Conceptualising mechanisms for the spread of education policy: A review paper

Year: 2019

Author: Boyask, Ruth, Malin, Joel, Lubienski, Christopher

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper is based on a review that set out to answer how has research and theory changed in conceptualizing transnational policy mobilities in education? It presents a historiography on the evolution of concepts related to the spread of policy and maps out where different mechanisms are located in terms of historical and intellectual traditions. Finally, the paper evaluates from a perspective of social justice the different conceptualisations of the mechanisms for policy spread.

Two of the main conceptualisations are evident in parallel and sometimes overlapping debates within comparative education and critical education policy studies. The comparative education strand refers frequently to a model of policy transfer developed by Phillips and Ochs. This model is founded on a notion of policy ‘lenders’ (usually economically powerful and high on the development index) and ‘borrowers’. Other comparative education writing uses, critiques and extends the model. For example, in a comparative education critique Ramirez (2012) argues from a world society perspective that traditionally policy change has been regarded as an outcome of agency or goal pursuit of actors – towards creating or maintaining a particular social order, or positional advantage. “Actors, interests, and goals are the crucial ingredients of many social science perspectives (2012, 424),” but this does not account well for common cross-national change. An alternative is to examine larger units to explain phenomena seen within their sub-units, such as the transnational expansion of compulsory primary schooling. Critical education policy debate sometimes refers to policy borrowing, lending and transfer, but also refers to policy travelling (e.g. Ozga & Jones, 2006), policy diffusion (e.g. Rambla, 2014) and more recently policy mobility (e.g. Ball, Junemann & Santori, 2017). Attributing the term policy mobility to Theodore & Peck (2010), Ball (2016) suggests policies are mobile in a piecemeal manner and assembled or reassembled in a fashion shaped by their new circumstances. Recent conceptualisations of the mechanisms that facilitate policy spread focus on the webs of relations, interdependencies or networks between people, organisations and events, and the technological, material or cultural architecture that supports them.

Both the comparative and critical strands of debate recognise complexities in the processes of spread across national boundaries, and tensions in relations between global and national/regional/local level governance; however, the critical policy work is more concerned with the imbalances in power relations that are instrumental in policy spread and perpetuating social injustices.