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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 Eight: Comparative Constellation Analysis as Method

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As a constellation, theoretical thought circles the concept it would like to unseal, hoping that it may fly open like the lock of a well-guarded safe-deposit box: in response, not to a single key or a single number, but to a combination of numbers.

T. W. Adorno, Negative Dialectics, 1973, p.163

In Chapter Seven I demonstrated how the variables influencing the composition of a syllabus topic could be described and charted using constellation mapping. After the more abstract concerns and discussions of the preceding chapters, Chapter Seven appeared as a fundamentally practical and descriptive exercise. Constellation mapping enables the researcher to identify power/knowledge relationships across contexts. Most important of all, it illustrates the fact that variables do not share the same level of influence across contexts. Where a given variable may have enormous influence on the composition of a syllabus topic in one context it may have little or, in some cases, no influence in another. Constellation mapping allows the researcher to gauge the value of a given variable in terms of its effects. In turn, variables that are discovered to exert the most powerful effects are those deemed most worthy of attention.

What can and should we compare to understand the Second World War as a syllabus topic in school history across contemporary contexts? The answer to this question concerns the researching subject as well as the objects being compared. On the level of the subject, the researcher will be confined to the...

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