28 SES 08, Spaces, Socio-Technical Assemblages and Learning
Parallel Paper Session
Both in Europe and globally, research perspectives which correspond to two differing visions of education, one distal and the other proximal (Cooper and Law 1995), have become consolidated. The distal vision regards mainly quantitative research to which extensive public funding is dedicated and is framed within institutional comparative programmes. The most relevant international example is the PISA survey (at national level in Italy we can also cite the IARD survey) aimed at comparing very different countries in order to improve policy making within the individual national educational systems. The PISA, TIMSS and PIRLS surveys are the most relevant international examples and aim to compare very different countries in order to improve policy making within the individual national educational systems. This kind of research, implicitly and explicitly inspired by human capital theory, is focused on analysing educational systems in terms of their individual results and successes (or the lack of them). These can be evaluated using standard tests in order to favour virtuous competition between educational systems through comparison. Such comparison should favour greater homogeneity and measurability among the various disciplines (literacy, science, maths, etc.) through time. In our opinion, this research supports the distal vision of education and allows us to observe from above people and events which are then analysed, assembled and reclassified using predefined indicators. In theory, these are neutral and are aimed exclusively at describing the situation. The wealth of data should supply empirical evidence useful to educational staff and government legislators. In the other hand we have consolidated research experiences, which define the proximal and mainly qualitative aspect. This perspective refers to various sociological approaches, such as Cultural Reproduction, the Actor Network Theory or the Rational Action Theory, the educational policies studies, aimed at investigating the situated or multi-situated dimension of education. The principal intent in these different approaches is not only to examine the results and successes of individuals (or their lack), but the social, cultural and political complexity of educational processes. These highlight also the changing phenomena in local and national contexts, the cultural and material transformations in educational processes, the relationships between subjects, the professional roles of school staff and how social, political and cultural transformation modifies scholastic processes and educational practices. Cultural and methodological opposition, as well as mutual non-recognition, are in our proposal now been established between the two research perspectives (distal and proximal). Both in Italy and in Europe, sociologists of education have been confronting one another, as if engaged in a cultural war over different visions, methods, conceptions and perspectives. Drawing inspiration from the research conducted in many Italian schools, involved in the reform process, the paper proposes to investigate these opposite visions. The analytical focus of that research was how these Italian schools combined quality and equity approaches in educational practices. In that research, which was conducted by a team composed of different Italian sociologists, the researchers tried to put together the different macro frames (distal and proximal) to promote a mix of cultural perspective and research methods.
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