Imagine All The People: literature, society and cross-national variation in education systems

Hosted by the International Inequalities Institute

Sheikh Zayed Theatre, New Academic Building


Professor Cathie-Jo Martin

Professor Cathie-Jo Martin


Professor David Soskice

Professor David Soskice

Cathie-Jo Martin examines differences in literary narratives on education, the individual and society, and its influence on education policy choices in Britain and Denmark.

Differences in literary narratives about education, the individual, and society influence education policy choices in Britain and Denmark. British narratives helped to construct an individualistic educational culture (initially for upper- and middle-class youth) by portraying schooling as essential to individual self-development. Re-formers later sought general, rather than vocational, secondary schools to assure equality of educational opportunity across classes. Conversely, Danish narratives nurtured a collectivist educational culture that posited schooling as crucial for building a strong society. Early mass education constituted social investment, and differentiation of secondary education tracks was necessary to meet diverse societal needs.

Writers are political agents in this story. They collectively debate is-sues in their works and thereby convey their views to political leaders in predemocratic regimes prior to reform episodes. They rework cultural symbols and themes from an earlier age to address new challenges, and embed assumptions about education, the individual, and society in their stories. Authors’ narratives contribute to cognitive frames about social and economic problems and help other elites to formulate preferences regarding education options. Fiction is particularly well-suited to imbuing issues with emotional salience, as readers are moved by the suffering and triumphs of protagonists in ways that scholarly essays find difficult to achieve. Thus fiction may enhance the emotional commitment to schooling and influence assessments of marginal groups. Writers’ depictions are not deterministic, but like political policy legacies, the cultural touchstones of these created worlds constrain political institutional development.

Cathie-Jo Martin is Professor at Boston University and Director, BU Center for the Study of Europe.

David Soskice is School Professor of Political Science and Economics and Research Director of the International Inequalities Institute at LSE.

The International Inequalities Institute (@LSEInequalities) at LSE brings together experts from many LSE departments and centres to lead cutting-edge research focused on understanding why inequalities are escalating in numerous arenas across the world, and to develop critical tools to address these challenges.

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