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A SKAD ethnography of educational knowledge discourses

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The triad of cooperation, international exchange and standard-setting among institutions of higher education has become a dominant framework for fostering transnational ties and spurring a knowledge society. The speed and surety with which this discursive constellation has formed in the previous two decades, however, is striking given the need to reconcile several contradictory and competing demands. In particular, the seemingly divergent trends of globalization and integration are often used interchangeably, which suggests that a powerful discursive recombination is at play. In other related discursive fields, such as international diplomacy and development, the dispositifs surrounding improving and standardizing the academic experience across countries are now bound up in the competitive arena of higher education cooperation. These domains are ripe for discourse analysis – not only to understand how seemingly incongruous ideas can be aligned, but to assess the longer-term policy impacts of such discursive reshaping. We take here as a case the mounting discursive and material battles over institutional hegemony in Southeast Asian higher education. Our research questions the extent to which negotiations over the role of higher education in society, which are usually rendered in an optimistic public discourse of global integration and the construction of knowledge societies, provide a functional window onto the power-laden special discourses that are typical of everyday relations between actors in this field (university consortia, ministries of education, standardization agencies, etc.).
7 A SKAD ethnography of
educational knowledge
Anna- Katharina Hornidge and Hart Nadav Feuer
The topic of higher education (HE), particularly in international devel-
opment, has always been contentious and multi- faceted because it lies at
the convergence of a wide array of discourses and, furthermore, often
serves as a political arena. Indeed, as the World Bank (2005: 64) has sug-
gested, HE is “linked more directly to the emergence of a broad develop-
ment vision for the society”, which suggests that there is a strong parallel
relationship between HE and social and political development. In
responding to this dynamic, analysis has often defaulted to topics such as
the relationship between the labour market and HE, quality of instruc-
tion, accreditation and internationalisation, and the university as a place
of social learning. Although somewhat less mainstream, the political dimen-
sion of HE has also turned out to be a salient discourse for various social
sciences, directing debates toward topics such as peace- building, recon-
struction, and economic growth (Kohoutek, 2013). Here, common issues
include the politics of curriculum development, selection of language of
instruction, accessibility of education, culture of extra- curricular activ-
ities, and inclusion of minority sects/ethnicities (Tomlinson and Bene-
field, 2005). Since the 1990s, however, these various dimensions of HE
have been joined increasingly by a discourse surrounding the term know-
ledge. The popularity and dynamism of this term has allowed it to achieve
the status of something one might call a super- discourse, because it is easily
injected into pre- existing discourses and can easily come to dominate
them. In fact, the influence of discourses of knowledge as captured under
the notions of knowledge society, knowledge hubs or knowledge for development
quickly outgrew academia and – even though their popularity has subse-
quently decreased– they continue to guide policy- making all over the
world. The enthusiasm behind these discourses of knowledge has perhaps
even allowed for a false sense of global unity despite the fact that contes-
tation over HE persists unabated (Hornidge, 2014a, 2014b). This contri-
bution outlines how a number of individual studies of the emerging
discourses conducted by the authors eventually came to use the Sociology
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134 Anna-Katharina Hornidge and Hart Nadav Feuer
of Knowledge Approach to Discourse (SKAD) to inform and combine
these analyses.
While the studies that we drew into the broader SKAD analysis were
carried out over a period extending from 2005 to 2014 by different groups
of scientists (always involving at least one of the two co- authors of this
chapter) and cover a range of alternate forms of these knowledge dis-
courses, they shared a number of overlapping trends: the context of a
steady globalisation of western/northern academy, an increasingly
technology- based shaping of social reality, and a regional focus on South-
east Asia. Individually, the study foci range from ideals of human resource-
driven development and national adaptation to the global competition in
HE (Evers and Hornidge, 2007; Feuer and Hornidge, 2015; Hornidge,
2007, 2010) to the normative, factual and hegemonic character- traits of
globally communicated images of knowledge- based futures visible in
policy- making in Southeast Asia (Hornidge, 2014a, 2014b).
In many respects, this research has grown with, and alongside, the
development and fine- tuning of SKAD as an analytical and methodological
framework. While our earlier work was more grounded in Berger and
Luckmann’s (1966) original treatise on the sociology of knowledge and,
to some degree, on its later offspring (e.g. Knoblauch, 1995, 2001b; Law,
1986), our convergence in methods and analysis coincided discretely with
the further elaboration of SKAD by Reiner Keller (2011a, 2011b, 2013).
Thematically, we also developed our ideas to match trends in education
research, which have included methodological concerns in critical ethno-
graphy (Rogers, 2011), historical- evolutionary views on education (Ricken,
2006) and the question of internal learning or reflexivity in education
(Wrana, 2006). The result is, in many ways, a guided tour or lesson in how
SKAD can be incorporated into ongoing studies and (with some limita-
tions) retroactively applied to past data sets and modes of analysis. In this
sense, this chapter is useful for both readers hoping to gain the benefit of
a more tailored approach to studying discourse, and for readers revisiting
pre- existing work from a more cutting- edge perspective. We elaborate the
development of our SKAD methods and framework for studying discourses
of knowledge using an unfolding narrative approach that highlights those
elements that we identified as having evolved our approach. In the next
section, we open with the current positioning of SKAD in our research on
HE and, in subsequent sections, trace the experiences that progressively
filled out our approach.
How SKAD came to fit: chasing the dynamism of higher
From the late 1980s and early 1990s (in the USA, European Union, and
Japan), the power and scope of the discourses of knowledge have come to
comprise a potent set of rules and practices for shaping and directing
The Sociology of Knowledge
Approach to Discourse
Investigating the Politics of Knowledge
and Meaning- making
Edited by Reiner Keller,
Anna- Katharina Hornidge and
Wolf J. Schünemann
The Sociology of Knowledge
Approach to Discourse
The authors of this volume have reoriented research into social forms,
structuration and processes of meaning construction and reality forma-
tion; doing so by linking social constructivist and pragmatist approaches
with post- structuralist thinking in order to study discourses and create
epistemological space for analysing processes of world- making in culturally
diverse environments.
The Sociology of Knowledge Approach to Discourse is anchored in interpretive
traditions of inquiry and allows for broadening – and possibly overcoming
of the epistemological biases and restrictions still common in theories
and approaches of Western- and Northern- centric social sciences. An
innovative volume, this monograph is exactly attentive to these empirically
based, globally diverse further developments of approach, with a clear
focus on the methodology and its implementation. Thus, The Sociology of
Knowledge Approach to Discourse presents itself as a research program and
locates the approach within the context of interpretive social sciences, fol-
lowed by eleven chapters on different cases from around the world that
highlight certain theoretical questions and methodological challenges.
Presenting outstanding applications of the Sociology of Knowledge
Approach to Discourse across a wide variety of substantive projects and
regional contexts, this text will appeal to postgraduate students and
researchers interested in fields such as Discourse Studies, Sociology, Cul-
tural Studies and Qualitative Methodology and Methods.
Reiner Keller (Dr. Phil) is Professor of Sociology at Augsburg University,
Anna- Katharina Hornidge (Dr. Phil.) is Professor of Social Sciences at the
University of Bremen and heads the Development & Knowledge Sociology
at the Leibniz- Centre for Tropical Marine Research (ZMT), Bremen,
Wolf J. Schünemann (Dr. Phil.) is Junior Professor of Political Science
with a focus on Internet and Politics at Hildesheim University, Germany.
First published 2018
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