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The Problem of Context in Comparative Education Research

Noah W. Sobe, Jamie Kowalczyk


This paper argues that comparative education researchers – and education researchers generally – should pay more attention to how they conceptualize the Context(s) of schools and education systems. The construction of «the research context» is caught up in the mobilization of norms, power relations, regulative principles, technologies and strategies. Ascriptions of Context can operate as externally imposed categories that enclose, disable, and deny access to resources, opportunities, agency, and subject positions. In like measure, inscriptions of Context can sometimes enable, increase access and generally privilege particular cultural groups or particular social settings. This paper offers methodological strategies for analytically approaching the problem of Context in educational research. We propose that challenge is to understand how Context is part of an interweaving process with an object/objects within an assemblage that is ever changing. The «entangled analysis» approach (Sobe, forthcoming) advanced here attends to the constructed and constructing quality of Context. And it necessarily brings the researcher into the problematic, as she too is continually within the power/knowledge relations that make Contexts meaningful and consequential. We are argue that «contextualizing» a study should not be merely a preparatory activity but should carry across the entirety of a research project. Rather than beginning with standardized Contextual categories researchers should seek to understand the confluence of practices and objects that are coming together as well as constantly flowing and changing.


Comparative education; Research methodology; Educational context; Globalization; Scale; Contesto educativo; Educazione comparata; Globalizzazione; Metodologia di ricerca

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.7358/ecps-2012-006-sobe

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Journal of Educational, Cultural and Psychological Studies (ECPS)
Registered by Tribunale di Milano (19/05/2010 n. 278)
Online ISSN 2037-7924 - Print ISSN 2037-7932

Research Laboratory on Didactics and Evaluation - Department of Education - "Roma Tre" University

Executive Editor: Gaetano Domenici - Associate Executive Editor & Managing  Editor: Valeria Biasci
Editorial Board: Eleftheria Argyropoulou - Massimo Baldacci - Joao Barroso - Richard Bates - Christofer Bezzina - Paolo Bonaiuto - Lucia Boncori - Pietro Boscolo - Sara Bubb  - Carlo Felice Casula - Jean-Émile Charlier - Lucia Chiappetta Cajola - Carmela Covato - Jean-Louis Derouet - Peter Early - Franco Frabboni - Constance Katz - James Levin - Pietro Lucisano  - Roberto Maragliano - Romuald Normand - Michael Osborne - Donatella Palomba - Michele Pellerey - Clotilde Pontecorvo - Vitaly V. Rubtzov - Jaap Scheerens - Noah W. Sobe - Francesco Susi - Giuseppe Spadafora - Pat Thomson
Editorial Staff: Fabio Alivernini - Guido Benvenuto - Anna Maria Ciraci - Massimiliano Fiorucci - Luca Mallia - Massimo Margottini - Giovanni Moretti - Carla Roverselli 
Editorial Secretary:
Nazarena Patrizi 

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