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Constellation Analysis

A Methodology for Comparing Syllabus Topics Across Educational Contexts

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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 Three: The Philosophical Basis of Comparisons I – From the Modernist ‘Thesis’ to the Postmodern ‘Antithesis’

Extract

The kind of freedom Hegel believes to be genuine is to be found…in rational choice. Reason is the essential nature of the intellect. A free mind, unimpeded by coercion of any sort, will follow reason as easily as a river unimpeded by mountains or hills would flow directly to the sea.

Peter Singer, Hegel, 1988, p.67

In the end, the final basis of Foucault’s refusal of ‘truth’ and ‘liberation’ seems to be a Nietzschean one… Foucault sees truth as subordinated to power.

Charles Taylor, Foucault on Freedom and Truth, 1989, p.93

Upon what grounds is it possible to make comparisons? What is the relationship between those making the comparisons and the contexts being compared? How can it be justifiable to evaluate differences across contexts, if at all? Answers to these questions are a matter of philosophical perspective. In other words, the practice of making comparisons will always be based in epistemological assumptions concerning the nature of knowledge and of what it is possible to know, and in ontological conceptions of what it means to exist in the world. Indeed, these assumptions will define the limits and the possibilities of any comparative methodology.

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