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Constellation Analysis

A Methodology for Comparing Syllabus Topics Across Educational Contexts


Bryan Cunningham

Jason Nicholls’ Constellation Analysis is an important contribution to studies in Comparative Education. From a deeply philosophical perspective (drawing in particular on the work of Hegel, Gadamer and Foucault), the author explores the ways in which topics in history education may be analysed and compared across international contexts. Utilising the Second World War as an «exemplar topic», the depiction of this crucial historical event in three countries, Japan, Sweden and England, is subjected to a highly novel form of interrogation. The book provides the reader not only with important insights into the nature of the books in use in classrooms across these contexts, but also into the educational – and indeed broad socio-political – environments beyond the classrooms.
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Chapter One: Traveller’s Tales, Textbook Research and Theory Development


It is not the general idea that is implicated in opposition and combat, and that is exposed to danger. It remains in the background, untouched and uninjured. This may be called the cunning of reason…

G. W. F. Hegel, The Philosophy of History, 1991, p.33

Limits define possibilities in comparative education. What contexts can we engage with and what contexts are for one reason or another too remote? All comparisons must begin from somewhere. But the question is where? By acknowledging our limits as subjects we come to understand our proximity to settings in the world. This is as good as locating oneself on a map.

When we compare the education of one country with that of another we are comparing contexts of great complexity. Each will be made up of a web of relationships, influencing factors, configured differently from one setting to the next. The type of comparisons that we undertake should depend, therefore, on our understanding of the internal dynamics of each context. On approaching the context we will need special tools to somehow ‘get inside’ and view the dynamics of the system from within. What is affecting what? Where are the major points of influence? What is the relationship between the various parts and the context as a whole? We may find that several contexts share similar parts. However, where a certain part may be highly influential in one context it may significantly lack influence in another.

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