Education and the State, 15/9-17/9 2011, Switzerland

X-posted from H-Soz-u-Kult

Date: Wed, 18 Jan 2012 22:07:26 +0100
From: Madeleine Michaelsson <>
Subject: Tagber: Education and the State – Historical Perspectives on
a Changing Relationship


Carla Aubry / Michael Geiss / Veronika Magyar-Haas / Jürgen Oelkers,
Department of Education, University of Zurich
15.09.2011-17.09.2011, Kartause, Ittingen, Switzerland

Bericht von:
Madeleine Michaelsson, Sociology of Education and Culture (SEC),
Department of Education, Uppsala University
E-Mail: <>

The conference ”Education and the State”, dealt with the development of
state educational systems from a historical perspective. Its point of
departure was that a wide variety of philosophical and theoretical
concepts, with different national, international and transnational
backgrounds, are necessary in order to explain different institutional
arrangements, expressed through laws, ordinances and programmes. The
influence of both private and public sectors was considered important in
order to understand the structural necessities and cultural connections
within the educational system.

By way of an international comparison, MIRIAM COHEN (New York) presented
”The Growth of Mass Schooling in Great Britain, France and the United
States”. The issue of education as a question of state development was
addressed with a special focus on centralisation, decentralisation and
national differences. Cohen illuminated the relationship between private
initiatives and state responsibility and highlighted differences such as
the redistribution of money, the improvement of state efficiency and the
way education programs were implemented.

The presentation by GABRIELA OSSENBACH SAUTER (Madrid) paid attention to
primary or elementary schools and focused on the question of how
so-called ”backward countries” such as Columbia, Ecuador, Chile,
Argentina and Uruguay acted to create national identities via the school
system between 1870 and 1920. The main sources for this comparative
study were pedagogical and political discourses about the state’s
responsibility for public education and the relevance of citizenship, as
well as the relation between the state and the Catholic Church. The
lecture was followed by a critical discussion concerning the degree of
abstraction needed for such comparative studies about different nation
states with diverse political changes and legal systems.

The main issues dealt with in the study by DEIRDRE RAFERTY (Dublin) were
the Church-state relation and power. In her presentation ”A Hybrid
People: The Irish at School, 1830-1930”, she showed how the explicit
political expression of schooling in Ireland was closely connected to
religious and national identity. State education was managed by the
national board, which was also in control of all issues such as
textbooks, curricula and teacher training. Catholic and Protestant
pupils were brought together, and the standardised national classroom
indicated that secular education was taking place. Summing up, Raferty
concluded that the heritage from this period was a confused aggregate of
state dominance, influence from Britain and competing churches.

The presentation by PHILIPPE EIGENMANN (Zurich) dealt with a school
reform in Zurich that was enacted in 1996 and was part of the
Europe-wide autonomy policy in education that emerged in the late 1980s.
Eigenmann investigated what happened at individual schools during the
implementation of this reform. The analysis showed that the organisation
of the reform paradoxically led to de-democratisation and an increase in
school administration. Various committees and subcommittees were set up
to implement the project as well as control mechanisms needed to
supervise the committees’ work. Eigenmann concluded that the political
promises of less administration, more decentralisation and increased
participation, which had been powerful arguments during the political
promotion of the reform, were not fulfilled with respect to concrete and
actual practices.

In his talk on ”The Exercise of Power in an Authoritarian School”,
THOMAS EWING (Blacksburg) examined the alleged disciplining of a girl in
the Soviet Union, with a special focus on the aspect of
self-disciplining. The source of his study was the diary of a young
schoolgirl, written between 1932-37. Ewing illuminated the way in which
power was exercised in a world of complete censorship. But the diary
also reflected how far pupils undercut the official doctrines and what
everyday life in Stalin’s schools looked like.

JUDITH KAFKA (New York) presented a historical overview on ”School
Discipline Policy in the United States”, which for a long time had been
an unregulated matter. In the 20th century it became a far more
regulated realm. Kafka reconstructed this transformation in idea and
practice. Violence in urban school systems during the 1950s caused
complaints and made the question a public issue. Many groups demanded
more discipline at schools. However, the teachers wanted more specified
rules to follow. And the state followed its already existing

In his paper on ”The State of Education in the States: The Evolving
Federal Role in American School Policy”, PATRICK MCGUINN (Madison) dealt
with the changes in American education policy between 1965 and 2011.
McGuinn emphasised how the widely discussed ”No Child Left Behind Act”
(NCLB) meant a dramatic expansion of the federal role in education.
Starting with the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 1965,
McGuinn also reconstructed NCLB’s prehistory and the changes in
inter-governmental relationships during the past 46 years.

The presentation by MICHAEL GEISS (Zurich) dealt with Baden’s writing
bureaucrats in the 19th century. He showed how educational
administration was based on writing and creative writing abilities,
although often it was said to be connected to narrow-mindedness,
ineffectiveness and power. The bureaucrats’ publications dealt with a
large range of subjects such as the history of education, educational
administration, didactics and child psychology, and were discussed in
the national teachers’ press.

CARLA AUBRY (Zurich), in her presentation ”Organising Equity: The
Provision of Schooling and the State”, focused on how resources were
gained, distributed and redistributed in the town of Winterthur,
Switzerland, in the 19th century. The rights to political participation
were closely linked to administrative power, access to common properties
and distribution of resources. The techniques of transforming material
resources into the immaterial good of education were significant because
they enabled educational opportunities while at the same time
restricting them.

VINCENT CARPENTIER (London) analysed the relationship between public
expenditure on education and economic growth in the 19th and 20th
centuries from an international comparative perspective. The growth of
public funding of education and the fluctuation of the public effort in
relation to economic cycles reveals different patterns. Before 1945 it
was countercyclical. From then on, education was seen as an investment
and as being valuable for economic growth – public expenditure in
politics changed from a corrective to a driving force.

The paper ”Make the Nation Safe for Mass Society: Debates about
Propaganda and Education in the USA in the 20th Century” by NORBERT
GRUBE (Zurich) dealt with the concepts and ideas of intellectuals,
philosophers, politicians, and especially mass communication researchers
concerning the creation of national homogeneity or even conformity in
the United States in the first half of the 20th century. In the
historical context of mass society, two world wars, economic depressions
and social crises in the United States, governmental propaganda was
partially seen as a means to achieve national coherence. While
efficiency became the new aim of pedagogy, schools and mass
communication research, propaganda was regarded as a new tool to educate
mass society. Grube analysed the intersections between political
propaganda and education and gave an outlook on the era of the Cold

The contribution ”Closeness and Distance in the Conceptualisation of
Society” by VERONIKA MAGYAR-HAAS (Zurich) sketched the crossover of the
theories of the state, social theories, and anthropological ideas. Her
analysis focused on the social-philosophical approach of Helmuth
Plessner. His criticism of community (1924) and his positive
understanding of society were presented as an answer to the historical
situation in Germany in the 1920s, but the topicality of Plessner’s
critique was outlined, too. Plessner’s relationing of the social
systematically takes the relevance of human dignity into consideration.
By way of Plessner’s anthropology of the open, it is possible to
criticise homogenising ideas in the context of society concepts, and it
assumes a heterogeneous sociality which makes it possible to recognise
others by keeping distance, which was discussed under the term
”education” during the talk. In this sense, the state would have an
educational task, not only concerning school education but also to
safeguard humane and dignified conditions.

HOLGER ZIEGLER (Bielefeld) reconstructed the transitions in the role of
the state in the context of social work in the second half of the 20th
century in connection with the rise of the ”regulatory state”. In this
sense, the state regulates rather than produces welfare; it governs by
directing, so that state functions are shifted from ”rowing to
steering”. Referring to the analysis of Pat O’Malley and Christopher
Pollitt, Ziegler was able to show how managerialism as a central
strategy of advanced liberal policies replaced trust in professionals by
organisational forms of regulation. He argued that the governing of
social work in the context of the regulatory state is a mode of
”management by measurement” in the sense of governing by numbers. This
was a well-known phenomenon to the contributors, although they are
working and researching in quite different national contexts.

The relationship of utopia, state and education was analysed by JÜRGEN
OELKERS (Zurich). Starting out from social utopias in the sense of
”Staatsromane”, Oelkers sketched the development of utopia in terms of
the history of ideas with multifaceted sources regarding ancient Greek
philosophy, the utopian works produced in the Middle Ages as well as
social utopias in the modern sense. In doing so, he could show how
widely varied the utopian narrative is, if the research scope is not
limited to the classical writers such as Morus, Campanella or Bacon.
Oelkers pointed out that the concept of utopia is closely linked to
ideas of better education. He argued that democracy is not a utopia but
a living reality that can convince even its critics.

This very well organised and international conference offered different
and exciting perspectives at many levels. The presentations demonstrated
a number of ways to explore the historical implications between
education and the state. Methods, theories, study designs and sources
varied significantly between the surveys, which also offered an
excellent base, not only for discussions on the results, but also for an
epistemological debate. Research strategies varied from huge
quantitative surveys to small case studies. Through this broad
representation of research traditions, the studies illuminated this area
of knowledge in a very rich way. It also became evident that a complex
relationship, such as that between education and state, requires many
different approaches to become clearer. The conference generated new
research questions, such as demarcation issues concerning the state and
administration, the local and the central, the need for further
international comparisons and the difficulty of capturing changes over

Conference overview:

Jürgen Oelkers (Zurich): Opening remarks

Miriam Cohen (New York): The Growth of Mass Schooling in Great Britain,
France and the United States

Gabriela Ossenbach Sauter (Madrid): State Intervention in Backward
Countries: Case Studies of State Education Systems in Hispanic world

Deirdre Raferty (Dublin): A Hybrid people: The Irish at school,

Philippe Eigenmann (Zurich): Noble Aims, Humble Impact. Reorganizing
Public Schools in Zurich, 1995-2000

Thomas Ewing (Blacksburg): The Exercise of Power in an Authoritarian

Judith Kafka (New York): School Discipline Policy in the United States

Patrick McGuinn (Madison): The State of Education in the States: The
Evolving Federal Role in American School Policy

Michael Geiss (Zurich): To Write Like a Bureaucrat: Educational
Administration as an Intellectual Phenomenon

Carla Aubry (Zurich): Organising Equity: The Provision of Schooling and
the State

Vincent Carpentier (London): State Education, Growth and Austerity: An
Historical View

Norbert Grube (Zurich): Make the Nation Safe for Mass Society: Debates
about Propaganda and Education in the USA in the 20th Century

Veronika Magyar-Haas (Zurich): Closeness and Distance in the
Conceptualisation of Society

Holger Ziegler (Bielefeld): ”Governing by numbers” – Social Work in the
Age of the Regulatory State

Jürgen Oelkers (Zurich): Utopia, State and Democracy

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