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COMPARATIVE EDUCATION THEORY

Final Report Summary - CETH (COMPARATIVE EDUCATION THEORY)

The project is an interdisciplinary theoretical investigation in the field of Comparative Education. Its objectives are: to generate a new theoretical understanding of education systems as social institutions; to produce a new account of the epistemological basis of educational comparison; and to propose a theoretical approach with regard to the comparability of education systems.

To accomplish these objectives, we theorised on social institutions, including education systems, as incarnations of the social imaginary, or, in more common terms, of culture. Through a review of the concept of imagination from philosophy, neuroscience, psychoanalytic and sociological theory we defined culture as a dynamic flux of meanings or social imaginary significations, which are incarnated in objects, individuals and institutions. Education is itself one of those institutions, but at the same time, it is embedded in and it cuts across all other social institutions – that is, it is trans-institutional.

To apply and develop further this theoretical framework, first we explored the genesis of cultural and education comparison, which we located in Greek Antiquity. Through a considerable number of modern and ancient sources we examined the ontological perceptions and social conditions in Ancient Greece which gave rise to organised education, but also to cultural and educational comparisons (as part of the then emerged disciplines of history and ethnology).

Moving to European Modernity, we investigated, through contemporary literature, how the educational institutions of the cultural ‘other’ were compared, and therefore what were the epistemological underpinnings of the then appeared field of comparative education. Working with the same method, here too we identified the central imaginary significations, and their clashes and syntheses, that gave rise to the European world, in the context of which educational institutions and comparative inquiry were generated. The social-historical field of European Modernity is characterized, as we argue, by the re-emergence of Ancient Greek significations and the appearance of a host of new significations which, in conflict and mutual ‘contamination’ with the earlier, were incarnated in the European education systems. It is the same ‘magma’ of imaginary significations, we maintain, that instituted the European comparative gaze towards the rest of the world.

Similarly with the two previous eras, we moved on to the present in order to substantiate the relation between the instituting social imaginary of globalisation and the newly emerged transnational policies in education. Globalisation has given rise to a new social structure, sustained by communication networks, a global ‘network society’. Our task here was to identify the core imaginary significations incarnated in the current process and institutions of globalisation, which transnationalise education policy. We looked at the prevalent epistemological basis for comparing international education systems and contrasted it with those of earlier historical periods.

Finally we addressed the question of comparability of education systems as well as the purpose and criteria of educational comparison. Here we brought together the various threads of the historical and cultural research that we conducted and we propose a way forward with regard to the study and comparison of education systems. Our exploration of the socio-historical contexts in which education was instituted and evolved indicates that an appropriate approach for today’s conditions should be able to elucidate the imaginary significations embedded in: a) the European origins of education as an institution, b) the current transnationalisation of education policy, and c) the specific cultural milieu in which an education system is established. We also suggest that, despite the isomorphic processes induced by globalisation, comparative education must acknowledge the alterity of the societies under examination. On this ground we are proposing, that instead of the traditional educational comparison, we should be conducting educational ‘syncrisis’, indicating a theoretical approach that focuses on the signitive dimension of societies rather than the ‘functional/instrumental’ or ‘identitary-enseblistic’ dimension.

The project introduces an interdisciplinary mode of research that enables us to explore and understand education systems within and across socio-historical and cultural contexts. By doing so, it seeks to revive the theoretical and methodological debates in Comparative Education, an academic field of studies taught in universities across Europe. It also seeks to advance an epistemological perspective which: highlights the particularity of cultures and education systems, at times of isomorphic tendencies across the world; and demonstrates the significance of understanding, both as methodological approach as well as a socio-cultural attitude on the part of Europe towards other civilizations. In this regard, the knowledge produced by this fellowship is relevant to variety of academic disciplines (e.g. history, anthropology, philosophy, educational studies, political science, and cultural studies); but it can also inform the activities of a host of actors, such as policy makers and civil society organisations working on international education reforms and inter-cultural cooperation.