The politics of seating charts: a case-study of integrated education public action in Hungary

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The abstract of the Orientation 2/2 report from the Hungarian education team (Neumann et al. 2010) discussed the relations between knowledge and policy throughout the fabrication of the integrated education public action in Hungary. We present herein a short outline of the report.

Our study (Neumann et al., 2010) focuses on the changes in the relations between knowledge and governance in public actions (PAs) addressing the issue of equal opportunities and the inclusion of Roma students in Hungary’s post-socialist education system. The core of the study is the analysis of school desegregation policies and the integrated education public action which prevailed between 2002 and 2010. Our aim is to trace the cognitive roots of the composite public action that is working towards the social segregation of marginalized social groups in public education and targets the integration of students categorized as “socially disadvantaged, especially the Roma”.

The research focused on the interplay of scientific and other forms of knowledge in the political sphere. We analyzed the strategies of the core actors and their coalitions, as well as how they shaped the technologies of education governance developed in order to construct a fairer society. Our approach is (1) cognitive and (2) instrumental, focusing on knowledge streams, ideas and values that have shaped certain periods of the policy-making process. We also attempted to reconstruct the fabrication process of novel governance technologies.

First, we addressed the relations between science, expertise and policy-making under state socialism. We pointed out the government’s strategies to create the ideal socialist worker and the political strategies of public social scientists who, on the one hand, contested the ideological interpretations of reality by revealing their hypocrisy, but, on the other, in an attempt to negotiate socialism, offered a “technocratic” reform discourse, which resulted in legitimizing those in power. Political measures targeting the Roma were embedded in an assimilationist framework that did not emphasize the cultivation of ethnic identity and the autonomous self-organization of the Roma population. After the change of regime, an essentialist policy framework was created in reaction to the practice of state socialism. 2002 brought a rupture in policy paradigms. The education of Roma pupils was restructured as a social, territorial and human rights question. The PA exemplifies how a socio-scientific epistemic community considering schools as sites for social integration became an influential policy-making community. The discussion looks at how the problematization of social disadvantage and discrimination was legitimized, established, put against mainstream education policies and transformed during the eight years of the PA. Simultaneously, scientific, professional and lay knowledge sources translated into political discourses and the construction of governmental technologies.

Finally, we focused on the construction of knowledge-based regulation instruments: we examined the new knowledge contents (“knowing what”) that gained ground in the state and the institutional learning process (“knowing how”) which enabled procedural knowledge (civic and human rights knowledge) to exert influence and convert into data-based governance procedures. Local case studies show how policy streams interact and regulation instruments are adopted at the local and institutional levels. The regulation instruments developed in the framework of integration politics aim at reshaping classroom practices in order to overcome the interdependence of social background, cultural differences and school career. The novel technologies – adopted on a wide scale under European pressure – were designed to regulate the behavior of the actors (street level bureaucrats and laymen) by implementing a strategy of responsibility endowment and govern the schools by helping to assess the children’s individual skills and determine their potential academic career. This de-ethnicizing strategy converts cultural differences into a medicalized, psychologizing approach that tends to exclude the cultural aspects of social integration. Hence the new, knowledge-based regulation tools enact a psychologizing policy regime that assesses and tracks the subjects of governance individually, while reshaping the school organization, perceived social groups and the local meanings attached to the Gypsy community.

NEUMANN Eszter, BERÉNIY Eszter & BAJOMI Iván (2010), The Politics of Seating Plans: Knowledge and Policy in the Integrated Education Public Action Hungary 2002—2010, KNOWandPOL report.

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