Call for papers: “Empires and education” – nº 31 Revista Española de Educación Comparada

Contemporary comparative education looks at power, more precisely at what Cowen in the CESE Meeting in Freiburg called imperium: meaning, here, the ways in which power shapes and re-shapes educational systems. Currently of course this means that the World Bank or OECD or PISA are not merely sources of ‘solutions’ to educational problems but are also part of new inter-national ways of shaping and re-shaping educational systems.  Currently then the traditional way of thinking about ‘comparative education’ is changing – it continues to juxtapose studies of France-and-Germany, Argentina-and-Brazil to see ‘what can be learned from the study of foreign systems of education (Sadler), but it also looks more and more at international political and economic relations and the ways in which ‘education’ as it moves from place to place changes.  Hence the aphorism: ‘as it moves, it morphs’ (Cowen). For example, as ‘the university moves, it changes in its new country; as curriculum models move (Dewey, etc.) the curriculum offered in the name of Dewey undergoes subtle changes. 

Rather surprisingly, comparative educationists have given very little attention to classic forms of the flows of international power and educational shapes within ‘Empires’. 

There are at least two obvious reasons why this has been so. One is that comparative education (in the form of ‘international and comparative education’) has spent a great deal of time developing ‘the Third World’ – without emphasising that a great deal of that third world was once part of ‘old-fashioned’ Empires before international politics shifted into new forms of ‘imperium’ – in the name of ‘development’. Hence the new excitement about post—coloniality; albeit before Empires have been fully studied. The second obvious reason why classical Empires – such as the Austro-Hungarian, the Roman, the Spanish, or the Ottoman, or the French – have been relatively invisible is that comparative education has tended to lose its historical gaze, amid the contemporary concern to create a number-filled, data-based, form of empirically-researched ‘hard science’ comparative education. Of course, it is important that efforts are made to develop a ‘hard science’ comparative education. If those efforts are successful, then sociologically perhaps more children than ever before will be offered more educational opportunity than ever before and the challenge and vision of a ‘science’ of pedagogy is a proper concern of educationists. 

However, it is also a proper concern of educationists to ‘bear witness’; to see what was done to children in the name of ‘Empire’; and to think about the extent to which we are doing the same sort of things under new names. Such work as has already been done on Empire rather tended to slide away from the simple brutality and unfashionability of the term ‘Empire’. The classic work of Carnoy and Altbach and Kelly in the 1970s edged into a softer vocabulary about ‘colonialism’ and ‘cultural imperialism’. The word ‘Empire’ still belonged to imperialists – or to Marx and Lenin and so on; so it was difficult even for American radicals such as Carnoy to address ‘Empire’. 

By 2017, however, it is probably timely to rescue historical perspectives which bear witness and offer perspectives which stress the ways in which international political and economic power re-shape educational systems. 

Hence this project. Illustratively the themes of this Special Issue can be expressed very simply: 

  • What kinds of ‘education’ were distributed within Empires?
  • Why were these forms of education distributed?
  • To whom – not least in terms of gender and race and religion and class and definitions of minority status and definitions of non-educability?
  • Did the forms of education shift over time and were they different in different parts of ‘the Empire’?
  • What – in general – were the unifying political ideologies or religions that underpinned the distribution of education, in which language(s)?
  • What were the rituals and the symbols and pedagogic styles which informed the transmission of education? 

These half dozen themes, illustrated for, say, the Roman and British Empires, maybe the Spanish and French or Portuguese, the Soviet and the American ‘empires’, would be a good way to reaffirm one of the tasks of comparative education – which is not to assist governments to make educational policy more efficient; but to understand what ‘education’ does to children and young people - and why and in what ways. 

The simplest version of the theme is think about flows of trans-national power and new forms of hegemony, captured in forms of the ‘educated’ identity and illustrated with reference to ‘an Empire’ of your own choosing. 

It would be pleasant if colleagues felt able to cover some of these themes (above) in particular detail (depending on which Empire they were writing about – what happened to the Apache and to the Sikhs was very different ) but it would be constructive if all colleagues would mention – at least mention in half a page or so - all six themes within their own articles. 

Of course, colleagues are welcome to stretch their analyses, where appropriate, by reflecting on post-colonial forms of education. This might – say in the name of post-socialist education – be highly relevant in some instances; though post- coloniality in the cases of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires would be a very complex analysis indeed. 

Here perhaps the point would be to keep our initial analyses as simple as possible this time; not as complex as possible. There is so little work on classical Empires-and-education that bringing some essays about Empires together and juxtaposing them in the same publication is a perfectly proper and sensible first step for us.