Elites and Expertise: The changing material production of knowledge for policy

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26 April, 1-2 pm (CMB Conference room 2.15)

Jenny Ozga, Professor Emeritus, Department of Education, Oxford & Honorary Professorial Fellow, School of Social and Political Science, Edinburgh.



The seminar draws on work in progress on the Leverhulme Emeritus Fellowship ‘Governing Education: knowledge and policy in England and Scotland since 1986’. This study investigates the changing relationship between knowledge and policy, looking at the changing forms of knowledge available to policy actors and the effects of these changing knowledges (for example the growth of statistics, digital media and data) on the capacity of policy actors (including experts and elites) to govern education. The seminar compares the knowledge technologies and material processes available to policy elites and experts in the 1980s and in the contemporary context in England, assesses the impact of changes in the material production of knowledge on how elites and expertise are understood, and considers their implications for understanding knowledge-policy relationships.

Next presentations

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Upcoming presentations in the Education & Society research group:


26 April, 1-2 pm (CMB Conference room 2.15)

Jenny Ozga: Elites and Expertise: The changing material production of knowledge for policy


17 May, 1-2 pm (CMB Conference room 2.15)

Farah Dubois: Gendered University organizations and gender (in)equality in academic/research careers and work


The logic of the gaze: education, spectatorship and the art of aesthetic governing

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Wednesday, 15 March, 1-2 pm (CMB Conference room 2.15)

Sotiria Grek, senior lecturer in Social Policy


The logic of the gaze: education, spectatorship and the art of aesthetic governing

Using Sweden as a case study, the aim of this paper is to take a historical perspective in order to explore the ways in which national systems and their innovations were influenced, constructed and traded through the use of education comparisons. More specifically, the paper will explore education comparisons through ‘aesthetic governing’; this is a new concept we use in order to denote the governing of education through representation and visual means. Our starting point is that although a lot of scholarly work has placed emphasis on the role of numbers in the making of nations, we know less about the role of images and representations in the governing of education within the nation but also transnationally.

The paper draws on research originating in the project ‘From Paris to PISA: Governing Education by Comparison, 1867-2015’; it examines the role of the national in the emergence of a transnational education policy field, as exemplified in the making of the European and global education policy space. By focusing on Sweden, a country considered a leading education state for most of the 19th and 20th centuries, it aims to produce significant knowledge about the logics of comparison, its main actors and its techniques and effects. The title of the project alludes to two significant loci where international comparisons of school systems occurred: a physical one, Paris, as a host for several international exhibitions in the late 19th century, and, on the other hand, a symbolic policy space; that is the influential PISA-study carried out by OECD since 2000. Starting our investigation in Paris in 1867 and ending with PISA 2015, we trace significant changes in the role of international comparisons in educational policy-making. Within this timeframe, Sweden has always been in a fluid space of comparison, engaged in both internal and external policy learning and travel. Nevertheless, although most of literature in the field of education governance has so far focused on the role of numbers and data in the making of governing knowledge, this paper aims to explore a relatively ignored, yet crucial, aspect of how comparisons are made and communicated: that is, through the use of the image, either in the late 19th c.- early 20th century as the physical and ‘real’ space of the world exhibitions, or in the use of the first statistical representations, again in the exhibition space, of the 1930s, all the way to data visualisation techniques and the rise of big data of the early 21st century.

In order to explore the role of the visual in producing governing knowledge, the paper makes use of the concept of ‘diagrammatic thinking’ as discussed by the American pragmatist philosopher CS Peirce (1839-1914) and Gilles Deleuze (1925-1995), a prolific writer on philosophy, film, literature and fine art. Whereas Peirce described the diagram as ‘an aid to knowledge’ that works primarily through representation, the Deleuzian project disrupts this reading, and uses the concept of the diagram as constitutive of new realities. In the paper, I will show what this may mean in conceptualising aesthetic governing and the very different ways that the image has been used in producing governing knowledge historically and at present.

Comprehensive schooling and competing visions and rationalities in centre-left parties’ education policy

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Wednesday, 22 February, 1-2 pm (CMB Conference room 2.15)

Comprehensive schooling and competing visions and rationalities in centre-left parties’ education policy

Anna Pultar, PhD researcher in Social Policy

Comprehensive schooling has belonged to one of the most politicised issues in education policy in Europe. It is commonly presented as a partisan conflict between the political left favouring comprehensive schooling and the political right defending academic selection and grammar schools. On a closer look, however, there is considerable inconsistency in the ideas, discourses and practices within political parties across time and national contexts. The presentation will report findings from a PhD project on centre-left parties and their policy on comprehensive schooling in England and Austria. It focuses on the processes of policy-making within parties and aims to uncover the interplay of different individual actors and groups within the parties in shaping the party’s education policy. Individual actors frequently differ in their visions of what comprehensive schooling should look like and should lead to. There are, for instance, different understandings of equality, merit and choice in schooling, but also different views of the curriculum or the role of the state in education. However, actors disagree not only on the educational issues itself, but frequently on the political uses of education policy. Comprehensive schooling was frequently seen as either a political resource or as a potential risk in the pursuit of other party goals such as gaining legitimacy, votes, resources and political influence, and party cohesion. Yet rather than a straight-forward division between idealists and realists, the empirical analysis shows much variety of rationalities: actors were rarely pure pragmatists driven by the pursuit of power alone nor educational philosophers, solely driven by higher social ideals. I will illustrate different visions and rationalities in the struggles over comprehensive schooling with examples from interviews conducted in both countries.

Measuring Respect: can children’s social equality be expressed in policy?

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The next meeting of the research group will take place Wednesday, 18th of January, 2017, 1-2 pm in Conference Room 2.15, CMB

Philip Cook, lecturer in Political Theory, will discuss the development of a new research proprosal.


Philip Cook: Measuring Respect: can children’s social equality be expressed in policy?

Stigma, discrimination, and marginalisation stain our social relations. These stains may persist even if our societies become more equal materially. Social equality requires that individuals, groups, and social institutions treat all with respect, in addition to ensuring all receive equal shares of society’s goods. But our understanding of social equality is limited: our conception of respect is vague; our devices for promoting it crude; and our sense of who should be treated as social equals hazy. This project interrogates a pressing social problem that embodies these complexities: ‘can we measure the respect children experience in schools?’ The project aims to clarify our normative and empirical understanding of respect; to develop a feasible metric for respect that is philosophically and administratively robust; to probe the boundaries of social equality by challenging the current omission of children. The presentation will set out the rationale for the project and invite feedback on how it may be developed for future grant applications.

‘Lifelong education and lifelong social mobility: research using birth cohorts data spanning 75 years’

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Research group meeting on Wednesday, 7 December, 1-2 pm, Conference Room 2.15 CMB

Lindsay Paterson, Professor of Education, will discuss the design of a new collaborative research project:


Lindsay Paterson: ‘Lifelong education and lifelong social mobility: research using birth cohorts data spanning 75 years’

I will describe the design of a project that compares three Scottish birth cohorts – people born in 1936, 1958 and 1970 – looking at their educational opportunities and their social mobility. The research questions are:

(1) Has educational inequality diminished across the three cohorts, and, if so, is that mainly because the overall level of educational participation has risen?

(2) Has social mobility been driven by changes in the occupational structure, rather than by changes in the strength of association of origins and destinations?

(3) Do the answers to questions (1) and (2) vary across the life course?

(4) Has the importance of adult education diminished in importance across these three cohorts, as the formal education system has expanded and become increasingly inclusive of all types of pupil?

However, answering these will be for the future: all that I can describe at this stage is the research design. In particular, I will describe the process of getting access to the data for the 1936 cohort which is complex, and involves working closely with the National Records of Scotland.’

Greek Higher Education reforms during the crisis: the discursive construction of contesting issues

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Our next research group meeting will be on Wednesday, 16th November, 1-2 pm (CMB meeting room 6).

Nikos Kanellopoulos, PhD candidate in social policy, will present his latest findings from his research on Greek Higher Education reforms during the crisis.


Nikos Kanellopoulos: Greek Higher Education reforms during the crisis: the discursive construction of contesting issues

During the current economic crisis, a series of reforms in Greek Higher Education were proposed and made legal, with a view to address some of the deficiencies and challenges in the sector. Nevertheless, most of the policies have been partly implemented or largely amended, mainly due to the strong resistance by coalitions of university unions, some rectors and professors, and the youth organizations of political parties operating in universities. Furthermore, due to their embeddedness into this new socio-political context of the acute financial crisis in Greece, these reforms have largely collided with the deteriorating economic climate in Greece; this has dealt a severe blow not only to the basic, daily operations of Greek HE institutions, but even their survival in itself.

The aim of this research is to explore the role and function of the various contesting individual and/or collective discourses in the construction of the recent Greek HE reforms during the financial crisis and reveal the ideas and ‘imaginaries’ that underpin them. In this presentation I will explore three topics that emerged from the analysis of the interview data, namely the internal governance of the universities, the external policy actors’ influence and the impact of crisis.

Programme 2016/17

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Welcome back to a new academic year!

Here’s our programme for semester 1:


12 October, 1-2 pm (CMB meeting room 6)
Sotiria Grek: Research Design and Interdisciplinary research: challenges of developing a new project


16 November, 1-2 pm (CMB meeting room 6)
Nikos Kanellopoulos: Competing Discourses in Greek Higher Education Reform during the Crisis


7 December, 1-2 pm (CMB meeting room 6)
Lindsay Paterson: Lifelong education and lifelong social mobility: research using birth cohorts data spanning 75 years


In semester two we’ll meet on 18 January, 22 February and 15 March.
Students and staff wanting to present their work are very welcome!


To register in the group’s emailing list, please contact sotiria.grek@ed.ac.uk or anna.pultar@ed.ac.uk

Exporting educational marketization: Swedish policy retailers on the move

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We’re happy to welcome Linda Rönnberg from the University of Umeå to give a lecture as part of the SPSS Social Policy seminar series.

Discussant: Anna Pultar, PhD student Social Policy


14th of March 2016
4-5.30 pm

room 1.204, 7 Bristo Square



The Swedish education system is increasingly viewed as being dominated by marketization. A series of reforms implemented in the 1990s turned the Swedish school system into ‘one of the world’s most liberal public education systems’ (Blomqvist, 2004, p. 148; Lundahl et. al., 2013). Swedish parents are free to choose any school for their child free of charge, public as well as tax-funded so-called free schools. The independent education providers are allowed to extract profit. As a result, for-profit school chains have flourished and they have also gone abroad to sell and market their services. Swedish school chains now operate globally (see for example examples in England, USA and India). We are facing a situation in which ‘despite its neglect in the policy transfer literature, business is now directly engaged with education policy in a number of different ways (…) [that] erase national boundaries’ (Ball, 2012, p. 11).

This study focuses on the undertakings of actors in the borderless flow of education policy by focusing on how a number of Swedish policy retailers market policy ideas about free schools and their own related commercialized services. The aim is to map and explore the connections, movements, and exchanges of a selection of Swedish education policy retailers in the transnational transactions of policy ideas and services. This study highlights how the original free-school architects in the domestic arena later travelled as ‘transnational missionaries,’ and the results empirically show how policy retailers move from the domestic to global arenas along transnational trade routes. These actors embody particular forms of knowledge and experience from department ministerial work and party politics, which blends with work in public relations and various edu-businesses. Mobilization and public exposure of policy-advocacy networks are important when these policy retailers are carrying, influencing and (trans)forming the growing global edu-business . The study points to the importance of mapping and exploring commercial policy retailers’ actions, moves, and embeddedness within networks domestically and globally, and argues that this holds implications for our understanding of contemporary educational policymaking and ultimately for democracy.

Crafting the English welfare state— interventions by Birmingham Local Education Authorities, 1948–1963

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Christian Ydesen, Associate Professor at the University of Aalborg and current IASH-SPS Visiting Fellow, will give a talk as part of the SPSS Social Policy seminar series.

Discussant: Mark Wong, PhD student Social Policy


2 March 2016
3-4.30 pm
Medical School, Teviot – G.16 Seminar Room – Doorway 4


The presentation will throw light on the range of education professionals and their interventions against deviance understood as the ‘problem child’ or the ‘ineducable child’. I argue that these interventions played a central role in successfully establishing schools as social administrators in England during the constitutive years of English welfare state formation. Using Birmingham local education administration as an empirical and historical case, the influential Children Acts of 1948 and 1963 serve to demarcate the period examined. The theoretical framework is drawn from Bourdieu and Wacquant’s concept of state, with the key concept being ‘state-crafting’. The article contributes to knowledge about the imaginaries, and the manufacturing and managing of ‘the public good’—understood as a referent for modern governing—of the English welfare state.

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