The Problem of the Subject

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 [1876] 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.



[i] [Utopia and Reality p 94].

[ii] [‘Sculpture, the Arts and the Decorated School’ seminar held at the Henry Moore Institute, Leeds, 23rd June 2012.Dawn Pereira]