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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 Four: The Philosophical Basis of Comparisons II – Towards a Hermeneutic ‘Synthesis’


All the great philosophical ideas of the last century – the philosophies of Marx, Nietzsche, phenomenology, German existentialism, and psychoanalysis – had their beginnings in Hegel.

Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Sense and Non-Sense, 1964, p.63

[W]ithin the circle of the philosophers of my generation who diagnose our times, Foucault has most lastingly influenced the Zeitgeist.

Jurgen Habermas, Taking Aim at the Heart of the Present, 1989, p.107

In this chapter it will be argued that hermeneutic approaches provide a philosophical basis for making comparisons across contexts that incorporate important features of modernity and post-modernity thinking while avoiding the excesses of over- empiricism, class reductionism and relativism. Hermeneutic conceptions of reality will be posited as both an important synthesis and critique of the positions outlined in Chapter Three – hermeneutic perspectives providing a powerful alternative, suited to a truly dynamic comparative education for our times. With a dynamic conception of knowledge, the politics of knowledge, and of agency, it will be argued that hermeneutic philosophies provide the grounds upon which to construct methodologies that facilitate meaningful yet sensitive comparisons of syllabus topics in school history education across contexts. Hermeneutic approaches provide a perspective that is sensitive to cultural and linguistic differences while at the same time providing the subject with the space – the platform even – to make evaluations and assessments. Hermeneutic conceptions of truth and history enable the subject to take positions while acknowledging important limits.

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