23 SES 11 C, Comparing and Contrasting School Choice Policies: Problematics in Comparison
The first question traced in the symposium is of theoretical and methodological kind. It focuses on one of the hottest problems of comparative studies not only in education but in all social research: how to go beyond just listing the differences and similarities. The second one is of more empiric character and asks if it would be possible to find certain kinds of universal practices and effects of an education policy such as parental school choice despite of different contexts. As objectives for a comparative study on parental choice, we may particularise as follows: first, to locate our empirical findings in different cases theoretically into the trans-national and relational fields of education (see below), and secondly, to outline and conceptualise in different contexts some universal effects of a “technique of governance” (Ball 2001) such as parental school choice policy is.
Contemporary comparative research in education is said to lack a historical perspective (Kazamias 2009) and contextualisation (Steiner-Khamsi 2009), to be too optimistic about transfer (Cowen 2000), and suffering “unbearable narrowness of the national view” (Kettunen 2011; Dale 2009). Comparisons are too often just like train spotting: “collecting train numbers, interesting only if you are already hooked on the hobby“ (Cowen 2009, 963). The substantial body of work in comparative education is simply empiricist, lacking any substantial theoretical substance and hence, takes the world being studied at face value (Broadfoot 2003).
One possibility for the pursuit of stronger theory-based conceptualizations lies in what we call dynamic view to education politics (Butler & van Zanten 2007; Raveaud & van Zanten 2007; van Zanten 2009; Kauko 2011; Simola 2011; Simola & Rinne 2011). In this framework, the national education systems are seen as complex social fields of interactive relationships between actors, discourses and institutions in an essentially trans-national context. The changes and continuities in the field, both discursive and non-discursive, are emerged, reconstructed and disappeared due to the constitutive dynamics in political relations specific to the certain sociohistorical and cultural contexts. (Osberg & Biesta 2010; Bourdieu1998; Werner & Zimmermann 2006). In the case of parental school choice it seems that at least four levels are essential here: the levels of politics, governance, educational family strategies and school logics of action. At those levels, our framework does encourage empirical study to focus on dynamics in interactive relations between actors, discourses and institutions.
Our second research question concerns the practices and effects of parental school choice in different contexts, first, through contrasting the cases from the extreme ends of the continuum for public vs. private driven compulsory education system, Chile and Finland. These cases could be characterised also as peripheral from the South-West and the North-East. Secondly, empirical results from France, England and the U.S. bring the view from the centre, from the big countries to the discussion focusing to the educational strategies of the middle class families. Finally the discussion of the symposium will be contributed by the transnational views of discussants from Southern and Northern Europe, from Sweden and Spain.
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