28 SES 03 A, Competences, Large Scale Assessments and Experts in the Globalization and Europeanization of Education
This paper reflects on and discusses selected findings from a 4 years PhD project completed in 2017 (an early analysis from the project was presented in the Sociologies of Education Network at ECER 2014) (Sorensen, 2017). The paper focuses on the cultural political economy of the OECD programme Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS). TALIS 2018, the third round of TALIS, is currently being conducted, with 48 jurisdictions taking part from OECD member states and beyond. Since the programme was launched by the OECD in the mid-2000s it has become the most highly profiled international research programme focusing on what teachers do on the job and what they think about it. Moreover, the survey has also come to cover initial teacher education in more depth, and a TALIS-PISA link has since the beginning been offered to participating jurisdictions as an “international option”.
The entry point for this paper is that the TALIS programme is a major research exercise as well as a distinctive political construction, involving a wide range of policy actors. In this sense, we might see the programme as a ‘knowledge-based regulation tool’ (Rinne and Ozga, 2013) in the global governance of teachers’ work, and as such a specific manifestation of ‘governing by numbers’ and the associated reliance on statistics as the primary form of policy knowledge in education governance (Ball, 2017; Grek, 2009; Rose, 1991; Simola et al. 2011).
The paper builds on such insights yet offers a more nuanced analysis of the mechanisms underlying TALIS, and hence of the nature of the programme itself. The objective of the paper is: i) to identify the outcomes of the first and second round of the TALIS programme in a range of organisational settings with various horizons of action, including the OECD, the European Commission, the global federation of teacher unions Education International, and government bodies in Australia, England and Finland; and ii) to explain what has made the TALIS programme possible in terms of mechanisms and the political, economic and cultural conditions enabling and constraining those mechanisms.
For this purpose, the paper adopts the research agenda of cultural political economy which has been developed by a range of scholars with various emphasis over the last decades (Best and Paterson, 2010; Jessop, 2010; Robertson and Dale, 2015; Sayer, 2001; Verger et al. 2017). Based on a critical realist stratified ontology and Dale’s work on the ‘globally structured agenda for education’ (Dale 2000), cultural political economy is in this paper specifically harnessed for generating insights into how the TALIS programme functions as a ‘spatial fix’ to help resolve the core problems of capitalism which include: i) supporting the regime of accumulation; ii) ensuring a societal context that does not inhibit its continuing expansion; and iii) providing a basis of legitimation for the system as a whole. These problems frame the agendas of public policy bodies - nationally and internationally - yet since the problems cannot be solved altogether, suggested solutions tend to involve contradictions (Dale, 2000, 2005). Negotiating these problems and contradictions is what the ‘TALIS ensemble’ – the wide range of policy actors involved in the OECD programme - are engaging in.
Moreover, within the overarching theoretical framework of cultural political economy, the paper adopts the notions of ordinalisation - implying a distinctive principle of classificatory judgment for comparing things and people by way of their relative positions in rankings (Fourcade, 2016) - and soft legalisation (Abbott and Snidal, 2000; Rutkowski, 2007) to conceive of the mechanisms and necessary conditions enabling and shaping the outcomes of TALIS as a policy instrument.
The paper is based on review of the literature on global education governance which fed into a methodological framework of political discourse analysis. In this respect, an empirical material consisting of 15 policy documents and 31 semi-structured interviews with policy actors involved in TALIS was analysed. The policy documents were all directly related to the first two rounds of the TALIS programme. The interviews were conducted during 2014 and 2015 and employed the theory-laden approach suggested by Pawson (1996). The distinctive approach to political discourse analysis advocated by Fairclough and Fairclough (2012) was adopted for the analysis of both documents and interviews. This meant that the ‘practical argumentation’ of policy actors concerning TALIS was captured, including their strategic-relational representations of the problems that the survey programme was meant to solve, as well as their objectives and claims to action in relation to the programme. In this way, the analysis of political discourse as practical argumentation enabled the identification of the outcomes of the first and second round of the TALIS programme in a range of organisational settings (cf. the first research objective stated above). In explaining what has made the TALIS programme possible in terms of mechanisms and the political, economic and cultural conditions enabling and constraining those mechanisms (cf. the second research objective stated above), abduction and retroduction were applied as distinctive modes of inference to interrogate the practical argumentation of the main policy actors involved in TALIS. Together, abduction and retroduction thus made possible the identification of connections, structures and mechanisms, thereby representing a movement from concrete empirical phenomena towards the explanation of generative and underlying mechanisms (Danermark et al. 2002).
In unpacking the cultural political economy of TALIS, the paper makes a unique contribution to existing scholarship on the global education policy field and the role of large scale comparative research programmes as a driver in thickening this field. By capturing the practical argumentation of the main policy actors constituting the TALIS ensemble, the paper highlights their distinctive strategies and relations. On this basis, the paper argues for understanding the TALIS ensemble as a unity of multiple determinations in the sense that whilst each of the policy actors have distinctive roles, responsibilities and powers, none of them – neither the OECD - is in full control in terms of determining the outcomes of the programme. However, the paper shows that the European Union, and in particular the European Commission, has embraced TALIS for its distinctive objectives related to the Lisbon Strategy and Europe 2020. The paper thus highlights the incremental strengthening of education governance within the framework of the ‘European Semester’ policy cycle. In terms of the mechanisms underlying the TALIS programme, the paper argues that the principle of ordinalisation helps to explain the patterned outcomes of TALIS across organisational settings. Whilst the main policy actors have different attitudes towards the use of rankings in education governance, ordinalisation nonetheless under the current paradigm of ‘knowledge-based economy’ appears as the main principle and resource in making sense of social reality, including the core problems of capitalism and what to do about them. Moreover, the paper shows that the soft legalisation frameworks of the OECD and the European Union constitute necessary conditions triggering the mechanism of ordinalisation. In particular, the paper shows that the OECD and the European Union are very active in using and disseminating TALIS results, indicating their efforts to ‘scale up’ ordinalisation to the transnational level pursuing their distinctive objectives.
Abbott, K. W., and D. Snidal. 2000. “Hard and Soft Law in International Governance.” International Organization 54(3): 421–456. Best, J., and Paterson, M. (eds. 2010). Cultural Political Economy. New York, NY: Routledge. Danermark, B., M. Ekström, L. Jakobsen, and J.C. Karlson. 2002. Explaining Society: Critical realism in the social sciences. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge. Fairclough, I., and N. Fairclough (2012). Political Discourse Analysis: A method for advanced students. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge. Fourcade, Marion (2016). “Ordinalization: Lewis A. Coser Memorial Award for Theoretical Agenda Setting 2014.” Sociological Theory, 34(3), 175–195. DOI: 10.1177/0735275116665876 Grek, Sotiria. 2009. Governing by numbers: the PISA ‘effect’ in Europe, Journal of Education Policy, 24:1, 23-37 Pawson, R. (1996). “Theorizing the interview.” British Journal of Sociology 47(2): 295-314. Rinne, R., and Ozga, J. (2013). “The OECD and the Global Re-Regulation of Teachers’ Work: Knowledge-Based Regulation Tools and Teachers in Finland and England.” In World Yearbook of Education 2013. Educators, Professionalism and Politics: Global Transitions, National Spaces and Professional Projects, edited by T. Seddon and J. Levin, 97-116. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge. Robertson, S.L., and R. Dale. 2015. “Toward a ‘Critical Cultural Political Economy’ Account of the Globalising of Education.” Globalisation, Societies and Education, 13(1): 149-170. Rutkowski, D. 2007. “Converging us softly: How intergovernmental organizations promote educational policy.” Critical Studies in Education 48(2): 229-247. Sayer, A. (2001). “For a Critical Cultural Political Economy.” Antipode 33(4): 687-708. Simola, H., Ozga, J., Segerholm, C., Varjo, J., and Andersen, V.N. (2011). “Governing by numbers.” In: Fabricating Quality In Education: Data and governance in Europe, edited by J. Ozga; P. Dahler-Larsen, C. Segerholm, and H. Simola. New York: Routledge. Sorensen, T.B. (2017). Work In Progress: The Political Construction of The OECD Programme Teaching And Learning International Survey. PhD thesis. University of Bristol, Graduate School of Education. Verger, A., Fontdevila, C., and Zancajo, A. (2017): Multiple paths towards education privatization in a globalizing world: a cultural political economy review, Journal of Education Policy, 32(6), 757-787.
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