JustEd Symposium at ECER 2017: Unpacking the many meanings of Justice in education

By on 11.05.2017 in Conferences

What does concepts like equity, justice and inclusion actually mean? What about marginalization and differentiation? These concepts hold a strong position within in the educational sciences – however they are seldom clearly defined, decomposed or operationalized.

Jaakko Kauko, University of Tampere

Jaakko Kauko

16 JustEd members have joined forces to unpack the meanings of these concepts in a symposium at the conference European Educational Research Association (ECER) in August, 2017.

“They often lack precise boundaries and have several and overlapping grey zones. Terms like justice or equity, for example, cover both educational ideals and normative issues, but also substantial elements of educational practices,” says JustEd team leader Jaakko Kauko, University of Tampere.

In the Nordic Center of Excellence JustEd researchers have been examining different aspects of justice in education, and the work continues.

“The term justice is decomposed into three thematic areas covering aspects of justice such as issues of governance, politics and marketization, educational justice linked to cultures of classroom teaching and learning, and how justice interplay with agency, marginalization and diversity,” explains JustEd team leader Kirsti Klette, University of Oslo.

Kirsti Klette, University of Oslo

Kirsti Klette

The three areas (e.g. policies, classroom learning, issues of agency and marginalization) refer to different theoretical traditions and methodologies, and can be studied from both a macro-, meso and micro level.

Marginalization for example can be studied at the level of national discursive policies and practices but also at the level of individuals and interactions operating among peers, teachers and students.

“In the symposium at ECER we present different ways of approaching, decomposing and operationalizing justice in education,” says Kirsti.

All four papers questions how operationalization, categorizations and indexing of justice vary and with huge theoretical, methodological and empirical implications.

One of the takeaways from this session will be how justice as rather vague term lacks natural boundaries and delimitations, thus leaving it up to the different researchers to define the boundaries for how they use the term.

As such the present symposium provide an opportunity to address possible definitions, delimitations and operationalization of a highly embraced, however still a rather vague term, justice in education –  and discuss it from a policy perspective, classroom perspective and conceptual perspective.

Paper 1: Social Justice of education – privatization of education in the Nordic countries: possibilities of comparisons based on register data

Authors: Lisbeth Lundahl (University of Umeå), Anne-Lise Arnesen, (University College of Ostfold),  Jón Torfi Jónasson (University of Iceland)

This paper analyses international and national statistical databases and datasets with regard to their potential to enable com­parisons of social justice and privatisation of edu­cation across countries and show how existing indexing systems favor some aspects of justice while at the same time neglecting others.

Paper 2: Dynamics in Education politics: Understanding and Explaining the Finnish Case

Authors: Hannu Simola (University of Helsinki), Jaakko Kauko (University of Tampere), Janne Varjo (University of Helsinki), Mira Kalalahti (University of Helsinki), Fritjof Sahlström (Åbo Academi University)

Paper 2 use the case of Finland to discuss how theoretical robustness but also an awareness to theoretical contingency (e.g. structural, discursive and action-oriented) and complexity is required in order to study and compare educational policies across contexts and time periods.

Paper 3: The many meanings of justice in education – taking a classroom perspective

Authors: Kirsti Klette, Marte Blikstad-Balas, Jennifer M. Luoto, (University of Oslo)

This paper uses classroom teaching and learning as its departure for discussing justice in education. Drawing on analyses of video recordings from Nordic secondary classrooms they show how these classrooms convey rather different approaches to the term justice analyzed through the lenses of respectively i) student participation and engagement and ii) access to content.

Paper 4:Analyzing social justice through the lenses of inclusion and marginalization

Authors: Gunilla Holm, Jenni Helakorpi, Ina Juva, Anna-Leena Riitaoja, Harriet Zilliacus (University of Helsinki)

Paper 4 use special needs education to address existing understandings of equity and justice. More explicit aims to eliminate social and educational inequalities, including issues such as special needs education structures and bullying, would create a stronger conceptual and empirical allegiance to equity and justice they argue in this paper.


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