Thursday, June 26, 2008

Postmodern Discourse

This is the seventh and final post where I will briefly review the works of comparative education scholars and place them along an epistemological spectrum. For this post, I’m looking at postmodern discourse.

Rust, V.D. 1991. “Postmodernism and its Comparative Education Implications,” Comparative Education Review 35, no. 2: 610-626.

Postmodern discourse is another “fringe epistemology” on Epstein’s epistemological spectrum. During his presidential address to the Comparative and International Education Society, Rust argued that “postmodernism should be a central concept in our comparative education discourse.”
[1] Rust confesses that his “own orientation is a tempered acceptance of the notion of an era shift. Of course, the world is so pluralistic that a variety of conditions and orientations will always exist simultaneously; however, the pervasive ideology of modernism and modernity has been ruptured and is undergoing radical reconstruction.”[2] There are two passages by Rust that stand out in his argument for a postmodern discourse theoretical position. First, he states that “the postmodern world is decentered, constantly changing, without the chains and conventions of modern society. Its proponents believe the story of pluralistic contemporary society is being written by a number of narratives and reject philosophical systems of thought that provide some universal standard.” [3] In relation to Vandra Masemann’s call “for the legitimacy of varied ways of knowing”, Rust argues that “postmodernists would support that claim and reject any claim that one way of knowing is the only legitimate way. Rather, they would say our task is to determine which approach to knowing is appropriate to specific interests and needs rather than argue some universal application and validity, which ends up totalizing and confining in its ultimate effect.”[4] Rust’s extreme relativistic/ideographic approach to comparative education in his work finds a home in postmodern discourse with other comparative education scholars such as Rolland Paulston, Martin Liebman, Peter Ninnes and Gregory Burnett.

In conclusion to these series of posts, comparative education scholars approach their scholarship from a wide variety of epistemological viewpoints. This, in my opinion, is necessary in all academic scholarship and something that is very important in all fields of academia. An interesting question that surfaces from time to time in the field is the impact that comparative education research has on policy. An interesting perspective to this question was put forward by Keith Watson when he wrote that “the widely held criticisms that comparative education is too fragmented and irrelevant for policy makers is harder to refute…there are many reasons for this: personality clashes, arguments over terminology, too much emphasis on methodology and not enough on substance.”
[5] My posts do not attempt to answer the question of comparative education’s impact on educational policy. I present Watson’s position only to provide an interesting perspective on the different epistemological positions that comparativists bring to the table.

[1] Rust, V.D. “Postmodernism and its Comparative Education Implications,” (Comparative Education Review 35, no. 2, 1991), 610.
[2] Ibid, 611-612.
[3] Ibid, 616.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Keith Watson, “Comparative Educational Research: The Need for Reconceptualisation and Fresh Insights,” Compare 29, no. 3, (1999): 237.

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