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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 Five: Hermeneutic Readings of Past Masters I – Re-interpreting Bereday’s Emphasis on the Importance of Language and Contextual Immersion Using Gadamer


It is… Hegel who testifies to the dialectical element in experience… He conceives experience as skepticism in action… one’s experience changes one’s whole knowledge… The experiencer … has acquired a new horizon…

Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, 1989,pp.353–354

Making comparisons across cultures is a practical undertaking. Moving on from the abstract concerns of Chapter Three and Chapter Four it is now time, therefore, to focus on the more overtly methodical dimensions that will underpin the comparative research of syllabus topics in history education. Essentially, philosophy and method are intimately connected, fundamental questions over the relationship between subject and object and the limits of the subject having overwhelmingly practical ramifications.

In this chapter, and in the following chapter, I will re-interpret the ideas of three of the great Past-Masters of comparative education in light of the hermeneutic perspectives, the ‘syntheses’, discussed in Chapter Four. First I will turn to the work of George Bereday. Based at Teachers College, Columbia University, Bereday’s contribution to the development of comparative education as a field was considerable. Much of his work involved the practice of comparative education in and across the countries in which he was a specialist, e.g. the United States, the Soviet Union, and various countries of Europe and Latin America.1 However, Bereday’s most lasting contribution was in the area of methodology. In this chapter, ← 147 | 148 → I will focus specifically on Bereday’s insistence that ‘residence abroad… [and] a knowledge of foreign languages’ are ‘prime requisites...

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