NW 17 Histories of Education
Analysing Diversity in Education Historically: Achievements, Boundaries and Barriers
Diversity has always been an inherent feature of society, however differently framed and conceptualised over time, and education has always been confronted with it. Diversity, then, constitutes a powerful prism, offering sensitivity to sociocultural configurations and imaginaries, governing mechanisms, technologies etc. used in the identification or re/production of sameness and difference. Analysing diversity in education historically not only draws attention to continuities and discontinuities in how it has been addressed and why and when it became an object of thought. It also raises awareness around a variety of approaches to data/sources, methods, theories, and sites of conservation and regulation.
Diversity – in terms of behaviours, traits, abilities, preferences, culture, ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality, religion, political beliefs etc. – has always been an inherent feature of society. Although diversity has been framed and conceptualised in different ways, educators and, indeed, all education sites have always been faced with a multiplicity of backgrounds, interests, and experiences. In this sense, diversity constitutes a powerful prism for educational histories as it offers sensitivity to configurations and imaginaries, governing mechanisms, technologies and (other) materials having facilitated identification or re/production of sameness and difference. Among questions worth posing, then, are: How have the complexities of diversity previously been addressed in education contexts? How have notions of diversity been used over time to define Selves and Others, Europe, the Global West or South and the East? One way to concretise such general questions would be to revisit histories of colonial education, but one can think of many other worthwhile research avenues.
Analysing diversity in education from historical perspectives not only draws attention to continuities and discontinuities in the way it has been handled. It also invites scholars to examine, for instance, why and when human diversity became an object of thought; when educators, directors and administrative staff became sensitive to diversity issues. Historians of education indeed might contribute to current knowledge by addressing questions of the following kind: How and why has diversity become problematised and what kind of boundaries of acceptable otherness have resulted from this? What kind of barriers have existed in education? How have these come into being and what interests have they served?
Today, it is interesting to see, generally, greater social and institutional acceptance of diversity than ever before. In many ways, education has been harnessed to support the acceptance of human diversity. Nevertheless, also growing contestation of the acceptance of such diversity can be observed. In education, as elsewhere, one can detect, for instance, tensions around gender, sexual, religious, and ethnic diversity in schools. Reconstructing histories of diversity also means paying attention to these kinds of frictions, debates, and conflicts. A recent example of this is “wokeness” and (counter-)debates and actions triggered by it – also in the educational realm.
Diversity, however, should not only play a role in the histories of education that are produced. It is also something to be noted in historiographical debates. In disciplines of history one thus finds a large diversity of approaches such as histories of ideas, social and cultural histories, political histories, transnational and global histories, and post-human histories. What are the contributions of these approaches and what are their blind spots? How do they figure diversity? How may diversity be explored in terms of sources and data? What kinds of diversity have been fostered or jeopardised in sites of conservation and regulation? How may historical findings be innovatively communicated in diverse ways? These are only some questions that might guide scholars when they (re)consider the place occupied by diversity in education from historical perspectives. Network 17 welcomes all proposals related to any of these themes.
Tamar Groves (tamargroves(at)unex.es), Pieter Verstraete (email@example.com), Christian Ydesen (cyd(at)hum.aau.dk), Geert Thyssen (geert.thyssen(at)hvl.no)
Armstrong, F. (2007). Disability, Education and Social change in England since 1960. History of Education, 36(4-5), 551–568.
Christiaens, K., Goddeeris, I. & Verstraete, P. (2021). Missionary Education. Historical Approaches and Global Perspectives. Leuven: Leuven University Press.
Grosvenor, I. (1999). ‘There’s No Place Like Home’: Education and the Making of National Identity.History of Education, 28(3), 235–250.
Myers, K. & Ydesen, C. (2016). The Imperial Welfare State? Decolonization, Education and Professional Interventions on Immigrant Children in Birmingham, 1948-1971. Paedagogica Historica [Themed Issue: Shaping European Welfare Nation-States through Professional Encounters with the Post-WWII Immigrant], 52(5), 453–466.
Padovan-Özdemir, M. & Ydesen, C. (2016). Professional Encounters with the Post-WWII Immigrant – A Privileged Prism for Studying the Shaping of European Welfare Nation-States. In: Paedagogica Historica [Themed Issue: Shaping European Welfare Nation-States through Professional Encounters with the Post-WWII Immigrant], 52(5), 423–437.
Popkewitz, T. (2008). Education Sciences, Schooling, and Abjection: Recognizing Difference and the Making of Inequality? South African Journal of Education, 28(3), 301–319.
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