A Comparative Approach to Art Education Policy Research

By Dewey, Patricia | Studies in Art Education, Summer 2008 | Go to article overview
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A Comparative Approach to Art Education Policy Research


Dewey, Patricia, Studies in Art Education


The challenges and opportunities of globalization require art education scholars and practitioners to develop international competencies, but research in the specific field of comparative art education is very limited at present. In this article, I provide a pragmatic framework for studying art education policy as a subfield of comparative cultural policy. Based on a review of literature in comparative cultural policy, I discuss how research in the field has evolved over the past 35 years along three main trajectories, which I call comparative international, cross-national, and transnational. I present major conceptual models used in comparative cultural policy, and conclude with general recommendations for art education policy scholars interested in pursuing international research.

In the context of globalization, art education researchers and practitioners increasingly encounter international topics, ideas, colleagues, and practices. Actively engaging in the international context requires an understanding of how diverse national cultural policies may shape public preferences, administrative systems, programs, funding, and actions in the field of art education. The challenges of globalization require scholars and practitioners to develop international competencies, but research in the specific field of comparative art education policy has been very limited at present. How can art education scholars conceptualize and approach international cultural policy research as it relates to art education?

In this article I provide a pragmatic framework for studying art education policy as a sub-field of compararive cultural policy. I describe the increasing importance of comparative research and introduce key analytical approaches to general comparative cultural policy research that have developed over the past 35 years. Based on a review of primarily North American and European scholarly literature and other documents, I trace the development of the field of comparative cultural policy along three main thrusts: comparative international, cross-national, and transnational. In doing so I construct a synthesis of major conceptual models utilized in comparative cultural policy analysis. This approach draws on constructivist and neo-institutionalist theory as well as theories of public policy process and policy analysis. My aim is to offer general recommendations for art education policy scholars interested in pursuing comparative research.

The Increasing Importance of Comparative Research in Cultural Policy

Art education policy research has been inseparable from the broader field of cultural policy research. The cultural policy framework of a nation, a region, or a community has provided an important context for examining specific policies and actions pertinent to art education. While learning from policy approaches and strategies of other geo-political entities has a long history, the present ease of international travel and communications, as well as the density of transnational networks and organizations, have contributed to an environment of extensive policy diffusion. Moreover, scholarship in comparative cultural policy has led to the possibilities of increased occurrence of policy transfer. Policy transfer has been concerned with a "process in which knowledge about policies, administrative arrangements, institutions and ideas in one political setting (past or present) is used in the development of policies, administrative arrangements, institutions and ideas in another political setting" (Dolowitz & Marsh, 2000, p. 5). In other words, international cultural interactions have promoted or required congruent policy structures and styles, and increased global information sharing has promoted the common evolution of arts policy. As we share arts education policies and practices with colleagues across geo-political borders - and they share their approaches with us - we have all exchanged strategies that will have to be adapted to very different political priorities, sociocultural contexts, and educational approaches.

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