We are happy to announce that the Swedish Research Council have granted our project The Disembedded Laboratory – Torsten Husén and the Internationalisation of Educational Research for Policy. The project can be seen as a continuation of our previous project From Paris to PISA, and will be reported from at this website.
Purpose and aims
The proposed project will examine the accelerated growth of educational research in post-war Europe and the US, through an in-depth study of its articulation, dissemination and consolidation as an international phenomenon. Torsten Husén (1916-2009), the leading Swedish educational figure, whose international career spans the mid/ late 20thcentury, will be the key lens for the analysis. In particular, Husén’s archive, stored in the Swedish National Archive and thus far under-researched and unknown, is a treasure trove for the study of the construction of the European education research arena. It consists of 38 metres of files, and holds all of Husén’s correspondence, from his key roles in the IEA and the IIEP-UNESCO, as well as his extensive scientific networking across the globe.
However, why focus on Husén? What can the study of a single actor illuminate about the rise of a whole scientific field with its machinations, collaborations, ruptures and linkages over the long decades of the European post-war reconstruction? The project follows a sociology of science theoretical frame in order to examine the Husén archive as a container of a ‘disembedded laboratory’. The disembedded laboratory consists of volatile transnational networks that contribute to the development of social science research beyond fixed time and space dimensions, that extends science beyond individual ideas, researchers, environments, institutions and universities. These are practices that create, mobilise, sustain and challenge relations between actors in innovations, knowledge creation and various social activities (Latour 1987).In other words, the archive represents the socio-material manifestation not only of the intellectual trajectory of a key education actor (as widely evidenced for far by, amongst others, Agar and Smith 1998; Latour 2005; Bijker et al 1987) but of a whole scientific field (Bourdieu 1993).
The historical context here is a crucial backdrop to our study. We will be examining the decades that saw the slow yet methodical construction of education comparative data for policy-making, the rise of cross border and international comparisons and the role of a modern, comprehensive education in these processes. Through a detailed analysis of the interactions of a range of actors, materials and institutions, we are going to explore the socio-cognitive processes that saw education as the sole pathway towards the governing of ’a better society’. Such imaginaries of education have been in existence for centuries, nevertheless the notion that education science can and should be informing the making of education policy was a novel idea in the 20thcentury.
Similarly innovative was the concept of cross-border research. Although ideas had always travelled, post-war Europe education science – with Husén at its helm – becomes systematic, organised and institutionalised; it is materialised through the controversies and consensus of expert networks; and it becomes legitimised in institutions, through the successful set-up of education research organisations like the IEA, which still dominate the education research arena. Thus, we argue that our investigation is not simply about studying what kind of knowledge for policy; the proposed project will study the rise of the international education epistemic community through a focus on the ideational, value-based, moral, political and cognitive processes that brought previously dispersed scientists into an organised, cosmopolitan, and – crucially – legitimate disembedded scientific laboratory that wrote the first pages of the global education research for policy post-war. The Husén archive and its rich documentation of this important historical period offers therefore a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity to document this history and bring it to life.
The project’s overarching aim is to understand the rise of the post-war world of education research, as a ‘disembedded laboratory’, through an in-depth examination of the spaces, places, actors, objects and norms, and its legacy. In order to operationalise this, we ask the following questions:
How did Husén and his peers, as representatives of a new emerging field of science, come together in forming networks and creating common work spaces? Who were the key actors that worked with Husén and what kind of characteristics and qualities did their networking entail?
When Husén and his transnational networks developed into international organizations, how were they established and sustained? What was the role of key actors in constructing them? How did they organise their work and plan their activity? What funds, kind of work and ideas held these organisations together?
What kind of knowledge for policy was intended to be produced in these networks? Under which conditions was this knowledge produced and disseminated? Which procedures gave it validity and legitimacy? What kind of knowledge production was prioritised and why?
Pertinent to all these questions are issues of gender, since spaces, places, actors and networks also are arenas for hierarchies, inclusion and exclusion. Even if the project is focusing on a male actor, we will strive to bring more hidden, or peripheral knowledge workers to the fore (Lundahl & Primus 2018).
In a recently finalised project called From Paris to PISA – governing education through comparisons 1867-2015, I, Sotira Grek, Martin Lawn and Joakim Landahl used Sweden as a case study with the aim to explore and analyse the ways in which national systems and their innovations were influenced, constructed and traded through the use of education comparisons. By focusing on Sweden, a country considered a leading education state for most of the 19th and 20th centuries, we examined the workings and effects of international education comparisons, and the logics of comparison, its main actors and its techniques and effects.
Traditionally there has been an emphasis on using domestic histories of education for the construction of national myths, which has resulted in missing out on substantial evidence from political science research which suggests that, not only at present time but also historically, learning from and with others is one of the primary tools in the policy making assemblage. The recent trend however has been to maybe overemphasize the influence of the European, or even the global, on the national education policy making apparatus. We have read numerously papers on Neoliberalism, New Public Management, the Global Testing Culture, GERM (Global Educational Reform Movement) that often with references to Foucault, Rose, Ball, Biesta, Porter etc, stresses the emergence of a culture of performativity, accountability regimes and increased standardization leading to the loss of local multiplicity, the loss of teacher professionalism and in the end reduced learning for the pupils. As pointed out however by Radhika Guror (2017, 2018) this kind of criticism hasn’t managed to curtail the influence of in particular large-scale assessments over national policy. The problem she states is not just that we as researchers had little political influence but also that we haven’t advanced our epistemology in understanding these movements.
Also, Antoni Verger et al have stressed in a recent article (2019) that we need to look at howthese global movements are connected to specific countries, because they are adopted, for so many different reasons. I would also say, that sometimes we see nothing else then a local movement that looks like, or are disguised to look like, a global movement. In addition to this we can also assume that there is an influence of the national in shaping and steering international trends, that we often have neglected.
It is exactly this co-construction between the international and the national in educational policy that I like to talk about today – and the role that educational scholars can play in it. However, I will begin with the parallel case of how IKEA and its founder Ingvar Kamprad (1926-2018) used Sweden to construct itself as a global and multinational company and how Sweden has used IKEA in the country’s own nation branding. IKEA very well illustrates the complexity in the assemblage of national and international influences on say a company, organisation or institution.
IKEA and Ingvar Kamprad
What is inside a flat-pack from IKEA? Not only a furniture waiting to be assembled by you, but also a set of values and ideas – of which some has a long history. IKEA is a global brand that markets Scandinavian home furnishing styles and Swedish social and cultural values. In her book Design by IKEA(2014) Sara Kristoffersson asks how this strong relationship between design and national identity has come about.
IKEA is based on a design ideal called ’the Swedish modern’, a term coined in the 1930s, to describe a gentler version of a modernist idiom: wood instead of metal tubing, organic forms rather than hard and angular forms etc. (Kristoffersson, 2014, 5). But as rather well known, this design ideal was actually first displayed in the USA by American designers. However, it became a narrative in Sweden connecting the nation with a particular design ideal.
This design ideal, and the idealistic view of modern Sweden paved way for a very successful co-brandingand in 1983 IKEA changed its red and with logo into the colour of the Swedish flag (pic 1). When IKEA published a book in 1995 called Democratic design they wrote:
It [IKEA] grew up in Sweden and its heart remains there to this very day. And as everyone who has grown up in Sweden has learnt – either from their Dad, or from the society in general – people who are not all that well of should be given the same opportunities as people who are. It is hardly surprising that, as a Swedish company, IKEA espouses Swedish values. (IKEA 1995, 9 in Kristofferson 2014, 58)
IKEA links this notion of Swedishness to a practical, simple, and restrained design that becomes closely linked to ideas about mentality and morality. The peaceful, light, and practical home creates a setting for open, harmonious, and rational minds (Löfgren 2014, 468). Here for example the idealised image of the country side of Småland was used (here in an award winning ad) – ‘the Soul of IKEA’ (pic 2).
Also, the founder of IKEA Ingvar Kamprad became part of the branding. Kamprad has been described by colleagues as a genius working extremely hard but also with a very clever set of leadership skills that borders on manipulation. He visited as a rule 45 stores a year and met with people at ever flor of his businesses (Stenebo 2018). The lessons learnt he passed on, as a former close colleague wrotes (in a critical book on IKEA):
What most people find hard to understand is how Ingvar manages to keep such a large company together. The answer is simple. Through his actions he lets good examples speak for themselves. Everywhere he goes he over and over again refers back to discussions he has had with a head of department at a store in Germany or with the boss of a factory at a supplier’s or with a colleague at a store in China. He is capable of quoting his co-workers’ thoughts and ideas as well as problems in a concrete way. (Stenebo 2018, 22)
This factory-floor strategy, travelling around in the real world, is rhetorically brilliant. How can a product developer in Älmhult ever express disapproval of a discussion where all arguments are taken from reality?
At the same time, he was ‘marketed as a simple man that with poor education (not really true since he had at least an upper secondary degree in business), that had dyslexia, was an alcoholic, never flew business class, preferred public transportation instead of company cars, and rather took a hot dog at his store than had lunch at an restaurant. This thriftiness became an important part of IKEA’s image as a cost-awareness company (Kristofersson 2014, 29-33; Stenebo 2018, 12-49).
The ideals of design and mentality that is linked to Kamprad, Småland and Sweden was also intentionally used in the marketing of IKEA in other countries. For example, in Germany:
IKEA did run a famous ad campaign in the 1990s that showed parodic versions of “German” interiors, in depressing brown and beige with dark and clumsy furniture side by side with light-hearted, sunny and simple Swedish interiors asking the German readers: “Do you want to sleep on or may we wake you up?” (Löfgren 2014, 468)
IKEA loves Sweden but Sweden also loves IKEA. A government report on Swedish trade and investments from 2011 concluded:
Certain major Swedish corporations like IKEA and Volvo Cars have long made use of their Swedish origins in their marketing. As a result of the enormous resources that help to promote Sweden as a brand, Sweden is widely associated precisely with these companies (despite the fact that Volvo Cars has not been a Swedish-owned company for the last ten years). The value to the Swedish image that these companies contribute with their marketing can scarcely be calculated. (DS 2011:29, 123 in Kristoffersson 2014, 84)
We clearly see here that it is not just IKEA that makes use of values embedded in the brand of Småland and Sweden. It also goes the other way around, Sweden uses IKEA for the county´s own reputation.
The Swedish Comprehensive School and Torsten Husén
The kind of co-branding that we see between IKEA and Sweden has up until lately also been the case between Swedish education and Sweden. Here the famous educational scholar Torsten Husén (1916-2009) was one important reformist as well as Ambassador for Swedish education (Pic. 3 and 4).
Pic. 3.Torsten Husén meets Japanese Crown Prince (Husén 1983, 84ff)
Pic. 4.Torsten Husén meets US Presiden Lyndon B Johnson (Husén 1983, 84ff)
Torsten Husén was born in Lund 1916 where he also later came to take his Phd-degree at Lunds university in 1944. His supervisor John Landquist was a famous scholar and cultural personality. The closeness to Germany and Landquist’s connections made it natural for Husén to visit and study in Germany during the 1930s. There he learned how to construct and conduct psychological aptitude test. In the 1940s he was employed by the Swedish government to produce, inspired by the German military, test to get ‘the right man at the right place’ in the army. Here the famous American Army Alpha and Army Beta test also became influential as well as working with the statistical factor analysis. Husén came to work with testing for the government for ten years. He continued working on testing for various Swedish organisations and at the Stockholm Techer collage throughout the 50s and 60s. During the 50s and 60s he also spent several semesters at American universities (e.g. Chicago, Stanford and Aspen).
From the mid 50s and some years onwards the UNESCO-institute in Hamburg arranged yearly conferences for educational scholars representing just about 12 countries. Husén represented Sweden and when this group of scholars decided to form IEA (International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement) Husén was chosen to become its chairman – a position he held for 18 years. IEA is today famous for constructing the TIMSS and PIRLS test.
Meanwhile in Sweden the government had to decid how to move forward on a suggested reform on comprehensive schooling. Husén made valuable contributions and could for example show with results from his military testing that quite a large group had the intellectual capacity to study much longer than they at the time had the chance to. He called them the ’reserve of talents’ (begåvningsreserven). Husén, in line with the Swedish social democratic party, believed that more children should be included and given the opportunity to reach secondary education. In 1962 Sweden got a comprehensive school system.
One of the earlier analyses carried out on IEA material during the late 1960s was to compare countries with tracked school systems with comprehensive school systems. Husén writes in his biography, An incurable academic:
The IEA project (see p. 83ff), which I led for many years, provided unique opportunities to compare various national educational systems with special regard to organisational differentiation. Some of these systems, for instance the British or the German, made an early differentiation between pupils with a more “theoretical” and those with a more “practical” inclination; while others, like the Swedish or the American, then differentiated into streams at a later stage. We were able to establish unequivocally that social class differences between different educational programmes were greatest in the former and smallest in the latter type of system. (Husén 1983, 74)
Clearly this is a good argument both to be used at home to show that Sweden had chosen the ‘right’ path, and abroad to put pressure on other countries to do the same.
In much of his international writings, and probably also in his meetings and lectures he often came back to what was so particular to Sweden and Swedish education where he makes connections between the welfare state and an inclusive comprehensive school system. Here he also made claims for the role of the researchers’ ideological basis:
Over some twenty years I have been involved in policy-oriented research related to school reforms. In recent years I have been conducted international surveys focusing on policy problems of cross-national relevance. Since 1945 social scientist in many countries, not least in Sweden, have increasingly been called upon to put their competences at the disposal of government commissions and agencies in studying social problems empirically. Studies of the quantitative, ’political-arithmetic’ type gained momentum in the 1950s and early 1960s and were to provide policy makers and planners with an extended knowledge base for their decisions. /…/ The over-all ideology which permeates this book could be labelled social liberalism in the tradition indicated above of commitment to the Welfare State.The emphasis is on individual self-realization within the framework of the common good and on social control exercised by the State that calls for the establishment of institutional checks aimed at preserving the common good. (Husén 1979, 4-5)
Here is not the place to more fully describe also the work Husén did for the developing countries through the Institute of Educational Planning (IEEP) that he became chairman for in 1970, or how he to position an inclusive perspective on education when editing the massive and the influential International Encyclopaedia of Education in 1984 and 1995. These were two important channels for the dissemination of his social liberal ideals at a global level.
Husén made a brand of himself but not least of the idea of comprehensive and inclusive schooling. Here the good reputation of Sweden as a middle way country, not socialistic not capitalistic but a mixture, seemingly was very helpful. Husén can, however, in many ways also be considered as good for Sweden. He invited many famous scholars to visit Sweden to give lectures and disseminate their knowledge on Swedish ground. He also managed in 1969 to move the IEA head office with its financial resources for a long period to Stockholm, Sweden. And not least, with him as the chairman of IEA, we can assume that their test was made valid to Swedish curriculum, assuring Sweden reaching good results. When I worked at the National Agency for Education during the 1990s, we had several visits from abroad and they were often fascinated that the Swedish comprehensive school was at the same time so inclusive and informal, and still managed to produce good results at international assessments. This ended with the poor PISA scores in 2006 and onwards.
Conclusions and reflections
To sum up, what is common traits in both of these stories? What can we extract from them about the role of researchers in the interplay between national and international policy movements?
Well, I would say that both stories illustrate the importance of individuals, with the capacity to use present ideas for own gaining but at the same time having the ambition to change the society. The stories illustrate the importance of the interplay between national regions and the international. We also learn that national and international training can intersect – Husén and Kamprad both learned a lot from abroad where they picked up international knowledge and experiences, but they also got a lot of practice through hard and tedious work back home. Further we learn that we can’t underestimate the importance of techniques – the flat pack of IKEA, and the factor analysis of IEA. Overall, we see that it is difficult to separate the international from the national when we try to understand societal and cultural movements.
In a time when internationalisation and globalisation dominates so many discourses and practices, where does this leave us as educational researchers? Which relationship, or responsibilities, do we have towards the national level? When retiring at the age of 65 Torsten Husén had over 900 publications. Most of them in Swedish and most in non-scholarly journals. He admits working close to the social democratic state apparatus, but in his memoirs also refrains from getting to close into relations with the government. It is important to uphold autonomy as researchers. Since the 60s and 70s Swedish educational research has in general taken a more critical path and close collaboration with the government has been rarer when it comes to school reforms. When it comes to for example the uses of large scale assessments this critical research does not get involved in how to interpret the results or make sound reforms of them. This distance position, regardless if it is motivated or not, makes educational research seemingly less interesting in public debate.
In a recent study carried out by me and Margareta Serder we found that PISA was mentioned several hundred times a month in Swedish press 2017 (forthcoming), whereas educational research was mentioned one or two times even though a vast amount of peer reviewed papers were published during the same period. We also found that when scholarly comments on PISA results were requested, the journalists turned to economists and psychologists rather than educational scholars.
So, what could be our role and how can we contribute to the understanding of the national and international relationship in policy making?
I would say that we first of all need to reflect over our own situation and use these reflections in our analyses of educational policy. The demand on us, for example, to publish mainly in international journals makes writing of textbooks and public comments less attractive. This also goes for national and regional conferences.
I also think that we better need to make use of regional variations in understanding how international trends ‘hit’ a country. We would also need to dig deeper into local contextual factors, such as local politics, local governing, school structure, curriculum, classroom culture. It doesn’t help saying that PISA might have negative effects on education, we can go further and actually show how policy effects teaching and learning in various ways under various conditions.
We need to make sure that we use our national insights well to problematise our understanding of international movements, and that we use our international experiences and knowledge to contribute wisely to national policy.
This is originally a presentation held at ECER 2019, September 6 in Hamburg, at the MOOT: Education and the Return of the Nation: Nationalism in the era of Global Education Policies.
Gorur, R. (2017). Towards productive critique of large-scale comparisons in education,Critical Studies in Education, 58:3, 341-355, DOI: 10.1080/17508487.2017.1327876
Gorur, R. (2018). Post script: has critique begun to gather steam again? Beyond ‘critical barbarism’in studying ILSAs. International Large-Scale Assessments in Education: Insider Research Perspectives, 219.
Husén, T. (1983). An incurable academic: Memoirs of a professor. Oxford: Pergamon Press Ltd.
Husén, T. (1979). The school in question: a comparative study of the school and its future in Western society. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.
Kristoffersson, S. (2014). Design by IKEA: a cultural history. Bloomsbury Publishing.
Löfgren, O. (2015). Design by IKEA. A Cultural History, Design and Culture, 7:3, 467-469, DOI: 10.1080/17547075.2015.1105510
Stenebo, J. (2018). IKEA – How to create a global brand and secretly become the world’s richest man. UK: Gibson Square.
Verger, A., Fontdevila, C & Parcerisa, L. (2019). Reforming governance through policy instruments. How and to what extent standards, tests and accountability in education spread worldwide, Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education. Online 2019.
In art, design and photography, and in science, the subject and its processes are recognised, without hesitation, as drawing upon innovations and actors from wide areas and from significant movements. The subject is created in a place but exists within a transnational movement of ideas and perspectives.
This is not the case yet in the history of educational studies/science, which is bounded by its national borders and creates exceptions for cross border actions. Our project is focused on a relatively new area – international and transnational influences on education systems – and it uses the case of Sweden to explore these influences. Influence is a broad term and may cover policy learning across borders, the flow of pedagogic objects, and the exchange of texts and actors, over significant periods of time. The scale of these effects, and their activation, forms and mobility, flowing externally and internally, in and out of the country constitute the major foci of the project. It is a focus which we initially linked to four main periods, with distinct elements of the rise of comparison. But while distinct, they cannot be contained within periods or borders for the flows of effects cross time and space and influence is difficult to gauge.
How is influence and effect created? The cases we are inquiring into vary from early innovations with powerful visual representation to influential data processes with ease of transmission, and each with effects moving from actual places to imagined spaces. The ideas of modern school or data practice are sponsored by governmental and scientific agents but the reason why they become useful, interesting or helpful to others is not clear. So, influence has to be studied in new ways and cannot be viewed as a functional expression of innovations. It is not the innovation but its value to others which is crucial to our project. Why was the innovation of value – to whom and why? How was the innovation carried – as a method, a policy need, with attributes of modernism, as a report or artefact? How was its influence sustained – and was its Swedish origin important in its flow and influence?
The role of the state has an assumed importance in relation to innovation, representation and sponsored influence. In this view, the state and its ordered actions and intentions, drives a form of policy trading through key actors and agents, and the flow of objects, data and comparison. In relation to education policy and systems, it is likely to be the case that the state, and especially the Swedish state, is a substantial agent and mediator. It has interests in trade, in performance and organization, and in governing discourses and narratives. However the state works through individuals, singly or in clusters, and through a wide range of powerful agents [media, associations, departments]. It may instigate or shape cross border actions, and it may support or hinder innovations. But while the state in its wider forms and networks is a major element in the study, what travels and what does not, is not entirely within its gift.
One clear relation between the state and the international is in the role of World Exhibitions. Decisions by the Swedish state and its national ‘partners’ to ‘promote’ Swedish education innovations and practices in a very organized and energetic way may be seen in the pavilions and models exhibiting Swedish education, from the early world exhibitions in the 1870s, especially in the Philadelphia centennial expo  to the major St Louis expo [in 1904]. In the former, the Schoolhouse model placed Sweden as a leading modern state, and in the latter, the early 20thC Swedish influence in gymnastics and sloyd [handwork and design] followed the investment in display. The state was the key agent in the promotion of its modernity in education and its policy, finance and selection influence placed Swedish education in a European and western pole position, which lasted for the first half of the 20thCentury
However if the focus of the inquiry moves away from role of the state then we may find significant actors working in unions, associations or innovation centres, and being publicized through journals and the academic press, who create influence directly through persuasion, proof or argument. Communities of interest begin to associate internationally from the mid to late 19thC, and this aided the flow of ideas or national innovations into transnational fora or media, for example, through the New Educational Fellowship and its conferences in the 20s and 30s. Special meetings and soon to be prominent transnational actors allowed the passage of ideas between Sweden and other countries [institutes, journals etc].
In addition, there appear to be parallels between movements happening in Sweden and in the UK, which at the moment do not provide direct links or clear evidence of flows even though they are contemporaneous. For example, support for art in public buildings. In 1932, two competitions occurred in Stockholm for the decoration of new school buildings, and similar competitions followed in the 30s. The creation of artworks for schools, not by competition but by patronage, were happening at the same time in England. Postwar Sweden, through its State Arts Council, supported new public artworks, and the Nationalmuseum organised an exhibition called Good Art in Home and Community in 1945[i] According to Periera, the London County Council’s (LCC) Patronage of the Art’s Scheme (1957- 1965) allowed artworks to be acquired or created for educational establishments by forty-two artists over an eight-year period, driven by their architects or art inspector.[ii] The search for key relations between Sweden and the UK might be fruitless unless we introduce factors outside our case studies, for example, parallels between social democratic movements and modernism.
Some conduits of flow are not immediately obvious at all. Nye’s ideas on soft power assume that state influence maybe able to draw upon national cultural resources and their attractions, which are increasingly and widely transmitted beyond the state borders. It is possible that Swedish positive influence is sustained by cultural and political ideas which have been transmitted for many decades. For example, the strong Swedish association with modernism in craft and design, expressed in key Exhibitions [the 1930 Stockholm Exhibition, Swedish Expo ‘From Town Plan to Cutlery’ Zurich 1949] or key translated texts [Ellen Key 1909 The Century of the Child or Gregor Paulsson More Beautiful Objects for Everyday Life 1919], produced by a society which remained stable and apart from European civil and world wars. It had an envied consistency, which was further enhanced by IKEA’s continuation of the ideas of democratic beauty and design, within a strong Swedish narrative. An education innovation or plan or design emerging from Sweden came wrapped in the soft power attractions and persuasions of Swedish cultural capital.
Although we have periodized our inquiry into 4 main sections, and we have focused on the case of Sweden, our interest in flows and effects cannot be disciplined into these areas. Through our work in its initial stages, we are coming across subjects and problems which bear a relation to our inquiry but were not initially specified. For example, can Sweden be separated in the minds of earlier education audiences from Scandinavia or the Nordic region in understanding flows and effects? Or, education be separated from public, social and cultural policy and influences, and if not, then where do the lines of the inquiry intervene? Our periods focus on specific elements but we recognise that that they exist in proto forms before we study them, and continue to exist in forms after we have studied them in their periods. Each focus needs time to understand what object was selected, excluded, travelled, sold, and altered, and what was intended and what happened.
[ii] [‘Sculpture, the Arts and the Decorated School’ seminar held at the Henry Moore Institute, Leeds, 23rd June 2012.Dawn Pereira http://www.thedecoratedschool.org.uk/decorated-school-seminar-henry-moore-institute]