Competing and contested knowledges in the case of the integrated education public action in Hungary

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The SDS policy domain gained shape after 2002, yet the conflict of knowledge and knowledge holders roots in scientific debates that started prior the policy. Conflicts between scientific paradigms (1) stem from epistemological differences, conflicts between knowledge forms (2) escalated through the policy process, and some of these conflicts (3) were also rephrased in the public debates. Meanwhile, holders of various disciplinary knowledges hardly compatible in the scientific domain, to coerce political action formed alliance to co-construct their knowledge into a policy-compatible format.

1. Scientific paradigms transformed to political initiatives

As we argued earlier, the SDS integration PA has been substantially influenced by presuppositions and problem definitions of distinct epistemologic traditions.

Policy paradigm change and scientific paradigms: With the sociologisation of education policy, the conflict between the essentialist policy approach that was politically influential through the 1990’s and a socio-spatial approach was pronounced retrospectively. Although this conflict was not played out explicitly before the paradigm shift, the earlier was stigmatized as part of the boundary work that prepared the new policy regime. The conflict of paradigms primarily concerned the transformation of policy targeting and also induced a shift from complementary to system-wide programmes.

Earlier scientific debates transformed to political-administrative issues: the Orientation 2/1 report of the Hungarian Health team (Erőss et al., 2009) discussed how epistemic controversies between sociologists and special educators entered the policy making sphere when the SDS actors, to reduce the overrepresentation of Roma pupils in special school tracks, attacked the categorization procedures of mild mental disability and learning problems.

Symbolic conflicts between disciplines: in the design of policy programmes for the distribution of the EU structural funds and central subsidies, disciplinary stances transformed to symbolic conflicts, and hence translated to the politics of securing policy domains and financial resources. The SDS community put a great emphasis on the communicative boundary work and symbolic division between the SDS domain and mainstream public policies. These efforts targeted the separation of the SDS-domain from mainstream policy issues (first of all, general competence development programs) in order to stabilize its position on the political agenda and avoid the relocation of funds for other purposes both at the central and the local level. The separation between the SDS and SEN policy streams following similar lines got enacted in the symbolic division between incentives designed to tackle social-ethnic disadvantage and disabilities.

Conflicts within disciplines: those who adopted the sociological problematization argue for the need of intervention that refract the pathways of social reproduction and achieve status change providing effective education to the SDS children for labour market demands. Critical sociologists argue that the “systemic interests” and the “prejudice-loaded practices” of street-level actors result in discrimination and the school segregation of Roma/poor. On the other hand, psychologists and economists of education concentrate on the social causes (family socialization patterns, linguistic disadvantages) of the “objective” knowledge deficit of low status pupils by the age of 6.

2. Knowledge forms in conflict

Institutional conflicts: accounts narrated that the emergence of the new policy domain and the entrance of a new policy community to central administration generated struggles between the communities of actors holding different experiences and following different action logics. This was palpable in the narratives displaying the contrast between the bureaucratic-financial logic of the ministry technocracy and the civic activist-human rights approach of the newcomers. Additionally instead of traditional hierarchical and institutionalized pathways, the latter preferred knowledge acquisition from within their own networks. Following the initial storming period, by the time of the second European funding cycle (2007-2014), the field consolidated. Post-bureaucratization and the accountability turn slightly depoliticized developments. More influentially, the most combatant figures of the SDS community left the state agencies and were replaced by SDS actors who conformed to the (post-)bureaucratic logic of the state administration and development agencies.

Local institutional conflicts are performed along perceived institutional interests and political lines following the general lines of conflict in local education policy spaces. In the local policy arena, financial, legal, professional expertise and statistical reasoning are mobilized with the aim to realize the adequate arrangement of services and human resources.

Lay/local [esoteric] vs. comparative/scientific [exoteric] knowledge: The public debate primarily followed the dramaturgy of contrasting lay propositions on the practical feasibility of integrated education to the “objective evidences” provided by international comparative surveys and domestic scientific studies. While programme developers and governmental politicians repeatedly substantiated their arguments on rationalistic scientific arguments, street level actors (practitioners and decision-makers) referred to pragmatic, esoteric truth claims.

Statistical surveys vs. qualitative inquiries: in early 2008, a media debate contrasted two studies, one on the effects of integrative education using survey statistical method (Kézdi and Surányi, 2008) and another interview-based research studying the corresponding institutional changes (Németh, 2006). According to the author of the latter study, the two studies were artificially contrasted in the media.

“When I write a quantitative study, its reception is much more positive, this is totally funny, even things that are no big deal, I know, the reception is always much better, even among scientists than in the case of qualitative methods. (…) (I)n terms of recognition, always quanti is considered scientific…” (ME2).

At the initial phase, for their argumentative power, statistical sociological segregation and prejudice studies (causality claims) were cited predominantly. The key findings appeared in the political sphere in the format of slogans and laconic statistical statements. As a result of a learning process, from 2005, scientific methods linked to the logic of accountability (such as cost-benefit analyses) gained prominence in the policy discourse: namely the results of student assessments, impact studies, evaluations and cost-benefit analyses. Governmental actors recalled that they attempted to rationalize the political discourse and combine various knowledge forms to maximize the persuasive effect of their claims:

“I believe that change comes by at the point when we won’t want to persuade people through their hearts (…) and we don’t persuade them telling that it’s your human rights duty to help the Roma, but people should simply comprehend that otherwise we have to use their 19 million forints [reference to a cost-benefit analysis]” (SDS5).

Some policy-makers recalled developing a strategy on combining knowledge forms in their public presentations:

"We try to argue with different things. Seemingly high level bureaucrats can be better persuaded by OECD and statistical data, so general statistics about the whole country, while local decision-makers can be persuaded by specific data generated by the Havas-team [segregation survey]. Sometimes the other way around, but to be sure, I tell everything everywhere. When I make a presentation, I use the PISA, the last PISA shock in Germany, the shift and the reforms, the basic statistic data, the decrease in the number of children, the number of children, the number of Roma classified as SEN, the change of the number of schools and teachers. (…) These are ministry data from the statistics. The third thing I use is about Roma education, this thesis about the 19 million [cost-benefit analysis]. Generally the dramaturgy goes like: our shitty results in international comparison, the shitty reasons we have, and within this, there is this miniature 19 million per capita” (SDS5).

3. Political and Symbolic Conflicts: revolving conflicts in public debates

Knowledge of decoding policy communication: The political choice of the colour-blind definition of the target group intertwined with a decisive stance for political correctness. Additionally, as statistical data collection about the Roma ceased in 1993, the utilization of funds and resources would have been impossible to evaluate. Yet public debates recurrently break out about the sufficiency of compensatory public resources targeting the Roma and state inquiries were commanded to scrutinize the misuses of funds targeting the Roma (Báger et al., 2008). Decoding political communication that the SDS category was introduced as the proxy of the Roma children is a shared implicit knowledge both on the street level and the level of central administration. Politically correct speech was increasingly associated with liberal intellectuals after 2008, and the issue of labelling (Roma vs. poor) became a central issue in the public debates on social problems.

Theory vs. practical implementation: another dividing line in the public debates separate the SDS community and experts (Vajda, 2008) and politicians criticise SDS actors for “dogmatism” and argue that due to inadequate institutional conditions, the complete integration of SDS children is often not possible, “rigid integration” is practiced instead. This argument is substantially connected to the reasoning of special educators taking stance against the extensive integration of SEN pupils (see Erőss et al., 2009).

4. Knowledge holders: gaining and losing influence

The SDS community that entered state administration assembled civic-NGO knowledge, human rights activist knowledge all of which was framed by a critical sociological understanding of the mechanisms of discrimination and the role played by educational institutions in social reproduction. The diffusion of the paradigm shift was both facilitated by spreading new pedagogical methodological knowledge and by sending sociologically trained field experts to counsel at the localities [experts of the National Network for Integrated Education] that is to translate the national, exoteric policy objective to local conditions. Experts attained particular comparative field expertise about the hindrances of implementation which was (informally) shared and considered by decision makers of the SDS network. Strengthened by the knowledge management culture that penetrated via the EU projects, knowledge management as a skill, its diffusion among street level actors, horizontal knowledge exchange (peer learning, exchange of best practices) has lately been upgraded within the strategies of regulation. It is a general feature of the past decade of Hungarian education policy space that formal consultation sites gradually lose their impact on making decisions. Both due to the general proceduralisation of policy and the characteristics of the particular SDS knowledge network, the influence on policy forming of the pedagogic experts present in traditional consultative bodies decreased. Instead of academic pedagogic experts, a community of “alternative” teachers specialized on Roma students were invited to help constructing new methodological knowledge for practitioners. Instead of formal consultative sites, experts were more successful in influencing political debates as personal advisors active in unofficial backstage channels. As a specificity of the integrated education public action, policy-makers and experts formed a separate network of political expertise that shared the sociological understanding of educational problems. The most influential experts acted on multiple, parallel channels (see also multiplied expertise in Maasen and Weingart 2005: 21-40), nevertheless they don’t consider themselves knowledge brokers, but as politically committed scientists. In 2007, several among these actors formed an inter-disciplinary scene in order to enforce their position and ensure that their voice gets heard in the wider education policy sphere. Knowledge holders coming from various scientific domains formed a coalition and made an attempt to assemble and format scientific to political knowledge. Our Orientation 2/1 study (Bajomi et al., 2009: 76-88) discussed the alliance of scientific scientists of the economics of education, sociology, psychology, psychometrics and neuro-science who formed as the Round Table for Education and Children’s Chances. We concluded that while the spatial-sociological problematization of education was substantial at the initial phase of the policy, the grand narrative of economics of education seemingly became more capable to assemble knowledge coming from different epistemological traditions and to create an overarching framework for education policy.

In terms of the instruments applied, with the shift to personalized development and individual care, the psychologisation and medicalisation of disadvantage has been taking place. The monitoring and tracking of “problematic” students and the creation of cross-institutional (education, social care, health care) data-sets to track their education career from the earliest age became the focus of policy after 2006. These initiatives failed on the central level (mostly for data protection concerns and the opposition of professional lobbies), but on the local level, the development of cross-sectoral data sets started.

Regarding the knowledge forms utilised, primarily due to the entrance of the project culture diffused by the EU Structural Funds, an accountability shift took place and the tool-kit of a development oriented statistical calculation gains increasing influence on domestic educational policy instruments. Although a scientisation and proceduralization trend of policy is tangible in the domestic political space, this was not sufficient to deviate the public and political debate on hard political questions (Radaelli 2010).

NEUMANN Eszter with BERÉNIY Eszter & BAJOMI Iván (2010), The Politics of Seating Plans, KNOWandPOL report, 82-87.

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