowledge. In my reading of the book, I found connections to curricular reformer Hilda Taba’s work on concept development (Fraenkel, 1994; Taba, 1966). Taba argued that teachers should understand three levels of knowledge: facts, basic ideas, and principles and concepts. The 26 keywords of this book reflect complex, sophisticated, and multifaced concepts as used in conversations about the social world.

To me, the task of creating and refining a list of 26 keywords seemed simultaneously exciting and painful. What should drive the criteria for inclusion? Whose voices should determine what gets included and what gets excluded? Whose knowledge (Apple, 2014) should be featured? There are myriad ways to approach the process of assembling keywords. State and national content standards list the fundamental ideas that social studies should present. Indexes in social studies textbooks list commonly used social studies words and terms. In my social studies methods classes, I ask teacher candidates to find the keywords (i.e., concepts) in newspaper articles needed to make sense of the articles. I also ask teacher candidates what passions, worries, and curiosities their students have about the social world, and we generate concepts that are important to young people.

The decisions for the keyword selection in this book were driven by the editors’ beliefs that “the social studies is unsettled and unsettles us.” Dan, Annie, and Mark, whose collective areas of expertise and experience span a wide swath of keywords, explain that in their call for proposals, they suggested a list of keywords from which the authors could choose. Many of the suggested keywords were taken up and others, such as “equality” and “utopia,” were not. Authors even suggested their own keywords, such as “home” and “borders.” Although some of the book’s keywords are expected choices for social studies, such as “democracy,” “global,” and “race,” others are more unexpected. “Consumption,” “discourse,” and “media” are novel choices for keyword listings. Thus, the final selection of keywords, as constructed jointly by the editors and authors, is current and relevant.

The keywords come from the fields of anthropology, communications, cultural studies, economics, geography, history, political science, religion, and sociology. ← xvi | xvii → The editors organize the chapters around the NCSS’ ten themes (NCSS, 2010). Although they admit this structure may be “too settled and settling” for this very diverse range of keywords, this organizational scheme offers two benefits. First, readers learn a few of the keywords associated with each of the ten themes. For example, “borders,” “environment,” “home,” “place,” and “space” are keywords associated with the theme of “People, Places, and Environment.” This is a welcome alternative to the keyword lists typically highlighted in traditional geography lessons (e.g., “region,” “maps,” and “location”). Second, this structure can support teachers who are bound by curricular mandates and accountability reporting. For example, teachers can focus on the keywords “democracy,” “freedom,” and “terrorism” in the “Power, Authority, and Governance” theme.

All the chapters are well-researched, engaging, and provocative. A powerful quotation related to the chapter keyword introduces each chapter. Some authors provide some historical context for the keywords; others draw on autobiographical narratives and historical genealogies; some chapters explore the figurative use of the keywords. The chapters offer examples of the keywords, discuss their misuse and abuse, describe past and present conversations on their interpretation and use, and conclude with a list of discussion questions. For example, the chapter on “home” discusses how bell hooks uses “home” as a space for healing and a community of resistance for Black women in a White society. The chapter on “freedom” describes the many constraints on people’s freedom and the ways they have resisted such constraints. Some chapters, such as the chapter on “place,” situate the keywords in pedagogical strategies such as place-based education. The chapter on “entrepreneur” invites the reader to take a noneconomics perspective of the keyword, for example, by viewing Harriet Tubman as an entrepreneur.

A significant contribution of this book is the chapters’ inclusion of related keywords. For example, the chapter on “Indigenous” explores the keywords of American Indian and Native American, which the authors explain are problematic because they reinforce settler colonialism. The chapters also encourage readers to consider additional keywords. The chapter on “environment” suggests “sustainability”; the chapter on “race” suggests “power”; and the chapter on “entrepreneurship” suggests “innovation.”

A “response” follows each thematic section. Readers are asked to continue the conversation about the keywords and the interaction among the keywords. These responses offer yet another perspective on how educators and society understand and apply these keywords. This provokes the editors to comment that certain interpretations may “unsettle” readers as they think about the 26 keywords. Any reader who looks for a definitive agreement on the meanings of the keywords will be disappointed. Moreover, Hilda Taba’s concept formation activity in which students agree on the critical attributes of a key concept would be challenging to use with these chapters. Yet, consensus on these keywords is not the editors’ objective. ← xvii | xviii → Instead, the chapters’ complex conceptions of the selected keywords reflect the dynamism and fluidity of knowledge. Innovative and interactive instruction cannot represent knowledge as “fixed.” Moreover, the keywords tend to be “transformative academic knowledge” (Banks, 1993)—knowledge that challenges mainstream paradigms.

An easy critique of the book is that the keyword list is too limiting, much as critics have criticized E.D. Hirsch’s ideas on cultural literacy (Hirsch, Kett, & Trefil, 1988), for example. Yet the book is not intended as an exhaustive listing of important keywords for social studies research and instruction. Instead, the book is a fascinating collection of keywords that reflect both classic and contemporary social studies interests. Fifty, twenty, and even ten years ago, the list would have been different. And ten and twenty years from now, the list will also be different. We can expect new examples of keywords and new conversations on the meanings of old examples. The focus of social studies will naturally evolve as society changes.

Keywords in the Social Studies: Concepts and Conversations is a critical resource for social studies scholars who seek to understand contemporary research and theory on the 26 keywords, for other scholars who are interested in the 21st-century mission and vision of social studies education, and for social studies educators who seek to show preservice teachers and K–12 students how to understand and use these keywords. Even the book’s structure of 26 chapters could serve as inspiration for students to think about what 26 keywords drive current thinking in their social studies lessons and courses. In both structure and content, this book is engaging and unsettling—just as the editors hoped it would be. I anticipate that this book will become a “primary source” in social studies for the values we argue about and cherish at this particular moment in time.


Apple, M. W. (2014). Official knowledge: Democratic education in a conservative age (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

Banks, J. A. (1993). The canon debate, knowledge construction, and multicultural education. Educational Researcher, 22, 4–14.

Fraenkel, J. R. (1994). The evolution of the Taba curriculum development project. The Social Studies, 85(4), 149–159. doi:10.1080/00377996.1994.9956294

Grant, S. G., Swan, K., & Lee, J. (2017). Inquiry-based practice in social studies education: Understanding the inquiry design model. New York, NY: Routledge.

Hess, D. E. (2009). Controversy in the classroom: The democratic power of discussion. New York, NY: Routledge.

Hess, D. E., & McAvoy, P. (2015). The political classroom: Evidence and ethics in democratic education. New York, NY: Routledge. ← xviii | xix →

Hirsch, E. D., Kett, J. F., & Trefil, J. S. (1988). Cultural literacy: What every American needs to know. New York, NY: Vintage Books.

National Council for the Social Studies. (2010). National curriculum standards for social studies: A framework for teaching, learning, and assessment. Washington, DC: Author.

National Council for the Social Studies. (2013). The college, career, and civic life (C3) framework for social studies state standards: Guidance for enhancing the rigor of K–12 civics, economics, geography and history. Silver Spring, MD: Author.

National Council for the Social Studies. (2016). A vision of powerful teaching and learning in the social studies. Social Education, 80, 180–182.

Parker, W. (2015). Social studies today: Research and practice (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

Parker, W., Lo, J., Yeo, A. J., Valencia, S. W., Nguyen, D., Abbott, R. D., … Vye, N. J. (2013). Beyond breadth-speed test: Toward deeper knowing and engagement in an Advanced Placement course. American Educational Research Journal, 50(6), 1424–1459.

Parker, W., Mosborg, S., Bransford, J., Vye, N., Wilkerson, J., & Abbott, R. (2011). Rethinking advanced high school coursework: Tackling the depth/breadth tension in the AP US government and politics course. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 43, 533–559.

Taba, H., & San Francisco State Coll., C. A. (1966). Teaching strategies and cognitive functioning in elementary school children. Distributed by ERIC Clearinghouse.

Williams, R. (1976/2014). Keywords: A vocabulary of culture and society. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ← xix | xx →

← xx | xxi →



Unsettling the Social Studies



[This] is not a dictionary or glossary of a particular academic subject … [i]t is, rather, the record of an inquiry into a vocabulary: a shared body of words and meanings … I called these words Keywords in two connected senses: they are significant, binding words in certain activities and their interpretation; they are significant, indicative words in certain forms of thought … Certain other uses seemed to me to open up issues and problems, in the same general area, of which we all needed to be very much more conscious.


You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.




XXXIV, 382
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2018 (July)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2018. XXXIV, 382 pp., 5 tables

Biographical notes

Daniel G. Krutka (Volume editor) Annie McMahon Whitlock (Volume editor) Mark Helmsing (Volume editor)

Daniel G. Krutka is Assistant Professor of Social Studies Education at the University of North Texas. He earned his doctorate in instructional Leadership and academic Curriculum from the University of Oklahoma. Dan has published in numerous social studies and educational technology journals. Annie McMahon Whitlock is Assistant Professor of Elementary Education at the University of Michigan-Flint. She earned her doctorate in curriculum, instruction, and teacher education from Michigan State University. Annie has published journal articles on civic engagement, place-based inquiry, and curriculum integration. Mark Helmsing is Assistant Professor of History and Social Studies Education at George Mason University. He earned his doctorate in curriculum, teaching, and education policy from Michigan State University. A member of various editorial boards, Mark publishes extensively on curriculum and popular culture.


Title: Keywords in the Social Studies