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Comparative Education Vol. 41, No. 2, May 2005, pp. 117–149

INTRODUCTORY ARTICLE

Comparative Education Vol. 41, No. 2, May 2005, pp. 117–149 INTRODUCTORY ARTICLE Globalisation, knowledge economy and

Globalisation, knowledge economy and comparative education

Roger Dale*

University of Bristol, UK

r.dale@bristol.ac.uk and

(print)/1360-0486

Taylor & Francis

Comparative

Introductory

RogerDale

Taylor

Education

Francis

Article

Ltd

Ltd

10.1080/03050060500150906

CCED115073.sgm

412000000May

0305-0068

2005

2005

Group

(online)

This paper seeks to introduce this special issue by setting out what seem to be some of the major theoretical and methodological issues raised for comparative education by the increasing promi- nence of the discourses of the knowledge economy, which, it is argued, represent a particularly strong version of globalisation and its possible relationships to education systems, and hence an especially acute challenge to comparative education. It focuses on the possible implications of these changes for each of the three elements of ‘national education system’. In terms of the ‘national’ it discusses the nature and consequences of methodological nationalism, and emphasises the emerg- ing pluri-scalar nature of the governance of education. In terms of ‘education’, it argues that educa- tion is now being asked to do different things in different ways, rather than the same things in different ways. In terms of ‘system’, it is suggested that the constitution of education sectors may be in the process of changing, with a development of parallel sectors at different scales with different responsibilities. Overall, the article suggests that we may be witnessing the development of a new functional, scalar and sectoral (non zero sum) division of the labour of educational governance. Finally, it addresses the question ‘what is now to be compared’ and considers the consequences for both ‘explaining’ and ‘learning’ through comparative education.

The articles in this special issue all raise questions, albeit in rather different ways, about the relationship between globalisation and comparative education. These are, of course, not new issues. Globalisation has not only become a central and pervasive element of the comparative education literature, but has been recognised, to the surprise of some, as giving it a new lease of life, while the implications of globalisa- tion for comparative education have been the focus of numerous publications. How, then, does this special issue, which introduces the idea of the ‘knowledge economy’ into the mix, hope to contribute something new or different to the discussions around the subject? The fundamental rationale and aim has been to focus on the knowledge economy (KE) as simultaneously an increasingly common component of the discourses around globalisation and education, an apparently ubiquitous

* Graduate School of Education, 35 Berkeley Square, Bristol, BS8 1JA, UK. Email: r.dale@bristol.ac.uk

ISSN 0305-0068 (print)/ISSN 1360-0486 (online)/05/020117–33 © 2005 Taylor & Francis Group Ltd DOI: 10.1080/03050060500150906

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phenomenon, a concept that is denotative rather than connotative, and one that seems intrinsically related to education. The rationale for this concentration is that by focusing on one such central element, or expression, of the relationship between globalisation and education it may be possible to reveal more precisely some key features of the relationship that tend to be concealed when it adopts a broader focus. In the body of this paper I will go on to argue that in order to achieve that it is neces- sary not so much to work through, or apply, the apparent relevance of the KE, as to question and problematise the concept. The concept is addressed most directly in Susan Robertson’s paper, where it is the dominant question. Robertson demonstrates in a number of ways how the idea of the KE represents a qualitative shift from the assumptions and policy prescrip- tions of the 1980s and 1990s. She does this through a detailed analysis of ‘agenda- setting’ documents produced by the World Bank and the OECD on the topic of the KE, and of some recent attempts in the UK to suggest policy responses to those agendas. Her paper offers three crucial insights on the meaning and implications of KE discourses. First, she makes clear that there is not a single KE discourse, but several, albeit linked by a common basis in emphasising the importance of ‘knowl- edge’ compared with ‘production’. She illustrates this effectively through a detailed comparison of work done by the OECD and the World Bank under this heading, particularly in their different views of the role of markets in bringing about the required changes. Second, she emphasises that notwithstanding these differences, or the relative imprecision of the concept, the KE discourse has powerful material effects. The responses of the major international organisations provide good exam- ples of this, as they both develop and legitimate the discourse and use it to structure the agenda that their members follow. An example she uses is the readiness of Ministries of Education around the world to respond to the OECD’s scenarios for future schooling. And third, she makes clear that the implications of the KE for education systems are extremely far reaching. The changes seen to be required by the KE would entail the transformation of education systems as we know them; even radical reform of them would be insufficient to bring about the shift from ‘education in institutions’ to ‘learning anywhere, any time and just for me’. David Pang’s article approaches the issue from a rather different angle. It offers a good example of the ‘conversion’ of education and how it might most obviously contribute to KEs, from a direct to an indirect mode. He discusses in detail how the relationship between education in and for ‘Asia’ is mediated not only, or necessarily most prominently, through any of the three most frequently mentioned channels: the transfer or emulation of practices recognised as successful in the case of the ‘tiger’ economies; the sale of education as a commodity on the global market; or as part of an attempt to capture the benefits of brain drain. Rather, in a strange and distorted echo of the ‘education as legitimation of “proper” statehood’ argument (see, e.g. Finnemore, 1993) he shows how, concurrently, though with little apparent reference to each other, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the USA all promoted discourses and encouraged practices that he places under the generic term ‘education for Asia literacy’, for the purpose of persuading their Asian trading partners that they were

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not interested in trade relationships alone, but in ‘getting to know them’ better culturally. As he shows clearly, this exercise was not taken very seriously by either group of potential trading partners; the ‘Asian’ partners were unpersuaded of the sincerity of the moves and the ‘western’ partners never backed up their rhetoric with either adequate resources or time commitments. All of this leads him to conclude that the contribution of education to the KE was in this case a rather indirect one, albeit in somewhat different ways in the four countries, that he is able to compare most effectively. In their paper on the ways that UNESCO education statistics have changed over the past decade, Roser Cussó and Sabrina D’Amico establish clearly both that and how the KE is more than a discourse open to multiple interpretations. They are able to trace the processes through which the focus, purpose and possibilities of UNESCO’s educational statistics were changed as a result of pressure from the other main collectors and brokers of educational statistics, the OECD, EU and World Bank. The objective of this change was clear; to shift the emphasis and basis of UNESCO education statistics from one that was designed to enable the charting of progress of nation-states towards achieving education as a human right to one where it became possible to create indicators on which all nation states could be compared and against which their progress could be benchmarked. This places great power in the hands of the agencies setting up the statistical variables that would determine what the ‘proper’ outcomes of education should be, and to produce a basis on which to judge states’ progress towards the achievement of these normative targets. These could also be used as a basis for their recognition as ‘proper’ states that is more precise and ‘remediable’ than the kinds of mutual recognition involved in, for instance, the global isomorphism of curricular categories (see Meyer et al., 1992). In particular, it enables a set of definitions of education to be established at a suprana- tional level—that are in this case linked to the achievement of a global KE—that are distinct from and parallel with existing national definitions and assumptions, but often equally demanding and important. We will return to this important point below. Ka Ho Mok’s article addresses the fascinating transformation of China over the past quarter century. In the context of the other articles in this issue, and of the argument to be advanced below about the relationship of globalisation and moder- nity, it is notable that the discourse of modernity did not feature centrally in the transitions he describes, either in education or in governance. We get the sense that China was to a degree insulated from both the peaking and the apparent decline of modernity over the past half century. As a result, the forces of capitalist globalisa- tion are not so entwined with the problems of modernity, though, as Mok indi- cates, the problem of redesigning and reorienting state–civil society relations and governance structures that had reached their apogee in the Cultural Revolution was a massive one. At the centre of these changes is the shift from what he calls ‘institu- tional transition’ to ‘structural transformation’ in the Chinese state and its relation- ship with civil society since it set out on the ‘capitalist road’. He argues that this transition has been an extremely radical one, that has seen not merely an

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accommodation to the market, or even a market enhancing approach on the part of the state, but a ‘market accelerationist’ state, and that this has had very far-reaching consequences for the governance, and, less directly, the mission and purpose, of higher education. He shows in detail how ‘economies of knowledge’ were intro- duced into higher education, through changes in the processes of governance, that while they have distinct similarities to those referred to in the west as ‘privatisation’, are inflected by local cultural and institutional forms, such as the ‘minban’ schools, which it is difficult to assimilate to, or to describe in terms commensurable with, those used in the west. Collectively, these papers provide important evidence on how discourses and prac- tices associated with the KE become ‘globalised’. We can see evidence in each of them for both of the two approaches that have been identified elsewhere (Dale, 2000) as possessing the three main requirements of adequate theories of the relationship between globalisation and education—a theory of globalisation; a theory of educa- tion; and a theory of the relationship between the two. The main thrust of that paper was to compare not sets of events, such as national systems of education, but expla- nations of those events, and specifically to contrast these two approaches, referred to as ‘Common World Education Culture’ (CWEC) and ‘Globally Structured Agenda for Education’(GSAE). However, one of the outcomes of that exercise has been the recognition both that these approaches may have more in common than was elabo- rated there, and that there is much to gain from recognising that they have different, but very important, foci, both of which are necessary to an understanding of the issues currently confronting educational systems, structures, processes and practices at many levels. It may be worth developing further what they have in common (which is also in some ways the basis on which the real differences between them can emerge). The most important feature they have in common in the context of this paper is their understanding of the relationship between the global/world level and the level of the nation state, which enables them to focus on the national level without falling prey to methodological nationalism. For CWEC, both the state and education systems are intrinsic features of, and endogenous to, the world polity, based on the values of western modernity, that are not reducible to the intentions or interest of any individual nation state, which they take as the source of the ideas and processes that underlie the isomorphism they see between national education systems. However, they see also see these values, etc., being ‘diffused’ across nation states, rather than being endogenously developed within them and hence representing exogenous influ- ences in the case of each individual nation state. The GSAE follows a similar line of reasoning, seeing the globally structured agenda for education as similarly not reduc- ible to the interests and intentions of any individual nation states, but created by them collectively, in the common interest of those transnational forces currently controlling the global economic system, and constructed as external influences on national systems. Underlying these arguments is the recognition that rather than merely to a degree complementing each other, these CWEC and GSAE are offering explana- tions of two separate sets of phenomena, that are so closely intertwined as to be

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typically taken as symbiotic. Thus, we might see the CWEC and GSAE as offer- ing separate and overlapping accounts of the distinct but mutually imbricated and mutually reinforcing structures and processes of modernity and capitalism respectively. Modernity, as conceived in the work of the world polity theorists (see, for example, Meyer et al., 1992, and especially Chabbott, 2003, who provides the most valuable account for present purposes) has among its most central elements the prominence of the nation-state, national education systems and the individual. Chabbott points out that in the CWEC approach, the

repertoire of action or role for actors like nation states (and) international organisations operating at the global level … is severely constrained and heavily scripted by an over- arching cultural framework or world culture (which) defines what constitutes ‘rational’ alternatives and choices in a relatively narrow way for any given actor. (Chabbott, 2003, p. 6)

Those values are located in the eighteenth-century Enlightenment and are charac- terised above all by the idea that it was possible to understand the social world ratio- nally and on that basis to ‘improve’ it; the idea of progress was central. In Chabbott’s account, ‘This culture of rationality materialised in two critical ways’—through the development of scientific explanations and through ‘rational purposive action, or organization, to promote progress through science becom(ing) obligatory’ (Chabbott, 2003, p. 6). Education and the state are clearly central to both of these developments, and may indeed be seen as the key institutions of modernity, the key symbols and materialisations of the ambition to shape and improve the social world in a progressive direction. Capitalism is an economic system that always requires ‘extra-economic embed- ding’; its fundamental character means that it is unable to provide the necessary conditions of its continued expansion. (For an attempt to spell out the implications of this for education systems, in the form of three ‘core problems’, of supporting accu- mulation, ensuring societal cohesion and legitimation, that permanently confront capitalist states, see Dale, 1989). It is, for instance, necessary for markets, one of the core elements of capitalism, to be sustained by extra-economic arrangements. This requirement, is not, however, a prescriptive or determining one; its fulfilment may take, and has taken, multiple forms. This has resulted in many different state forms and national varieties of capitalism, for instance, while capitalism has shown itself able to survive under very different sets of social arrangements, for instance family forms, and different levels of patriarchy and feminism. A major overlap with moder- nity occurs in the state, which is not only, as has just been noted, a key institution of Modernity, but also the key means through which the extra-economic conditions of capitalism are installed. It is important to note that these arguments are not taken to imply zero-sum relationships between either diffusionist and structural approaches, or global-local influences on education policies. It is clear that processes recognisable as diffusion continue to make a significant contribution to how states justify or modify their

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education systems, and that nation states are still responsible for the great majority of decisions taken about their education systems. However, as will be elaborated below, the fact that (a) decisions are still taken at national level does not necessarily imply that that is where the power over those decisions lies (because of the operation of agenda setting, preference shaping and rules setting at other levels), (b) existing forms continue apparently more or less unchanged does not alter the fact that new forms, located at different scales, are coming to exist beside them, (c) existing forms do not necessarily have the same meaning as they have previously (for example, monarchies) and (d) the nature and breadth of the areas across which international differences may emerge is narrowing under the KE. For an example of these processes we need look no further than the changes taking place in the nature and structures of universities in response to the KE. Universities are not only becoming more alike, but they are becoming more alike in ways that are different from those that formerly constituted the basis of their similarity and comparability. They may still be regarded as global institutions, but they are global institutions of a kind quite different from the institu- tions they were in the era of modernity. (see, e.g., Delanty, 2003) It is important to note here that this is not an argument for a totalising convergence theory. Conver- gence may occur or not across a wide variety of sites and instances, such as policy or practice, funding or regulation. The existence of convergence at one level does not imply convergence at all levels or instances. Having made the point about the symbiotic relationship between modernity and capitalism, it is important to point out that this does not mean that both carry equal explanatory weight in every instance. This is especially so in the case of the KE, where we might briefly point to two arguments that suggest that capitalism is more signifi- cant than modernity in explaining current changes in education systems (see also the arguments in Dale, 2000). The first, more modest, argument is that the values and purposes underpinning the KE represent a considerable narrowing and thinning of the values of modernity as they are usually expounded. Further, it is difficult to see that this results from the process of diffusion and reception itself. While the epistemic communities seen as the agents of diffusion clearly change over time, it is difficult to account for the rapidity of the move towards a KE, and the associated narrowing of the base values in terms of such a process. It seems more plausible to accept evidence such as that provided by Cussó and D’Amico, of a structured and focused shift. The more radical argument has been put forward with particular force and originality by Boaventura de Sousa Santos (2004). He contends that we are currently witnessing the end of modernity and that the values that characterised it no longer carry the conviction they have enjoyed for centuries. The ideas of progress, distributive justice, emancipation, the ability of the state—or any body—to deliberately ‘engi- neer’ change, are all now obstacles to understanding and to improving the lot of the mass of humanity who have never been able to enjoy their fruits. In particular, the neo-liberal ideas that drive the KE can be seen as representing what he calls an ‘anti-utopian utopia’, a utopia that finds its telos in the final achievement of its own project.

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The argument so far, then, is that the shift to neo-liberalism, reflected in the idea of the KE, does reflect a particularly strong version of globalisation and its possible relationships to education systems, and hence an especially acute challenge to comparative education. Neo-liberalism is a form of accumulation that contains imperatives for all areas of social life, with education particularly powerfully affected in its multiple roles of support for accumulation, maintaining cohesion and identity and legitimating the system as a whole. What we are witnessing is not just changes, albeit important ones, in the contexts of education, that have to be adequately taken into account and reflected in our accounts of the relationship between globalisation and education, but conscious efforts to develop new supranational forms of ‘educa- tion’ that consciously seek to undermine and reconfigure existing national forms of education, even as they run alongside them, and even in their shadow. In the remainder of this paper I will attempt to outline and elaborate the double challenge with which globalisation in the form of the KE confronts comparative education. This double challenge, which underlies in different ways all the papers in this special issue on globalisation, knowledge economy and comparative education, is both theoretical and metatheoretical. Theoretically, it provides the intellectual chal- lenge of how to come to terms with what may be seen as a ‘new world for comparative education’ (Dale, 1999a), a world that is no longer unproblematically to be appre- hended as made up of autonomous nation states, an assumption that had been fairly fundamental to much work in comparative education, indeed, the basis of the comparisons it undertook. Metatheoretically, the new world exposed more starkly a tension over comparative education’s main purpose, that has also been a central feature of work in the area from its earliest times, a tension that may best be described as existing between ‘learning from comparing’ and ‘explaining through comparing’. These issues will be discussed in the final section, where I will address the question ‘what is now to be compared?’ In the next part of the paper I will focus on the theoretical issues that globalisation in the form of the KE, that is not reducible to either existing national or institutional structures, processes and practices, raises for comparative education. I shall focus on two issues in particular that derive from comparative education’s focus on national, education, systems. The first involves considering a significant objection to the critique of methodological nationalism, that despite all the globalisation talk, by far the majority of education policy decisions are taken at national level. The second issue involves addressing what might be called the ‘institutional parochialism’ of compara- tive education. Following this, I will address metatheoretical responses to the idea of the KE and the multiple challenges it represents for comparative education. In particular I will develop and elaborate what I will refer to as two ‘methodological and theoretical gestalts’ that draw on Robert Cox’s (1996) distinction between ‘problem-solving’ and ‘critical’ theories. And in conclusion, I will ask ‘What is now to be compared in comparative education? What are the comparable objects of its research? How now does it explain? And what is now to be learned from and through comparative education?’

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Globalisation, knowledge economy, comparative education and methodological nationalism by default

I have suggested above both that the KE can be seen as a supranational phenome- non and that the basis of much comparative education is predominantly national. The argument in this section can be briefly and quite simply stated as follows. Comparative education (along with social science as a whole) has to a considerable degree (and with significant exceptions such as world-system theorists of various kinds, and comparative ethnographers whose focus has been on the level of practice rather than policy) been characterised by, based on, and in its turn reinforced, a largely unproblematised ‘methodological nationalism’ and an associated ‘embedded statism’, and its analyses have been systematically shaped and formed by that basis and association. Though it may be argued that this approach may have been more justified in earlier eras than it appears in a global era, and that the existence of some- thing referred to as globalisation has been registered and recognised in comparative education, that recognition has often tended to take the form of acknowledging a new and significantly altered context for what remain essentially nationally based studies. The argument being advanced here is understanding the relationship of KE and education requires moving beyond a ‘field and context’ approach to one that recognises and seeks to explore the relationships between different scales of governance. As will be argued more fully below, the two component elements of ‘methodological nationalism’ are tightly linked, arguably to the point of dependence, conceptually and methodologically, certainly to the point where the ‘national’ assumption or basis sets severe limits to any alternative analysis to the comparative. Thus, while it will be argued that both that the limitations of methodological nationalism are exposed by globalisation, and that it is especially inappropriate as a means of coming to terms with issues raised by globalisation, the problems it poses for comparative education do not begin with globalisation, but are intrinsic to the approach.

Methodological nationalism

The term ‘methodological nationalism’ was originally coined by Herminio Martins (see Wimmer & Glick Schiller, 2002, p. 327). It is usually used to refer to the taken- for-granted assumption that nation states and their boundaries are the ‘natural’ containers of societies and hence the appropriate unit of analysis for social sciences, which is how I will interpret it below. However, it is important in the context of this introduction to distinguish it from another set of assumptions to which it is contin- gently related, particularly in comparative education. This set of assumptions takes the ideas of western modernity and the western nation-state as the norm against which other arrangements are compared. This is particularly significant in compara- tive education, since it is often the stance assumed in single nation/education system studies, where the comparator element of the study is to be found implicitly in the author’s own (typically advanced western) national system. Here, methodological

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nationalism is not to be regarded as a nationally specific ‘style’ or approach, as in the French or German ‘School’ of work in a particular area or discipline, for instance, but rather as a form of methodological perspectivism, as exemplified most notably in the concept of ‘orientalism’, seeing the world through a particular (national) conception of it, and imposing that conception on it. The basis and background of methodological nationalism (and the frequently asso- ciated term, ‘embedded statism’, which will be discussed below) are crucial to under- standing both its forms and its consequences for social science (in which comparative education is here included). It is widely recognised (e.g., Taylor, 1996; Wimmer & Glick Schiller, 2002) that

modernity … was cast in the iron cage of nationalized states that confined and limited our own analytic capacities (and that) the epistemic structures and programmes of mainstream social science have been closely attached to, and shaped by the experience of modern state formation. (Wimmer & Glick Schiller, 2002, pp. 302, 303)

And they go on,

That nationalist forms of inclusion and exclusion bind our societies together served as an invisible background even to the most sophisticated theorizing about the modern condi- tion. The social sciences were captured by the apparent naturalness and givenness of a world divided into societies along the lines of nation states (Berlin 1998). What Billig (1995) has shown for everyday discourse and practice holds true for grand theory’s encounters with the social world as well: because they were structured according to nation- state principles, these became so routinely assumed and ‘banal’, that they vanished from sight altogether. (Wimmer & Glick Schiller, 2002, p. 304)

Wimmer and Glick Schiller identify three distinct modes of methodological national- ism which they refer to as ‘ignorance’, naturalization’ and ‘territorial limitation’. In the first mode, methodological nationalism ignores or takes for granted the ‘national framing of states and societies … It has produced a systematic blindness towards the paradox that modernization has led to the creation of national communities amidst a modern society supposedly dominated by the principles of achievement’ (Wimmer & Glick Schiller, 2002, p. 304). In the second mode they show through brief vignettes of the historical development and assumptions of disciplines such as international relations, economics, history and anthropology how the ‘national container’ assumption has been taken for granted and treated as an unproblematic resource rather than as a topic to be problematised. Here it is important to note that the concepts ‘transnational’ (literally across nations) and ‘international’ (literally between nations) commonly used in comparative education, both assume a ‘national’ level or basis of activity; their focus is what happens across and between nations. By contrast, the concept supranational (literally above nations) denotes a separate, distinct and non-reducible level or scale of activity from the national (see Dale, 2000). The non-reducibility of ‘interventions’ or ‘policies’ to the activities or interests of any particular nation-state that is implied by the term supra- national is one of the characteristics that most clearly defines the qualitative difference between it and trans- or inter-national, and that indicates a key element of what is to be understood by globalisation.

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The clearest example here is that of ‘Europe’. The European Union now represents a distinct scale of political activity, irreducible to the aggregate of the interests of the member states that make it up. This does not mean that all members have equal influence on the decisions by which they are all equally bound, but it does entail recognising the the EU is more than an extension of particular national interests. Decisions made, and policies agreed, at the European scale are not reducible to, or explicable in terms of, the intentions and interests of individual member states. What Wimmer and Glick Schiller refer to as the naturalisation mode of method- ological nationalism reinforces and strengthens the approach and its assumptions through taking the nation as the basis of its accounts and analyses. The focus of social science, as well as its assumptions, tends to be the national level; it tends to be national policy and needs that guide research activity. As John Agnew puts it,

The major social sciences in the contemporary Western university—economics, sociology and political science—were all founded to provide intellectual services to modern states in, respectively, wealth creation, social control and state management. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that they find difficulty in moving beyond a world unproblematically divided up into discrete units of sovereign space. (Agnew, 1998, p. 66)

More than this, the national is the level at which statistics of all kinds are collected; methodological nationalism operates both about and for the nation-state, to the point where the only reality we are able to comprehensively describe statistically is a national, or at best an inter-national, one. In the case of comparative education, it might be argued that while it is clear the unit of analysis is most often 1 a single national state/education system, the typical focus on societies/systems other than their own may tend to immunise its practitioners somewhat from this element of method- ological nationalism. However, we need also to bear in mind (a) that the ‘other’ societies are frequently implicitly being compared with (and often intended to shed light on, or provide ‘lessons’ for) the researchers’ own; and (b) that it is not unknown, to say the least, for comparative educationists to work as consultants to national governments of the societies they are studying, or to various international agencies with an interest in the policies adopted by those governments. Further than this, however, historically comparative education has promoted as well as assumed the nation-state as the basis of analysis, and prescription, through the close link between the discipline and modernisation theories of development and (significantly) ‘nation-building’. These theories saw modernisation and economic development dependent on individual states’ following the path to growth, and adopt- ing the values, that had been adopted by the developed nations. States were, and frequently still are, seen as the means through which their nations would be built. And finally, we see the tenacity of methodological nationalism assumptions even in studies of globalisation. Many such studies posit at least implicitly a zero-sum rela- tionship between the global and the state, or see nation-states implicitly or explicitly as relays or mediators of the ‘effects’ of globalisation. The global level is one of the directions taken by a posited ‘hollowing out of the state’ (though it is important to note that this concept does not necessarily entail a zero-sum relationship; it may also involve a conception of a division of labour between the levels, an idea which will be

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elaborated further below. Again, the case of the European Union is particularly instructive here, as the clearest example of the severing of the link between sover- eignty and territory, which is an absolutely central feature of the relationship between supranational and national levels (ibid). Regional law takes precedence over national law; the European Central bank sets interest rates for all the members of the Euro. The social science response to this unprecedented change has been to focus above all on ‘the domestic (nation-state) effects of EU policy’. While it is important not to underestimate the contribution of such work, it is also crucial to recognise that it does not tell the whole story—for instance, and very simply, what are the ‘effects’ of both nation-states and their relationship with Europe, on the idea and substance of ‘Europe’ (see Dale, 2004). The third mode of methodological nationalism that Wimmer and Glick Schiller identify, ‘the territorialization of social science imaginary and the reduction of analytic focus to the boundaries of the nation-state … and the correspondingly lost sight of the connections between such nationally defined territories’ (2002, p. 307), may also appear to apply less directly to comparative educationists than to those in the other disciplines they discuss, given the discipline’s explicitly comparative purpose. There are, though, three important issues raised here. The first relates to the necessary linking of the ‘national’ and the comparative. In essence what is argued here is that the comparison encouraged /required by method- ological nationalism represents at best only one, relatively weak, form of elaborating the connections between nation states that Wimmer and Glick Schiller refer to. The point is that the limitation of the unit of analysis to the nation-state makes the nation- state ‘serve as the fundamental point of reference against which other structures and processes are defined (as ‘local’, subnational’, international’, ‘transnational’ or global’)’ (Crofts Wiley, 2004, p. 79). This means that ‘social action is seen as occur- ring primarily within and secondarily across (state boundaries)’ (Shaw, 2003, p. 37). What methodological nationalism involved ‘was a slippage from the general to the particular without bringing into the open the problematic abstraction involved in isolating the national case’ (p. 38). This restricts the elaboration of the connections between states to comparison of the phenomena seen to be common to more than one of them, while at the same time the unproblematic, unexplicated nature of the state and society mean that it is not possible to approach the phenomena relationally, for instance. This is crucial, since nation-states are formed relationally within particular political-economic structures, and take their much of their coherence and identity from their relationships with others (see Crofts Wiley, 2004, p. 83). As a result,

when the general pattern of social relations on a world scale came to be represented by more than a single case, it was … by the comparative method. Comparing different partic- ular social forms came to substitute for understanding the relations between them and the general structures within which these comparisons might be explained. (Shaw, 2003, p. 38; emphasis in original)

This also, of course, means that the comparability of the phenomena internationally cannot be assured, since investigation of any basis of comparability beyond the lexical is precluded by methodological nationalist assumptions (in this case, the ‘naturalising’

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assumption that not only are states the proper object of inquiry but that they are all the same in all relevant respects). The second issue concerns the assumption of the unimportance of the territorial base that has characterised social scientific accounts of nation-states. The argument about the ‘asocial’ character of space in social theory, certainly as compared to the major emphasis on the importance of time—its reduction to a mere platform on which social processes took place—has been made by many social geographers, but for our present purposes the account given by John Agnew is especially useful.

At one time it made sense to some to see the path of history or social change as a series of ‘stages’ (as, for example, in Rostow’s (1960) famous account of ‘the stages of economic growth’) inscribed upon state territories. Today, however, economic develop- ment and social change are increasingly determined by the relative ability of localities and regions to achieve access to global networks. In this context, understanding power as if it is attached singularly and permanently to state territories makes no sense. But the commitment to an unchanging spatiality of power retains considerable appeal. Not only does it allow for a restriction of politics to an unproblematic ‘domestic’ space, it also provides an attractive intellectual and political stability by equating space with the fixed territories of modern statehood which can then serve as a template for the investigation of other phenomena or as the basis for organizing political action. Putting state territoriality in question undermines the ‘methodological nationalism’ that has lain behind the workings of both mainstream and much radical social science. (Agnew, 1998, p. 66 )

The third point is rather different, and more specific to comparative education. It concerns the homogenising of nation-states, or the flattening of divisions and distinc- tions that are internal to them. These internal divisions and distinctions are particu- larly obvious and relevant in studies of education, where, for instance, it is very common to see references to the ‘American’, the ‘Australian’, the ‘British’, the ‘Canadian’ or the ‘German’ education systems. None of these is a homogeneous or single national system of education. Education is not a federal, but a regional or provincial matter in all of them. This might be seen to present particularly attractive opportunities to comparative educators, with the ‘pre-controlled variables’ it offers, but while the recognition of intra-system diversity may be acknowledged—often in the form of a caveat—it appears to have led to remarkably few studies 2 (at least in comparative education journals) comparing different ‘sub-national’ education systems. This may be taken as further evidence of a methodological nationalist frame- work shaping the discipline—especially since the countries listed above provide a very high proportion of the literature on comparative education.

Embedded statism

The concept of methodological nationalism is often coupled with that of ‘embedded statism’, sometimes to the point where they are seen as almost interchangeable; for instance, Shaw suggests that Taylor (1996), who seems to have coined the term, ‘means (by it) something similar to “methodological nationalism”’(Shaw, 2003, p. 39). However, there does appear to be some value in retaining a distinction

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between them, since while methodological nationalism fundamentally ‘ assumes the coincidence of social boundaries with state boundaries’ (Shaw, 2003, p. 37), its rela- tionship with ‘statism’, the assumption that the state is the source and means of all governing activity, though it is typically taken for granted, is essentially contingent not necessary. Thus, it is important to consider the assumption of embedded stat- ism, to question rather than to assume, the ability of the state to act, which is as much a part of comparative education (and other social sciences) as methodological nationalism, separately from it. The core and basis of embedded statism in social science is the post-war social- democratic welfare state. While this was pre-eminently a national state, the scope of state activity was very wide, from intervention in the economy, to the monopoly of provision of welfare services. The state would mitigate the worst excesses of capital- ism and ensure at least a minimum of social protection. It governed, from above, implicitly alone, and primarily through making policy. What is surprising is that despite the thorough critiques of this view of the state, some central assumptions remain, especially perhaps the idea that the state governs through policy; if things are to be changed, it is to the state that we expect to look to bring about those changes. The alternative approach involves a focus on governance rather than the state. By governance I refer to the ‘coordination of the coordination’ of the work of governing, usually, but crucially for the argument of this paper and this volume, at a national level. This concept of governance rests on the assumption that the work of governing can be broken down into independent sets of activities, and that these activities need not all be performed by the state. In the case of education, the activities of governing might be broken down into funding, provision, ownership and regulation, and these activities might be carried out by the market, the community or the household as well as by the state (see Dale, 1997). However, one useful point that emerges from the discussions of governance is that they reveal that it is mistaken to assume that there was no ‘governance’ before 1989 or whenever. Rather, certainly in public sector areas like education, the (state- dominated) forms taken by the activities and their coordination that we have begun to refer to as governance became so familiar as to disguise what lay beneath/behind them. With the recognition that the state had never ‘done it all’, and that at least the great majority of the activities of governing were not dependent on the state doing them, the question becomes, as it essentially always should have been, what forms of governance (as ‘the coordination of coordination’) are in place where, and why, and what is the place and role of the state within them. In a sense, the state is moved from being explanans to explandum, though it is crucial to note that it is still largely the state, through its role as ‘coordinator in chief’, that determines by whom and under what conditions government will be accomplished. To put it another way, one of the benefits to be gained from looking closely at governance is that it reveals the degree to which we have tended to, in a sense, fetishise the post-war social democratic state and to see departures from it as pathological rather than trying to theorise them.

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A ‘practical’ rebuttal of the perceived problems of methodological nationalism

The key point to be addressed here is that, essentially, despite the criticisms that may be made of methodological nationalism and embedded statism, the focus on the national level still makes most sense, given the empirical fact that most if not all decisions about the shape and direction of national education systems continue to be taken by the states themselves. This is undoubtedly the case, and it is reinforced by the fact that there is little sign of convergence between nation-states in their decisions and responses to the common challenges that they face. This is made very clear by both David Pang and Ka Ho Mok in their contributions to this issue. Pang shows how a commonly perceived problem—that of the need to enrol their education systems in the battle for access to burgeoning Asian markets—though explicitly recognised in those terms by the education systems in question (those of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and USA), took quite contrasting forms in those countries, while Mok shows China following a quite distinctive road, deliberately stepping away from key elements of the western model. Does this not suggest, then, that talk of the shortcomings of methodological nationalism is not only misplaced but misleading? The response to be advanced here recognises the strength of the challenge provided by the empirical evidence we have, but sees it as enabling the case to be made more strongly. There are three main arguments here. The first suggests in essence that ‘the national is no longer the same’ in significant ways. Though what appear to be the same institutions and processes may be present, they are the same only at the level of perception, rather than that of reality (in the sense in which it is used by critical realists, to apply to the level at which events (insti- tutions, processes, etc.) are generated; see Sayer, 1997, 2000). Their meaning is changed by the new set of conditions and circumstances in which they are located, the most significant of which in this context is the global KE. The clearest example of this is probably ‘the economy’. Though states retain the trappings (institutions such as Ministries of Finance or Economic Development, processes such as annual budgets, etc.) that were found in the era when there was a ‘ national’ economy’ over which they had some discretion, (a) in an era of globalisation and regionalisation such discretion is drastically limited; crucial decisions that were once taken at national level are now taken in supranational fora (e.g., exchange rates and the Euro); and (b) the institutions themselves are no longer (if they ever were) shaped exclusively by national path dependencies, but also by their location and roles in global and/or regional economic interdependencies The second argument draws on Steven Lukes’ three-dimensional theory of power. Lukes (1974) argues that while the power to prevail in decision making—which is essentially what we see in national education policy decisions—is the most obvious and accessible form of power, it is far from being the most effective or significant. He posits two other dimensions of power that he argues are more significant. The first is the power to define the agenda around which decisions are to be made. This, he

Globalisation, knowledge economy and comparative education 131

argues is a more effective form of power than that found in the power to make decisions, since it determines which issues decisions are to be taken about—and more importantly, which issues are not exposed to the decision-making arena. It is very clear that power operates at this level in the area of education policy, as in other areas of policy, and always has. However, the point to be made here is that it can no longer be taken for granted that the power to set agendas for national education systems is held or exercised exclusively at a national level. The decisions may still be taken at a national level, but the issues on which they are taken may have been determined at a different scale. Here, the agenda setting influence of the OECD has been widely acknowledged (see, e.g., Papadopoulos, 1994; Henry et al., 2001; Rinne et al., 2004), and it is clear that the EU is in the course, particularly since the Lisbon summit, of strongly influencing the agendas of member states. (see for an ‘official’ view, Hingel, 2001). We can also see evidence of Lukes’ third dimension of power at work in shap- ing the agendas and decisions of nation-states about education policy. What Lukes means by the third dimension of power is the ability to set ‘the rules of the game’, in which agendas may be formed and who will be involved in them determined; more broadly we may see this as setting the rules of ‘what education is about’. The clearest example of this is the development of international education statistics, performance indicators and benchmarks, which act to frame what is to be regarded as of impor- tance and value in education systems. Roser Cussó and Sabrina D’Amico’s contribu- tion to this issue demonstrates this dimension of power in action very nicely. They show how, in changing the basis and scope of its statistics in response to pressure from other international organisations, UNESCO ipso facto changed its mission and the conception of what counts as education that it had embraced and promulgated since its creation, and which had formed the ‘rules of the game’ and the definitions of the purposes of education for developing countries especially over that period. The new ‘rules of the game’ implied by the changing statistical base will undoubtedly be inter- preted and acted upon differently by different nation-states. That is to be expected, and it may appear that nothing has changed, as agendas are set and decisions taken at national levels. However, those agendas and decisions are not ‘the same’ as the agendas and decisions determined in what might be called ‘pre-globalisation’ epochs, because they are framed by the supranational agendas that drive and are given substance in the changed bases of international education statistics. This argument does not, of course, as has been pointed out above, mean that education policy has moved from the national to the supranational level; this is not a zero-sum, either national/or supranational, game, as may be further illustrated by the third argument. One way in which this is especially evident is that nation-states them- selves are by some distance the most active agents in establishing the supranational organisations, and in collectively (though with clearly unequal power) setting the rules of the game and the transnational agendas to which all nation-states will respond. And it is also important to note that the rules and agendas that are set in these organisations very clearly reflect the different power of their members; as has been made clear in studies of the World Bank, OECD, EU, and more recently the WTO/GATS, as they are involved in education, they may be seen as being made by

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and in the interests of the already powerful countries, and as mechanisms for setting the rules of incorporation into the global economy as it impinges upon education. Once again, however, it is not necessary to posit a wholesale domination of national education systems by a group of international organisations, albeit one whose members subscribe to broadly similar aims and goals for the world economy, and which is dominated by the interests of its most powerful members. Rather than a zero-sum game, I want to suggest, what we are witnessing is a devel- oping functional, scalar and sectoral division of the labour of educational governance. The simplest way to indicate what this means is through a diagram (Figure 1) that encapsulates the arguments about methodological nationalism by default, and embedded statism, in pointing to the pluri-scalar nature of educational governance. What the diagram shows is that the activities, or functions, of educational governance

SCALE OF GOVERNANCE SUPRA- NATIONAL NATIONAL SUBNATIONAL INSTITUTIONS GOVERNANCE ACTIVITIES OF CO- FUNDING OWNERSHIP PROVISION REGULATION
SCALE OF
GOVERNANCE
SUPRA-
NATIONAL
NATIONAL
SUBNATIONAL
INSTITUTIONS
GOVERNANCE ACTIVITIES
OF
CO-
FUNDING
OWNERSHIP
PROVISION
REGULATION
ORDINATION
STATE
MARKET
COMMUNITY
‘FAMILY’

Figure 1.

Pluri-scalar governance of education

Globalisation, knowledge economy and comparative education 133

can be divided into four categories (that are for the sake of exposition taken to be mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive), funding, provision, ownership and regulation. The diagram also reflects the argument made above, that it is neither ‘natural’ nor essential that all these activities are carried out by the state, or by any other single agency. Rather, they may be carried out by any of the broad set of agents indicated—state, market, community and household, either separately or in combi- nation—and this is broadly what is meant by governance here, the coordination of coordination. The other feature of the diagram, which is the key one in this argument, is that we can also recognise that especially in a period such as that we currently inhabit, these functions may also be carried out at a number of different scales; they are no more confined to the national than they are to the state. So, the purpose of the diagram is to assist in recognising the pluri-scalar nature of educational governance, that education policy can no longer be seen as the exclusive preserve of individual nation-states, and to indicate a basis for addressing and understanding more clearly the consequences of that. And if we take due note of the arguments about the relationship between global and national (and subnational) scales not being zero-sum, we are led to expect and look for some kind of division of labour between scales. However, on top of that, the diagram also illustrates the argument that the activities of governance do not comprise a homogeneous whole, but can be broken down into the categories listed. Hence, we might then expect a functional, as well as a scalar division of labour. What this means, then, in a nutshell, is that any rescaling of the governance of education policy is likely to be selective, in terms of the core problems of education. Thus, we might expect those activities of education systems that are related to the predominantly ‘national’ elements of the embedding of capitalism, such as societal cohesion (social order+national identity) and legitimation, which comprise a major part of the policies and processes that education systems have traditionally been concerned with, to continue to be exercised at national level—albeit in a context that is itself altered by the ‘shaping’ power of the international organisations. On the other hand, we may also expect, in an era of a supranational KE and the reduced importance of ‘national’ economies, some of the activities of education associated with the support of accumulation to be increasingly governed at a supranational level, in response to the ‘globally structured agenda for education’. But even here, as we have suggested above, we should not assume that national states and governments will play no role; they will necessarily be involved in interpreting and translating into nationally appropriate forms and priorities the conse- quences of the shaping ‘rules’ of the international organisations.

Figure 1.

Pluri-Schiller governance of education

Institutional parochialism

In an earlier paper (Dale, 1994a) I referred to what I called ‘disciplinary parochialism’ as one of the factors inhibiting the development of the study of education policy. By this I meant the tendency to base the study of education policy on approaches from within the field of ‘education’. The problem with this is that it leads to analyses of education policy that assume or share the definition of the topic with those within the

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field; this leaves little space for problematising ‘education’ theoretically, on the basis of approaches from other disciplines. One illustration of this tendency was the relative paucity of references to books, journals or articles that did not have ‘education’ in their title. By institutional parochialism I refer to the tendency within all education studies, including comparative education, (a) to make existing education systems, institutions and practices in isolation the dominant focus of their analyses, and (b) not to problematise these systems, institutions and practices, but to assume that lexical equivalence is sufficient guarantee that the objects being studied are sufficiently similar to make them comparable without further investigation. There are three issues here. The first concerns the ‘floatingness’ of ‘education’ as a signifier. One of the things that makes it difficult for there to be effective dialogue on education, within as well as between countries, is that it carries so many different meanings and connotations. One response to this has been to suggest attempting to find a basis for commensurability, or a technique of translation, between and across different uses of the term in the form of a list of ‘education questions’. These will be elaborated in the final section of this paper, but for the purposes of this section they entail asking two questions concerning what are the boundaries and responsibilities of the ‘education sector’ in any given nation-state; what processes and practices fall under the administrative heading of education? and how are the responsibilities associated with education defined and allocated, administratively? It might seem that the answers to these questions should be either the same or very close, but empirically it is clear that there is a range of different answers. In terms of the first question, for instance, Ministries of Education have a variegated range of associated responsibili- ties, including the Church, Employment, Health—and if we move to the European level, Culture, Sport and Multilingualism. And in terms of the second we find significant differences in what are defined as ‘educational’ responsibilities and how they are allocated. One notable and important example here is the conception of the relationship between education and social policy, which varies from very close (e.g., UK) to non-existent (e.g., Germany; see Allmendinger & Leibfried, 2003). The point is clear; assuming that ‘education sectors’ are comparable across nation-states may be misleading. The second point follows from this. If there is a range of answers to the questions posed above, it presumably follows that if different education sectors do not have the same meaning from one country to the next, but are part of societally specific patterns of government/divisions of labour of governing, they will enjoy different relationships with other sectors. And given this, the scope, priorities and responsibilities of educa- tion sectors, and their structures and processes, will be shaped by those relationships. Or, to put it more simply, we cannot understand education sectors and their workings in isolation. Both these points suggest that caution is required in attempting to compare educa- tion sectors cross-nationally. However, that conclusion is a general one, and not specific to the relationship between comparative education, globalisation and the KE. The third point addresses this question, in suggesting that the concept of ‘education sector’ itself may be being both redefined and rescaled in response to the demands of

Globalisation, knowledge economy and comparative education 135

the KE. We see elements of this in all the papers in the issue. It is most explicit in Robertson’s emphasis on the perceived need to transform or reconfigure existing education systems. Cussó and D’Amico show both how this is currently being brought about through the statistical redefinition of what is to count as an education sector and the potential of such redefinition. Pang shows it in his account of the extension of the responsibilities of the education sector to include foreign policy. And Mok shows it in what might be seen as a ‘step change’ from a communist system to one that does not follow many of the ‘orthodox’ parameters of education sectors as shaped and reflected through international organisations such as UNESCO and OECD. The argument I wish to advance here is that both the national and the institutional (sectoral) features of existing education systems are under severe scrutiny in respect of their contribution to the continuing development of the KE . Discussion of the changes sought is currently somewhat speculative, but (a) the ambition to bring them about is sufficiently evident, and (b) the effect of that ambition on existing arrange- ments is sufficiently recognised to suggest that comparative educationists need to be aware of it now in their analyses. Robertson’s paper provides a full account of the aims and processes of the OECD, and I will consider briefly the somewhat contrasting case of the EU as an institutional driver of these changes. The two organisations are somewhat different in their goals and processes (see Noaksson & Jacobsson, 2003; Marcussen 2004a, b) but they share a basic critique of existing education sectors that is based largely in their perceived inability to respond to what are seen as the needs of current and future economic developments. It should be emphasised here that my focus is on what I take to be criticisms of the intrinsic shortcomings of the orthodox, and taken as universal, form of education sectors of individual nation states, rather than of particular policies advocated or adopted; indeed, it is at the system/sector level that most of the work of the two organisations is concentrated. In the case of the EU, the Lisbon declaration (see European Council, 2000), with its call for Europe to be come the most dynamic and competitive knowledge-based economy in the world, with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion, heralded a major shift in the status of national education systems within the Union. Previously, education had been assumed to be, under the European treaty, an exclu- sively national responsibility, but the Lisbon statement included the promulgation of sets of Concrete Future Objectives for Education Systems, and stated that these could only be met at the level of the Community and not by individual Member States (MS). This was followed by the publication of a detailed working programme designed to ensure that education and training systems achieve what is required of them by 2010 for the achievement of the Lisbon goals and especially the competitive- ness agenda .While these do contain clear policy features they also contain clear implicit assumptions of deficits in individual national education sectors that can only be remedied by a collective Community programme. More recently, MS education systems have been castigated for their backsliding and the slow pace of their response to the goals set them by the EC, with the explicit threat that this endangers the achievement of the Lisbon goals (Commission of the

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European Communities, 2003). The emphasis placed on the importance of the European level, with its implication of a separate sector, is an especially notable feature of the Commission’s paper, though it must be acknowledged that that empha- sis is somewhat weaker in the Council’s paper on the same subject. We should also note that the responsibility for reaching these goals is not divided by sector but is clearly, if quite implicitly, regarded as a cross-sector problem as well as being regarded as a European level problem, whose solution cannot be reduced to the aggregated responses of individual MS. Thus both the scale and the sector of the response are shifted from the national level. Susan Robertson’s article reinforces this view, and makes plausible the idea that what may be emerging is a European KnELL (Knowledge Economy and Lifelong Learning) sector that overlaps with but is sepa- rate from and not reducible to the institutional forms, discourses and practices of any individual national education sector or any combination or distillation of them. This essentially emphasises ‘new discourse over old institutions’. Many elements of that new discourse are present in the list below. Collectively, they show that the European KnELL sector is a qualitatively different creature from national education sectors; for instance, it covers education from cradle to grave as a single system, rather than following such traditional distinctions as those between primary and secondary levels. These elements are further developed through the discourses around ICT as the medium, message and symbol of what ails existing sector concepts, institutionally as well as discursively, and of the direction that it is necessary to take, a direction that cannot be followed by existing education sectors. Similarly, Life Long Learning discourse undermines some fundamental features of existing sector assumptions, including that education sectors are age-related and to a degree, age-defined. In very brief summary, it might be suggested that the hypothesised European KnELL sector would differ from the national education sectors in several respects with emphases on:

Learning not education Competence not content Particular (just for me) not universal The nature of its involvement of/with ICT Specific, employment related, focus, rather than comprehensive social policy, nation building, etc., scope.

On the basis of Robertson’s account of the OECD strategies (and of some responses to them being developed in the UK) and this brief analysis of EU activity in the educa- tion field, it does not seem too far-fetched to suggest both that existing education sectors are seen as obstacles to the necessary development of education’s contribution to learning societies and knowledge economies, and that moves to improve that contri- bution will entail changes to education sectors as currently conceived. And even if these shifts are difficult to discern at present, the discursive force of the arguments discussed above do reinforce the suggestion that the integrity of education sectors as we have known and assumed them is something that now needs to be problematised.

Globalisation, knowledge economy and comparative education 137

What is now to be compared?

The overall theme of this issue is that globalisation, especially in the form of the KE, seems set to radically change our conceptions of education as a topic. In this conclud- ing section, I want to consider the implications of this change for comparative educa- tion, and how comparative education might help us to explain and learn from those changes. I have suggested that as a result of the development of the KE, two of the fundamental assumptions of comparative education, its national base, and its topical focus, education, may be altering in highly significant ways. These changes are reflected in changing scales and changing sectoral definitions, respectively. The chal- lenge they present to comparative education, then, is essentially contained in the question, ‘What is now to be compared?’ If we cannot assume sufficient stability and coherence in either the topical or the locational base of our activities, how should we go about the work of constructing categories that are comparable in the ways that we have assumed heretofore that national systems and education sectors are comparable? This is a question that requires a response based on solid and coherent theoretical grounds. I shall try to address it in two stages. In the first I will set out in tabular form, without significant elaboration, the theoretical and metatheoretical bases on which the response will be based. In the second part I will seek to demonstrate in more detail how relevant theory might be articulated to provide a possible answer to the question of what now is to be compared, and a possible means of organising answers to that question. The basis for this attempt is developed through an attempt to articulate by means of a contrasting set of theoretical and metatheoretical gestalts, that expand on some of the insights contained in Robert Cox’s classic distinction between problem-solving and critical theory. Cox outlines the distinction thus:

(problem solving theory) takes the world as it finds it, with the prevailing social and power relationships and the institutions into which they are organized, as the given framework for action. The general aim of problem solving is to make these relationships and institutions work smoothly by dealing effectively with particular sources of trouble. Since the general pattern of institutions and relationships is not called into question, particular problems can be considered in relation to the specialized spheres in which they arise. Problem-solving theories are thus fragmented among a multiplicity of spheres or aspects of action, each of which assumes a certain stability in the other spheres (which enables them in practice to be ignored)when confronting a problem arising on its own. the strengths of the problem- solving approach lie in its ability to fix parameters to a problem area and reduce the statement of a particular problem to a limited number of variables which are amenable to relatively close and precise examination. The ceteris paribus assumption, upon which such theorizing is based, makes it possible to arrive at statements of laws or regularities which appear to have general validity but which imply, of course, the institutional and relational parameters assumed in the problem-solving approach.

(critical theory) is critical in the sense that it stands apart from the prevailing order of the world and asks how that order came about. Critical theory, unlike problem-solving theory, does not take institutions and social power relations for granted but calls them into question by concerning itself with their origins and how and whether they might be in the process of changing. It is directed toward an appraisal of the very framework for action, or problematic, which problem-solving theory accepts as its parameters. Critical

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theory is directed to the social and political complex as a whole rather than to the separate parts. As a matter of practice, critical theory, like problem-solving theory, takes as its starting point some aspect or particular sphere of human activity. But whereas the prob- lem-solving approach leads to further analytical sub-division and limitation to the issue to be dealt with, the critical approach leads toward the construction of the larger picture of the whole of which the initially contemplated part is just one component, and seeks to understand the processes of change in which both part and whole are involved. (Cox, 1996, pp. 88–89)

It is suggested that the critical set offers considerably more theoretical purchase than the problem-solving set, and the proposal below is based on that setoff assumption. The critical assumptions are based heavily in a critical realist (see, e.g., Sayer, 1997, 2000; Danemark et al., 2001) metatheory, and are associated with the attempt to develop a theory of the relationship between globalisation and education that draws on the ideas of a globally structured agenda for education and a functional, scalar and sectoral division of the labour of educational governance.

What is now to be compared? (i) Explaining through comparing

In seeking to answer this question I am guided by the recognition that it reflects both the issues for comparative education that I mentioned initially, explaining through comparing and learning from comparing. The first issue contains two separate requirements—determining the proper objects of comparison and ensuring that they are cast in forms that are comparable. I will seek to develop the proper objects of comparison by elaborating and exem- plifying the approaches contained in the right hand column of Table 1, which contain the essential metatheoretical basis for so doing. The first point insists that both the problem and the solution must be made problematic. This is a crucial issue, since it requires us to define what the problem we are addressing is. This sounds obvious, but, as the papers in this issue demonstrate, that is far from the case. In a very clear sense, all of them ‘made’ the problem they addressed rather than ‘taking’ it (Seeley, 1971). Pang showed that what was at issue was not so much education policy but the implications for education policy of it being incorporated into foreign policy. Cussó and D’Amico classically make the issue of education statistics topic rather than resource. Mok declines the possibility of seeing China’s new education patterns as a step on the road to development as conceived in the west and instead treats them in their own terms. Robertson shows how misleading are interpretations of the KE that take it at face value and base their analyses on determining how far it has succeeded in its assumed objectives. The second and third points in Table 1 essentially concern the question of learn- ing rather than explaining and will be considered below, but the next two items, on the place and importance of structure are central to defining the proper objects of comparison. The first suggests that we need always to bear in mind that agency is never entirely voluntary but always takes place within structures, that need to be investigated separately. An interesting example here is the question of convergence,

Globalisation, knowledge economy and comparative education

139

Table 1.

Methodological and theoretical gestalts

PROBLEM SOLVING THEORY

CRITICAL THEORY

Relationship between Problem and Solution*

Solution considered from within framework that defines problem

Both problem and solution made problematic

Relationship between theory and action

Theories and actions seen as discrete, disconnected activities

Theories generate frameworks for action

Relationship between frameworks for action and actions

Frameworks for action remain constant overtime

Frameworks for action change over time and according to interests

Relationship between structure and agency

Agents autonomous of structures

Structures shape conditions/contexts for agency

Nature of social structure

Tends towards equilibrium through change (systems/ functionalism)

Inherent contradictions in structures open possibility for new agents and forms of agency, and transformation

Level of Abstraction Level of Focus Level of Analysis

Empirical generalisation ‘Actual’ Education Politics

Concept formation ‘Real’ Politics of Education

Dimension of Power

Decision making

Agenda setting ‘Rules of the Game’; Preference shaping

Scalar assumptions

Methodological nationalism; Embedded statism

‘Society’ not confined to national; functional scalar and sectoral division of labour

Evaluation of

Directly ‘policy-related’

Outcomes; broad conception of

consequences

Outputs; ‘Effects on’; Programmes

consequences; Focus on relational issues Analysis of emergent properties; contingent/unintended consequences; Programme Ontologies

Consequences for Comparative Study (from Theret, 2000, p. 111)

Comparison of elements Comparison of systems at the surface of the institutional forms but Comparison of these structures not only according to the modalities of their own historical development

Comparison of relations between these elements and the autonomous systems of these relations; Comparison at a level of abstraction which makes it possible to clarify underlying structures common to these multiple forms; but also their synchronic assembly in communicational systems producing societal coherences.

*The first set of five premises about the metatheoretical assumptions of Cox’s account are taken from Robertson (2000)

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especially perhaps as observed through the processes of the EU in the area of social policy. Here, the means of bringing about ‘convergence’, the Open Method of Coor- dination (Dale, 2004), seeks explicitly to bring about convergence with diversity— regional convergence on targets, benchmarks, etc., but national diversity in how these are achieved. Agency is positively encouraged, but within a broader structure (that is itself located within the overall goals of the EU), which means that none of them separately can be a proper object of comparison. The other point about struc- ture is also very important. It insists that that structures are never static and that we need to look for contradictions within them, which is crucial, but more importantly it refers to their ‘emergent properties’—the range of potentials that they contain but which are not necessarily realised. KE itself may be seen both as an emergent prop- erty and as containing a very significant set of potential emergent properties. The levels of abstraction, focus and analysis, and the dimension of power that is selected to explore, are all crucial to both determining the proper objects of compar- ison and that they are comparable. They all assume that the ‘facts’, what we observe, and how it is conventionally understood, cannot be taken at face value, but are as they are by dint of their relationship with underlying structures and mechanisms that generate them. Thus empirical generalisations, such as correlations, or constant conjunctions of events, or accounts at the level of the actual, do not ‘explain’ anything, and thus are not proper objects of comparison, but rather lead us to formulate concepts, hypotheses and theories that enable us to identify what are proper objects of comparison. The examples of the CWEC and GSAE that were described above demonstrate clearly what is involved in constructing a proper object for comparison based on these assumptions. I have already devoted some space to the contrasting methodological nationalism/ embedded statism with the idea of the functional and scalar division of the labour of educational governance, and also to the limitations of an ‘effects on’ approach to evaluating outcomes, but it may be useful to elaborate briefly on the idea of programme ontologies, since it speaks very directly to all three of the issues consid- ered in this section. The distinction made by Ray Pawson (2002) between ‘Programmes’ and ‘Programme Ontologies’ very helpful. Pawson’s immediate purpose in that paper was to devise an approach to the evaluation of ‘social interven- tion projects’, such as those to do with road safety, discouraging smoking and so on, in such a way as to be able to indicate more clearly not just whether and to what extent, but also why and under what circumstances they ‘worked’. Briefly Pawson’s argument is that in attempting to find a basis for generalisation of successful (or rejection of unsuccessful) social interventions and innovations, such as anti-crime initiatives, for instance, it is crucial to distinguish between what he calls the ‘Programme’ and the ‘Programme Ontology’. Basically, the Programme is the inter- vention, or policy, or innovation, that is being introduced or implemented with a view to bringing about beneficial changes in some social phenomenon. The ‘Programme Ontology’, by contrast, accounts for how programmes, policies, etc., actually work. It is essentially the ‘theory’ of the programme as opposed to its content (and ‘the theory’ is as likely to be implicit in this case as in most others). As Pawson

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puts it, ‘It is not ‘programmes’ that work; rather it is the underlying reasons or resources that they offer subjects that generate change. Causation is also reckoned to be contingent. Whether the choices or capacities on offer in an initiative are acted upon depends on the nature of their subjects and the circumstances of the initiative. The vital ingredients of the programme ontology are thus its ‘generative mechanisms’ and its ‘contiguous context’ (2002, p. 342; emphasis in original). While there are clear substantive differences between Pawson’s evaluation project and an attempt to specify more closely the relationship between supranational and national levels in the area of education policy, his arguments do point to what may be seen as a crucial element of a proper object of comparison. Finally, the contribution from Bruno Theret that completes Table 1 constitutes a very useful bridge between the proper objects of comparison and the means of making them comparable. In a sense, it acts as a summary for the former and a stimulus to, and framework for, the latter. The means I propose to address the second part of the question, ensuring that the proper objects of comparison will be cast in forms that are comparable, is a consider- ably modified version of the ‘Education Questions’ (EQs) that I have used to try make conceptions of ‘education’ commensurable (see, e.g., Dale, 2000, where the educa- tion questions were introduced as a means of making it possible to compare the CWEC and GSAE accounts of the relationship between globalisation and educa- tion). The problem of commensurability of meanings of ‘education’ is a major and unfortunately neglected one. 3 This neglect means that it is always difficult to know whether different accounts of education are actually addressing a comparable cate- gory. This was a sufficiently large issue before the era of globalisation, but one of the consequences of the incursion of the KE, with, as the articles in this issue have shown, a more or less clear intent to alter the meaning if not the vocabulary of education, has been a qualitative exacerbation of the problem. And it is this that has been the imme- diate stimulus for this revision of the EQs. The basic idea behind the EQs is that rather than assuming/accepting that we all mean the same thing when we are talking about education, we pose a set of precise questions that can frame discussions and provide a basis for coherent discussion and systematic comparison. These questions are set at four levels (both to reflect the range of meanings that might be attached to ‘education’ and to make clear the complexity of the questions, none of which can be answered from within a single level alone). These levels are those of educational practice (‘who is taught what, by whom, etc.’); education politics (‘how and by whom are these things decided, governed, adminis- tered, managed, etc.’); the politics of education (on what bases and in whose interest are these things determined, controlled, and with what relationships between other sectors and scales, etc.’); and the level of outcomes (‘with what public, private, personal consequences, etc.’). However, the need for this revision is not confined to updating the problem of commensurability. It is also made necessary because the changes made in response to the KE—for instance, the emphasis on learning anywhere, any time, in any organisa- tion—are such as to require a substantive modification of the content of the education

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questions, in order to reflect the changing assumptions about educational practice and its organisation, as well as the scale and scope of the politics of education. In addition, some revision of the EQs was necessary to remedy shortcomings and lacunae in the original formulations that have become apparent as a result of changes such as are signified by the KE. Finally, it needs to be stated that the EQs still assume a national basis for ‘educa- tion’. This is because that is the level at which empirically we still find the greater part of the activities that come under the heading of education taking place. This does not mean adopting a wholly, or exclusively, national focus, however. Nor does it mean that the national is the only or the most important scale of analysis. Nor does it entail any assumption of comparability between national levels; it is still important to problematise the comparability of the categories we use within and across levels and scales. With those caveats I will now set out the EQs that are intended to enable us to show what is now to be compared and a basis for carrying out such comparison.

Level 1: educational practice

Who is taught, (or learns through processes explicitly designed to foster learning), what, how and why, 4 when, where, by/from whom, under what immediate circum- stances and broader conditions, and with what results? How, by whom and for what purposes is this evaluated?

Level 2: education politics

How, under what pattern of coordination (funding, provision, ownership, regula- tion) of education governance, and by whom, and following what (sectoral and cultural) path dependencies, are these things problematised decided, administered, managed?

Level 3: politics of education

What functional, scalar and sectoral divisions of labour of educational governance are in place? In what ways are the core problems of capitalism (accumulation, social order and legitimation) reflected in the mandate, capacity and governance of education? How and at what scales are contradictions between the solutions addressed? How are the boundaries of the education sector defined and how do they overlap with and relate to other sectors? What ‘educational’ activities are undertaken within other sectors? How is the education sector related to the citizenship and gender regimes? How, at what scale and in what sectoral configurations does education contribute to the extra- economic embedding/stabilisation of accumulation? What is the nature of intra- and inter-scalar and intra- and inter-sectoral relations (contradiction, cooperation, mutual indifference?)

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143

Level 4: Outcomes

What are the individual, private, public, collective and community outcomes of ‘Education’, at each scalar level?

What is now to be compared? (ii) Learning from comparing

Having sought to outline an answer to the question of how might comparative educa- tion help explain the KE, I will turn finally to considering how comparative education as a basis of learning might be affected by the latest form of globalisation. The comparative education literature makes frequent reference to the long history of the exchange and diffusion of educational ideas and practices, and of what countries can learn from each other and about themselves through international comparison. It is not wholly a caricature (see, for instance, the list of what might be learned from comparative education in Phillips, 1999, pp. 15–16) to describe such learning as international, problem-solving, mimetic and focused at a ‘system’ level. The arguments made above suggest that it may be necessary to revisit each of these assumptions in the light of the development of a global KE. The need to do this is recognised clearly in the volume in which Phillips’ paper appears, largely on the basis of the generation and misuse of international comparative indicators of educational achievements, which Alexander (1999) describes in his introduction to the volume as ‘downright dangerous’ (p. 9). I want here to trace through some of the consequences of the global KE for this kind of approach summed up by Phillips’ list (again, it must be emphasised that these are not seen as zero-sum alternatives; what I will discuss should be seen as running alongside (and in some cases undermining) the existing approaches and assump- tions). I will do so under four headings: the relationship between problems and solutions; the scales at which and from which we may learn; the need to recognise discourses as well as practices; and the nature of the learning taking place.

The relationship between problems and solutions

This relationship is altered in the KE in the relative priority given to problems and solutions. Most learning from comparing has tended to focus on learning solutions to problems perceived as common to, or comparable between systems. Associated with this is the assumption that the learning will be initiated by the ‘receiving’ system (see Dale, 1999b). The global KE has altered this in quite profound ways. In a nutshell, (a) the onus shifts towards a concentration on systems’ ‘learning’ about the nature of the problems confronting them, rather than what might constitute a useful solution to problems that are identified by them, and (b) the source and initiation of this process shifts from national to supranational scale. A good example of this is the EU’s Open Method of Coordination, where the problem confronting MS is constructed by the European Commission at the European level, and where also the Commission acts as the broker in chief of what will count as a common solution; the fact that it is made

  • 144 R. Dale

very clear that these solutions will be implemented through nationally diverse means further reinforces the nature of the shift.

Differences of scale

I have already made a number of points around this topic and I will not revisit them here. In particular, I will take as read the arguments around the focus on the national scale. It is, however, clearly important for what we may learn from comparing that the advance of the global KE may mean that we cannot have the same confidence in the integrity or the scope of activities of national systems, respectively the issues of sector and scale of governance. What we are seeing is not only a reorientation of national systems, where they respond to new sets of challenges, but their partial reconstitution under the processes of a scalar reallocation of responsibility for some activities and the construction of new parallel sectors of activity that include education. The conse- quences of these changes for what we might learn from comparing are many. They include, for instance, comparing what elements of education systems are rescaled, or allocated to new sectors, and comparing all the scales of activity and not just the national. In this latter case, Susan Robertson’s article provides a good example of what may be involved, through her comparison of the ways that the OECD and the World Bank deploy and seek to implement rather different concepts of the KE. It is also important to consider the scale of educational activity at which learning is assumed to take place. As has been pointed out quite clearly by Michael Crossley (2002), most comparative educationists tend to make ‘national systems’ the focus of their comparisons, rather than educational practices. This has particular importance for the concept of ‘convergence’, which is often invoked in discussions of the conse- quences of the KE. What such discussions often overlook is what is taken to be converging; for instance, is it policies, processes or practices, which can vary quite independently of each other? The tendency to combine these different activities as if they were one is perhaps another legacy of the focus on the national system, typically taken as a homogeneous, coherent and integrated whole, but it is one whose limita- tions become evident as the national assumptions are weakened.

Discourses and practices

As noted above, Robin Alexander emphasised the need to see pedagogy as a discourse as well as a practice and this becomes especially important across the board as we move into a KE. He also (Alexander, 2000) demonstrated the importance of going beyond the typically national focus and assumptions of comparative education, where educational discourses, if they were explicitly recognised at all, were assumed to be highly local and based in largely implicit elements of culture and values, in exposing the nature, sources, extent and consequences of the differences between them. It could, though, still be maintained that their effects remained essentially local, but this, too, has changed with the KE, which itself is taken in Susan Robertson’s paper as a bundle of overlapping discourses with sufficient unity to re-inscribe the meanings

Globalisation, knowledge economy and comparative education 145

of educational activities at all scales. This also enables us to move away from the ‘effects on’ calculation of discourses and policies, in that it makes it possible—and shows that it is desirable—to ask questions not (only) about the effectiveness of, for instance, ‘network’ or ‘market solutions’, but about the circumstances in which such solutions are invoked—for the point about the discourses is that they suggest solu- tions as well as framing the problem. Once again, then, what we may learn from comparing is about the construction of the problem as well as about its solutions; this is again exemplified in both Cussó and D’Amico’s article on the changing bases of what is to count as education, and Robertson’s article, through the comparisons of the World Bank and OECD discourses of the KE.

Forms of learning

One of the interesting issues around changes in what might be learned from compar- ing is that it involves something similar to what Giddens (1984) referred to as a ‘double hermeneutic’; as is clear from the previous examples, what we learn from comparing often involves changes in what ‘systems’ learn. This is especially evident in this case, where what can be learned from comparing concerns how systems learn (this section draws in part on Dale, forthcoming). One useful starting point for this discussion is DiMaggio and Powell’s (1983) distinction between three forms of organisational learning—what they refer to as mimetic, when the learning is based on the emulation of existing practices, normative, where the learning is based on accepted norms or principles, and coercive, where learning results from one or other form or degree of external pressure. It seems plausible to suggest that in most of the learning from comparing literature, the assumption is that learning will take place through mimesis. There are, of course, well-rehearsed arguments (see Dale, forth- coming) to suggest that such direct policy borrowing or transfer is unlikely to be successful. The point here, though, is that the existence of ‘models’ to be emulated can no longer be taken for granted, as both the nature of problems changes and the scales at which they might be addressed multiply. What we are witnessing, it may be suggested, is the development of forms of learning that might fall under the broad heading of coercion. The best example of this is again the Open Method of Coordi- nation (OMC), often referred to as a form of ‘soft governance’ that contributes to the ‘subtle transformation of states’ (Jacobsson, 2002). This involves mechanisms such as benchmarking, peer review and the development of best practice, where in each case a European rather than one or more national definition is used, constructing an alternative and distinct model to be followed that is common to all MS and at least sits alongside all national models (Jacobsson (2002) provides one interesting empiri- cal account of this process and of the multiple ways in which it impinges on national programmes). And while there is little evidence so far on the effectiveness (in the narrow sense used above) of the OMC in changing domestic policies and practices, the issue may be more about the wider effect of the strategy. One argument advancing this point is that of Claus Offe, who talks about the OMC as a means of MS ‘unlearn- ing’ their domestic solutions, and suggests that such unlearning may be ‘the hidden

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curriculum of the OMC’ (see Offe, 2003). What this suggests for learning from comparing is a focus on the mechanisms of learning themselves, as well as on the range of responses to them (especially when, as was pointed out above, in the case of the OMC there is an explicit commitment to a diversity of means of achieving the collectively agreed objectives).

Conclusion

In this paper I have sought to point to some possible consequences of the spread of discourses of the knowledge economy—where ‘knowledge’ takes over from ‘produc- tion’ as the key driver and basis of economic prosperity—for comparative education and the kinds of contribution it may make. These consequences appear to be both radical and far reaching, and to require a matching response from comparative educationists. Based on analyses of the nature of the changes implied, I have attempted to indi- cate what may be some components of that response. Underlying the arguments I have advanced has been a conception of the need to problematise anew what we mean by education and comparison, as well as the knowledge economy as a form of globalisation. One of the main arguments I have advanced has concerned the value of the ‘national’ as the appropriate basis and scale of analysis for comparative education, and the state as the exclusive actor in governing education. While recognising that these assumptions are not adopted by all practitioners of comparative education, the nature of the changes associated with the knowledge economy may be too radical to be accommodated under even weak or modified forms of methodological national- ism. It is not just a matter of recognising that both that the association between territory and sovereignty is no longer to be taken for granted and that ‘the action’ now takes place at other levels than the national state, important though that is, but of reflecting that knowledge economy discourses are, as Roser Cussó and Sabrina D’Amico’s and Susan Robertson’s papers in particular show, currently driving efforts to develop new understandings of education that consciously seek to undermine, and to a degree replace, existing national forms and understandings of education. The projects of the supranational organisations are different from and not reducible to the education systems of national states—which is not to say, as has been repeated several times in this paper, that there is a zero-sum relationship between national and supra- national scales in the governance of education. The point therefore, is to focus on the relationships between the scales, to problematise and examine the nature of the differences between them, and to investigate the nature of the functional and scalar division of labour—what gets done where and why—between them. There are similarly radical implications for the understanding of what education now means. I have discussed this through the device of the Education Questions, but it is important to recognise that the nature of the questions as well as the to-be-expected nature of the answers have changed in major ways; education is being asked to do differ- ent things in different ways, and not just the same things in different ways. It has also

Globalisation, knowledge economy and comparative education 147

been suggested that another element of the change required of education is in what constitutes an education sector. Though their constitution has always differed nation- ally, raising difficult issues of comparability and commensurability, national education sectors have all, in different ways, as Chabbott (2003) points out, both accepted a broad mandate, and been organised in particular ways, to ‘deliver’ a common educa- tion experience based on the values of western modernity, such as universalism. What we may see emerging alongside—not in place of—existing national education sectors, are projects like the hypothesised KnELL, that cross existing national sectoral bound- aries in pursuit of goals for which those boundaries are an obstacle. And this may produce different and distinct, but mutually linked and interdependent, sectors where the activities and practices of education are framed and carried out. What all this may mean for comparative education is far from clear. What is clear is that comparative education may expect some considerable upheaval in the nature of its topic and focus—but also that this may be accompanied by renewed intellectual excitement for comparative education as explanation, and extended practical value in what may be learned through it.

Notes

  • 1. See, for instance, Broadfoot (1999, p. 23).

  • 2. The work of the Edinburgh-based David Raffe on ‘Home Internationals’ is one example of intranational comparison. See Raffe (1999).

  • 3. One major exception to this neglect is Robin Alexander’s brilliant tour de force, Culture and pedagogy (Alexander, 2000), where he goes deeply into the different meanings and connota- tions of ‘education’ and of ‘pedagogy’ in the five countries he studied—England, France, India, Russia and the USA.

  • 4. The formulation ‘how and why’ is intended to catch Alexander’s distinction between pedagogy as discourse and teaching as an act, though they are inseparable; pedagogy then ‘encompasses both the act of teaching and its contingent theories and debates’ (Alexander, 2001, p. 513). See also the discussion of the concept of the ‘Irreducible Minimum of pedagogic discretion in the teaching-learning transaction’ in Dale (1994b).

Notes on contributor

Roger Dale is Professor of Sociology of Education at the Universities of Auckland and Bristol. He is Co-editor of Globalisation, Societies and Education.

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