Education in World Society: Combining Neo-Institutionalism and Social Systems Theory

Monday, 11 July 2016: 09:24
Location: Hörsaal 47 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Thomas PFEFFER, Danube University Krems,, Austria
Since the days of Talcott Parsons (1973), Joseph Ben-David (1977) and Burton Clark (1983), education research has been deeply rooted in the analysis of individual national education systems and in their comparison. For a long time this has been an appropriate and fruitful approach, since in many countries of the world education has predominantly been organised as a service of the public sector, and education institutions have been mainly regarded as national institutions. But this approach becomes inadequate in our days.

Depending on the theoretical framework applied, the focus on national education systems can also come with the risk of methodological nationalism. This term indicates the conceptual equation between society and the modern nation-state in scholarly debates and – as a consequence – the tendency to explain social phenomena and change as predominantly endogenous, internally driven by the nation state. In such an understanding, individual nation states would be regarded as self-contained entities and the main source, dominant actor and sole end of changes in education.

But such an approach does not sufficiently take into account that education is a global function systems – and from this perspective sharp limits arise regarding the capability of the nation states to shape their education systems. Therefore, a global perspective is required.

Probably the most prominent among contemporary sociological concepts that take world society as the reference framework for their theorising are Neoinstitutionalism (represented by John W. Meyer or David Baker) and Systems Theory (represented by Niklas Luhmann or Rudolf Stichweh). Both schools of thought show similarities, e.g. the social constructivist background and the rejection of methodological individualism.

Even if there exist some principal differences between the two sociological schools, the paper will try to find ways to combine concepts and tools of both concepts rather than to insist on their differences.