Imagining Life after Capitalism
Imagining Life after Capitalism
Today we talk about powerful knowledge, a concept that has sparked a major debate about what should be taught in schools. My guest is Michael Young, a professor of Sociology of Curriculum at UCL’s Institute of Education.
Michael’s work in the sociology of education has been criticized by both the Right and the Left. That’s why I wanted to sit down with him to unpack what he even means by powerful knowledge and how it applies to schools. Where did the idea come from? How has his own thinking evolved over his career?
Michael Young has worked at the Institute of Education for over 50 years. A student of Basil Bernstein, he has had a major impact on the field of sociology of education since the publication of his first book, Knowledge and Control, in 1971. Much of our conversation today focuses on his 2008 book, Bringing Knowledge Back in.
Citation: Young, Michael, interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 188, podcast audio, February 24, 2020. https://www.freshedpodcast.com/michaelyoung/
Will Brehm 2:14
Michael Young, welcome to FreshEd.
Michael Young 2:16
Thank you. I am very delighted to be involved.
Will Brehm 2:19
So, you have this idea of powerful knowledge and it, sort of, has taken on a life of its own, in many ways. Could you just define the concept of ‘powerful knowledge’? How would you tell a student, for instance, what this idea is?
Michael Young 2:34
I think that there would be many definitions, and what I can do is say something about the starting ideas that, in fact, led to it. And then, I suppose what I wanted to do when I came up with the idea, and I do not know if it is uniquely me … but there was … I was focusing more on educational research in sociology, and I thought that it was important that, in fact, we refocused how we approach questions about the curriculum in sociology. And so … I came up … I gave a talk at the Institute in about 2007, 2008, about the future direction of research. And … it … and I made this distinction, which I think is a very important one, between knowledge of the powerful, and powerful knowledge. And, on the whole, the sociological tradition has been to focus on knowledge … the curriculum, as knowledge of the powerful, and that comes from, basically, a left Marxist tradition, which basically sees the knowledge that people get access to as ideology, masking the nature of the societies that, in fact, they’re in.
Will Brehm 3:48
So, for instance, it would be the people in power who are writing the curriculum, writing the syllabi, writing the textbooks, their knowledge, their interests are being reproduced inside the curriculum. And that is the knowledge of the powerful.
Michael Young 4:02
And, in a sense, what the sociologists did was to expose this. And I felt that there was time … we had to stop. Because, actually, it was an oversimplification this… was… Although that knowledge of powerful ideas got some truth in it, it is also true that, in fact, people can get quite other kinds of things from being educated in a school system … university system … in a Western capitalist society. And, what they can get is access to if I call ‘powerful knowledge’. So, in a sense, there is a tension within education systems in capitalist society, on the one hand, wanting to perpetuate a particular social order, but also having an alternative … but … to give access to criticism of that social order. And this is an argument that, in fact, Basil Bernstein makes quite powerfully in his work.
Will Brehm 4:57
Right. So, what would be an example, in today’s world, of powerful knowledge, as you see it?
Michael Young 5:03
Johan Muller, who’s a colleague I work with from Cape Town, he and I decided … we had to try and write a paper, actually trying to answer that question. And, I think the important thing to say is that, in fact, and this is where Bernstein comes in, is that, in fact, the meaning of powerful knowledge depends on the … area … the field of knowledge you’re talking about. And, in a sense, there is a tendency for the model from the natural sciences, to be seen as a definitive one, across the whole of the field of knowledge. Because, unequivocally, if we think back to industrialization, the knowledge that is transformed the society is the scientific knowledge, and the increasing emphasis of the sciences, in industry, manufacturing, and so forth. But I am not wanting to negate that, but what is extremely important is to recognize that, in a sense, the knowledge fields are differentiated. And that, in fact, you have the social sciences, you have the humanities, you have the unity. And, I think the key thing … this is the point that Bernstein makes, which I think is quite useful, that, in fact, depending on which which field you’re in, knowledge progresses in different ways, new knowledge is developed in different ways … according to where …now in the natural sciences it’s developed through the process of greater generalization and abstraction. So that, in fact, Einstein incorporates Newton and all the nineteenth century, in his field … it does not mean that they were wrong, but they were partial. And Einstein provided a broader theory, quantum theory and so forth, is an attempt to combine those, and there is the endless attempt in physics, which is to bring, in a sense, relativity and quantum theory together.
Will Brehm 6:59
Right. So … so basically powerful knowledge, in a way, you’re saying, is that once you differentiate between fields or disciplines, there are different sort of traditions with in those disciplines that, sort of, legitimate …
Michael Young 7:12
Will Brehm 7:12
… powerful knowledge. And, I think one of the words you use is ‘specialized …
Michael Young 7:16
Will Brehm 7:17
… knowledge’. So, what is the difference between ‘specialized knowledge’ and say ‘non-specialized knowledge’?
Michael Young 7:22
Well, non-specialized knowledge is the knowledge that is developed without reflection in communities, and is valuable to make sense of the world that people grow up in. So there’s, in a sense, non-specialized knowledge, it’s about the streets you live in, whether there’s a shop here or there, what bus is going where they go, that’s everyday knowledge, as discussed, for instance, particularly by the psychologist Vygotsky, and indeed … it’s … Durkheim uses the term ‘profane knowledge’ for that … that … it’s … it’s knowledge of experience. I think the big difference between specialized … starting something … between specialized and non-specialized, is that it is knowledge from experience, or it is knowledge that goes beyond experience. And that, in fact, I quite often give the example that, in fact … a city … a young person in the city … knows quite a lot … has a lot of knowledge of the city that he or she has grown up in. And, at the age … depending … seven or eight or nine, he certainly meets a geography teacher. And, the geography teacher has specialized knowledge of cities, what happens to them, how they have changed, different parts of the city affect, in different kinds of ways. And, in a sense, you get what … the … some of the researchers say is a disruption, disruption between the specialized knowledge of a field like geography, which relies upon research, inquiry, debates, within its community, and the everyday knowledge, which is also about the city, urban geography or urban sociology, is about the city. So is the young boy growing up in the city …
Will Brehm 9:09
Or the black taxi driver’s knowledge …
Michael Young 9:11
That is right … taxi drivers … is knowledge indeed, yeah…yup, yup.
Will Brehm 9:15
But that would be everyday knowledge.
Michael Young 9:16
That would be everyday knowledge, yes indeed.
Will Brehm 9:17
That would be the profane to use Durkheim’s word.
Michael Young 9:20
Yeah, yeah …that … But, in a sense, the interesting thing is that there is also a difference between codified and uncodified knowledge…
Will Brehm 9:30
Michael Young 9:31
… and, in a sense, specialized knowledge means that, in fact, it is more than just organizing knowledge … I mean … the taxi driver’s knowledge is codified, so you can test them, do they know it? – and so forth. But it is not specialized. In the sense that it never progresses, you just have to keep up with what’s going on when the new roads are built, and so forth. And, in a sense, it is different from … the … the person who lives in an area who has uncodified knowledge about the names of the streets, and the pubs, and the shops, and things like that …
Will Brehm 10:07
Right, exactly, exactly. Okay. Now … I mean … you know, the specialized/non-specialized knowledge, it seems like it is a dichotomy that might be too absolute, in a way. Would you … you know … is there some gray area where there could be types of powerful knowledge that is both specialized and non-specialized?
Michael Young 10:25
I think that in a modern industrial society, these categories … I mean … to use the term that the great German sociologist Max Weber uses, ‘ideal types’, they are not descriptions, and therefore, somebody’s knowledge will always have bits of specialized and bits of unspecialized, but when you move, say, from everyday knowledge of a city to a geography teacher, then you get a focus and a specialization that is focused. It does not mean that you throw out the unspecialized knowledge, but it is a different way of thinking. And, in that sense …it is a … students find it difficult to make that step.
Will Brehm 11:07
So … so … okay. So, we have knowledge that is specialized, we have knowledge that is unspecialized as ideal types, and then we still have this knowledge of the powerful. And would that … be … that sort of fits into specialized and non-specialized as well.
Michael Young 11:22
The knowledge of the powerful is a way of thinking about specialized knowledge. Whereas powerful knowledge is another way of thinking about specialized knowledge. Because, in a sense, if you’re approaching it from the point of view of knowledge of the powerful, you focus on ideological assumptions, you focus on who has the knowledge, what interests does it protect? – and so for those kind of things, so it’s not so much … so it’s a question of how you think about it, rather than that.
Will Brehm 11:53
Right, right. Okay. And so, I mean, we have spent a lot of time talking about knowledge. What about the word ‘powerful’, like, how are you conceptualizing the very idea of power?
Michael Young 12:02
I think it is … quite … it is an important point. Johan Muller and I, we wrote a paper in ‘The Curriculum Journal’ last year, which, in fact, revisits the question of power. Because we realized that, in a sense, and particularly important for education, that, in fact, for instance, you come across new literature or new sciences then, in a sense, on the one hand, that is powerful knowledge, but it also has powers through knowing it, and therefore, what we realized was that, in a sense, power can either mean … can mean power over, it also means power to do certain things, to think certain things. So, in a sense, power has always got those dimensions. And the problem was, to some extent … is what sociology’s emphasized, it is always the power of domination. Because it is a very powerful, it’s a very significant factor, in societies, the domination of knowledge. But it tends to neglect the fact that, in fact, students, from whatever social class, can actually acquire knowledge that empowers them. So that, in a sense, somebody like Paulo Freire is talking about the emancipatory potential of knowledge. Whereas, in fact, somebody like Althusser and Bourdieu is talking about dominating power of knowledge.
Will Brehm 13:29
Michael Young 13:29
So, there are two very, very different notions of knowledge.
Will Brehm 13:32
Yeah, very different notions …
Michael Young 13:34
That makes it a complex issue for students actually studying and thinking about it. They want to see it as simple, that either it is power over or it is power to …
Will Brehm 13:44
Michael Young 13:45
Will Brehm 13:46
And it is both …
Michael Young 13:47
And it is both…
Will Brehm 13:47
… at the same time.
Michael Young 13:48
Yeah, at the same time, yes …
Will Brehm 13:49
…and that is difficult to then unpack …
Michael Young 13:51
… and this is somethings that is always true …
Will Brehm 13:53
Michael Young 13:53
… about social …
Will Brehm 13:54
Michael Young 13:54
Will Brehm 13:56
And so, would all specialized knowledge be powerful?
Michael Young 14:00
Would all specialized knowledge be powerful? Again, it depends. The reason why people specialize is to further knowledge and, in a sense, to make it, generate new ideas, extend their imagination about the world, or make predictions more powerful. So that the purpose of specialization is always to increase the power. I think that … but on the other hand, for instance, if you take the Gnostic knowledge of physicists, about the nature of the atom, then that, actually, can lead to Hiroshima. As much as it can lead to a way of producing energy.
Will Brehm 14:44
Right, right … so …
Michael Young 14:45
And so, it is not so much whether it is always powerful, but it’s powerful with different consequences.
Will Brehm 14:52
And in different times. So …
Michael Young 14:53
Yah, yah …
Will Brehm 14:53
… so, at one time, it …
Michael Young 14:54
Yah, yah …
Will Brehm 14:54
…it can be a domination over …
Michael Young 14:56
…that’s right …
Will Brehm 14:56
… certain people, and other times it can be …
Michael Young 14:58
… and you cannot really, you cannot really escape that … we have the dramatic case of it now about artificial intelligence, it’s actually incredibly productive, the things it can enable us to do, but also it has very, very negative consequences as well, as we know from, you know, the Cambridge Analytica project, and all those kind of things.
Will Brehm 15:19
Exactly. And I guess this is where some issues of politics come in, because then there has to be choices that are made … by how these, sort of, new knowledge in different fields gets applied to society or applied in society, right? So …
Michael Young 15:33
But it is a most tricky issue for politics …
Will Brehm 15:36
Oh, of course …
Michael Young 15:36
… because, in a sense, it is not unambiguous right …ly … right … or left.
Will Brehm 15:42
Exactly. Right. And there is, yeah, exactly …
Michael Young 15:44
People want to find things …of, you know, that the Labour Party can go in for or the Conservative Party, but it is not like that …
Will Brehm 15:50
Michael Young 15:51
…knowledge is not like that.
Will Brehm 15:52
Right. So, I mean, this, sort of, brings up this idea of, you know, what is truth? And we, sort of, live in this moment of ‘fake news’. And where journalism is, sort of, you know, they feel the need to present both side ism. So, in every article there is, you know, here is what one person says, but we also have the opposite take by this other group with that has other interests. Do you think that powerful knowledge, this idea that we’ve been talking about, can actually help, you know, societies today, sort of, get over or get through this idea of ‘fake news’ and where truth is relative and anyone can have as many different truths as we can count?
Michael Young 16:32
I think the notion of … there are two things need to be clarified there, I think. One is that, in fact, there is a difference between, if you are like, I cannot think of quite the right term, the difference between absolute truth, and with something more like procedural truth. I mean, there is … and, in a sense, I would use the term for procedural truth, better knowledge rather than, in fact, another version of truth. There’s always better knowledge knowledge. And that takes you back to the fact that there’s better knowledge in different disciplines, there is better plays, better films. And then the reason … what ‘better’ means is that you can get the background, the argument, the evidence, and, so forth, for why you claim to be better. And it is very, very important that, in fact, school education, in particular, actually focuses on better knowledge.
Will Brehm 17:25
So, isn’t one person’s idea of ‘better’ different from another’s?
Michael Young 17:29
Well, it’s potentially better, but, in a sense …one of the things that schools try to do is to give students access to the specialized communities who spend their life on trying to clarify the better knowledge, and that gives the historians … they don’t have an answer, you know, anybody can have a view about the origins of the American War of Independence or whatever, but what historians do can document you, what happened and why, and the arguments that they can make. And, in a sense … and therefore we turn to them, but we do not turn to them for an absolute truth, we turned to them because, in fact, what … the way that the …the issue … I would say the way … it is important for everybody to be thinking about knowledge, not necessarily about powerful knowledge, that is not always that helpful.
Will Brehm 18:25
Michael Young 18:26
But, in a sense, if they think about powerful knowledge, they will realize that they are involved in some judgment, but there are limits to their judgment, because of specialization. I cannot make a judgement about some technical thing involved in artificial intelligence. But I can make some broader judgments about what assumptions about intelligence the AI people are making, because I am, you know, that is what philosophers and sociologists do. So, there is a question of where your own specialization applies.
Will Brehm 19:00
So, you know, it is interesting this idea of trying to, you know, view specialized knowledge, or view powerful knowledge within specialized fields, within specialized disciplines. Because, at the same time, in higher education, we hear a lot about trying to be cross-disciplinary, transdisciplinary, trying to not simply work within single disciplines, but work across disciplines, to get at certain issues that don’t fall neatly in one area, right? So, for instance, one example that I can think of is climate change, right? Because that obviously has issues that not only impact, you know, environmental studies and physics and, you know, but also sociology, also technology. So how, you know, how do you understand or how can cross-disciplinary thinking fit within ideas of powerful knowledge?
Michael Young 19:50
Climate change, I mean, I’m not a geographer, but climate change is a very interesting example, because there was a debate about whether, in fact, climate change should be introduced or not … and it’s … in the primary school. And some people thought it should because it is relevant, and practical, and happening every day. I would make the argument that, in fact, that is fine but, if you do not really know what climate is, then to think about the consequences of climate change is absurd. So, I would take the view that, in a sense, the starting assumption of schooling is to focus on, if you like, disciplines, which provide you with the intellectual basis for being transdisciplinary. And, I would not introduce, I mean, certainly I used to teach chemistry, as a schoolteacher, and I used to feel much happier … I often had to teach physics and biology, but I did not know much, but I did not feel that I was such a good teacher then. Whereas, I knew my subject, and that’s why people could basically get excited about it, if I taught them, and also, they could learn. So, I think that, in fact, it is very important to see the interrelationships between the discipline, or the subject, and the interdisciplinary inquiry. Because, of course, you look at the, for instance, UCL’s range of research, a lot of it is interdisciplinary. But the people who work in interdisciplinary fields have a strong background in some discipline or other.
Will Brehm 21:28
Right, so they are, you know, you need to specialize in a particular knowledge tradition. But then you also have to have the skills to be able to talk to people and work with people in other disciplines.
Michael Young 21:38
But I think that what’s really important there is, particularly at the school level, it’s slightly different, but has similarities to the university level, is that, in fact, what a subject… cause we … in England anyhow we tend to talk about subjects in schools, disciplines in universities, very crude distinction, but nevertheless. And that … what’s … what’s very important, I think, is that, in fact, if you come to school, from your everyday knowledge, a subject gives you a sense of your identity as a learner, of whether you’re progressing, what’s better knowledge and what less good, and in a sense, it provides an important resource for you. Because, and also, at some point or rather, you may come across the boundaries of the subjects, and then you know … what … what you can speak about, and what, in fact, you need to inquire or talk to colleagues in other subjects, and so forth. So … I think … I think the boundaries between subjects have a very important role for the progress of learners.
Will Brehm 22:39
Michael Young 22:40
And we have gone against that. I mean, I now find… I don’t teach Masters courses, as I used to, but what I used to find was that, in fact, the disciplines had got broken up, and there were these interdisciplinary modules, and I would have 20 or 30 students, and some of them have never done any sociology before, some of them had done lots. And that is not the best context …
Will Brehm 23:05
Michael Young 23:05
…for taking them on …
Will Brehm 23:06
… because how do you teach …
Michael Young 23:08
Will Brehm 23:08
… such a diverse group of students?
Michael Young 23:09
And I am not sure you do. You see, I think that … they … they would be better to have done some courses in sociology or economics and psychology …
Will Brehm 23:17
… before moving up to
Michael Young 23:19
… then move up …
Will Brehm 23:19
Right, right. I mean … so … and going back to this issue of climate change, so before you can learn about … the … what’s happening in climate change in a cross-disciplinary way, you need to have the … real … good foundation of what climate is.
Michael Young 23:32
And it is quite an abstract concept ‘climate’…
Will Brehm 23:33
It sure is, yeah, yeah…
Michael Young 23:34
Yeah, I mean, like weather, and all these things, yeah…and… yeah …
Will Brehm 23:39
… and climate is not weather, it is … not …
Michael Young 23:40
… no, no, it is not … exactly. And, that is important, you know…
Will Brehm 23:43
So, what then do you think of someone like Greta Thunberg? You know … this … she’s the 16-17 year old that is making all of these speeches and, sort of, leading a massive social movement across the world to get politicians to address the issue of climate change or what … what … she calls the climate crisis. Like, is she working in powerful knowledge? Or, is this more of the everyday knowledge? Like … how would you … How would you understand the phenomenon of Greta Thunberg?
Michael Young 24:12
Well, it is good question, actually. I mean, she is obviously a very bright and thoughtful girl, no question about it. And, she is thought a lot about the issues, and so forth. But … I think … I do not think she is so much a leader; I think she is being used. And, I do not use that negatively. But then people think if we can show that there’s somebody of her age, we’ve got these things, she represents something, they may convince some people that, in fact, another academic, who really knows about it, who has the specialized knowledge, which she doesn’t have, she’s got a concern, and, I think, we can respect that. But I think she is being used as a …sort of … rather like that extraordinary Pakistani girl, Malala.
Will Brehm 24:59
Yeah, yeah …
Michael Young 25:00
I mean, she got used, you know, got the Nobel Prize, not because, in one sense, she deserved it, but to symbolize something that she stood for, was the, kind of, courage and bravery … and it … kind of … concerned about … and I think they’re very much the same. And I am sure that Greta will get some kind of Nobel prize, at some point, just because, in fact, for a 16-year-old to do that everybody thinks it’s wonderful. They cannot really criticize because she’s only 16…
Will Brehm 25:26
Michael Young 25:27
But I do not think … it is not the knowledge …that’s the important thing, it’s a symbol of the young girl.
Will Brehm 25:33
I think one of the things that’s so powerful about Greta is her ability to take specialized knowledge in the research literature, in diverse fields that focus on climate and climate change, and say them in ways that are so easily understood by people, from politicians to, you know, other schoolchildren, but also to adults, right? Who aren’t in that specialized knowledge? So, she is almost … I see her almost as translating this specialized knowledge into, sort of, everyday knowledge, and it’s become popularized, in a way, where now there’s, sort of, this common language, you know, even the idea of calling it the climate crisis, rather than climate change, you know, in many ways that discursive change … is … or linguistic change … is to her credit.
Michael Young 26:18
Yeah, no … but it might have been an adult, it could have been somebody else…
Will Brehm 26:22
Michael Young 26:22
But, in fact, it is symbolic that it is not an adult …
Will Brehm 26:25
Michael Young 26:25
…and therefore, people, in a way, have to listen to it … I do not think she is done a massive amount of reading …
Will Brehm 26:32
… I, see, I actually think she has …
Michael Young 26:33
…well, she is obviously done… more than most 16-year olds, but I, in a sense, I think it is less… I mean, I agree with you that her ability to articulate, and to express, in accessible lang … is admirable. It is almost as if she is a specialist in communication, rather than in climate knowledge …
Will Brehm 26:53
…Yeah …Yeah, right … I mean, that’s … yeah … that is a good point, because she really is capable of talking about some of these complex issues …
Michael Young 27:00
But I think it is her as the symbol, rather than just what she says.
Will Brehm 27:06
Yeah, it is complex, you are, sort of, becoming multiple things, right? As she is gaining more and more famous … and … you know, her face is known all over the world. So, you know … in … I read a little bit about your history before coming into this interview. And it is quite striking that … I learned that … in … when you were a young lecturer, I think about probably the same age I am now, in the same Institute, you wrote a book called ‘Knowledge and Control’ …
Michael Young 27:33
That is right …
Will Brehm 27:34
… which was very much about how knowledge or school knowledge is socially constructed to … basic … to privilege the ruling classes, those with power, and disadvantage the workers. Fast forward 50 years, we are beginning to, sort of … a … you know … in this conversation today, we’re not really talking about the social construction of knowledge anymore. You are talking about powerful knowledge. These disciplinary knowledges …
Michael Young 27:59
I mean … I realized that, in a sense, the development of … First of all, I think that, in a sense, unless you … … unless you’re a very religious person, social construction is a rather banal notion that is true. That all knowledge is humanly constructed by groups of people in particular contexts. And what is important to say about that is that, I think, is that one of the things that is continued to … is that therefore, it is also always potentially accessible to anyone. Because it’s a human thing, it’s not, you know, it’s not God, you know, it’s not the universe or something like that, and, or some divine being or creator, or anything like that. And I think that was … but if you follow through the social construction, you end up by saying … focusing only on the social … and … and therefore, on the whole, on par, and true knowledge is a knowledge that the powerful have, you get to knowledge of the powerful. And, you do not actually get to any understanding of knowledge, the knowledge itself disappears. Because it is all social. It is kind of a … it is a, kind of, sociological imperialism…
Will Brehm 29:10
Michael Young 29:11
… because … and it’s interesting that, in fact, you know, Marx, who was the first social constructivist, if you like, I mean, he had this notion of post the revolution, something more like primitive communism, where everybody was able to do everything. Now, I think that is a mistake … he was an anti-specialization person. And so, I think, I realized, and I suppose I got a lot of flak, for the first time, not the only time in my life, a lot of flak from the academics, and people, about social constructivism … and rightly, but I want to hold on to the fact that it’s still got an element of truth, just, we tend to convert it into the whole truth. And, that was … I think … that … that was what was misleading. So, and I think I particularly … what was important for me was … in … in the early 90s, I went … I spent a lot of time in South Africa, as a kind of consultant with the Democratic Movement on developing a new education system, because obviously, they were just about to abolish apartheid, which was, in a sense, determined their education … so now what were they were going to do? And, the only theory I had at the time was a socially constructed theory, which basically said, basically, you should let everyone be free to construct their own knowledge. And, in fact, because that is what people used to …flag … wave a flag saying, knowledge is a social construct. But, of course, the poor teachers have not a clue. They were there in the schools and what on earth did they do? And, in a sense, there was chaos in the schools. And, in a sense … and what I have been doing ever since is trying to recover from that idea, to realize that there is actually something real about the world. This is why social realism comes, there’s something real about the world. We do not just social construct, as we will, we social construct an external world, whether it is social or material, or whatever … and we try and improve our understanding of that … material … of that world. And I … then … and then I went back, and I came across Durkheim, and I reread Durkheim, who I read and misunderstood when I was an undergraduate. And, and he was the starting point for me, and the influence of Bernstein as well. And indeed, Vygotsky. So, I looked for an alternative. And, in a sense, ‘Bringing Knowledge Back In’ … the book is a, kind of, conclusion. But it is not a conclusion, it does not solve the problem, it just says ‘here is a way of thinking that is much better than the way we’ve had before’. And then … that social realism, but, in fact, that requires you to accept the importance of specialization, to accept the importance of an external world, to accept the importance … you never have the absolute truth. You are always trying to improve it. I mean, the people in quantum physics are trying to improve quantum physics…. to make it a more adequate account of, you know, of the atom …
Will Brehm 32:06
So, from social constructivism to social realism, and now you are bringing knowledge back in in your working … where to next?
Michael Young 32:16
Well, I mean, I think that the … when we came to powerful knowledge, and the idea that there is better knowledge, and that that should be the basis for the curriculum, for all pupils, because in England, as you probably know, and probably is the same in the States, we had a kind of diversified model of knowledge that, in fact, for the kids who appeared to be in quotes, not ‘academic’, you would give them something more like everyday knowledge. And, of course, that actually kept perpetuating the inequalities for them. So, in a sense, so the … the … thing that I am focusing on now, primarily, is that, in fact, the curriculum is about stipulating the best knowledge, right? And that is fine. I think you can do that, but if you are thinking about education … that, in fact, the educational problem is the stipulation and the de-transmission problem. And that, in a sense, because you cannot transmit the knowledge that is produced by researchers, there has to be … Bernstein called ‘recontextualization’ of that, and which involves the relationship between the teacher and the pupil. And that, in fact, if you don’t do that, and you think it’s only the curriculum and stipulation, then … you … you get a curriculum, which involves expecting people to mug up to memorize, to reproduce, you don’t actually give them an access to knowledge, which is about changing their thinking. You do not.
Will Brehm 33:47
Well, Michael Young, thank you so much for joining FreshEd, really a pleasure to talk today. Thank you very much.
Michael Young 33:53
Not at all. I have enjoyed the discussion.
With me is Irv Epstein, the Ben and Susan Rhodes Professor of Peace and Social Justice at Illinois Wesleyan University, where he chairs the Department of Educational Studies and directs the Center for Human Rights and Social Justice. Irv’s new book is called Affect Theory and Comparative Education Discourse which was published in Bloomsbury’s New Directions in Comparative Education book series, which he co-edits.
Citation: Epstein, Irving, interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 187, podcast audio, February 17, 2020. https://www.freshedpodcast.com/irvingepstein/
Transcript, Translation, and Resources:
Today Raewyn Connell returns to FreshEd to talk about her new book, The Good University. In it, Raewyn takes a deep dive into the labor that makes a university possible while also detailing the main troubles the institution currently faces.
She argues that a good university must work for the social good rather than for profit. It must embrace its democratic roots and protect the process of being truthful.
Raewyn Connell is Professor Emerita at the University of Sydney. She is an active trade unionist and advocate for workers’ rights, student autonomy and educational reform.
Photo by Peter Hall
Citation: Raewyn, Connell, interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 157, podcast audio, June 3, 2019. https://www.freshedpodcast.com/raewynconnell2/
Will Brehm 1:30
Raewyn Connell, welcome back to FreshEd.
Raewyn Connell 1:31
I’m very glad to be here.
Will Brehm 1:33
So, congratulations on your new book. And just halfway through this book, when I was reading it, you tell this wonderful story about this famous Jacaranda tree at the University of Sydney. And I want to just ask, what made this tree so famous? And why did you end up writing about it?
Raewyn Connell 1:48
Well, it’s a very beautiful tree. It has lovely purple flowers, and it’s absolutely covered in blossom at a certain time of year, which happens to correspond with when graduations are held. So, for many years, since the invention of color photography, all the graduates would go and stand in front of the tree in their robes and get the photographs at the end of their degree. And it’s all in front of this sort of mock Gothic sandstone building in golden stone. It’s a lovely picture. Well, a few years ago, five or perhaps eight years ago, the University began including in its advertising, a picture of a tutorial group -a discussion group- sitting on the lawn in front of this tree in full bloom. And that was a lovely picture for advertising with the mock Gothic building behind suggesting how ancient and venerable the University was. Unfortunately, it wasn’t true for two reasons: one, no tutorials are allowed to meet on that lawn. Two, the tree actually blossoms after tutorials are over. So, the thing was a fake! And it seemed to me that that somehow represented what was happening in universities as they became more commercialized. There was more fakery and misrepresentation. And just a couple of years after that image was used in the advertising, the tree died. Now, no biologist among my friends would agree that the tree died of shame but one suspected, and that somehow to me symbolized that the university in some sort of crisis. Yeah, universities in general. Well, by corporate standards, there’s no crisis. You know, the higher education industry is booming. There are now more than 200 million university and college students around the world. The flow of fees and money into the system is bigger than ever before. So, from a profit-making and corporate growth perspective, we’re doing wonderfully in universities. But, by other standards, there are terrible problems. I mean the casualization of academic labor force, virtual end of the prospect of a career for very large numbers of university teachers, the growing level of distrust and antagonism between workforce in universities and the managers, the growing level of inequality within universities just in sheer money terms, the level of anger that you see in conflicts in universities now, and of course, the decline of government support for higher education in most parts of the world, not quite all, which escalates in some countries like Hungary -it’s a famous example recently- of outright attacks by government on the university sector -at any rate, parts of it- showing a kind of political antagonism to good higher education, which is very disturbing, indeed. And in that kind of sense, yeah, there is a crisis that’s bubbling/boiling up around us.
Will Brehm 5:25
Yeah, I mean, I’ve seen photos of many years ago, protests in Chile, just recently, protests in Brazil. Even in the UK, there’s been these mass protests of university lecturers fighting for basically better pensions and better wages and trying to resist this sort of corporatization of the university. So where do we begin? If this is this crisis that we see -and in your book, you basically start by looking at the foundations of the university, and really focus on the massive amount of labor that universities do in a way. All the different types of people that make a university possible require huge amounts of labor. Can you talk a little bit about, you know, what sort of labor actually happens based on your long career in universities?
Raewyn Connell 6:17
Well, what I do in the first chapters of the book is show how research, the production of knowledge, has to be understood as a form of work -a complex and intricate kind of work, but work nevertheless, with a workforce in certain conditions. And the same for teaching too. Education involves a form of labor by the teachers and by the students for that matter. And we have to understand the circumstances in which this work is done, the relationships that shape the work in order to understand the production of knowledge and the educational process itself. Now as the universities have got more commercialized and commodified, this labor has been changing. And the conditions of this labor has been changing. So, the academic work: Well, there’s a much higher level of casualization and insecurity for academic workers, as more of the face-to-face teaching is done by people in insecure, short-term jobs. The role of academics in longer term jobs has also changed. They’ve become a kind of middle management group responsible for organizing a casualized, insecure workforce. There’s been an intensification of labor. This is not unusual in today’s economy. That’s true in other industries as well. But it’s quite striking in academic work. The growth of a long hours culture, the decline of the sense that you have time to sit and think and look around, read around and come up with fundamental new ideas -this is now harder simply because of the change in the kind of work. And there’s more control over academic labor via audits and measurement, and management surveillance. Even a simple decision, like when you’ve done some research, you’ve written an article about it, where you publish it, that used to be your own decision as to where you should publish it to reach the audience who needed to know. No! That doesn’t apply anymore. There are now management pressures to publish only in high-prestige journals in the most central countries in the world, and so forth. So, that’s a very significant set of changes in academic labor. And for non-academic workers, what I call the operations workers, who are half the workforce of universities, the work also has been changing -sometimes in the same ways. There’s more sort of surveillance and control from above, so fewer people are just trusted to get on with a job, assume that they know what their job is, and they should get on with it -there’s less and less of that. More surveillance, more auditing. But there’s also more outsourcing of work in universities. That is, workers who actually work for the university, but are not employed by the university, rather employed by another company, which has a contract with the university management and that changes relationships in universities too as it would in any place where that kind of thing happened. Because people working in an outsourced basis for another company don’t have rights, don’t have recognition on campus, are not likely to be there long-term so they can’t develop long-term relationships with the teaching or research staff, and there’s just less of the basic, ground-level know-how on which universities have depended in order to work effectively as organizations. So, more control concentrated at the top means less effective work down below. And that has been happening on a large scale in universities.
Will Brehm 10:25
And has there been any consequences or impacts on student learning? I mean, this seems to be a major function of the university. So, with these various reforms, with this corporate-style management, this power residing at the top in these administrations, what effect on the student?
Raewyn Connell 10:42
Two things: One, because corporate management drives for lower wage costs, lower labor costs, they’re terribly interested in technologizing university teaching. So, MOOCs are the classic example of that, the massive online open courses, which have something like a 90% dropout rate, I mean they’re quite stunning. But in other ways too, the learning experience is more computerized, more technologized, therefore, more -and this is the other side of it- in various ways more formalized. So, we have more frequent and technologically controlled testing. There’s less scope for ambitious but out of the way learning practices by the students. They’re more, sort of on a prescribed path all the time. I can remember -this is, you know, I’m now one of the older generation very much. When I was an undergraduate doing a history program, we actually had two years in the middle of the degree with no exams at all. We had an exam at the end of the two, but for two years, we could pursue our own learning interests, we had to attend courses, lectures, tutorials, and so forth. But we weren’t tested. And, you know, modern students, I think -and this applies to schools, as well as universities- are tested to within an inch of their lives sometimes. And I think that really degrades the kind of learning experience that a university should be.
Will Brehm 12:25
So, one of the things you mentioned earlier was that there’s something like 200 million students enrolled in higher education around the world. And in a way, this is very much a massification of higher education. So many more people today are going to university than say 50 years ago. And we talked-
Raewyn Connell 12:45
-and that’s a good thing.
Will Brehm 12:46
Right. That’s a good thing. And universities often talk about this in terms of equity, and diversity, and opportunity, and enlarging that student base. But in your book, you start calling the university sort of “privilege machines”. You talk about how they actually produce inequality. And so, I wanted to know, in your mind, how are universities complicit in the production of inequality?
Raewyn Connell 13:08
Hmm. Well, universities have always been connected with privilege and power throughout their history. So, a phrase like “a college man”, a bit out of date now but it used to be an expression which signaled leisure and money among young people. Well, as the university system has expanded, it’s also become more unequal in itself. So, we’ve now got this massive hierarchy of universities from the very well-funded privileged institutions down to a worldwide mass of higher education institutions, colleges, universities, called different things in different places. And that’s symbolized by the league tables that are now published, you know, with Harvard on top, and MIT and Stanford up there at the top, and your local community college way down at the bottom. Now, the biggest part of the expansion, very recently, has been in privately owned, for-profit universities. That’s now a large sector worldwide. And I would emphasize the for-profit part because what these kinds of colleges sell, basically, is vocational training. They do hardly any research, that’s not their game and they have a very casualized workforce so that you’re not getting a high quality of educational thinking there because people don’t have time and opportunity to do that thinking. But you do have connections with local industries, local businessmen, who are often on the boards, and even involved in developing the curricula of those kinds of colleges. So, what you’re getting then, is an apparent mass expansion but also a change in the character of most higher education as that expansion occurs, which becomes a thinning out of the university or the college experience and a commodification of what it’s taken to be. So, the advertising, the marketing of the for-profit private colleges, is all about what this ticket you’re getting should yield you in terms of future income. Now that benefit often doesn’t happen because labor markets themselves are changing, and the meaning of qualifications in labor markets change. But that’s the way universities, on a mass scale, are now sold. I’m entirely in support of professional education. I think that’s a correct business of universities, and there I differ from some other critics who criticize the idea of professional education. I think that’s a central role of universities. But professional education itself should be an intellectual proposition, it should be involve thinking carefully and at length about the ethics, about the social meaning of the profession that you’re going into, it should involve understanding the clients that your profession is going to meet, so it truly involved social sciences, philosophy, humanities, other technical areas -all of those kinds of knowledges should be involved in good professional education. And I think that is being thinned out now in a very worrying way.
Will Brehm 16:48
So, I guess the obvious question then is, what can be done? What does a university look like that doesn’t embrace this corporate management, doesn’t embrace these sort of for-profit logics that many universities are around the world today? Like, what’s the alternative in a way?
Raewyn Connell 17:05
Well, there are multiple alternatives. It’s not a single blueprint that we should be following. That’s part of my critique of the “league table” mentality that assumes we all want to be like Harvard and we don’t frankly. So, one thing then is diversity. Multiplicity of purposes, and styles, and approaches to teaching, and knowledge. There are multiple knowledge systems in the world. We’ve talked about that kind of thing before. It should be part of the universities thinking. Universities now model hierarchy and even propagandize in favor of inequality. All this jargon that comes out about “excellence” really gets up my nose!
Will Brehm 17:58
I don’t know what it even means!
Raewyn Connell 18:00
It’s just a signifier of inequality, basically. And also, the nonsense that comes out about leadership. Leadership, for what for heaven’s sake! in what direction? Well, I think there is a direction which we should be leading and that’s democracy, and public service, and that doesn’t need hierarchies and league tables for heaven’s sake! Talk about self-satirizing university systems, they’re now developing league tables for public service!
Will Brehm 18:39
So how can a university be democratic? How can that ideal be embraced inside a university?
Raewyn Connell 18:45
Well, parts of it is already there. We do know how to run institutions democratically. And that’s what you know, the last 200 years of global history has taught us. There are ways of doing that. So, we have leaderships that are elected, we have forms of responsibility, from top-down and bottom-up, rather than just one way. We diversify the membership of institutions, we take steps to make social inclusion real rather than simply symbolic and selective. We can’t have a democratic education and a democratic knowledge system in an authoritarian institution, it doesn’t work.
Will Brehm 19:34
So, what would that mean? That would mean giving more power to the professors to make decisions to drive the direction of the university, than the central management?
Raewyn Connell 19:43
More power to the whole of the workforce. Remember that half of the workforce of universities are non-academic and they also have know-how and commitment and ideas and should be part of the governing process of the institution. I mean, what I’m talking about is, you know, you can put in the phrase, ‘industrial democracy’, we know how to do that. We’ve done it in cooperatives, in mainstream industries, we do know how to do that kind of thing. It’s not rocket science. But we have been shifting away from those ideas in higher education, as in other industries recently, and there’s a struggle on our hands, I think. The other thing to remember is that at the core of the modern university is a system of knowledge, which I call the ‘research-based knowledge formation’. So, research is central to the knowledge on which we build our curricula, on which we base our professional practices, and which we give to the world at large, is what universities offer. And there’s a democratic core in research, actually. I mean, we don’t necessarily represent it that way because we give Nobel prizes, to a very few top scientists, or the media will drool over the professor with the furthest away galaxy, or the latest cure for cancer. But in fact, research knowledge is a democratic theme in itself. It’s produced by a whole workforce, not just by individual stars. Particular research programs involve research teams, not, in most cases, individual stars. Or the individual stars are standing for teams of 20, 30, 100 people. And they depend on other teams and other researchers. The term publication, which has become a kind of sight of tension and horror for young academics, is actually a sign of that democratic character of knowledge. We put our knowledge out there when we publish. We put it out there for everyone to see, and for other people to build on. That’s the whole point of publication.
Will Brehm 22:08
Yeah, its publication, not ‘priva-cation’.
Raewyn Connell 22:11
Exactly, exactly! And we’re building in the knowledge system, that universities depend on and produce, we’re building a “knowledge commons”. We’re building a common social resource in research-based knowledge. So, there’s a democratic element at the very heart of universities, which is not necessarily immediately obvious, but it’s there. And we can build on it.
Will Brehm 22:39
And it’s particularly not obvious when, you know, Elsevier and Wiley and Sons, and Taylor and Francis are owning that knowledge commons. And it sort of does take that public out of publication.
Raewyn Connell 22:52
Yeah, that’s a classic example of the harm that’s done by privatization, I think. And it is being resisted. There’s quite a strong movement now to reverse that by open access policies on the part of funders, by a kind of movement among academics towards open access for other ways of circulating knowledge that don’t run into those monetary barriers. That’s a hot topic in universities now and I’m very glad to see that kind of struggle going on.
Will Brehm 23:29
So, the beginning of our talk today, you talked about this sort of fake image that the University of Sydney was promoting, and it sort of gets to this idea of truth. And this idea of, what is the role of the universities in being truth?
Raewyn Connell 23:46
Yeah. I should say that I’m not particularly blaming the University of Sydney. I mean, that’s just where I happen to be. And I happened to know that tree from a long time, because I’m also a graduate of this university. But what the University of Sydney was doing was what the University of Melbourne is doing, the University of Queensland is doing, what all the universities in the country in one way or another have been doing, and internationally too. So, I was trying to give an example of something that is, in fact global, as a problem. And why I think that’s significant is that universities do have a cultural role. I mean, they’re not -the corporation famously has, there’s a lovely saying, by Lord Chancellor of England in the 18th century, that “a corporation has no body to be kept, and no soul to be damned therefore it can do as it likes”. And that is pretty much the attitude of the mainstream corporation. And as universities approach the status of money-making corporations which indeed, some of them now are 100% that, they inhabit that kind of situation. And the problem is that universities DO have a soul. And that soul concerns truth. It’s the cultural commitment to telling the truth. And anyone who has done research, you know, I’ve been a researcher for more than 50 years. And I know how difficult it is to establish truth. But that’s what research is, it’s hard work. It’s a struggle. So, you know, it involves interacting with many people and trying to understand situations and speak the truth. It’s difficult, but it’s what we’re about. And if universities start fudging the truth in advertising, pretending to be what they are not, misrepresenting reality, then they are doing terrible damage to their own cultural position as the institutions that embody truth telling. That seems to be a very, very serious problem. And, and that’s why I get, you know, more angry about what seems to many managements to be just good commercial practice. It’s not good university practice.
Will Brehm 26:05
Are you hopeful that the university will soon move away from this corporate-style management? Or are there examples of universities around the world that are actually doing something different? And yes, it could be a multiplicity and a diversity of different ways of managing and organizing the university but sometimes I get very pessimistic about the whole industry that I have spent the last ten years of my life working in. And I don’t know, is it going to change in my lifetime or am I going to be battling this corporate-style management for the rest of my career?
Raewyn Connell 26:41
It’s a good question. And I think everybody involved in these issues at times despairs at the difficulty of moving in a more democratic direction. And I’m sustained, I think -I mean, I’m originally a historian. So, I’m always interested in the history of institutions. And I took some time when I was working on this project to go back into the history of universities and look specifically at the history of alternative universities. And it turns out, there is a wonderful history of alternative and experimental universities all over the world, which is not all that widely known. But things like, for instance, there’s an extraordinary story of the Flying University in Poland, which was developed back in the 1880s, when Poland or most of Poland was part of the Russian Tsarist Empire. And the Russian regime tried to control universities, to ratify them, and to exert regime control over them. So, the Poles went underground and invented a kind of underground university, which became known as the Flying University because its classes would move around from place to place in Warsaw in order to avoid the police. And taught a whole curriculum, natural science, educational sciences, humanities and so forth, all under the radar. And after the 1905 revolution in Russia, that came to the surface, became legal, became a regular university. Then Poland was invaded by the Nazis and they did it again, under incredible repression during the Second World War. Then the Russians threw the Nazis out and established a communist regime in Russia, which restored the universities but also attempted to control them and the Poles did it again! They had a Flying University teaching all the forbidden kinds of social sciences and humanities. Now, that’s one story, there are anti-colonial universities in India, which was set up by people like Rabindranath Tagore, the poet, back in the 1920s as a place for the meeting of civilizations rather than the Eurocentric curriculum in the universities the British had set up in the colonial system. When the pink tide occurred in Latin America 10 or 15 years ago, a series of progressive governments around the continent, they set up reform universities too. Indigenous universities, working class universities, universities in remote parts of the country with rural populations and so forth, publicly funded, bringing in new groups of people who, for years, they’ve been excluded from the university system. In AotearoaNew Zealand, there’s a university which is based on Maori indigenous culture. Similar things in parts of India, all over Central America, in parts of South America, like Bolivia, there are now indigenous universities which have curriculum that try to blend research-based knowledge with indigenous knowledge and develop curricula that are relevant to indigenous communities. So, there’s lots of experimentation in the history when you go looking for it, and that, to me, is a deep source of hope. People have done it in the past, it’s still possible for us to move in these directions now.
Will Brehm 30:34
And that actually is incredibly hopeful that the system that we’re in today is not static, and it can change and there is a history of change over time. And that’s deeply, deeply hopeful.
Raewyn Connell 30:45
I had a bit of involvement in this kind of work back in the 1960s when I was a radical student among the many other radical students. I was involved in setting up what we called Free University in Sydney, which was a student-directed, cooperative learning institution that did a couple of dozen courses on a variety of issues that we felt were missing from the mainstream university curricula. I’ve taught in publicly funded universities that were part of another reform movement, the kind of “Green Fields” universities set up in the 1960s and 70s in countries like Australia, Britain, the United States. The expansion of the University of California was a good example of that, places like UC Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara Davis, were involved. You know, experimentation with curricula, combinations of disciplines, student-centered teaching practices, lots of really interesting educational innovation happening in those institutions over a period of 20-25 years. So even in the mainstream system, it is possible to innovate and democratize in inventive ways.
Will Brehm 32:04
Well, Raewyn Connell, thank you so much for joining FreshEd. You know, I read your book, and it’s like a love letter to the university itself. And it’s critical but supportive and offers so much beautiful history. So, I mean, I can’t recommend it enough. And I just want to say thank you for writing the book and getting these ideas out there. And, as a young academic, I must say that I am actually very hopeful of being in this industry and in this career and hopefully getting involved in some of these new movements to diversify the university. So, thank you very much for joining FreshEd and you’re always welcome back on in the future.
Raewyn Connell 32:40
That’s great to hear. Thank you.
Today we air the first ever FreshEd Live event, which was recorded last night in San Francisco. Gita Steiner-Khamsi joined me to discuss the ways in which the global education industry has altered the State and notions of free public education.
We touched on a range of topics, from Bridge International to theInternational Baccalaureate and from network governance to system theory. Gita theorized why the State has taken on the logic of business and how a quantum leap in privatization has radically altered education.
Gita Steiner-Khamsi is permanent faculty at Teachers College, Columbia University. In addition, she has been seconded by the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva as a faculty member and by NORRAG as the director.
This FreshEd Live event was sponsored by NORRAG.
Citation: Steiner-Khamsi, Gita, interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 150, podcast audio, April 15, 2019. https://www.freshedpodcast.com/gitalive/
Transcript, Translation, Photos, Resources:
How can we define comparative education? That question has long vexed scholars in the field. My guest today is Angela Little, who has spent her entire career in comparative education and has wrestled with this very question.
Angela argues that it is best to define the field through shared action rather than agreed-upon definitions and talks about has long of being an academic-slash-practitioner. She also discusses has spent role that southern theory plays in the field of comparative education.
Angela Little is Professor Emerita at the University CollegeLondon, Institute of Education, University of London.
Citation: Little, Angela, interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 139, podcast audio, December 10, 2018. https://www.freshedpodcast.com/angelalittle/
Will Brehm 1:49
Angela Little, welcome to FreshEd.
Angela Little 1:51
Thank you very much.
Will Brehm 1:52
So, let’s talk about the field of comparative education which we both are somehow members of. Many people have a hard time even defining what it means. What is comparative? What is education? At one point we included international into the name of the field. So, comparative and international education. What’s your take? What is comparative education as a field?
Angela Little 2:17
Okay, well, this is not going to be a short answer.
Will Brehm 2:21
[Laughter] That’s okay.
Angela Little 2:22
For me, comparative education is about extending the boundaries of our knowledge about education. Moving it beyond national systems of education. It’s about making something that appears to be rather unfamiliar, studying it making it familiar and in the process of making it familiar possibly making -what originally was familiar- making that rather strange so that one can see, for example two education systems from both sides, as it were. I know that from my own experience, my early teaching experience in Nigeria was very, very informative in this sense. I wasn’t a student of comparative education at that time and I suppose in a sense, I was doing international education. I had moved from England to Nigeria, and I was teaching mathematics. But doing that made me sit up and think about the way in which British education was organized. It was rather similar in Nigeria, but there were distinct differences as well. So, for me, comparative education is about making the unfamiliar familiar and making the familiar strange. Add to that international. Now, if I was being pedantic, “inter-national” means between nations, so in which case you might think that international education was exclusively about relationships between educators and policymakers in two or more different countries. And I suppose that a lot of the writing on educational borrowing and lending would fall therefore into that category. But I think, “international” is used in many, many different ways. For some people international is equivalent to global in some sense. And we have international organizations and we have all kinds of international exchange programs. So, if we take the broader meaning of international, I think that then comparative education probably becomes subordinate to international. International is a very general category that covers analysis, it covers advocacy, and it covers action and activity and add them to the mix development or development studies or international development. Well, I think for several decades now, development has usually referred to two things: It’s referred to the development of education in what are known as developing countries and at the same time, it refers to those agencies that are involved in different forms of cooperation with those countries in order to develop education for the development of society. But I like to go back to a definition that was offered by George W. Parkin, back in the mid 1970s. George Parkin was a New Zealand educator and for a brief period of time, he was a visiting professor at the Institute of Education in London. And for him, comparative education was about the contribution that education makes to the development of societies everywhere in the world. So for him, development did not refer to exclusive -it wasn’t a matter of geography, it wasn’t a matter of Africa, Asia, Latin America- he was interested in the contributions education makes to the development of society, economy, polity all over the world. So, that would include in Europe, it would include comparisons between Germany and the US for example. So, you can see from what I’ve said so far, how broad a field it is, and how inclusive it is, I think,
Will Brehm 6:11
Yeah, eight years ago, you published this piece in Comparative Education?
Angela Little 6:16
Will Brehm 6:17
In Compare, excuse me. And in that piece, you basically say, you know, enough of the debate about definitions! Our field has done this for a while, ever since it’s become a “field”. What is comparative education? And rather, you argue that we should really think about shared action. What we do should be the way in which we define what our field is rather than the meanings of these words. Has that worked out in the last eight years? Do you think that the field has moved in that direction?
Angela Little 6:53
[Laughter] Well, clearly if you look at the the journals that have been published in recent years -and I retired officially eight years ago, so I don’t look at these journals in the way that I used to- but I do occasionally dip in. And there’s still a high degree of what I would sometimes call, “navel gazing” and then attempt to actually -I think it’s a little bit, there’s a certain irony in that sometimes these articles that reflect on “the field” of comparative education are often about boundary setting. Whereas for me, I mean the beauty of comparative education is about boundary extension. And I find it slightly ironic sometimes that one is trying to draw distinctions between real comparative educationists and non-comparative educationists. I mean, at the same time, I do see the value in reflecting on the field by those who practice in the field. And I perhaps ought to say a little bit about the background to the the piece that you referred to in Compare because it’s not a conventional journal length article. The editors of Compare were putting together a special issue to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Compare and they invited a number of contributors -six or seven I think- to write. And then they -as one always does with a journal- they put the papers out for independent review. And one of the papers that was sent to me for review was actually by Mark Bray and I think it was probably the introductory paper giving an overview of his take on what comparative education was. And in that article -and I perhaps ought to have it in front of me now so that I quote it correctly and apologies to Mark if I don’t quote it correctly, but- he basically referred to the subtitle of the journal Compare, which I believe is “A Journal of Comparative and International Education”. And since Compare is the journal in a sense that belongs to the British Association of International and Comparative Education, I think he was querying, why international shouldn’t be placed before comparative. And at one level -this is a good point- I suspect, but I don’t know, because I wasn’t involved in the naming of the journal but I suspect that the subtitle derived from the fact that one of the predecessor organizations was called the British Comparative and International Education Society. So in that, so comparative came before I and that’s when the journal was established. So, I suspect that it’s just continued. But anyway, be that as it may, it just got me thinking. And so the subtitle of my little piece, which is just a commentary really. The editors I think, decided that once they put the papers out for external review, I think some of the comments that came back on the papers prompt them to then say, well, okay, we’ve got our six or seven or articles now let’s invite three or four people to write short think-pieces on the articles and also their take on the field. So, it’s a very short article and that’s how it came about. So, I said in that article that we should look a little bit more carefully at both what we do together and what we want to do together in terms of the type of research that we want to do. And I don’t know how far we’ve got with that agenda. I think one of my goals was for a greater appreciation of diversity and diversity of education practices and education policies from around the world. And to some extent, the rise of the articles that are appearing from a younger generation written about, I think it’s called “Southern Theory”. And I think to a large extent many of these calls sort of echo some of what I was trying to argue for. And indeed, I think that my goal for a greater appreciation of diversity as well as commonality. I mean, I don’t see every system as so unique from every other system that they cannot be compared and common elements drawn out, not at all. My search would always be for similarity and dissimilarity, diversity and commonality, universality and specificity. I don’t like the “either-or”. I think that constantly in comparative education, you’ve got to be very aware of both poles of those dimensions.
Will Brehm 11:34
So, what then of method? How does method -the comparative method- fit into this idea of not having either-or’s but having this universalism and specificity? You know, how does method fit in?
Angela Little 11:49
Okay, well, I think my concern about method occurs at two different levels. One is that when I moved to London to the Institute of Education, I moved from the Institute of Development Studies. And I moved to what at that time was a department of International and Comparative Education. But what that department was was basically a merger of two rather separate historical departments each with their own history and each with their own traditions. And the comparative education group who were a very small group, they -or some of their predecessors- had been very, very concerned about staking out a particular methodological approach to comparative education. There were, you probably heard of the right out of from Edmund King and Brian Holmes, or Brian Holmes was in the London Institute, Edmund King was in King’s College. They had quite different approaches to comparative education, both of which I could see had value. But it seemed to me that there was a lot of argument in that particular literature about which method was superior and which method should be followed and which method the students should follow. Coming from the other side and I had come from an Institute of Development Studies and stepped into what was then called the Department of International Comparative Education. But that the part that dealt with developing countries previously had been called education in developing countries and colleagues in that group -and I was part of that subgroup- were not nearly so concerned about that all these methodological papers. So, I think I felt at that time that method was getting in the way of the content of inquiry. The other methodological dispute, if you like, that has exercised me from time to time is what has become quite a major dispute in the social sciences, certainly in Britain, between those who promote what they call qualitative analysis and those who promote quantitative analysis. And I value both and for me, it depends very much on what you’re trying to find out. So, it’s in that sense that I say it’s your problem that from which your choice of methods should be made.
Will Brehm 14:18
Yea. Methods are tools that you use to answer the research question that you posed.
Angela Little 14:23
But you will be aware from discussions with a lot of research students that they struggle with this greatly. And for some students doing research, whether it’s comparative research or non-comparative research, they feel that doing research is doing a case study or doing a survey, right? Now, okay, they need to know, they need to find out about those those methods or those tools. But the much more challenging question for me is, why do you choose that method or that method? Or why not think about using both methods but in series? You can use a qualitative approach for the first phase of your work followed by a quantitative survey or vice-versa. And some researchers who combine the methods often produce very, very, very fine work. And when I say combine, I think, again, it’s very, you know, combination is a warm word, it’s a comforting word. It’s like interdisciplinarity or we’ll have a interdisciplinary approach to this problem. But there are points at which in fact, you do have to draw boundaries and you have to say, well, okay, in this research at this first stage of the research, I think it is best approached through qualitative means which might be unstructured interviews with people, with teachers, with students about a range of issues so that you elicit from them what they consider to be the most salient dimensions of a particular problem. At a later stage you may move that into a survey questionnaire, because at that point you might be asking questions about how many or how much or what percentage and as soon as you ask those questions, you’re talking about a quantitative approach. Now, I think the difficulty for students is that sometimes they are fed this quantitative vs qualitative.
Will Brehm 16:19
As is if they have to choose.
Angela Little 16:20
As if they have to choose! But then if they then move to a phase where they realize they can use both, the danger then is that they do neither properly. They fall between the two stools. And I think that actually students who use both approaches they possibly have a more difficult time because they have to master what that approach is. They have to do the work properly. They have to do it with scholarship.
Will Brehm 16:48
And in a four-year PhD program. I mean, how do you actually become an expert in two very different ways of doing research?
Angela Little 16:56
Yeah, yeah. So you know, it used to be a shorthand used by some of my colleagues in Britain. You know, are you a “Quant”? Or are you a “Qual”? Meaning, are you a quantitative researcher or a qualitative researcher and I used to just back off at that point and say look, it’s really not helpful. Fortunately, there are a few pieces of writing in the literature that very helpfully draw out the distinctions. Not, I would say, within our comparative education field, but in other fields that they’re in the, if you like, the comparative social sciences, you will find that.
Will Brehm 17:34
So, another big issue beyond method in comparative education and the name of comparative education, the meaning. Another issue that I -I guess being in the field for just about a decade now- I’ve noticed is that comparative educationalists -those who go through that academic trajectory- often end up working in development agencies or ministries of education, or you know, all sorts of NGOs, nonprofits, and then even the academics who are professors of comparative education often do work with these same groups over their career. So, they sort of have their foot in the world of practice and theory at the same time. They’re a practitioner but they’re also in the academy. So, you know, how do you think scholars should balance this role of the ability to analyze issues of comparative education, but then also participate in particular advocacy for education?
Angela Little 18:43
Hmm, that’s a very good question and I suppose I am one of those who has had her feet in both camps in a variety of ways. I think for those who move on from comparative and international education into a full-time position in an international organization or in an international NGO or a national NGO, I think within that organization, they need to be strong to request time for analysis. I know that in some international organizations, the pace of the discourse and all the funding imperatives are so -it’s so rapid- that the priority list of you know, “what is it today”, changes very rapidly, and I think sometimes there’s just no time for the analysis. If they cannot do the analysis themselves, or they don’t feel they’ve got the time to do the analysis, I think they need to cultivate around them a group of people -they could be consultants they might even be mentors, I’m not sure- who do have the time, who continue to have the time for analysis and those are people who are still in universities. So, I think that it’s hard if you move out of the field into a full-time position into one of these advocacy and action organizations. If you are fortunate, very fortunate, in being able to continue with a university job and at the same time, then are being invited to get involved in advocacy, I think you’re in a different position. I think that you still have -the academy still has- the opportunity for some amount of time for considered analysis, for sabbatical leave, for contributing to refereed journal articles. And I think one has to recognize the privilege of that position and value it and not allow any, “research time”, to be frittered away on advocacy and action work. It’s very tempting because the advocacy world and the action world is in many ways very exciting, very stimulating. And also, it gives you an entree to discourses that you might not otherwise have access to if you were in your “ivory tower”, as it were. So, I think analysis versus advocacy, I make that distinction quite strongly. I make it to my research students as well, because I don’t know whether you’ve had this experience but I have had in the past some -maybe not many, but some- research students who know the answer to their question before they’ve even addressed it. So they know what they want to recommend, and they haven’t done the study. Now, in this case, the advocacy is in front of the analysis. And it’s very, very hard in some cases to persuade students that they just need to forget about the recommendations and step backwards. Now a PhD over three or four years, I think for many people, including I think many academics, is one of the most privileged times of your life because you really do have time to read, you have time to analyze, you have time to think. And if you get through that period, and you’ve mastered a variety of skills, and you’ve developed a set of attitudes to education in the world, I think it places you in a very, very good position, even if you then move into a full-time job where it’s full of advocacy and action and getting on with spending money. It’s a tough one. I think that the other point I would make is that I would hope that if you have studied comparative and international education, that you retain a critical stance on many of the assertions, which come out of international organizations. International organizations have their own needs, they need to legitimize themselves, they need funding, they need to keep moving and they need to keep processing or reprocessing messages. And they often make grand claims about “X” leads to “Y” in most of the world and therefore “X” should lead to “Y” in the rest of the world. Now, if you’ve done comparative and international education in principle, you’ve got access to the resources that would enable you to test that proposition. And with the internet, now you’ve got even more access to resources. So, I would say to people just keep that critical hat on.
Will Brehm 23:33
It must be hard for some to keep that critical hat on when they end up working in development agencies that are trying to push their model: the best way to do this type of learning or solve this type of educational problem. I mean, I would imagine that they’re sort of bound by the need to advocate for that “solution” being offered. I can just see how that might be very challenging to stay critical. You want to be critical, but at the same time your job is telling you regardless of the circumstances, you have to say that this model is right.
Angela Little 24:14
Okay. I accept the constraint of that situation. At the same time, I would say take every opportunity you can to attend conferences. And much more than that, take every opportunity you can to present your work at conferences, knowing that if some members of the academy are there, they may be quite critical of what you’re doing, but use that critique to help you to reflect. Perhaps don’t rely on yourself and your peers to do all that self-reflection. Most organizations do have periods of time for in-service training or continuous professional development and some organizations and DFID actually -this is the Department for International Development- in recent years has been really quite good in encouraging many of its staff to attend, for example, the UKFIET conference, the United Kingdom Forum for International Education and Training. And those of us, who have been in that forum for a very long time -since its inception- were always very pleased when members of development agencies come and participate with us. Sometimes they request space for a panel to talk about their latest position paper. And sometimes it is possible to give them that space and they know that there will be a critique, there will be a lot of questions. But as members of the Academy, I think we try not to do that. We try to critique in a way which is constructive, not destructive. And I think sometimes it might be quite threatening for people to do that. But we also have to remember that, of course, many of the people who work in the development organizations are our former students. So, there is already a degree of trust there and there’s already an experience of analysis and academic life. And I think that’s very positive.
Will Brehm 26:09
So, you wrote that piece in Compare eight years ago looking at the main challenges to the field at that time. I know you said you retired around that same time that you published that piece but if you were to look at the field today, what would the main challenges be, the ones you see today? And are they different from the ones you saw eight years ago?
Angela Little 26:32
I think that today, even over that short space of time of eight years, I think the amount of information which is available on the internet, I mean, it’s just exploded. So, students actually have no excuse now. When they used to come along and say, I can’t find that report. I can’t find this, I can’t find that. If they’re looking for reports that have been produced from these so-called international agencies, there’s no excuse, most of that stuff is on the net. Where I think it’s still problematic in some countries is gaining access to what we might call the grey literature, the grey policy literature within countries, because a lot of that is not made available on the internet, and also, of course, historical material. And for that, you just have to search. You have to do old-style searching, sitting in archives and going through the material. In terms of the approach to problems, you drew my attention to a couple of writings on what might be generally termed, “Southern Theory”. And I think perhaps eight years ago that was beginning to take off. I think there’s more of that around in 2018 than I might have predicted in 2010. And I think on balance that’s very, very positive, as I said before, I think it it feeds into my predilection for the study of diversity. Where I’m just a little bit, I would wish to be a little bit cautious about some of that writing because some of it is imbued with the language of racism and I find that that’s tough. I think that when you have worked in a field for 45 years and when you have seen and been part of changing the -creating a much more diverse staffing profile for example in- a department that you’ve been associated with for two or three decades. Change is slow but one has seen change. Considerable amount of change. I think some of the language of those who call for Southern Theory and a counter hegemony, in effect. I think the language needs to be considered carefully if we are to move towards a comparative and international education field which is truly inclusive. There’s a certain danger that what is being called the Northern hegemony, certain danger that the call is to replace it with a Southern hegemony. I don’t buy into that partly because I’m not sure that I buy into all of the caricature of the Northern hegemony anyway. But I do, I think that those who are calling for a greater level of contribution from those who know systems, in the so-called “South” from the inside -and who are themselves extremely good scholars- to see a greater contribution only to be welcomed and invited. Nearly 20 years ago now, I undertook an analysis of the articles which had appeared in Comparative Education over the previous 20 year period. The year 2000 was when Comparative Education was doing yet another set of reflections on the condition of the field. And what I did was an analysis of of these about four or 500 articles. And I was interested in the four C’s: context, content, comparison, and contributors. So, the question of content was addressed to George Parkin’s issue about geography. And I found a pretty good spread of countries that were addressed in the articles. Content was what was the problem area that the articles were addressing. And that was incredibly diverse, incredibly diverse. I mean, everything from higher education to language policy, to pedagogy, to relations between education and development. Very, very wide. The third area was comparison. Now this one was very interesting because I took my cue from Parkin and some of the comparative educators before him. And perhaps working from maybe even Kandel’s position, I was looking for articles which compared two or more countries. And actually, I found that the vast majority of articles were only focused on one country. And I felt for me that didn’t devalue them. I just felt that if they were articles that were going to appear in a comparative education journal, they needed to be written with another author, maybe who have been looking at something similar in another country. I think that single country studies are absolutely essential for comparison. I don’t think you can “compare” until you’ve done a proper study of two countries or a team has done a proper scholarly study of the countries that they purport to compare because I think there’s a great danger otherwise that your comparisons become very, very surface level. Okay, so that was the comparison dimension. And the fourth dimension was contributors. And I found that there was a very heavy concentration of the contributors in Northern institutions. Now, they themselves may well have been from the South. They may have done their PhDs in the South but they have migrated to institutions in the North. Now, I think one of the challenges we have in the development of the collective development of higher education around the world if how can we find ways of distributing the skills of comparative and international education more equally across the globe so that in turn, those who have the skills can work in diverse parts of the world to develop scholarship in those parts of the world? Because if there’s this continued migration to the institutions in North America and Europe -and when I say the South, I rather exclude Australia and New Zealand and I think they would exclude themselves from what is referred to as the South. So perhaps not, not entirely perhaps- but if people are migrating, if academics are migrating to these good centers and departments of international comparative education, I think that worries me for the field. It doesn’t worry me for the individuals. The individuals are making very, very rational individual decisions. But I worry for the next generations of scholars from those countries who wish to stay in -not to stay in their country but who wish to- do comparative education in other countries, but then who wish to contribute to comparative international education in their country.
Will Brehm 33:50
And in a way that would contribute to this idea of Southern theory.
Angela Little 33:54
Yes, absolutely. Absolutely.
Will Brehm 33:58
Well, Angela Little Thank you so much for joining FreshEd today, it was really a pleasure to talk.
Angela Little 34:02
Thank you very much.
Will Brehm 1:49
Angela Little, bem-vinda ao FreshEd.
Angela Little 1:51
Will Brehm 1:52
Vamos falar sobre o campo da educação comparada, do qual, de certa forma, somos ambos membros. Muitas pessoas têm dificuldade em definir o que significa educação comparada. O que é “comparada”? O que é “educação”? A certa altura acrescentamos “internacional” ao nome do campo. Então, educação internacional e comparada. Qual é a sua opinião? O que é a educação comparada?
Angela Little 2:17
Muito bem, não vai ser uma resposta curta.
Será Brehm 2:21
[Risos] Tudo bem.
Angela Little 2:22
Para mim, a educação comparada é sobre ampliar as fronteiras do nosso conhecimento sobre a educação. Movendo-o para além dos sistemas nacionais de educação. Trata-se de fazer algo que parece pouco familiar, estudá-lo tornando-o familiar e no processo de o tornar familiar, possivelmente tornando-o originalmente familiar. Por exemplo, dois sistemas educativos de diferentes locais. Sei isto pela minha própria experiência, a minha experiência enquanto professora no início da minha carreira na Nigéria foi muito, muito informativa nesse sentido. Eu não era uma estudante de educação comparada na época e suponho que, de certo modo, eu estava a estudar educação internacional. Mudei-me de Inglaterra para a Nigéria e estava a ensinar matemática. Mas esta experiência fez-me pensar sobre a forma como educação britânica estava organizada. Era bastante semelhante na Nigéria, mas também havia diferenças. Então, para mim, a educação comparada é sobre tornar o familiar desconhecido e familiarizarmo-nos com o estranho. Adicione a isso o internacional. Agora, se eu estava sendo pedante, “inter- nacional” significa entre nações, então, nesse caso, pode-se pensar que a educação internacional trata exclusivamente a relação entre educadores e políticas em dois ou mais países. E suponho que muitos dos textos sobre borrowing and lendingestão enquadrados nesta categoria. Mas julgo que a palavra “internacional” é usada com uma variedade, muito, muito grande. Para algumas pessoas, internacional equivale a global, de certa forma. E nós temos organizações internacionais e todos os tipos de programas de intercâmbio internacional. Então, se internacional tiver um significado mais amplo, julgo que a educação comparada provavelmente se torna subordinada do internacional. Internacional é uma categoria muito abrangente que inclui análise, inclui incidência política [advocacy] e inclui ações e atividades que são adicionadas aos estudos do desenvolvimento ou ao desenvolvimento internacional. Bem, eu julgo que desde já há várias décadas, o desenvolvimento normalmente se refere a duas coisas: ao desenvolvimento da educação naqueles que são conhecidos como países em desenvolvimento e, ao mesmo tempo, refere-se àquelas agências que estão envolvidas em diferentes formas de cooperação com esses países, a fim de desenvolver a educação para o desenvolvimento da sociedade. Mas eu gosto de voltar a uma definição de George W. Parkin, em meados da década de 1970. George Parkin foi um educador da Nova Zelândia e por um breve período de tempo foi professor visitante no Instituto de Educação em Londres. E para ele, a educação comparada era sobre a contribuição que da educação para o desenvolvimento das sociedades em todo o mundo. Então, para ele, desenvolvimento não se referia a exclusivamente – não era uma questão de geografia, não era uma questão de África, Ásia, América Latina – ele estava interessado na contribuição da educação para o desenvolvimento da sociedade, da economia, das políticas em todo o mundo. Então, desta forma incluiria a Europa, incluiria comparações entre a Alemanha e os EUA, por exemplo. Então, você pode ver pelo que eu disse até agora, quão amplo é um campo, e como é inclusivo, penso eu.
Will Brehm 6:11
Sim, há oito anos publicou um artigo na Comparative Education?
Angela Pequeno 6:16
Will Brehm 6:17
Na Compare, desculpe. E nesse artigo, basicamente refere, sabe, já chega de debater as definições! O nosso campo fez isso durante algum tempo, desde que se tornou um “campo”. O que é a educação comparada? Em vez disso, argumenta que deveríamos pensar em ações partilhadas. O que fazemos deve ser o modo pelo qual definimos o nosso campo e não o significado das palavras. Julga que isto funcionou nos últimos oito anos? Pensa que o campo se moveu nessa direção?
Angela Little 6:53
[Risos] Bem, claramente, se olhar para os artigos das revistas que foram publicados nos últimos anos – e eu reformei-me oficialmente há oito anos, então eu não olho para essas revistas do mesmo modo que antes – mas faço-o ocasionalmente. Ainda há um alto grau do que às vezes eu chamo de “olhar para o umbigo” e então tento realmente – eu acho que é um pouco, há uma certa ironia nisso algumas vezes esses artigos que refletem sobre “o campo” da educação comparada são frequentemente sobre a criação de fronteiras. Contudo, para mim, quero dizer a beleza da educação comparada é sobre expansão das fronteiras. E às vezes acho irónico que alguém esteja a tentar fazer distinções entre que investigadores que fazem educação comparada “real” e investigadores que não fazem educação comparada. Quero dizer, ao mesmo tempo, vejo o valor de refletir sobre o campo por aqueles que o praticam. Talvez eu deva falar um pouco sobre o contexto do artigo que mencionou da Compareporque não é um artigo com um tamanho convencional de uma revista. Os editores da Compareestavam a organizar uma edição especial para comemorar o 40.º aniversário da Comparee eles convidaram um conjunto de autores para colaborar nesse número – seis ou sete – para escrever. E então eles – como sempre fazemos com uma revista – os artigos foram para uma revisão independente. E um dos artigos que me foi enviado para rever foi, na verdade, de Mark Bray e acho que foi, provavelmente, o artigo introdutório que oferece uma visão geral sobre a sua perspetiva do que era educação comparada. E nesse artigo – e talvez eu devesse tê-lo na minha frente agora, para que o pudesse citar corretamente, peço desde já desculpa ao Mark se não o citar corretamente, mas – ele basicamente referiu-se ao subtítulo da revista Compare, que eu acredito que é “Uma Revista de Educação Comparada e Internacional”. E como a Compareé uma revista que de certa forma pertence à Associação Britânica de Educação Internacional e Comparada [British Association of International and Comparative Education], penso que ele estava a questionar, porque é que o internacional não deveria ser colocado antes do comparado. E de certa forma – isso é um bom argumento – eu suspeito, mas não sei, porque não estive envolvida na atribuição do nome à revista, porém suspeito que o subtítulo derivou do fato de uma das organizações predecessoras se chamar Sociedade Britânica de Educação Comparada e Internacional [British Comparative and International Education Society]. Então, comparada veio antes de mim e foi quando a revista foi criada. Então, suspeito que apenas continuou. Mas de qualquer modo, seja como for, isso fez-me pensar. E assim surgiu o subtítulo do meu pequeno artigo, que é apenas, realmente, um comentário. Os editores, penso eu, decidiram que, uma vez que eles colocassem os artigos para revisão externa, eu penso que alguns dos comentários que voltaram nos artigos os levaram a dizer, muito bem, nós agora já temos os nossos seis ou sete artigos, agora vamos convidar três ou quatro pessoas apenas para escrever recensões críticas sobre os artigos e também sobre as suas visões sobre o assunto. Então, é um artigo muito pequeno e foi assim que surgiu. Então, naquele artigo disse que deveríamos olhar com mais cuidado para o que fazemos juntos e o que queremos fazer juntos em termos do tipo de investigação que queremos fazer. Eu não sei quão longe fomos com esta agenda. Penso que um dos meus objetivos era um maior reconhecimento da diversidade, da diversidade de práticas e políticas educativas em todo o mundo. E, até certo ponto, os artigos que estão a surgir escritos por uma geração mais jovem são sobrepenso que se chama, “Teoria do Sul” [Southern Theory]. Penso que uma grande parte muitas destas perspetivas ecoam um pouco do que eu estava a tentar argumentar. E, de facto, penso que meu objetivo é um maior reconhecimento da diversidade e da partilha de interesses. Quer dizer, eu não vejo cada sistema tão único em relação a outros sistemas que não possam ser comparados e de alguma forma extraídos elementos comuns. A minha a busca seria sempre por similaridade e falta de similaridade, diversidade e de partilha de interesses, universalidade e especificidade. Eu não gosto do “um ou do outro” [either-or]. Penso que, constantemente, na educação comparada temos que estar muito consciente destes dois polos dessas dimensões.
Will Brehm 11:34
Então, e o método? Como é que o método – o método comparativo – se enquadra nesta ideia de não ter um ou outro, mas ter esse universalismo e especificidade? Sabe, como é que o método se enquadra?
Angela Litle 11:49
Bem, penso que minha preocupação com o método ocorre a dois níveis distintos. Uma é que, quando me mudei para Londres, para o Instituto de Educação, mudei-me do Instituto de Estudos do Desenvolvimento. E mudei-me para o que naquela época era um departamento de Educação Internacional e Comparada. Mas esse departamento era basicamente uma fusão de dois departamentos históricos bastante separados, cada um com sua própria história e cada um com suas próprias tradições. O grupo de educação comparada, que era um grupo muito pequeno, eles – ou alguns de seus antecessores – estavam muito, muito preocupados em estabelecer uma abordagem metodológica específica para a educação comparada. Houve, provavelmente já ouviu falar de Edmund King e Brian Holmes, Brian Holmes estava no Instituto de Londres e Edmund King estava no King’s College. Eles tinham abordagens bastante diferentes para a educação comparada, e eu via um valor acrescentado nisso. Mas pareceu-me que havia muita discussão nessa literatura em particular sobre qual o método que era superior, qual o método que deveria ser seguido, e qual método que os estudantes deveriam seguir. Vindo do outro lado, vim de um Instituto de Estudos do Desenvolvimento e entrei no então chamado Departamento de Educação Internacional e Comparada. Mas a parte que lidava com países em desenvolvimento já tinha sido chamada de educação em países em desenvolvimento e colegas daquele grupo – e eu fazia parte desse subgrupo – não estavam tão preocupados com todos esses documentos metodológicos. Então, penso que senti naquele momento que o método estava a atrapalhar o conteúdo da investigação. A outra disputa metodológica, se a podemos chamar assim, que me tem exercitado de tempos a tempos tornou-se numa grande disputa nas ciências sociais, certamente em na Inglaterra, entre aqueles que promovem o que chamam de análise qualitativa e aqueles que promovem a análise quantitativa. E eu valorizo ambos e, para mim, depende muito do que está a tentar descobrir. Então, é neste sentido que julgo que a escolha dos métodos está dependente de cada um.
Will Brehm 14:18
Sim. Os métodos são ferramentas que usa para responder à pergunta de investigação que colocou.
Angela Little 14:23
Mas estará ciente, a partir discussões com vários estudantes que estão a frequentar unidades curriculares de investigação, que eles têm grandes dificuldades com este aspeto. E para alguns alunos que fazem investigação, seja investigação comparada ou não comparada, eles pensam que fazer investigação é fazer um estudo de caso ou fazer um questionário, certo? Agora, tudo bem, eles necessitam de saber, necessitam de descobrir esses métodos ou essas ferramentas. Mas, para mim, a questão muito mais desafiadora é, porque é que escolhe este ou aquele método? Ou porque não pensar em usar os dois métodos, mas em séries? Pode usar uma abordagem qualitativa para a primeira fase do seu trabalho, seguida de uma investigação quantitativa ou vice-versa. E alguns investigadores que combinam os métodos geralmente produzem um trabalho muito, muito bom. E quando digo combinar, penso que, novamente, é muito, sabe, combinação é uma palavra calorosa, é uma palavra reconfortante. É como interdisciplinaridade ou teremos uma abordagem interdisciplinar para o problema. Mas há pontos em que, de fato, temos que estabelecer limites e temos que dizer, bem, nesta investigação, nesta primeira fase da investigação julgo que é melhor abordado através de métodos qualitativos que podem ser entrevistas não estruturadas com pessoas, com os professores, com os alunos sobre uma variedade de questões, para que produza o que eles consideram ser as dimensões mais salientes de um problema em particular. Posteriormente, pode colocar essas questões num questionário, porque, nesse momento, pode estar a fazer perguntas sobre quantas ou quanto ou quais percentagens e, assim que fizer estas perguntas, está a falar de uma abordagem quantitativa. Agora, acho que a dificuldade para os alunos é que às vezes eles são “alimentados” com esta dicotomia quantitativo vs. qualitativo.
Will Brehm 16:19
Como se tivessem que escolher.
Angela Little 16:20
Como se tivessem que escolher! Mas então, se eles se movem para uma fase em que percebem que podem usar ambos os métodos, o perigo é não seguir os procedimentos corretos. Eles ficam entre duas possibilidades. Julgo que, na verdade, os alunos que usam ambas as abordagens possivelmente têm mais dificuldade porque precisam dominar estas duas abordagens. Eles têm que fazer o trabalho corretamente. Eles têm que fazê-lo recorrendo a uma bolsa de estudo.
Wil Brehm 16:48
E num programa de doutoramento de 4 anos. Quero dizer, como é que se pode tornar, verdadeiramente, umespecialista em duas formas bastante diferentes de fazer investigação?
Angela Little 16:56
Sim, sim. Sabe, costumava ser uma abreviatura usada por alguns dos meus colegas na Grã-Bretanha. Sabe, é um “Quant”? Ou um “Qual”? Significa que é um investigador quantitativo ou qualitativo e eu costumava recuar nesse ponto e dizer olha, realmente essa perspetiva não é útil. Felizmente, existem alguns textos na literatura que fazem uma distinção relevante. Dentro do nosso campo da educação comparada, eu diria que não, mas em outros campos em que eles estão, se preferir, as ciências sociais comparadas, encontra-a.
Will Brehm 17:34
Então, outra grande questão que extravasa a questão dos métodos na educação comparada e o nome “educação comparada” é o seu significado. Outra questão que – eu penso que está presente no campo quase há uma década – tenho notado é que quem está ligado à educação comparada – aqueles que passam por uma trajetória académica – e muitas vezes acabam a trabalhar numa agência de desenvolvimento ou num Ministério da Educação, ou sabe, todos os tipos de ONG, organizações sem fins lucrativos, e até mesmo os académicos que são professores de educação comparada, frequentemente trabalham com esses mesmos grupos ao longo das suas carreiras. Então, têm um pé no mundo da prática e outro no da teoria ao mesmo tempo. Eles são práticos, mas também estão na academia. Então, sabe, como pensa que os estudiosos devem equilibrar esse papel da capacidade de analisar questões de educação comparada, mas depois também participar em ações específicas de educação comparada?
Angela Little 18:43
Hmm, esta é uma pergunta muito boa e suponho que eu seja uma daquelas pessoas que tiveram os pés em ambos os lados de várias formas. Julgo que para aqueles que passam da educação comparada e da educação internacional para um trabalho a tempo integral numa organização internacional ou numa ONG internacional ou numa ONG nacional, eu penso que dentro dessa organização, eles precisam ser fortes para pedirem tempo para análise. Eu sei que em algumas organizações internacionais, o ritmo do discurso e todos os imperativos de financiamento são tão – é tão rápido – que a sua lista de prioridades sabe, “o que é hoje”, muda muito rapidamente, e eu julgo que por vezes há não há tempo para análise. Se não podem fazer a análise por si, ou não sentem que têm tempo para fazer a análise, julgo que necessitam de ter à sua volta um grupo de pessoas – podem ser consultores, ou mesmo mentores, não tenho a certeza – quem tem tempo, quem continua a ter tempo para análise, e essas pessoas são geralmente quem continua nas universidades. Então, julgo que é difícil se sair do campo para um trabalho a tempo numa dessas organizações de incidência política [advocacy]. Se tem a sorte, muita sorte, e conseguir continuar com um trabalho universitário e, ao mesmo tempo, ser convidado para se envolver em incidência política [advocacy], penso que está numa posição diferente. Considero que se ainda tem – a academia ainda tem – a oportunidade de ter algum tempo para análise ponderada, para uma licença sabática, para contribuir com artigos com revisão por pares em revistas. E julgo que é necessário reconhecer o privilégio de ter essa oportunidade e valorizá-la e não permitir que qualquer “tempo de investigação” seja desperdiçado em trabalho de incidência política [advocacy] e ação. É muito tentador, porque o mundo da incidência política [advocacy] e da ação são, em muitos aspetos, muito empolgantes, muito estimulantes. E também, lhe dá acesso a discursos que de outra forma não teria acesso caso estivesse na sua “torre de marfim”, por assim dizer. Então, eu penso em análise versus incidência política [advocacy], faço esta distinção com bastante veemência. Faço isso mesmo para os meus alunos de investigação, porque não sei se teve essa experiência, mas eu tive no passado alguns – talvez não muitos, mas alguns -estudantes de investigação que já sabem a resposta às perguntas de investigação mesmo antes de as redigir. Então, eles sabem o que querem recomendar, mas ainda não fizeram o estudo. Neste caso, a incidência política [advocacy] está à frente da análise. E é muito difícil, em alguns casos, persuadir os alunos que só precisam esquecer as recomendações e voltar atrás. Um doutoramento de três ou quatro anos, penso que para muitas outras pessoas, julgo que inclusivamente para muitos académicos, é um dos momentos mais privilegiados da sua vida porque têm realmente tempo para ler, tempo para analisar, tempo para pensar. E se passar por esse período, já dominou uma variedade de competências e desenvolveu um conjunto de atitudes em relação à educação no mundo, julgo que isso o coloca numa posição muito boa, mesmo que mude para um trabalho a tempo repleto de incidência política, ação e gestão de financiamentos. É difícil. Porém, julgo que outro ponto que gostaria de acrescentar é que espero que alguém que estudou educação internacional e comparada mantenha uma postura crítica sobre muitas das afirmações que vêm de organizações internacionais. As organizações internacionais têm as suas próprias necessidades, elas precisam de se legitimar, precisam de financiamento, precisam continuar em movimento e precisam continuar processando ou reprocessando as mensagens. E muitas vezes fazem grandes reivindicações sobre “X” leva a “Y” na maior parte do mundo e, portanto, “X” deve levar a “Y” no resto do mundo. Agora, se estudou educação internacional e comparada, em princípio, terá acesso aos recursos que permitem testar essas proposições. E com a internet, agora consegue-se ainda mais acesso a recursos. Então, diria às pessoas para manterem o “chapéu” da crítica.
Will Brehm 23:33
Deve ser difícil para alguns manterem o “chapéu” da crítica, quando acabam a trabalhar em agências de desenvolvimento que estão a tentar impulsionar o seu modelo: a melhor forma de fazer esse tipo de aprendizagem ou resolver esse tipo de problema educacional. Quer dizer, imagino que eles estão ligados à necessidade de defender a “solução” que está a ser oferecida. Posso apenas imaginar como pode ser bastante desafiador permanecer crítico. Quer ser crítico, mas ao mesmo tempo o seu trabalho está a dizer-lhe, independentemente das circunstâncias, que o modelo que está a usar está certo.
Angela Little 24:14
OK. Eu aceito a restrição dessa situação. Ao mesmo tempo, diria que deve aproveitar todas as oportunidades para participar em conferências. E muito mais do que isso, aproveite todas as oportunidades possíveis para apresentar o seu trabalho em conferências, sabendo que, se alguns membros da academia estiverem lá, eles podem ser bastante críticos sobre o que está a fazer, mas use essas críticas para o ajudar a refletir. Talvez não se limitar apenas à sua autorreflexão e à dos seus colegas. A maioria das organizações tem períodos de tempo para formação em serviço ou desenvolvimento profissional, e algumas organizações e precisamente o DFID – isto é o Departamento para o Desenvolvimento Internacional do Reino Unido- nos últimos anos tem sido muito bom a encorajar muitos de seus funcionários a comparecer, por exemplo, no UKFIET, o Fórum do Reino Unido para Educação Internacional e Formação [United Kingdom Forum for International Education and Training]. E aqueles de nós, que estão nesse fórum há muito tempo – desde o início – ficam sempre muito satisfeitos quando membros de agências de desenvolvimento participaram connosco. Às vezes, solicitam espaço para um painel para terem oportunidade de falar sobre seu mais recente documento de posicionamento. E às vezes é possível dar-lhes esse espaço e eles sabem que haverá crítica, haverá muitas perguntas. Mas como membros da Academia, penso acho que tentamos não fazer isso. Nós tentamos criticar de uma maneira construtiva, não destrutiva. E penso que às vezes pode ser bastante ameaçador para as pessoas fazerem isso. Mas também temos que lembrar que, é claro, muitas das pessoas que trabalham nas organizações de desenvolvimento são nossos ex-alunos. Então, já existe um certo grau de confiança e já existe uma experiência de análise e vida académica. E penso que isso é muito positivo.
Will Brehm 26:09
Então, escreveu o artigo da Comparehá oito anos, olhando para os principais desafios do campo naquele momento. Eu sei que disse que se aposentou na mesma época em que publicou esse artigo, mas se fosse olhar para o campo hoje, quais seriam os principais desafios, aqueles que identifica atualmente? São diferentes dos que viu há oito anos?
Angela Little 26:32
Penso que hoje, mesmo nesse curto espaço de tempo de oito anos, penso que a quantidade de informação disponível na internet, quero dizer, acabou de explodir. Então, os estudantes agora não têm desculpa. Quando apareciam e diziam, não consigo encontrar o relatório. Não consigo encontrar isso, não consigo encontrar aquilo. Se estão a procurar relatórios que foram produzidos a partir das chamadas agências internacionais, não há desculpas, a maioria das informações está na internet. Onde considero que ainda é problemático em alguns países é o acesso ao que podemos chamar literatura cinzenta, a literatura cinzenta referente a políticas dos países, porque muita desta informação não está disponível na internet, e também, claro está, material histórico. E para isso, apenas precisa de investigar. Tem que realizar pesquisa à “moda antiga”, ir para os arquivos e rever o material. Em termos da abordagem às diferentes problemáticas alertou-me para alguns escritos sobre o que poderá ser chamado de “Teoria do Sul”. Julgo que talvez há oito anos isto estava a começar. Considero que há mais disso em 2018 do que eu poderia ter previsto em 2010. Julgo que o balanço é muito, muito positivo, como eu disse antes, penso que isso alimenta a minha predileção pelo estudo da diversidade. Onde eu estou apenas um pouquinho, eu gostaria de ser um pouco cautelosa sobre alguns escritos, porque alguns estão imbuídos na linguagem do racismo e julgo que isso é difícil. Penso que quando se trabalha numa área há 45 anos e quando vê e faz parte da mudança de criar um perfil de pessoas muito mais diversificado, por exemplo, em um departamento ao qual tem estado associado durante duas ou três décadas. A mudança é lenta, mas já se viu mudança. Uma quantidade considerável de mudança. Na realidade, alguma da linguagem(s) daqueles que clamam pela Teoria do Sul e uma contra-hegemonia. Eu penso que a(s) linguagem(s) necessitam de ser consideradas com precaução se quisermos que haja uma movimentação para uma educação internacional e comparada que seja verdadeiramente inclusiva. Há um certo perigo para o que está a ser chamado de hegemonia do Norte, está a ser substituída por uma hegemonia do Sul. Eu não entendo isso em parte porque eu não tenho certeza se compro toda a caricatura da hegemonia do Norte de qualquer maneira. Mas eu acredito que aqueles que estão a pedir um maior nível de contribuição daqueles que conhecem os sistemas, no chamado “Sul” de dentro – e que são, eles mesmos, extremamente bons académicos – é para contribuírem e apenas para serem bem-vindos e convidados. Há quase 20 anos, realizei uma análise dos artigos que apareceram na Comparative Educationno período de 20 anos. O ano de 2000 foi quando a ComparativeEducationestava a realizar um conjunto de reflexões sobre as áreas. E o que fiz foi uma análise desses cerca de quatro ou 500 artigos. Estava interessada nos quatro C’s: contexto, conteúdo, comparação e colaboradores [context, content, comparison, and contributors]. Então, a questão do conteúdo foi endereçada à questão de George Parkin sobre geografia. E eu encontrei uma boa distribuição de países que foram abordados nos artigos. O conteúdo era a problemática que os artigos abordavam. E isso foi incrivelmente diversificado, incrivelmente diverso. Quer dizer, tudo, do ensino superior à política linguística, à pedagogia, às relações entre educação e desenvolvimento. Muito abrangente. A terceira área foi a comparação. Agora, este foi muito interessante porque segui a sugestão do Parkin e alguns dos investigadores de educação comparada antes dele. E talvez trabalhando talvez a partir da posição de Kandel, estava à procura de artigos que comparassem dois ou mais países. E, na verdade, descobri que a grande maioria dos artigos estava focada apenas em um país. E eu senti que esse aspeto não os desvalorizou. Eu apenas senti que, se fossem artigos que aparecessem numa revista de educação comparada, precisariam de ser escritos com outro autor, que talvez estivesse à procura de algo similar em outro país. Julgo que os estudos de um único país são absolutamente essenciais para a comparação. Não penso que se pode “comparar” até que se tenha feito um estudo apropriado de dois países ou uma equipa tenha feito um estudo académico adequado sobre os países que pretendem comparar, porque penso que há um grande perigo caso contrário as suas comparações se tornam-se muito, muito superficiais. Muito bem, então essa foi a dimensão de comparação. E a quarta dimensão foram os autores[colaboradores]. E descobri que havia uma concentração muito grande de autores nas instituições do Norte. Agora, eles mesmos podem ter sido do Sul. Podem ter feito os seus doutoramentos no Sul, mas migraram para instituições no Norte. Agora, julgo que um dos desafios que temos no desenvolvimento de um desenvolvimento coletivo do ensino superior em todo o mundo é como podemos encontrar formas de distribuir as competências da educação comparada e internacional, de forma mais igualitária em todo o mundo, de modo a que, por sua vez, aqueles que têm as competências possam trabalhar em diversas partes do mundo para desenvolver o campo nessas partes do mundo? Porque se há essa migração contínua para as instituições na América do Norte e da Europa – e quando digo o Sul, eu excluo a Austrália e a Nova Zelândia e considero que elas se excluem do que é chamado de Sul. Talvez não, talvez não inteiramente – mas se as pessoas estão a migrar, se os académicos estão a migrar para esses bons Centros e Departamentos de educação internacional e comparada, penso que isso me preocupa para o estado do campo. Não me preocupa pelos indivíduos. Os indivíduos estão ta tomar decisões individuais muito, muito racionais. Mas eu preocupo-me com as próximas gerações de académicos daqueles países que desejam permanecer – não para ficar no seu país, mas que desejam fazer educação comparada em outros países, mas que desejam contribuir para a educação internacional comparada em seu país.
Will Brehm 33:50
E de uma maneira que contribuiria para essa ideia da “teoria do Sul”.
Angela Little 33:54
Sim, absolutamente. Absolutamente.
Will Brehm 33:58
Bem, Angela Little Muito obrigado por participar no FreshEd de hoje, foi realmente um prazer conversar consigo.
Angela Little 34:02
Translation by Rui da Silva and Rosa Silva
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Will Brehm 1:49
Angela Little, bienvenue à FreshEd.
Angela Little 1:51
Will Brehm 1:52
Discutons donc du domaine de l’éducation comparée dont nous sommes tous deux en quelque sorte membres. Beaucoup de gens ont du mal à définir ce que cela veut dire. Qu’est-ce qui est comparatif ? Qu’est-ce que l’éducation ? À un moment donné, nous avons inclus l’international dans le nom de ce domaine. Donc, l’éducation comparative et internationale. Qu’en pensez-vous ? Qu’est-ce que l’éducation comparée en tant que domaine ?
Angela Little 2:17
Bon, eh bien, ce ne sera pas une réponse brève.
Will Brehm 2:21
[Rire] C’est bon.
Angela Little 2:22
Pour moi, l’éducation comparative vise à élargir les limites de nos connaissances en matière d’éducation. Il s’agit de l’amener au-delà des systèmes nationaux d’éducation. Il s’agit de rendre quelque chose qui semble peu familier, de l’étudier pour le rendre familier et, ce faisant, de rendre peut-être familier ce qui l’était à l’origine, ce qui le rend plutôt étrange, de sorte que l’on puisse voir, par exemple, deux systèmes éducatifs des deux côtés, pour ainsi dire. Je sais par expérience que ma première expérience d’enseignant au Nigeria a été très, très instructive en ce sens. Je n’étudiais pas l’éducation comparative à cette époque et je suppose que, dans un sens, je faisais de l’éducation internationale. J’avais quitté l’Angleterre pour le Nigeria et j’enseignais les mathématiques. Mais cela m’a fait réfléchir à la façon dont l’éducation britannique était structurée. C’était assez semblable au Nigeria, mais il y avait aussi de nettes divergences. Donc, pour moi, l’éducation comparative vise à rendre familier l’inconnu et à rendre étrange ce qui est familier. Ajoutez à cela l’international. Maintenant, si j’étais pédant, “international” signifie entre nations, auquel cas vous pourriez croire que l’éducation internationale concerne exclusivement les relations entre éducateurs et décideurs politiques dans deux ou plusieurs pays différents. Et je présume qu’une grande partie des écrits sur l’emprunt et le prêt de matériel éducatif relèveraient donc de cette catégorie. Mais je pense que le terme “international” est employé de nombreuses façons différentes. Pour certaines personnes, international est équivalent à mondial dans un certain sens. Et nous avons des organisations internationales et nous avons toutes sortes de programmes d’échanges internationaux. Donc, si nous prenons le sens plus large d’international, je pense que l’éducation comparative devient probablement secondaire à l’international. L’international est une catégorie très générale qui couvre l’analyse, la défense des intérêts, l’action et l’activité, et qui s’ajoute au mélange développement ou études sur le développement ou développement international. Eh bien, je trouve que depuis plusieurs décennies maintenant, le développement fait généralement référence à deux choses : Il s’agit du développement de l’éducation dans ce qu’on appelle les pays en développement et, en même temps, il s’agit des agences qui sont engagées dans différentes formes de coopération avec ces pays afin de promouvoir l’éducation pour le développement de la société. Mais j’aime retourner à une définition proposée par George W. Parkin, au milieu des années 1970. George Parkin était un éducateur néo-zélandais et, pendant une brève période, il a été professeur invité à l’Institut d’éducation de Londres. Et pour lui, l’éducation comparative concernait la contribution de l’éducation au développement des sociétés partout dans le monde. Pour lui, le développement n’est donc pas exclusif – ce n’est pas une question de géographie, ce n’est pas une question d’Afrique, d’Asie, d’Amérique latine – il s’intéresse à la contribution de l’éducation au développement de la société, de l’économie, de la politique dans le monde entier. Ainsi, cela comprendrait, en Europe, des comparaisons entre l’Allemagne et les États-Unis par exemple. Ainsi, vous pouvez voir, d’après ce que j’ai dit jusqu’à présent, à quel point ce domaine est large et inclusif, je pense,
Will Brehm 6:11
Oui, il y a 8 ans de cela, vous avez publié cet article dans l’Éducation Comparative?
Angela Little 6:16
En guise de comparaison.
Will Brehm 6:17
Dans Comparer, veuillez m’excuser. Et dans cet article, vous dites en gros, vous savez, assez du débat sur les définitions ! Notre domaine le fait depuis un certain temps, depuis qu’il est devenu un “domaine”. Qu’est-ce que l’éducation comparative ? Et vous dites plutôt que nous devrions vraiment envisager une action commune. Ce que nous devrions faire, c’est définir notre domaine plutôt que de définir le sens de ces mots. Cela a-t-il marché ces huit dernières années ? Croyez-vous que le domaine a évolué dans cette direction?
Angela Little 6:53
[Rire] Il est évident que si vous regardez les revues qui ont été publiées ces dernières années et que j’ai pris ma retraite officielle il y a huit ans de cela, je ne regarde plus ces revues comme avant – mais je m’y plonge de temps en temps. Et il y a encore une grande part de ce que j’appellerais parfois “l’observation du nombril” et j’essaie ensuite de – je crois que c’est un peu, il y a une certaine ironie dans le fait que des fois, ces articles qui réfléchissent sur “le domaine” de l’éducation comparative portent souvent sur la définition de limites. Alors que pour moi, je veux dire que la beauté de l’éducation comparative est l’extension des limites. Et je trouve parfois un peu ironique qu’on essaie de faire des différences entre les vrais éducateurs comparatifs et les éducateurs non comparatifs. Je veux dire, en parallèle, que je vois l’intérêt d’une réflexion sur le terrain par ceux qui pratiquent dans ce domaine. Et je devrais peut-être dire quelques mots sur le contexte de l’article auquel vous avez fait référence dans Comparer, car il ne s’agit pas d’un article de longueur conventionnelle. Les rédacteurs de Comparer préparaient un numéro spécial pour célébrer le 40e anniversaire de Comparer et ils ont invité un certain nombre de contributeurs – six ou sept je pense – à écrire. Puis, comme on le fait toujours avec une revue, ils ont soumis les articles à un examen indépendant. L’un des articles qui m’a été envoyé pour examen était en fait celui de Mark Bray et je crois qu’il s’agissait probablement de l’article d’introduction donnant un aperçu de son point de vue sur ce qu’était l’éducation comparée. Et dans cet article – et je devrais peut-être l’avoir sous les yeux pour le citer convenablement et m’excuser auprès de Mark si je ne le cite pas correctement, mais – il faisait essentiellement référence au sous-titre de la revue Comparer, qui est, je crois, ” Un Journal d’éducation comparative et internationale “. Et puisque Comparer est la revue qui appartient en quelque sorte à la British Association of International and Comparative Education, je pense qu’il se demandait pourquoi l’international ne devrait pas être mis avant le comparatif. Et à un certain niveau – c’est un bon point – je soupçonne, mais je ne sais pas, parce que je n’ai pas participé à la dénomination de la revue mais je soupçonne que le sous-titre découle du fait qu’une des organisations précédentes s’appelait la British Comparative and International Education Society. Donc, en cela, la comparaison est venue avant moi et c’est à ce moment-là que la revue a été établie. Je pense donc qu’elle a simplement poursuivi ses activités. Mais quoi qu’il en soit, cela m’a fait réfléchir. Et donc le sous-titre de mon petit article, qui n’est qu’un commentaire en fait. Les éditeurs ont décidé, je pense, qu’une fois les articles envoyés à un examen externe, je pense que certains des commentaires qui leur sont parvenus les ont amenés à dire, eh bien, d’accord, nous avons nos six ou sept articles, invitons à présent trois ou quatre personnes à écrire de courts articles de réflexion sur les articles et sur leur vision du domaine. C’est donc un article très court et c’est comme ça que ça s’est fait. J’ai donc dit dans cet article que nous devrions étudier un peu plus attentivement à la fois ce que nous faisons ensemble et ce que nous voulons faire ensemble en termes de type de recherche que nous voulons faire. Et je ne sais pas où nous en sommes avec ce programme. Je pense que l’un de mes objectifs était de mieux comprendre la diversité et la diversité des pratiques et des politiques éducatives dans le monde entier. Et dans une certaine mesure, la montée des articles d’une génération plus jeune sur lesquels on écrit, je crois que cela s’appelle la “théorie du Sud”. Et je crois que, dans une large mesure, beaucoup de ces appels font en quelque sorte écho à ce que j’essayais de défendre. Et en effet, je crois que mon but pour une plus grande appréciation de la diversité ainsi que des points communs. Je veux dire que je ne considère pas chaque système comme si unique par rapport aux autres systèmes qu’il soit impossible de les comparer et de dégager des éléments communs, pas du tout. Ma recherche sera toujours celle de la similarité et de la dissimilitude, de la diversité et des points communs, de l’universalité et de la spécificité. Je n’aime pas le “ou bien”. Je pense qu’en éducation comparée, il faut constamment être très conscient des deux pôles de ces dimensions.
Will Brehm 11:34
Donc, qu’en est-il de la méthode ? Comment la méthode – la méthode comparative – s’inscrit-elle dans cette idée de ne pas avoir l’un ou l’autre, mais d’avoir cet universalisme et cette spécificité ? Vous savez, comment la méthode s’inscrit-elle dans cette idée ?
Angela Little 11:49
Bien, d’accord, je crois que ma préoccupation au sujet de la méthode se situe à deux niveaux différents. Le premier est que quand j’ai déménagé à Londres à l’Institut d’éducation, j’ai quitté l’Institut d’études du développement. Et je suis passée à ce qui était alors un département d’éducation internationale et comparative. Mais ce département était en fait une fusion de deux départements historiques plutôt distincts, chacun ayant sa propre histoire et ses propres traditions. Et le groupe d’éducation comparative, qui était un très petit groupe, eux – ou certains de leurs prédécesseurs – avaient été très, très soucieux de définir une approche méthodologique particulière de l’éducation comparative. Vous avez probablement entendu parler de ce droit par Edmund King et Brian Holmes, ou Brian Holmes était à l’Institut de Londres, Edmund King était au King’s College. Ils avaient des approches très différentes de l’éducation comparative, dont je pouvais voir qu’elles avaient toutes deux de la valeur. Mais il me paraissait qu’il y avait beaucoup d’arguments dans cette littérature particulière pour savoir quelle méthode était supérieure et quelle méthode devait être suivie et quelle méthode les étudiants devaient suivre. Venant de l’autre côté, je venais d’un Institut d’études du développement et j’ai fait un pas dans ce qui s’appelait alors le Département d’éducation comparative internationale. Mais la partie qui traitait des pays en développement s’appelait auparavant l’éducation dans les pays en développement et les collègues de ce groupe – dont je faisais partie – n’étaient pas si concernés que ça par tous ces documents méthodologiques. Je pense donc qu’à cette époque, j’avais le sentiment que la méthode faisait obstacle au contenu de l’enquête. L’autre différend méthodologique, si vous voulez, qui m’a parfois préoccupé est ce qui est devenu un différend majeur dans les sciences sociales, certainement en Grande-Bretagne, entre ceux qui promeuvent ce qu’ils appellent l’analyse qualitative et ceux qui promeuvent l’analyse quantitative. Et j’apprécie les deux et pour moi, cela dépend beaucoup de ce que vous essayez de découvrir. C’est donc dans ce sens que je dis que c’est votre problème qui doit guider votre choix de méthodes.
Will Brehm 14:18
Oui. Les méthodes sont des outils que vous employez pour répondre à la question de recherche que vous avez posée.
Angela Little 14:23
Mais vous savez, d’après les discussions que vous avez eues avec de nombreux étudiants en recherche, qu’ils ont beaucoup de mal à faire face à cette situation. Et pour certains étudiants qui font de la recherche, qu’il s’agisse de recherche comparative ou non comparative, ils ont l’impression que faire de la recherche, c’est faire une étude de cas ou une enquête, n’est-ce pas ? À présent, ils ont besoin de savoir, ils ont besoin de découvrir ces méthodes ou ces outils. Mais la question beaucoup plus difficile pour moi est de savoir pourquoi vous décidez de choisir telle ou telle méthode. Ou pourquoi ne pas envisager d’utiliser les deux méthodes, mais en série ? Vous pouvez employer une approche qualitative pour la première phase de votre travail, suivie d’une enquête quantitative ou vice-versa. Et certains chercheurs qui associent les méthodes produisent souvent un travail très, très, très fin. Et quand je dis associer, je pense, encore une fois, que c’est très, vous savez, l’association est un mot chaleureux, c’est un mot réconfortant. C’est comme l’interdisciplinarité ou nous aurons une approche interdisciplinaire de ce problème. Mais il y a des points où, en fait, il faut tracer des limites et dire, bon, d’accord, dans cette recherche, à ce premier stade de la recherche, je pense qu’il est préférable d’aborder le problème par des moyens qualitatifs qui peuvent être des entretiens non organisés avec des personnes, avec des enseignants, avec des étudiants sur toute une série de questions afin d’obtenir d’eux ce qu’ils considèrent comme les dimensions les plus saillantes d’un problème particulier. À un stade ultérieur, vous pouvez passer à un questionnaire d’enquête, car à ce stade, vous pouvez poser des questions sur le nombre, la quantité ou le pourcentage et dès que vous posez ces questions, vous parlez d’une approche quantitative. Maintenant, je pense que la difficulté pour les étudiants, c’est que parfois on leur donne cette approche quantitative ou qualitative.
Will Brehm 16:19
Comme si elles devaient choisir.
Angela Little 16:20
Comme s’ils devaient choisir ! Mais s’ils passent ensuite à une phase où ils se rendent compte qu’ils peuvent se servir des deux, le danger est alors qu’ils ne fassent ni l’un ni l’autre convenablement. Ils tombent entre les deux tabourets. Et je pense qu’en fait, les élèves qui emploient les deux approches ont peut-être plus de difficultés parce qu’ils doivent maîtriser cette approche. Ils doivent faire le travail correctement. Ils doivent le faire avec une bourse.
Will Brehm 16:48
Et dans un programme de doctorat de quatre ans. Je veux dire, comment devient-on vraiment un expert dans deux façons très distinctes de faire de la recherche ?
Angela Little 16:56
Oui, oui. Donc vous savez, c’était une abréviation employée par certains de mes collègues en Grande-Bretagne. Vous savez, êtes-vous un “Quant” ? Ou êtes-vous un “Qual” ? C’est-à-dire, êtes-vous un chercheur quantitatif ou qualitatif et j’avais pour habitude de prendre du recul à ce moment-là et de dire “regardez, ça n’aide vraiment pas”. Heureusement, il y a quelques écrits dans la littérature qui font ressortir les distinctions de manière très utile. Non pas, je dirais, dans notre domaine de l’éducation comparative, mais dans d’autres domaines qui relèvent, si vous voulez, des sciences sociales comparatives, vous trouverez cela.
Will Brehm 17:34
Donc, une autre grande question au-delà de la méthode dans l’éducation comparative et le nom de l’éducation comparative, la signification. J’ai constaté que les spécialistes de l’éducation comparée – ceux qui ont suivi cette trajectoire universitaire – finissent souvent par travailler dans des agences de développement ou des ministères de l’éducation, ou vous savez, toutes sortes d’ONG, d’organisations à but non lucratif, et puis même les universitaires qui sont professeurs d’éducation comparative travaillent souvent avec ces mêmes groupes au cours de leur carrière. Ainsi, ils ont en quelque sorte les pieds dans le monde de la pratique et de la théorie en même temps. Ils sont praticiens, mais ils sont aussi dans le monde universitaire. Ainsi, vous savez, comment pensez-vous que les universitaires devraient concilier ce rôle de capacité à analyser les questions d’éducation comparée, mais aussi à participer à la défense de l’éducation en particulier?
Angela Little 18:43
Hmm, c’est une très bonne question et je pense que je suis de ceux qui ont eu les pieds dans les deux camps de diverses manières. Je pense que pour ceux qui passent de l’éducation comparative et internationale à un poste à plein temps dans une organisation internationale ou dans une ONG internationale ou une ONG nationale, je crois qu’au sein de cette organisation, ils doivent être forts pour demander du temps pour l’analyse. Je sais que dans certaines organisations internationales, le rythme du discours et tous les impératifs de financement sont tels -il est si rapide- que la liste de vos priorités, “qu’est-ce que c’est aujourd’hui”, change très vite, et je pense que parfois il n’y a tout simplement pas de temps pour l’analyse. S’ils ne peuvent pas faire l’analyse eux-mêmes, ou s’ils ne pensent pas avoir le temps de la faire, je pense qu’ils doivent former autour d’eux un groupe de personnes – qui pourraient être des consultants, voire des mentors, je n’en suis pas sûr – qui ont le temps, qui continuent d’avoir le temps d’analyser et qui sont encore à l’université. Je crois donc qu’il est difficile de quitter le terrain pour un poste à plein temps dans l’une de ces organisations de défense et d’action. Si vous êtes chanceux, très chanceux, de pouvoir continuer à travailler à l’université et que vous êtes en même temps invité à vous engager dans la défense des droits, je pense que vous êtes dans une position différente. Je pense que vous avez encore -l’académie a encore- la possibilité de disposer d’un peu de temps pour une analyse réfléchie, pour un congé sabbatique, pour participer à des articles de revues arbitrées. Et je pense qu’il faut reconnaître le privilège de cette position et l’apprécier à sa juste valeur, et ne pas permettre qu’un quelconque “temps de recherche” soit gaspillé pour des travaux de plaidoyer et d’action. C’est très séduisant parce que le monde de la défense des droits et de l’action est à bien des égards très excitant, très stimulant. De plus, cela vous permet de vous lancer dans des discours auxquels vous n’auriez peut-être pas accès si vous étiez dans votre “tour d’ivoire”, pour ainsi dire. Je crois donc qu’il faut faire la distinction entre l’analyse et l’action, et je le fais avec beaucoup de force. Je le fais aussi pour mes étudiants en recherche, parce que je ne sais pas si vous avez eu cette expérience, mais j’ai eu dans le passé quelques – peut-être pas beaucoup, mais quelques – étudiants en recherche qui connaissent la réponse à leur question avant même de l’avoir posée. Ils savent donc ce qu’ils veulent recommander, et ils n’ont pas fait l’étude. À présent, dans ce cas, le plaidoyer se trouve devant l’analyse. Et il est très, très difficile dans certains cas de persuader les étudiants qu’il leur suffit d’oublier les recommandations et de faire un pas en arrière. A présent, un doctorat sur trois ou quatre ans, je crois que pour beaucoup de gens, y inclus, je crois, beaucoup d’universitaires, c’est l’un des moments les plus privilégiés de votre vie parce que vous avez vraiment le temps de lire, vous avez le temps d’analyser, vous avez le temps de réfléchir. Et si vous passez cette période, et que vous maîtrisez diverses compétences, et que vous avez développé un ensemble d’attitudes à l’égard de l’éducation dans le monde, je pense que cela vous place dans une très, très bonne position, même si vous passez ensuite à un emploi à plein temps où il est plein de défense et d’action et où vous continuez à dépenser de l’argent. C’est un travail difficile. Je crois que l’autre point que je voudrais soulever est que j’espère que si vous avez étudié l’éducation comparative et internationale, vous conservez une position critique sur de nombreuses affirmations, qui proviennent des organisations internationales. Les organisations internationales ont leurs propres besoins, elles doivent se légaliser, elles ont besoin de financement, elles doivent continuer à bouger et elles doivent continuer à traiter ou retraiter les messages. Et elles font souvent de grandes affirmations sur le fait que “X” mène à “Y” dans la plupart des pays du monde et que, par conséquent, “X” devrait conduire à “Y” dans le reste du monde. Maintenant, si vous avez fait de l’éducation comparative et internationale en principe, vous avez accès aux ressources qui vous permettraient de tester cette proposition. Et avec l’Internet, vous avez maintenant encore plus accès aux ressources. Alors, je dirais aux gens de conserver ce chapeau critique.
Will Brehm 23:33
Il doit être dur pour certains de conserver ce chapeau critique lorsqu’ils se retrouvent à travailler dans des agences de développement qui essaient de pousser leur modèle : la meilleure façon de faire ce type d’apprentissage ou de résoudre ce type de problème éducatif. Je veux dire, j’imagine qu’ils sont en quelque sorte liés par la volonté de plaider pour que cette “solution” soit proposée. Je vois bien que cela peut être très difficile de rester critique. Vous voulez être critique, mais en même temps, votre travail vous dit que, quelles que soient les conditions, vous devez dire que ce modèle est bon.
Angela Little 24:14
D’accord. J’accepte la contrainte de cette situation. Parallèlement, je vous dirais de saisir toutes les opportunités qui vous sont offertes pour participer à des conférences. Et bien plus encore, saisissez toutes les opportunités de présenter votre travail lors de conférences, en sachant que si certains membres de l’académie sont présents, ils peuvent être assez critiques de ce que vous faites, mais utilisez cette critique pour vous aider à réfléchir. Ne comptez peut-être pas sur vous-même et sur vos pairs pour faire toute cette auto-réflexion. La plupart des organisations prévoient des périodes de formation en cours d’emploi ou de développement professionnel continu et certaines organisations et le DFID – c’est-à-dire le ministère du développement international – ont vraiment bien réussi ces dernières années à inciter un grand nombre de ses employés à participer, par exemple, à la conférence UKFIET, le Forum britannique pour l’éducation et la formation internationales. Et ceux d’entre nous qui participent à ce forum depuis très longtemps – depuis sa création – ont toujours été très heureux quand des membres d’agences de développement viennent participer avec nous. Parfois, ils demandent un espace pour qu’un panel puisse discuter de leur dernière prise de position. Et des fois, il est possible de leur donner cet espace et ils savent qu’il y aura une critique, qu’il y aura beaucoup de questions. Mais en tant que membres de l’Académie, je pense que nous essayons de ne pas faire cela. Nous essayons de faire une critique constructive et non destructrice. Et je pense qu’il peut parfois être très menaçant pour les gens de faire cela. Mais nous devons aussi nous souvenir que, bien sûr, beaucoup de personnes qui travaillent dans les organisations de développement sont nos anciens étudiants. Il y a donc déjà une certaine confiance et une expérience de l’analyse et de la vie universitaire. Et je pense que c’est très positif.
Will Brehm 26:09
Vous avez donc écrit cet article dans Compare il y a huit ans en examinant les principaux défis auxquels le domaine était soumis à l’époque. Je sais que vous avez dit que vous aviez pris votre retraite à peu près à la même époque que vous avez publié cet article, mais si vous deviez regarder le terrain aujourd’hui, quels seraient les principaux défis, ceux que vous voyez aujourd’hui ? Et sont-ils différents de ceux que vous avez vus il y a huit ans ?
Angela Little 26:32
Je crois qu’aujourd’hui, même sur ce court laps de temps de huit ans, je pense que la quantité d’informations disponibles sur Internet, je veux dire, a tout simplement explosé. Donc, les étudiants n’ont plus d’excuse maintenant. Quand ils venaient me dire : “Je ne trouve pas ce rapport”. Je ne peux pas trouver ceci, je ne peux pas trouver cela. S’ils cherchent des rapports qui ont été produits par ces soi-disant agences internationales, il n’y a pas de raison, la plupart de ces documents sont sur le net. Là où je crois que c’est encore problématique dans certains pays, c’est l’accès à ce que nous pourrions appeler la littérature grise, la littérature politique grise à l’intérieur des pays, parce qu’une grande partie n’est pas disponible sur Internet, et aussi, bien sûr, le matériel historique. Et pour cela, il suffit de faire une recherche. Vous devez faire des recherches à l’ancienne, en vous installant dans les archives et en parcourant le matériel. En ce qui concerne l’approche des problèmes, vous avez attiré mon attention sur quelques écrits sur ce que l’on pourrait généralement appeler la “théorie du Sud”. Et je pense qu’il y a peut-être huit ans, cette théorie commençait à prendre son essor. Je crois qu’il y en a plus en 2018 que ce que j’aurais pu prédire en 2010. Et je pense que dans l’ensemble, c’est très, très positif, comme je l’ai dit précédemment, je pense que cela renforce ma prédilection pour l’étude de la diversité. Là où je suis juste un peu, je voudrais être un peu prudent sur certains de ces écrits parce qu’une partie est imprégnée du langage du racisme et je trouve que c’est difficile. Je pense que quand on travaille dans un domaine depuis 45 ans et qu’on a vu et participé à l’évolution de la -création d’un profil de personnel beaucoup plus diversifié, par exemple dans un service auquel on est associé depuis deux ou trois décennies. Le changement est lent, mais on a vu le changement. Les changements sont importants. Je pense que certains des propos de ceux qui réclament la théorie du Sud et une contre-hégémonie, en fait. Je crois que ce langage doit être examiné avec soin si nous voulons évoluer vers un domaine de l’éducation comparative et internationale qui soit réellement inclusif. Il y a un certain risque que ce qu’on appelle l’hégémonie du Nord, un certain risque que l’appel soit de la substituer par une hégémonie du Sud. Je n’y crois pas, en partie parce que je ne suis pas sûr de croire à toute la caricature de l’hégémonie du Nord. Mais je crois que ceux qui réclament une plus grande contribution de la part de ceux qui connaissent les systèmes, dans ce qu’on appelle le “Sud” de l’intérieur – et qui sont eux-mêmes de très bons chercheurs – pour voir une plus grande contribution, sont accueillis et invités. Il y a près de 20 ans maintenant, j’ai entrepris une analyse des articles qui étaient parus dans Comparative Education au cours des 20 années précédentes. En 2000, l’éducation comparée a fait une nouvelle série de réflexions sur l’état du domaine. Et j’ai analysé ces quatre ou cinq cents articles. Et je me suis intéressé aux quatre C : contexte, contenu, comparaison et contributeurs. Ainsi, la question du contenu a été adressée à la question de George Parkin sur la géographie. Et j’ai constaté qu’il y avait une bonne répartition des pays abordés dans les articles. Le contenu était le domaine problématique abordé dans les articles. Et c’était extrêmement varié, extrêmement varié. Je veux dire, tout, de l’enseignement supérieur à la politique linguistique, à la pédagogie, aux relations entre l’éducation et le développement. Très, très large. Le troisième domaine était la comparaison. Celui-ci était très important, car je me suis inspiré de Parkin et de certains des éducateurs comparateurs qui l’ont précédé. Et peut-être même que, travaillant dans la position de Kandel, je cherchais des articles qui comparaient deux ou plusieurs pays. Et en fait, j’ai trouvé que la grande majorité des articles ne se concentraient que sur un seul pays. Et j’ai senti pour moi que cela ne les dévalorisait pas. J’ai simplement estimé que s’il s’agissait d’articles destinés à être publiés dans une revue d’éducation comparée, il fallait qu’ils soient écrits avec un autre auteur, qui avait peut-être étudié quelque chose de similaire dans un autre pays. Je crois que les études portant sur un seul pays sont absolument essentielles pour la comparaison. Je ne pense pas qu’on puisse “comparer” avant d’avoir fait une étude appropriée de deux pays ou qu’une équipe ait fait une étude scientifique appropriée des pays qu’ils prétendent comparer, parce que je pense qu’il y a un grand danger sinon vos comparaisons deviennent très, très superficielles. Ok, donc c’était la dimension de comparaison. Et la quatrième dimension a été déterminante. Et j’ai remarqué qu’il y avait une très forte concentration des contributeurs dans les institutions du Nord. À présent, il est fort probable qu’ils soient eux-mêmes originaires du Sud. Ils ont peut-être fait leur doctorat dans le Sud, mais ils ont migré vers des institutions du Nord. Maintenant, je pense que l’un des défis que nous avons à relever dans le développement du développement collectif de l’enseignement supérieur dans le monde est de savoir comment nous pouvons trouver des moyens de répartir les compétences de l’enseignement comparatif et international de manière plus égale dans le monde afin qu’à leur tour, ceux qui ont les qualifications puissent travailler dans diverses parties du monde pour développer l’érudition dans ces parties du monde. Parce que s’il y a cette migration continue vers les établissements d’Amérique du Nord et d’Europe – et quand je dis le Sud, j’exclue plutôt l’Australie et la Nouvelle-Zélande et je crois qu’ils s’excluraient eux-mêmes de ce qu’on appelle le Sud. Donc peut-être pas, pas tout à fait – mais si les gens migrent, si les universitaires migrent vers ces bons centres et départements d’éducation comparative internationale, je pense que cela m’inquiète pour le domaine. Cela ne m’inquiète pas pour les individus. Les individus prennent des décisions personnelles très, très rationnelles. Mais je m’inquiète pour les prochaines générations d’universitaires de ces pays qui veulent rester – pas rester dans leur pays mais qui souhaitent – faire de l’éducation comparée dans d’autres pays, mais qui souhaitent ensuite contribuer à l’éducation internationale comparée dans leur pays.
Will Brehm 33:50
Et d’une manière qui contribuerait à cette idée de la théorie du Sud.
Angela Little 33:54
Oui, tout à fait. Absolument.
Will Brehm 33:58
Eh bien, Angela Little Merci beaucoup d’avoir rejoint FreshEd aujourd’hui, c’était vraiment un plaisir de parler.
Angela Little 34:02
Translation sponsored by NORRAG.
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Today marks the 3rd anniversary of FreshEd. To celebrate, we are going to air our first ever FreshEd Live event where Saskia Sassen joined me for a conversation about her life and work.
Saskia Sassen is a professor at Columbia University. In 1991, she published the now classic book called The Global City where she chronicled how New York, London, and Tokyo became the centers in the new digital economy. What she focused on was the rise of intermediary services that allowed corporations to operate globally. Instead of seeing place as no longer necessary in the digital economy, she saw certain cities as physical sites that became more important than ever in the global economy.
For Sassen, intermediaries concentrated in certain parts of the city and relied on high-level knowledge, like algorithmic mathematics. In New York City, financial services took over lower Manhattan. This left a peculiar reality for the physical buildings in the city.
As a result, many people who didn’t work in intermediary services were expelled from those parts of the city. And yet, despite this expulsion by intermediaries, new forms of inclusion were created.
Today’s show was recorded at Musashi University during the Third Japanese Political Economy Workshop organized by Nobuharu Yokokawa.
Humans have been the center of Western philosophy and science for centuries, at least since the European enlightenment. With the rise of artificial intelligence, climate change and challenges to the very idea of subjectivity, are we moving into an era that is perhaps better labeled post-human?
But what would posthumanism mean for education?
My guest today is Stefan Herbrechter. A research fellow at Coventry University and a Privatdozent at Heidelberg University, Stefan has a new book chapter entitled “Posthumanist Education?” published in the International Handbook of Philosophy of Education.
Citation: Herbrechter, Stefan, interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 123, podcast audio, July 16, 2019. https://www.freshedpodcast.com/stefanherbrechter/
Transcript, translation, and resources: Read more
Does social science as it is commonly understood and practiced work in post-socialist settings? That may sound like an absurd question, even a bit crude.
They argue that the diversity of post-socialist transformations challenges the existing paradigms and frameworks of theory and method used in much social science today.
Together with Iveta Silova and Serhiy Kovalchuk, Alla and Noah co-edited a 17-chapter volume entitled “Reimagining Utopias: Theory and method for education research in post-socialist context.” The book explores from many perspectives the shifting social imaginaries of post-socialist transformations to understand what happens when the new and old utopias of post-socialism confront the new and old utopias of social science.
Alla Korzh is an assistant professor of international education at the School for International Training Graduate Institute, World Learning.
Noah Sobe is a professor of cultural and educational policy studies at Loyola University Chicago and past president of the Comparative and International Education Society.
Citation: Korzh, Alla and Sobe, Noah, interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 122, Podcast audio, July 9, 2018. https://www.freshedpodcast.com/korzhsobe/
Will Brehm 2:34
Alla Korzh and Noah Sobe, welcome to FreshEd.
Alla Korzh 2:38
Thanks for having us, Will.
Noah Sobe 2:39
Thanks a lot, Will, it’s great to be here.
Will Brehm 2:41
So I want to just start by asking, what do you mean by the word utopia?
Noah Sobe 2:47
Part of choosing that title was to recognize that alongside the political and economic project that was state socialism, there was also a particular social vision. So ideas of equality were important, even dignity, democracy were important names, of course, sometimes honored in the breach. So basically like invoking utopias, we’re trying to elevate the importance of social imaginary. 20th century socialisms had their social imaginaries and part of post-socialism is the encounter of different utopian visions for what makes a good society, the good human being, the good future.
Will Brehm 3:29
And whose utopia is are these?
Noah Sobe 3:33
That’s a good question Will. Just in terms of thinking about utopias, I think in a lot of ways we were inspired by an eminent Polish historian and philosopher named Bronislaw Baczko, who worked for many years in Switzerland and France. And kind of like Benedict Anderson did with his work on national imaginaries, in books like Utopian Lights Baczko put the importance of social imaginaries on the research horizon. Utopia is no place, right? I mean, it has its origins and Thomas More’s 16th century political fiction, of course, that was inspired by Plato. But the notion of utopia quickly escaped more, and I would propose, kind of has become the paradigmatic form of the social imaginary across Europe and North America. Of course, more often than not we encounter utopias in ruins. But the idea is that examining utopias is one strategy for engaging with possible futures, right, possible futures of human societies.
Will Brehm 4:44
What are socialist utopias?
Noah Sobe 4:48
There multiple socialist utopias, and there are multiple socialisms. I think, you know, key pieces involve ideas about human equality, human dignity, even commitments to democracy as sort of difficult as it is sometimes to wrap our mind around that, given the totalitarian political forms that many socialisms took. But they were also, you know, a lot of, sort of, quite laudable social goals — gender equality, a fair economic system — that are quite different than the utopias of capitalism, for example. So I think what’s particularly fascinating about the post social spaces that those don’t vanish, you know, they continue, they get reconfigured, and they interact with other social imaginaries is that people bring in and that are brought in.
Will Brehm 5:52
Does the post socialist utopia or imaginaries not only connect to these socialist utopias views of the past, but does it also embrace some more of the capitalist utopias that you were also talking about? Do they sort of merged together?
Noah Sobe 6:09
Yeah, I mean, I think so we chose the title reimagining utopias because it describes sort of what’s happening on the ground. I mean, it describes what’s been happening in post socialist settings, other settings as well. But the post social settings are the one we focus on over the last 20 to 30 years. So we’re describing a process of sort of coexistence and conflict, a negotiation that’s taking place in the world, in classrooms, right, in offices and homes, basically, as people navigating, you know, navigate changing global situations. But there’s another, there’s a sort of second important dimension to reimagining utopias that we’re trying to develop or play within the book. And that relates to the notion of social science. I think it’s quite possible to consider a lot of European North American social sciences as a utopian project in and of itself, as riven with social imaginary. And so the scientists, the researcher of society, generally is committed to the idea that better, sort of firmer, fairer, more just knowledge of society is valuable for aiding a transition from what is now to what will be next. There’s a lot of utopian thinking and social visions that are embedded in processes of social science research. And certainly, we saw a lot of the research that was done on post socialist, particularly Eurasia and other parts of the world as well, you know, powerfully shaped by those imaginaries. And so one of the things we’re trying to do in the book is to rethink some of that. To actually reimagine the social imaginaries, the utopias that are embedded in social science, that are embedded in comparative education.
Will Brehm 8:13
Before we jump into that larger topic, I do want to ask a little bit about what sort of contexts were you looking at. Post socialism I would imagine covers many parts of the world, so what contexts were of interest to you?
Alla Korzh 8:29
This is a really good question, Will. By post socialism, we really mean any country that has experienced some form of socialism and has been on this pathway, or transition to neoliberal capitalism. So initially, when we started this project, we really looked at the former Soviet Union as that post socialist space. But then we realized that there are other countries that have had similar transformations within different contexts within different cultural contexts. And those are countries in Asia and Africa. And we’ve included those in our edited volume, we have contributors who have focused on Ethiopia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, so it’s pretty comprehensive.
Will Brehm 9:21
And would this also include countries that are still socialist, but also embracing lots of neoliberal capitalism? Like, they’re not post socialist, not outside of socialism.
Alla Korzh 9:33
Will Brehm 9:35
So, Vietnam and, say, China.
Alla Korzh 9:38
Exactly. Because every country, even on this post socialist trajectory, is still grappling with, you know, the vestiges of socialism as it sort of embracing in at its own pace, embracing these forms of neoliberal capitalism.
Noah Sobe 10:00
Will, I think you’re question is a great one, because it also raises sort of what we and others mean by the concept of “post.” So it’s really not a break and a departure from but a turn, you know, as Alla was saying, it’s about grappling with the legacies and your example of Vietnam is a perfect example of that. In theory, a socialist state, but one in which socialism has certainly taken a turn and taking on new forms and been combined with other things. So, I would say in that sense, it is, you know, accurately post socialist and like the other settings examined in the book.
Will Brehm 10:38
Noah, you said that earlier that there were many different socialisms. So, I would imagine there are many different post socialisms.
Noah Sobe 10:44
I would agree with that. Alla?
Alla Korzh 10:46
Yes, most definitely. And I think we’re probably part of the group of scholars who critique the transitology approach to post socialism who view it as a sort of this linear or temporal transition, like a quick break away from socialism into a post socialism and really recognize the diversity of post socialist experiences and transformations and therefore every context will have perhaps some similarities, but also very much diverse intricacies of those transformations. So, yes, see, it would entail multiple post socialisms.
Will Brehm 11:27
If we connect this to this idea of social science, and these, you know, the utopian thinking in social science, how are some of these different posts, socialisms, sort of producing social science — what are the different ways in which we can think of what social science is? You know, social science as way of producing certain certain knowledges and that they’re actually quite different from this transitology approach, or this linear thinking of what post socialism is. But if there’s this diversity that you’re talking about, then, you know, what does that diversity look like in terms of what is valid knowledge? How do we produce knowledge in these different contexts?
Alla Korzh 12:22
So through our book, we have seen obviously, that an over reliance on Western dominant knowledges often results in the displacement of non-Western knowledges, experiences, rendering them as insufficiently scientific for example. And our contributors have demonstrated a number of ways to produce and validate knowledge in post socialist contexts. And one of them is the use of local traditions of knowledge production. And what we mean by that is the rediscovery of the forgotten or discarded meanings of certain concepts and practices as a way of creating spaces for multiple knowledges to coexist. African scholars, like Woldeyes and Melisa, in our volume, interrogate, for example, the notion of good education and the indigenous meaning and understanding of what good education means in juxtaposition with Western imposed concepts and values. So again, one way is the use of local traditions of knowledge production. Another way is — it’s more of a methodological approach — is to stay flexible, a sort of flexibility and creativity with culturally appropriate methods. What we’ve seen is that a lot of research tends to rely on traditionally established data collection methods, qualitative data collection methods, such as surveys, or interviews, and focus groups observations or document analysis to produce valid knowledge of post socialist contexts. And they might be, you know, the sort of rigorously conceived studies, but they might not necessarily be capturing the nuanced realities of the post socialist lived experiences. Namely, if we look at the method of surveys, for example. When employing surveys, we can generate a ton of data, but it might not be the most credible data, especially when surveys are run in contexts with political historical and cultural legacies of Soviet state control and surveillance over public knowledge and performance. Another method that comes to mind is formal interviews and focus groups. Those methods might actually evoke memories of interrogation which in Soviet contexts, resulted in public arrest or detention, which further complicates the data gathering and the credibility of data. And therefore, as some of our contributors shared, it’s important to reimagine the culture with appropriate methods and replace formal interviews with conversational interviews, for example. This conversational methods should not be discarded as invalid or less scientific or less rigorous. They might be a more culturally appropriate in certain contexts where a participant might feel more comfortable being surrounded by family members and community members to be sharing that knowledge with the researcher. And finally, what’s important to highlight as in order to navigate this theoretical and methodological dilemmas, one must remain critically reflexive throughout the entire research process, questioning their own subjectivities, and carefully rethinking the representation of the other and recognizing the multiple forms of knowledges of our participants and treating them as equal collaborators and co-constructors of that knowledge.
Will Brehm 16:36
Would that mean — this last point of being reflective and making sure you’re accurately representing others, and bringing them in as co-collaborators, some of what we might call in, in western science, quote unquote, research participants — does this actually mean sharing with people that you’ve had these sort of conversational engagements with things that you’ve written or basically, quote, unquote, analyzing data, but data has, of course, being reimagined as well here? How do you actually create this reflective moment in these post socialist contexts?
Alla Korzh 17:16
It’s important to stay critically reflexive throughout the entire process and to engage the participants not only in, you know, in the data collection, but also, you know, traditional in the West, you know, we would call the strategy of member checking when we engage participants in checking for accuracy of rendering that data in the transcripts, but also interpretation. It’s not enough just to check in with a participant and say, am I you know, did I capture it correctly and accurately. But it’s important to really engage them in the interpretation of their knowledge in that local context. And I think this would be a really important point for a researcher to stay critically reflective about the adoption of this Western frameworks, Western interpretations of the local phenomena and checking in with the participant if what we think is happening, indeed, whether that resonates with their own understanding of their own lived experience.
Noah Sobe 18:30
You mentioned research participants. Another term that gets used quite a bit in western social science is the informant. I mean, so you can imagine just sort of how, how problematic that term is, I mean, also collaborator. These are problematic terms in parts of the world. Or even take the, you know, the process of human subjects, you know, informed consent, Oh, don’t worry, this thought, just sign your signature, and it’s just going to go in a drawer. And no one’s ever gonna look at it. You know, I just need your consent. I mean, these are some practices that in certain circles, people sort of take as natural as the best way and as unchallengeable. But in other parts of the world, they raise serious problems and relational problems, but also problems around how knowledge is generated and how people frankly, are respected.
Will Brehm 19:21
I want to ask a very practical question. So if not, research participant or informant or collaborator then what?
Noah Sobe 19:29
Well, I think participant isn’t completely corrupt. Allah, what do you think?
Alla Korzh 19:35
I’ve embraced the term participant throughout my research and also teaching.
Noah Sobe 19:55
But I think the fact that there is no one best answer is telling. So this book was designed as a research methods text, and it’s very different than most research methods texts. It’s not a sort of how to bake a cake type of recipe. Instead, one of the things that all our authors engage with across the book, and there was a really nice, multi year collaborative process that led to this, but one of the things that pretty much everyone engages with is this notion of the dilemma. I mean, researchers in the field face dilemmas, and one of them, we’ve just been talking about how you think about conceptualize and interact with the people that you’re studying people, assuming you’re studying people. And to think of it as a dilemma sort of frames it as something that around which we do have to make choices. And we have to hope that we’re going to make better choices. And next time, we’ll make even better choices. I mean, so there are better and poorer ways to do this. But at the same time, there’s no, like, there’s no magic solution, and you sort of what you do in Kyrgyzstan is going to be very different than what you do in Vietnam and Poland. So to frame it as a dilemma, you know, so not only you know, how you identify researchers, but how you collect data, how you analyze data, all those dimensions, I think are really critical,
Will Brehm 21:19
There’s no necessarily universal answer here. It’s context specific. It’s historically specific. That’s quite interesting sort of way to reimagine the way in which social sciences even done in a sense. I’d like to ask were you influenced by Raewyn Connell’s Southern Theory in this work on reimagining post socialisms?
Noah Sobe 21:45
Yeah, Connell’s work, other people’s work on Southern Theory has been really influential. You know, I also think of Asia as Method as an inspiration. There are a lot of connections between doing work and post socialist settings and in post colonial settings. So, one of the things Alla was just going over with, in terms of some of the research methods like, you know, the questionability of a survey or formal interviews, you know, really turn on some of the same questions about the bases on which we generate knowledge, the sort of conditions of possibility that make it possible to know things in the world, which is something that people working in a post colonial tradition are very much challenging. And so that’s one of the clear connections with what the editors and the contributors to this book are doing, and working with working in a post socialist setting to really challenge, work with, and challenge ourselves around, you know, how it is we think about this whole knowledge producing project.
Will Brehm 22:57
How does this then impact the way we think about about the social world? So, I mean, for example, let’s say this big topic of globalization and theories of globalization — does this reimagining post socialisms sort of create new meanings and new insights into this sort of phenomenon of globalization?
Noah Sobe 23:20
So it’s a great question, Will. I think that, you know, one of the things that exploring the variety and variability within post socialist context shows us is that, for one, we need to rethink how we think about context in the first place. It’s something that we shouldn’t just take as a given fact. But we should understand how contexts are produced. And clearly, global processes and global phenomenon are one piece of that as our indigenous local and the other sort of many layers kind of influences, techniques, practices, and so forth, that go into creating the embeddedness of any educational interaction. You know, the other thing that I think when you read across the book becomes very clear in relation to globalization is that globalization is as much a reaching in as it is reaching out. That, you know, while we should be long past the point where we conceive of local as a place in the global as a force, although we still see features of that in a lot of comparative education scholarship. The globalist constructed in remote parts of central Asia in ways that are very similar to how its constructed in Brussels or New York, and we need to, I think, examine sort of the production, reaching out to the global as much as the global reaching in and I think you see both across the book.
Alla Korzh 24:58
I think what our volume contributes to is, you know, the existing body of scholarship and knowledge in globalization studies on the divergence of local experiences and transformations. I think this is one of the key arguments that we’re trying to make is that it is important to pay attention to the diversity of post socialist educational reforms and processes, as much as there’s this not wholesale but there’s definitely a Western reform adoption process happening across the region, but the way they are being re-adopted and re-contextualized or indigenized in local contexts have very different and those nuances really need to be uncovered and theorized and reflected on. And along the lines of what Noah mentioned earlier about the highlight of the book being the dilemmas of field work as much as we’re seeing the commonalities across so many of our contributors in terms of what dilemmas they faced, there’s so many nuances also about those dilemmas, as they are contextualize in those cultural landscapes.
Will Brehm 26:22
Is there an example of some of these dilemmas that you could point to, to show this diversity of differences in fieldwork in these post socialist contexts?
Alla Korzh 26:34
I would say one of them is grappling with methods. Again, thinking back to surveys or focus groups or interviews or even, you know, diaries, for example. And one of the dilemmas is that we go into the field expecting those methods to work because, you know, they’ve been tested in so many contexts, but they might not necessarily be culturally appropriate. For example, when conducting research in my own work, with institutionalized orphans, where their behaviors have been sanctioned by the school authority. And any signed survey will result in some sort of repercussion for that. And I think this is one of the dilemmas that is also being shared by some of the contributors of this book. Another ethical dilemma is IRB. I feel like this is one of the probably widely cited concerns and field work dilemmas across the contributors of this book is how to navigate it in the contexts, in post authoritarian contexts where a signed informed consent results in sense of fear, suspicion and discomfort because individuals are situated in this cultural historical legacies of Soviet state control over public knowledge and performance. So, the way a researcher navigates it is perhaps you know doing away with informed consent forms and instead of replacing it with oral consent which still justifies voluntary participation but at the same time it reduces that potential risk and it alleviates that pressure from having to physically sign a form and then fearing for their lives. Noah Sobe 28:55 I think one thing that’s important about the book is that
Noah Sobe 29:01
the contributors are all researchers who for the most part got PhDs in North American and European universities; many of them grew up under socialism or post socialism — not all — but they are all acutely aware of the power differentials involved in research.In times it’s a researcher returning to community that she or he belongs to but in a different role and at times it’s a researcher entering a community that he or she does not belong to. But in each of these instances you have some of the playing out of these global local interactions that we’re studying and I think what one of the strengths of the book is that everyone’s paying attention to that positionality and not just treating positionality as something that you dispatch with at the beginning of a research project you sort of mitigate it but actually analytically using it. I mean there’s a lot to be gained from engaging with positionality and sort of reflexively engaging with the knowledge that you’re working on trying to develop.
Will Brehm 30:12
We’ve obviously talked a lot about sort of individual research practice — what happens when a researcher goes to these different contexts or returns to the context from where one is from — and we’ve also obviously talked a little bit about this institutional review board, the IRB, how there’s some sort of institutional structures from particularly Western universities but of course that structure has moved to other universities as well around the world and that also causes problems. But I want to end our conversation look at a different area and that is the field of comparative and international education. What does some of the insights you’ve gained from this book tell us about the field of comparative and international education?
Noah Sobe 30:59
Well, one of the things, Will, we looked a lot about the production of research and I would say — Okay, if not one of the weaknesses, one of the one of the subjects for the next book, let’s say, okay — is that I don’t think we engaged enough with the afterlife of research. What happens with and to research after it’s produced, both to the producer of the research and to those who are researched and to those who use it. And I think that’s very important for thinking about European North American knowledge that’s produced about post socialist spaces, even if it’s produced in some of the ways that we’re working within the book. To me, that’s something that the whole field of comparative education would do well, to spend more, you know, to give more attention to the afterlife of research, what happens once we get that publication out or make that conference presentation? What happens to that knowledge? But that’s kind of not really answering your question. That’s the answer your question by saying, you know, here’s one thing that book doesn’t do. I don’t know, Alla, I would be tempted to say, you know, one of the things that it does is, you know, give us new tools for new methods tools, new ways of thinking about methods.
Alla Korzh 32:23
Yeah, absolutely. I think what really led us to this book is the lack of critical reflection on how to mobilize theory and methodology and methods in post socialist educational research contexts. In particular, there’s been plentiful research done in the fields of anthropology and sociology that had examined the field work dilemmas and the adoption and re-contextualization of theories in post socialist spaces. But we hadn’t seen anything in the fields of education, especially in the field of comparative and international education. So we hope that this is a meaningful contribution that allows us to critically think about how to mobilize theory in a critical way, not just adopt in Western theoretical frameworks, but thinking about how those frameworks really relate to that context and what meaning they carry for our participants as we are engaging them in the co-construction of knowledge, in addition to how we mobilize methodologies and methods in a culturally responsive, culturally sensitive ways that really allow us to tap into the lived experiences of individuals and generate credible and meaningful data that accurately portrays the non Western realities.
Will Brehm 33:58
Alla Korzh and Noah Sobe, thank you so much for joining FreshEd today.
Noah Sobe 34:02
It was a pleasure, Will. Thank you.
Alla Korzh 34:03
Thank you so much.
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