Thursday, June 19, 2008


This is the sixth 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 relativism.

Fromm, E. and M. Maccoby. 1970. Social Character in a Mexican Village: A Sociopsychoanalytic Study. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc.

Erich Fromm and Michael Maccoby’s sociopsychoanalytic study is an excellent example of a relativistic epistemological approach to comparative education. Fromm and Maccoby acknowledge that in publishing their research they “count on having the attention of those who are not dogmatically sealed off from at least being interested in a new venture: the application of psychoanalytic categories to the study of social groups.”
[1] Methodologically, Fromm and Maccoby, in their effort to “discover the nuclear character of each villager and to find the relationship between character and specific need”, administered open-ended questions which required psychoanalytic interpretation.[2] Fromm and Maccoby describe the formation of the social character as “mediated by the influence of the “total culture”: the methods of raising children, of education in terms of schooling, literature, art, religion, customs; in short, the whole cultural fabric guarantees its stability.”[3] Throughout the piece, Fromm and Maccoby provide explanations for their theoretical approach.

Masemann, V.L. 1982. “Critical Ethnography in the Study of Comparative Education,” Comparative Education Review 26, no. 1: 1-15.

In Vandra Masemann’s review of the use of critical ethnography in the study of comparative education places her work under relativism on the epistemological spectrum. While discussing anthropological approaches to comparative education, Masemann states that it “becomes a very interesting point to ponder the extent to which the anthropologist can acquire an inside understanding of the subjective reality of the informant, even if he/she is adept at ‘personally replicating appropriate language and behavior in another culture.’ Such problems in research lead directly to a discussion of the more subjective philosophical and symbolic interactionist approaches.” From ethnography, as Masemann states, “the main emphases are on participant-observation of the small scale as a method, with an attempt to understand the culture and symbolic life of the actors involved.”[5] Masemann argues that the implications for the use of critical ethnography in comparative education “are profound” and that “the process of educational entropy which consists of the evermore effective spread of certain old and new forms of ‘rationality’ could be a most challenging new field of research in comparative education.”[6]

[1] Fromm, E. and M. Maccoby. Social Character in a Mexican Village: A Sociopsychoanalytic Study. (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1970), 8.
[2] Ibid, 24.
[3] Ibid, 24.
[4] Masemann, V.L. “Critical Ethnography in the Study of Comparative Education,” (Comparative Education Review 26, no. 1, 1982), 5.
[5] Ibid, 13.
[6] Ibid, 14-15.

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