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Educação & Realidade

versão impressa ISSN 0100-3143versão On-line ISSN 2175-6236

Educ. Real. vol.42 no.3 Porto Alegre jul./set. 2017 


Perspectivism and Social Cartography: contributions to comparative education

Jorge M. GorostiagaI  II  III 

IConsejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas (CONICET), Buenos Aires/Bs. As. - Argentina

IIUniversidad Nacional de San Martín (UNSAM), San Martín/Bs. As. - Argentina

IIIUniversidad Torcuato di Tella (UTDT), Buenos Aires/Bs. As. - Argentina


This article argues that a perspectivist approach provides a form of comparison (the analysis of similarities, differences and inter-relationships between different perspectives) that contributes as a valuable tool for the study of educational problems. In particular, it discusses methodological features of social cartography and how it falls within the debates of the field of comparative education. In addition, it illustrates its application to education policy problems from a comparative perspective in the Latin American context, focusing on a study that analyzed the intertextual debate on globalization and education reform in the region during the 1996-2008 period.

Keywords: Perspectivism; Social Cartography; Comparative Education


Este artículo argumenta que un enfoque perspectivista provee una forma de comparación (el análisis de semejanzas, diferencias e interrelaciones entre distintas perspectivas) que aporta una herramienta valiosa para el estudio de problemas de la educación. En particular, se discuten las características metodológicas de la cartografía social y cómo se inscribe en los debates del campo de la educación comparada. Además, se ilustra su aplicación a problemas de política educativa desde una perspectiva comparada y en el contexto latinoamericano, haciendo foco en una investigación que analizó el debate intertextual sobre la relación entre globalización y reforma educativa en la región en el período 1996-2008.

Palabras-clave: Perspectivismo; Cartografía Social; Educación Comparada


The definition of comparative education is constructed by epistemological discourses, social structures and subjective dispositions and interests like other scientific fields (Manzon, 2011). It is a field whose identity remains en crisis since the 1960s because of the lack of agreement about its object of study and what would be the appropriate methodologies to use, and comparative education has intensified these debates since the 1990s with the emergence of a post-paradigmatic moment (Usarralde, 2006).

This article argues that a perspectivist methodology provides a way of comparison (the analysis of similarities, differences and interrelations between different perspectives) that provides a valuable tool for the study of education problems. The approach of social cartography is analyzed as an example of perspectivist methodology that has been used in some comparative education research. The mapping of perspectives proposed by this approach contributes to understand the profusion and interrelation of points of view that occurs in different levels of the educational reality, from epistemological approaches, theoretical and ideological aspects of an academic community, to the positions of public policies and practices in classrooms and institutions. With an eminently interpretative character, social cartography offers tools for the construction of provisional representations that support that multiplicity and promote a dialogue between diverse perspectives (Liebman; Paulston, 1994).

This article is organized in two parts. The first one briefly addresses the methodological debate in the field of comparative education globally and in reference to Latin America. The second section presents the perspectivist approach, discusses the methodology of social cartography and illustrates its application to educational policy problems from a comparative perspective and in the Latin American context. A third section describes, as an example, a study that used social cartography to analyze the intertextual debate about the relationship between globalization and educational reform in Latin America in the 1996-2008 period.

Notes about the Methodological Discussion in the Field of Comparative Education

The institutionalization of comparative education in university chairs and research centers and through societies and scientific journals has not a consensus about its epistemological status (discipline, multidisciplinary field, method, focus) or about its own definition (Manzon, 2011). The limits of this field of study are diffuse and permeable and are in constant redefinition (Cook; Hite; Epstein, 2004; Tikly; Crossley, 2001). A relatively broad spectrum of comparative education academics conceives it as a field of study for which multiple disciplines and approaches converge (Altbach, 1990; Crossley; Watson, 2009; Manzon, 2011; Nóvoa, 1998). The specifics of this field of studies, at the same time, would not be given by a particular methodology, since there is no agreement about what it means to compare in methodological terms (Epstein, 1983; Rust et al., 1999) and it is evident that the comparison is a widespread methodology among the members of this academic community10. However, opinions about this vary from the pole in which a science of educational comparison is defended, which consists in the application of a comparative method applied to any educational problem, to another pole in which the study of transnational educational phenomena is postulated without the need for an explicit comparative approach (Ferrer, 2002; Manzon, 2011).

Plurality of theoretical-methodological approaches or paradigms can go back to the nineteenth century through the works of some pioneers of the comparative studies in which the positivist vision of universal laws search with an approach that emphasizes the ideographic nature of the study on educational systems (Manzon, 2011). While - following this second approach - the first part of the twentieth century shows a mastery of philosophy and history as basic disciplines, from the 1950s11 comparative education is more strongly constituted of the whole of the social sciences, in which sociology and economics excel at first. Thus, the development and application of human capital theses, linked to the processes of educational planning and the action of the new multilateral organizations, becomes one of its focuses (Nóvoa, 1998). In this context, a kind of orthodoxy of comparative education is consolidated based on the idea of a scientific method of positivist type and with predominance of quantitative methods (Cowen, 1996; Nóvoa, 1998), within an equilibrium paradigm (Paulston, 1977), or also called functionalist12, and mainly following the theory of modernization that prescribed the model of democratic capitalism for underdeveloped countries.

Despite the predominance of a positivist approach, in the field of comparative education the debate between quantitative research applied to a group of countries and historical case studies remained alive (Silova, 2009; see also Broadfoot, 1999). According to Silova (2009), the discussion revolved around the question about the existence of a comparative education’s method, distinguish it from other disciplines of the social sciences. Even though both approaches adopted the nation-state as the unit of privileged analysis, the case studies pointed to a broad and deep understanding of the educational processes and their contexts, using a historical and/or a philosophical analysis that identifies the distinctive of each educational system, while studies based on theories and methods of economics or structural-functionalist sociology made measurements of different educational aspects in a multiplicity of educational systems in order to extract generalizations. Schriewer (2001 p. 14) refers to these two traditions as an orientation to “[...] historicist and pragmatic observance” and another to “[...] empirical-analytical observance,” respectively. Both, the debate between the two traditions can also be seen in the light of the tension between context (whose analysis was privileged by the first) and transfer (as the final objective of the second) as two of the key concepts in the history of the field (Cowen, 2006).

The polarization generated by the debate between these two traditions did not prevent the emergence of approaches that sought some form of synthesis. One of them, by case, defended the possibility of making generalizations from the historical method, valuing also the contributions of sociology to the development of comparative education (Kazamias; Schwartz, 1977). Another one was the analysis of multiple case studies, which proposed the use of methods of the social sciences for a comparison of a relatively small number of cases that considers the historical context of each one (Silova, 2009). More recently, Schriewer (2001) has pointed out that the need of a reconciliation of history and comparison, or between the comparative procedures of the two traditions (historicist and empirical-analytical), arises from the assertion of a science of comparative education that overcomes the limitations of traditional scientific approaches against the complexity of causal relationships, as by the transformation of their study environment (the dissolution of the nation-state as the sole or principal unit of analysis).

Already in the 1970s the theoretical and methodological discussion within the field of comparative education become more complex with the emergence of neo-Marxist and interpretivist approaches, to which the post-structuralist and postmodernist approaches would be added later. Paulston (1977), for example, associates two major paradigms within the field each including four theories: the equilibrium including the evolutionary theory, the neo-evolutionist, the structural-functionalist and the theory of the systems; and of the conflict, including the Marxian, neo-Marxian theory of cultural revitalization and anarchist utopia. Kazamias and Schwartz (1977) mentioned, in addition to conflict models, the emergence of anthropological and others approaches based on the new sociology of education. Epstein (1983), meanwhile, described three epistemological perspectives such as those that were characteristic of the field: positivism, relativism (historical case studies, ungeneralizable) and Marxism (applying the dependency theory).

By the mid-1980s it was argued that the traditional focus on nation-states was expanding and gaining space issues such as gender, interculturality or the internal functioning of schools (Bray; Adamson; Mason, 2010; Ferrer, 2002). The discussion starting in the 1990s will reflect a post-paradigmatic moment, of increasing theoretical and methodological heterogeneity (Usarralde, 2006; Ninnes; Mehta, 2004), added to the challenges that the phenomenon of globalization implies in terms of rethinking the units of analysis and the object of study in comparative research (Arnove, 2011; Marginson; Mollis, 2001), including the discourses that are constructed in or on the educational systems as object of study (Ferrer, 2002). Particularly, it has been pointed out the emergence of postmodern and post-structuralist perspectives that bring attention to mini-narratives - ignored in modernity by the great stories and the binary visions - a greater reflexivity of the field and the possibility of constructing a more situated and less ethnocentric knowledge (Usarralde, 2006; Rust, 1996), elements that, as these authors acknowledge, are expressed in the social cartography approach developed since the early 1990s (Liebman; Paulston, 1994; Paulston, 1995).

In the case of Latin America, a traditional weakness of the field has been pointed out (Lamarra; Mollis; Rubio, 2005). It is possible to identify some similarities in the evolution of comparative education in Latin America regarding central countries, including the case of travelers of the nineteenth century looking for practices to transfer (like Andrés Bello in Venezuela, Domingo Faustino Sarmiento in Argentina or José Pedro Varela in Uruguay), and attempts to scientization of the comparison at the time of forming the educational systems (Acosta, 2011). Nevertheless, the region showed very little theoretical and empirical production between the 1940s and 1980s - in particular from critical perspectives (Krawczyk, 2013) -, with the exception of a few outstanding works (Lamarra; Mollis; Rubio, 2005). This relative lack of academic production began to be reversed by the processes of educational reform and revitalization of academic debates in education and other areas of social sciences that have taken place in the region since the late 1980s. One of its manifestations is the (re) emergence of several national societies of comparative education, including Argentinean, Brazilian and Mexican, as well as, more recently, the appearance in 2010 of the Revista Latinoamericana de Educación Comparada (Latin American Journal of Comparative Education ) and the creation of an Iberoamerican society in 2014.

In terms of the characteristics of comparative education research in the region, Lamarra, Mollis and Rubio (2005) indicate the influence of hegemonic approaches at the global level and the need to avoid adopting them uncritically and unrelated to reality (peripheral and subordinate) of Latin American societies. At the same time, Acosta (2011) and Krawczyc (2013) draw attention to the important production of international organizations since the 1990s, production that tends to adopt functionalist approaches and a homogenous vision of the Latin American reality (Krawczyc, 2013).

Acosta (2011), at the same time, analyzed the studies presented at three Latin American congresses organized by the Argentine Society of Comparative Studies in Education in the years 2005, 2007 and 2009, according to distribution by subjects, focus of the subject studied, scope of comparison and type of methodology. One of its conclusions is a slight preeminence of case studies on comparative studies and a strong preference for qualitative approaches over quantitative ones. It is unclear, nevertheless, how representative of the field is this sample of studies, especially because it is not possible to determine if any parameter was used that responds to a certain definition of comparative education for the acceptance of articles in these congresses. On the other hand, a non-exhaustive survey of comparative studies on educational reforms in the region published during the 2000s (Gorostiaga, 2013) shows that different theoretical-methodological approaches have been used, among others, by functionalism, the critical political sociology and neoinstitutionalism.

The Perspectivist Approach and Social Cartography

Philosophical perspectivism (with antecedents in Leibniz, Kant, Nietszche and Ricouer) and scientific (see Giere, 2010) postulates that any attempt to explain or interpret reality is partial. Its main epistemological assumption is that there is no perspective about the world or its objects that can be exhaustive or definitive (Marcelo, 2014). The approach to a more complete understanding of reality would require the complementation and contrasting of the various existing visions, although this exercise would be in itself the construction of a new perspective without pretension of totality or synthesis. Perspectivism differs from relativism, while not considering that all possible perspectives necessarily have the same legitimacy (Giere, 2010) as soon as it allows to establish criteria by which some perspectives are considered better or more valid than others (Marcelo, 2014). Along the same lines, a phenomenological approach - defined as “[...]the empirical study of the different and limited qualitative forms in which various phenomena and aspects of the world around us are experienced, conceptualized, understood, perceived and apprehended” (Marton, 1994, p. 4424) - has been applied to the analysis of different aspects of education, including educational policy issues (Tan, 2009).

Social cartography (SC) is a methodological approach based on textual analysis and the representation of social phenomena through maps that reinscribe and structure a multiplicity of perspectives or ways of seeing these phenomena. It has its origin and development in the field of comparative education - although it may be applicable to other areas of knowledge - from the work of Rolland Paulston and his colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh since the early 1990s (Paulston, 1995; Liebman; Paulston, 1994). Its importance, on the other hand, has been pointed out at the international level by numerous academics of education (Broadfoot, 1999; Epstein, 2002; Usarralde, 2006; McLaren; Allen, 1998; Ninnes; Mehta, 2004; Ruitenberg, 2007; Rust et al., 1999; Stromquist, 2006). Ferrer (2002), for example, considers SC as one of the most significant contributions in the area of comparative education during the 1990s.

In the Preface of the book Social Cartography: mapping ways of seeing social and educational change, Paulston (1996, p. 15) defines SC as “[...] the art and science of mapping ways to see,” as a way of illustrating “[...] the profusion of narratives” that make up the social environment (Paulston, 1996, p. 18). SC is presented as an interpretive methodology, which seeks to improve our understanding of the changing ways in which fields of knowledge or discussion of social policies and practices are structured. Given the growing diversity of communities of knowledge which contend with each other constructing arguments (and trying to convince diverse audiences of its validity), this methodology is highly appropriate to provide a provisional order of the many existing visions on education and society (Liebman; Paulston, 1994). The approach “[...] provides a perspectivist orientation for which there are no eternal truths or universal facts, but only interpretations, only competing constructs [...] of several individuals and groups” (Paulston, 1996, p. 23). This emphasis on understanding, however, does not imply giving up possibilities - which also offers SC - of questioning and undermining the hegemonic visions or, in other words, the discourses of power that operate on social relations.

In the early 1990s, to Paulston (1996, p. 18) it was important to generate an approach that would avoid “[...] the rigidities of social models and modernist master narratives” and re-orient research towards “[...] the self-definition efforts of individuals and cultural groups”; as well as developing a method that would allow “[...] Identifying and comparing the difference” (Paulston, 1996, p. 19), in a field such as comparative education, which, from the 1980s and as pointed out in the previous section, had begun to be characterized by a great methodological and theoretical diversity. One of the first applications of the SC had like its object - based on the work of Burrell y Morgan (1979) about the paradigms in sociological theory - mapping the diversity of theoretical approaches in comparative education (or, more broadly, in the field of social theories applied to education) in the 1950-1990 period through the analysis of about 60 texts (Paulston, 1995; see the Figure 1)13.

Source: Paulston (1995)

Figure 1 Map of Discursive Communities in the Field of Studies on Educational Change 

The SC allows, for a given topic or theoretical field, identifying and characterizing the arguments (and presumed knowledge) from different perspectives, and analyzing the relationships between these perspectives14. This is particularly relevant in a scenario of increasing relativism and fragmentation (Liebman; Paulston, 1994) at the same time as it justifies the representation of a multiplicity of visions in struggle related to postmodern sensibility. Without ignoring the broader framework in which the discourse on a certain subject or theoretical field is inscribed, nor the role of hegemonic discourses in setting limits to what can be said or written15, a perspectivist approach, such as that adopted by the SC, emphasizes the identification of various sub-discourses present in the center and in the margins of thought systems, policies or dominant practices.

The analysis of texts and their interrelations constitutes the main tool for the identification of perspectives or ways of seeing a certain phenomenon, for which the discursive space assumes the form of an intertextual field in which the position of each text is defined in relation to those of other texts. Within a given intertextual field, perspectives are topographically mapped with the help of images or visual representations to provide an always provisional order. The visual representation of the intertextual field is made through maps that include the various visions of the phenomenon from the texts and that are located topographically according to the most significant dimensions that arise from the textual analysis itself. In most cases, it is a considerable amount of texts, which implies favoring the identification of the main assumptions, arguments and rhetorical characteristics of each text in relation to the universe of selected texts, before a detailed study of the linguistic aspects of each text.

On the other hand, the maps that this approach proposes as a mode of representation have as main feature, in contrast to the utopian space, the construction of heterotopies, “[...] able to juxtapose in a single real space many different spaces, many sites that are incompatible between themselves” (Foucault 1986, p. 25). Hence, “[...] diversity as a provisional unit is reconstructed” (Paulston, 2001, p. 25). Social maps are conceived as a method to illustrate a social environment composed of a profusion of narratives. Offering a “[...] new comparative level” (Paulston, 2001, p. 191) that allows examining similarities - defined by the boundaries of the map -, which were previously considered differences, allowing the visual dialogue between different perspectives (Liebman, 1996). The purpose of these charts is to help to understand the difference (Paulston, 1995) and to visualize the location of the different positions or postulates of knowing in the intertextual field, such as the relationships that are established between the different positions.

The emergence of SC generated some controversy within the field of comparative education, in particular by its association with a postmodernist turn. One of the main criticisms is that the emphasis on reflecting the multiplicity and difference may imply a relativistic view (Manzon, 2011), foreign to ethical-political commitments and advancement of knowledge. In this sense, Epstein and Carroll (2011) argue that, as an example of postmodern posture, the SC is part of the move towards the nihilist agenda questioning the tradition of comparative education that holds the possibility of generating objective truths through evidence and argument that are built on the basis of the reason.

From a critical modernist position, Torres (1996) points out that the mapping provides a metaphor that cannot replace the theory without running the risk of leaving aside issues related to the dynamics and social interests involved in the phenomenon studied16. At the same time, given the asymmetries of power between the actors involved in education and other social sectors, someone may ask whether the dialogue to which the SC invites is always possible or even desirable (Torres, 1996).

Another of the risks of SC is “[...] make mapping and maps essential… taming critical social theory to the method of social cartography” (Torres, 1996, p. 96), and to create boundaries and totalizations rather than to differentiate and disseminate concepts, categories and thought (Pickles, 1999); in Epstein’s words (2002), the danger of turning social cartography into a new metanarrative. Accordingly, Nóvoa (1998) alerts about the danger of the naturalization of the maps.

In addition, these criticisms pointed out that the epistemological assumptions of the SC are shared with the philosophical perspectivism (see Marcelo, 2014), it is important to consider that even Paulston (1995; 2001) rejected the relativism in social and educational research, because he recognized the danger of converting SC into a new metanarrative or orthodoxy. SC could be considered a post-critical approach, considering that its eclecticism has an anti-hegemonic character (Ninnes; Mehta, 2004) and that post-critical studies are characterized by abandoning “[...] radically the emphasis on ‘the truth’ to highlight the process by which something is considered true” (Silva, 2001, p. 151).

As already noted, the original application of SC consisted in the mapping of paradigms and theories, seen as discursive communities, in the field of the study of educational change, represented in Figure 1 (Paulston, 1995). Other studies are concentrated on debates over postmodernism and comparative education (Paulston, 2001), environmental education (Nicholson-Goodman, 1996), new information technologies and their links with educational development (Rakotomanana, 1999) and business education at the level of the basic education system in Finland, the United States of America and Great Britain (Erkkilä, 2000). In the Iberoamerican context, the production around SC is relatively scarce, although there are versions in Spanish and Portuguese of the works by Paulston (2001), and some works of scholars using social cartography have been published, such as the investigations by Cortesão, Magalhães and Stoer (2001), who inquired about decision-making in educational management, by Stromquist (2006) about gender and education and by Armando (2011) about new literacies in education for teachers.

One of the uses of SC that has begun to have a certain presence in Latin America can be seen in its application to the analysis of policy debates17. The discourses legitimize and enable to think of certain public policy options. On one hand, the increasingly controversial and fragmented nature of policy issues makes it particularly appropriate to approach this methodology (Yamamoto; McClure, 2011). On the other hand, educational policies are increasingly influenced by the global educational discourse, in which diverse perspectives try to impose their hegemony. To understand this discursive dimension, different studies have proposed the analysis of the intertextual debates on different situations such as school decentralization (Gorostiaga, 2003), educational policies (Tello, 2015) or policies for the introduction of new technologies (Vivanco, 2015), applied to different geographic focus in the Latin American context.

Employing Social Cartography in a study on Globalization and Education Reform in Latin America

To exemplify the comparative approach of problems in the field of educational policy through the SC approach, we consider in greater detail a work whose general objective was to characterize and compare the main discursive perspectives about the relationship between globalization and the processes of education reform in Latin America (Gorostiaga; Tello, 2011). It was noted that the impact and directionality of globalization processes in relation to education in the region have been conceptualized in different ways by different actors; the discourse is constituted on this question in a space of dispute of meanings with implications for the practice and educational policy. In other aspects, discussions have taken place on the convergence of national education systems, the adaptation of education to the demands of the economy and of the knowledge society, the development of transnational educational initiatives and enterprises, and the predominance of a neoliberal ideology modernization at the global level.

The analysis was focused on texts referring to Latin America as a whole or to a set of countries, instead of to particular countries of the region, produced by academics, multilateral and non-governmental organizations, published between 1996 and 2008. In addition, texts focused exclusively on higher education. Using these criteria, forty-six texts were identified, the total of which was analyzed. The analysis of each text was done by identifying the arguments about 1) what is globalization, 2) what are its general effects, 3) the meaning and implications of education reforms in the countries of the region and 4) how both processes are interrelated (globalization and education reform).

Seven main discursive perspectives or communities emerged from the analysis of texts: Economicist, Imperative Insertion, Integrationist, Humanist, Critical Normative, Analytical Criticism and Alternative Globalization. The details of the selected texts and to which community they are awarded are presented in Table 1. It is important to note that some texts combine in their arguments and/or rhetorical strategies elements of more than one perspective.

Table 1 Analyzed Texts Grouped by Perspective 

Perspective Texts
Economicist BANCO MUNDIAL. La Educación en América Latina y el Caribe. Washington, DC: Banco Mundial, 1999. GOODSPEED, Tamara Ortega; PURYEAR, Jeffrey. How competitive are Latin America’s schools? Focal Point, Ottawa v. 6, n. 8, 2007. PROGRAMA DE PROMOCIÓN DE LA REFORMA EDUCATIVA EN AMÉRICA LATINA Y EL CARIBE. Quedándonos Atrás: un informe del progreso educativo en América Latina. Santiago: PREAL, 2001. PROGRAMA DE PROMOCIÓN DE LA REFORMA EDUCATIVA EN AMÉRICA LATINA Y EL CARIBE. El Futuro está en Juego. Santiago: PREAL, 1998.
Economicist / Imperative Insertion BANCO INTERAMERICANO DE DESARROLLO. Hacia la Expansión del Capital de Conocimiento de América Latina y el Caribe: una estrategia del BID para la educación y la capacitación. Borrador: IDB, 2005. Available from: <>. Access on: June 2006. CEPAL. Globalización y Desarrollo: síntesis. Santiago: CEPAL; Secretaría Ejecutiva, 2002.
Imperative Insertion ARRIEN, Juan. La Educación y la Reforma de la Educación en América Central. In: NAVARRO, Juan Carlos; TAYLOR, Katherine; BERNASCONI, Andrés; TYLER, Lewis (Org.). Perspectivas Sobre la Reforma Educativa: América Central en el contexto de políticas de educación en las Américas. Washington, DC: USAID; BID; Instituto de Harvard para el Desarrollo Internacional, 2000. P. 345-366. CASTRO, Claudio de Moura; CARNOY, Martin. Como Anda a Reforma da Educação na América Latina? Rio de Janeiro: Fundação Getulio Vargas, 1997. CEPAL; OEI; CORPORACIÓN ESCENARIOS. Documento Síntesis para la Segunda Conferencia de ex Presidentes de América Latina. In: CEPAL; OEI; CORPORACIÓN ESCENARIOS. Educación y Globalización: los desafíos para América Latina. 2004. P. 13-40. Available from: <>. Access on: June 2006. NAVARRO, Juan Carlos; TAYLOR, Katherine; BERNASCONI, Andrés; TYLER, Lewis. Prefacio. In: NAVARRO, Juan Carlos; TAYLOR, Katherine; BERNASCONI, Andrés; TYLER, Lewis (Org.). Perspectivas Sobre la Reforma Educativa: América Central en el contexto de políticas de educación en las Américas. Washington, DC: USAID; BID; Instituto de Harvard para el Desarrollo Internacional, 2000 OTTONE, Ernesto; HOPENHAYN, Martín. Desafíos Educativos ante la Sociedad del Conocimiento. Revista Pensamiento Educativo, Santiago, v. 40, n. 1, p. 13-29, 2007. OTTONE, Ernesto. La Apuesta Educativa en América Latina. In: ARAVENA, Francisco Rojas (Org.). Globalización, América Latina y la Diplomacia de Cumbres. Santiago: FLACSO, 1998. P. 419-424. UNESCO; OREALC. Situación Educativa de América Latina y el Caribe: 1980-2000. Santiago: Oficina Regional de Educación para América Latina y el Caribe; UNESCO, 2001.
Imperative Insertion / Integrationist BRUNNER, José Joaquín. Globalización y el Futuro de la Educación: tendencias, desafíos, estrategias. Santiago de Chile: UNESCO; OREALC, 2000. GAJARDO, Marcela. Reformas Educativas en América Latina: balance de una década. Santiago: Programa de Promoción de la Reforma Educativa en América Latina y el Caribe, 1999.
Integrationist ALBORNOZ, Carlos Concha. Gestión de las Reformas Educacionales en América Latina en los 90: primeras aproximaciones a un proceso complejo. Revista Electrónica Iberoamericana sobre Calidad, Eficacia y Cambio en Educación, Madrid, v. 3, n. 2, p. 131-53, 2005. CASASSUS, Juan. A Reforma Educacional na América Latina no Contexto de Globalização. Cadernos de Pesquisa, Rio de Janeiro, n. 114, p.7-28, 2001. CONFERENCIA IBEROAMERICANA DE EDUCACIÓN, 8., 1998, Sintra. Anais... Sintra: Declaración de Sintra, 1998. Available from: <>. Access on: January 2008. ORGANIZACIÓN DE ESTADOS AMERICANOS. Education in the Americas: quality and equity in the globalization process. Washington: Unit for Social Development and Education of the General Secretariat of the Organization of American States, 1997. UNESCO; OREALC. La UNESCO y la Educación en América Latina y el Caribe 1987-1997. Santiago: Oficina Regional de Educación para América Latina y el Caribe; UNESCO, 1998.
Integrationist / Humanist BELLO, María Eugenia. Educación y Globalización: los discursos educativos en Iberoamérica. Barcelona: Anthropos, 2003.
Integrationist / Alternative Globalization MELO, R.M. Educación y multilateralismo en América Latina: El tema educativo en la agenda de la Cumbre de las Américas. Revista de Pedagogía, Caracas, v. 29, n. 84, p. 89-122, 2008.
Humanist GALLEGOS, Miguel. La Educación en Latinoamérica y el Caribe: puntos críticos y utopías. Revista Latinoamericana de Estudios Educativos, Cidade do México, v. 35, n. 1-2, p.7-34, 2005. NORIEGA, Margarita. En la Globalización, dos Generaciones de Reformas Educativas en AL: modelos, significados y sujetos. Revista Latinoamericana de Estudios Educativos, Cidade do México, v. 37, p. 249-65, 2007. RIVERO, José. Educación y Exclusión en América Latina: reformas en tiempo de globalización. Madrid: Miño y Dávila, 1999. SCHWARTZMAN, Simon. El Futuro de la Educación en América Latina y el Caribe: documento de trabajo. Santiago: OREALC; UNESCO, 2001. TEDESCO, Juan Carlos. Educar en la Sociedad del Conocimiento. Buenos Aires: FCE, 2000.
Humanist / Normative Criticism TORRES, Roberto Donoso. Mito y Educación: el impacto de la globalización en la educación en América Latina. Buenos Aires: Espacio Editorial, 1999. LAMPERT, Ernani. Educação e Mercosul: desafios e perspectivas. Revista da Faculdade de Educação, São Paulo, v. 24, n. 2, 1998.
Alternative Globalization GADOTTI, Moacir. Ciudadanía Planetaria: puntos para la reflexión. In: GADOTTI, Moacir et al., Perspectivas Actuales de la Educación. Buenos Aires: Siglo XXI Editores, 2003. P. 96-108. MAUÉS, Olgaíses Cabral. Reformas Internacionais da Educação e Formação de Professores. Cadernos de Pesquisa, Rio de Janeiro, n. 118, p. 89-117, 2003. TORRES, Carlos Alberto. Educación, Globalización y Justicia. Espanha, Centro SocioCultural Caixa Galicia A Coruña, 2007. (Conference).
Analytical Criticism FELDFEBER, Myriam. Gestión de la Educación, Políticas Educacionales y Globalización. Educação - Teoria e Prática, Rio Claro, v. 15, n.27, p. 13-35, 2006. OLIVEIRA, Dalila Andrade. Regulação das Políticas Educacionais na América Latina e suas Consequências para os Trabalhadores Docentes. Educação & Sociedade, v. 26, n. 92, p. 753-75, 2005. RAMBLA, Xavier. Globalization, Educational Targeting, and Stable Inequalities: a comparative analysis of Argentina, Brazil, and Chile. International Review of Education, Dordrecht, v. 52, p. 353-70, 2006. STROMQUIST, Nelly. While Gender Sleeps. In: BALL, Stephen; FISCHMAN, Gustavo; GVIRTZ, Silvina (Org.). Crisis and Hope: the educational hopscotch of latin america. London: Routledge-Falmer, 2003. P. 198-226. TIRAMONTI, Guillermina. Los Imperativos de las Políticas Educativas de los ‘90. Revista da Faculdade de Educação, São Paulo, v. 23, n. 1-2, 1997.
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Normative Criticism BONAL, Xavier. Globalización y Política Educativa: un análisis crítico de la agenda del banco mundial para américa latina. Revista Mexicana de Sociología, Cidade do México, v. 64, n. 3, p. 3-35, 2002. CONFEDERACIÓN DE TRABAJADORES DE LA EDUCACIÓN DE LA REPÚBLICA ARGENTINA et al. Las Reformas Educativas en los Países del Cono Sur: algunos resultados y conclusiones de una investigación intersindical. Buenos Aires: LPP, 2005. DIETERICH, Heinz. Globalización, Educación y Democracia en América Latina. In: CHOMSKY, Noam; DIETERICH, Heinz. La Sociedad Global. México: Edit. Joaquín Mortiz, 1996. P. 30-50. MEJIA, M.R. Cambio curricular y despedagogización en la globalización. Docencia, Guadalajara, n. 28, p. 40-53, 2006. RIGAL, Luis. El Sentido de Educar: crítica a los procesos de transformación educativa en Argentina dentro del marco latinoamericano. Buenos Aires: Miño y Davila, 2004.

Source: Gorostiaga and Tello (2011).

The first two discursive communities hold a positive view of globalization, associated with an appreciation of the role of education contributing to improving the economic competitiveness of countries; the third is more ambiguous, but also supports the idea of adapting education to global requirements; the others highlight different negative aspects of the processes of globalization that have developed in the region and their implications in terms of education reform. The latter perspective, moreover, argues in favor of anti-hegemonic globalization that can be put at the service of the democratization and the social justice. Table 2 synthesizes the main arguments of each perspective.

Table 2 Main Arguments from Each Perspective 

Economicist The dominant concern is to improve the economic competitiveness of the countries of the region, without questioning the global scenario and promoting an education reform approach in line with the “new orthodoxy” of educational policies.
Imperative Insertion Although tensions and negative aspects of globalization are recognized, it is argued that Latin American countries must be inserted in the global economy. Education performs a key role in training of subjects as workers and as citizens who contribute to economic growth and the strengthening of democratic institutions.
Integrationist Emphasizes the adaptation of education systems in the region to global trends, particularly through the use of new information technologies and innovations in the organization and governance of education. At the same time, it highlights the need for regulations that counteract the negative effects of globalization, and educational policies that are not only focused on increasing the efficiency and academic performance of students.
Humanist Proposes to generate changes that allow human capabilities to be equitably, denouncing those aspects of the processes of globalization that infringe this empowerment. The emphasis is placed on the need to overcome inequality and new forms of social exclusion in the region, whose aggravation is considered as a product of economic globalization.
Normative Criticism Considers globalization as the expression of the interests of the dominant groups. Since the nineties, the education reform in Latin America has been guided by neoliberal ideology, which is functional to some interests, and promoted by multilateral organizations.
Analitic Criticism Postulates that education reforms in Latin America have followed global trends which respond to a variety of factors and articulate the interests of different performers. Educational policies tend to accept the imperatives of global insertion, new forms of regulation and the adoption of new technologies, ignoring regional needs and demands for democratization of education.
Alternative Globalization Shares some of the critics of trends in education reform from the critical perspectives (Analytical and Radical), but argues that an alternative globalization - opposed to the dominant and based on social justice, the democratization and the development of education as a social right - is already being promoted by social organizations in Latin America.

Source: Gorostiaga and Tello (2011).

The map (Figure 2) was built on two dimensions. The horizontal dimension is related to the vision of the processes of globalization, with the hyperglobalist approach at one pole and the skeptical approach at the other one, according to the typology presented in Tikly (2001); so the center of this dimension would be associated with the transformationalist approach. The vertical dimension, on the other hand, refers to valuations on education reforms and their purposes, with economic competitiveness at one pole and social democratization at the opposite pole. Continuous arrows indicate the cases of perspectives that are selectively based on arguments from other perspectives, while arrows with dotted lines indicate criticism from one perspective towards the arguments of another. As already pointed out, also are identified texts combining elements from two perspectives, thus situated in an intersection space, which helps to emphasize the fluctuating and porous nature of the boundaries between the perspectives. Also explained in the map is the position that self-adjudicate the authors of the study, the cartographers, to point out that mapping is always done from a particular point of view, constituting a new perspective that is not intended to be totalizing or definitive.

By way of conclusion of this investigation, it is pointed out that:

The answer about the best direction to the policies and practices in the current global context differs according to different points of view and - beyond an apparent consensus on the need to invest more resources in the education sector - different measures are emphasized: the establishment of mechanisms for measuring results and accountability (P. Economicist); development and access to new information technologies (P. of Imperative Insertion and P. Integrationist); respect for socio-cultural diversity and the formation of critical subjects (P. Humanist); and the promotion of educational democratization (critic perspectives and of the Alternative Globalization). From our own positioning, which is present in all the analysis performed and represented in the [Figure 2] in the place of cartographers, it would be auspicious if the discourse about globalization and Latin American education reforms could make deeper the forms and mechanisms that democratization can adopt in the different countries, as well as in concrete instances of globalization and possible, considering all the times the diversity of contexts that the reality of our region offers (Gorostiaga; Tello, 2011, p. 383).

Source: Gorostiaga and Tello (2011)

Figure 2 Map of the Debate about Globalization and Education Reforms in Latin America 

In our study, the perspectivist approach allows contrasting the different ways of conceiving the relation between globalization and education reform in the Latin American context built on academic literature and international organizations and teachers unions. This representation does not establish which is the most adequate perspective or seeks to offer an overcoming synthesis, but rather that the different ways of seeing are expressed in their own terms, although recognizing the subjectivity of the analyst and the fact that any text is always open to multiple readings. Each perspective analyzed potentially has a specific knowledge about the studied phenomenon, knowledge that can be considered complementary or competitive in different degrees and depending on the position that each reader assumes within the intertextual debate. Also, it improves the understanding about the discourses that support different positions of public policies and how they interrelate with each other, in some cases criticizing and in others adopting, even selectively, the arguments of other perspectives. Mapping builds a more perspective that opens the dialogue between different communities of knowledge, as well as the possibility of emergence of new discursive assemblies by questioning the limits and juxtapositions between these communities (Andreotti et al., 2016).


The historical development of comparative education has been marked by epistemological disputes of the social and human sciences (as the confrontation between positivism and constructivism), for theoretical divergences (approaches of human capital, dependency theory, (neo) institutionalism etc.) and by a methodological tension around what it means to compare in the field of education. In the last 20 or 25 years, it has been emphasized the extension of the object of study of comparative education, motivated by phenomena such as the acceleration of globalization, and of the theoretical and methodological tools in use.

In the disputed space of theoretical-methodological debates in comparative education, the SC aims to provide an approach that can give answers to some questions that the research in this field arises through a form of interpretation and representation, open to questioning and/or complemented by the responses that other approaches can bring, and particularly useful in issues in which there is a diversity of views more or less explicit in the discourses of different communities of knowledge or social actors. It can be noted that it consists of a methodology applicable to any educational problem (with which it would respond to the criterion of the definitions of the comparative education that emphasizes the use of comparative methods), but which has been especially used in studies comparing national cases or using a transnational perspective that are beyond the nation-state. In the Latin American context, the described study illustrates a possible application of the SC that goes beyond the nation-state as an analysis unit investigating a supranational phenomenon (globalization and its relationship with the processes of education reforms) in a regional space, which exceeds that of a national education system. It examines a regional discourse that is constructed, at least in part, from the analysis of the educational policies implemented and that, in turn, provides the framework in which the (re) formulation and questioning of policies can be thought. A similar approach is adopted by Tello (2015) in the mapping of debates about educational policies in Latin America, but other research that uses social cartography in educational policy issues organizes their analysis from national policies, such as the study by Vivanco (2015) about Argentina, Brazil and Chile, which would respond to a more classic model of comparative approaches, or analyze the relationship of the global discourse with a national educational system discourse (Gorostiaga, 2003). In all these cases, there is a perspective that allows identifying, comparing and interrelating a set of ways to see the respective analyzed phenomenon and provide a kind of representation that can be complemented with other types of methodological approaches to advance the knowledge of educational policies.

The SC can contribute to the analysis of educational problems from a perspective that is both pluralistic and (post) critical. It is clear that the epistemological and methodological choices we make cannot guarantee that asymmetric relations of power and non-democratic mechanisms do not continue to prevail in speeches that frame educational practices and policies. However, to include in the same space the diversity of mini-narratives and perspectives previously considered incommensurable tends to question the hegemony of certain discourses and opens the possibility of dialogues and the creation of new conceptualizations about the phenomenon studied, pointing to a comparison that contributes to a more complex view, but not disregarded the ethical-political challenges of education.

Translated from Spanish by Tikinet Edição Ltda.


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Received: July 11, 2016; Accepted: March 10, 2017

Jorge M. Gorostiaga is PhD in Social and Comparative Analysis in Education from University of Pittsburgh. Full Professor at the National University of San Martín and Professor of Graduate Studies at Universidad Torcuato Di Tella. Researcher of the National Council of Scientific and Technical Research. Editor in Spanish of the Revista de Estudios Teóricos y Epistemológicos en Política Educativa [Journal of Theoretical and Epistemological Studies in Educational Policy]. E-mail:

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