Oslo Summer School in Comparative Social Science Studies 2018

Comparative Policy Studies: Theories, Methods, and Emerging Issues

Professor Gita Steiner-Khamsi, Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, USA & Graduate Institute of International Development Studies, Geneva, Switzerland

Course dates: 30 July - 3 August 2018

NOTE! This course is closed for applications

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Main disciplines: Educational Science, Sociology,
Political Science, Research Methodology

Course Credits: 10 ECTS
Limitation: 25 participants

Objectives and learning outcome 
The seminar guides doctoral students in their endeavor to review, apply, and critically reflect on relevant theories and methods that lend themselves for understanding the policy process from an international comparative perspective. A special focus will be placed on the comparative study of global education policies, in particular, on the reception and translation of such “traveling reforms,” the role of international comparison for global norm setting, and the growing influence of multinational businesses and philanthropies in shaping educational reform.  Even though the examples deal mostly with education policies, most of the theories, methods and emerging issues, discussed in the seminar, may be useful for public policy studies in general. 

The seminar is divided into three parts:

Part 1 presents core concepts of three influential strands of social theory and shows how the same phenomenon may be interpreted differently, depending on which theoretical framework one has chosen. Several social theories (Foucauldian analysis and critical social theory, neo-institutionalism, system theory) and several interpretive frameworks for analyzing the policy process (advocacy coalition framework, multiple streams framework, policy transfer/borrowing) are presented in depth in order to explore the five most common frames used in policy studies: rational, economic, political, social, and globalization frame. 

Part 2 consists of one session that focuses on methods of comparative inquiry that are especially suited for comparative policy studies. The first part of the methodology session focuses on cross-national comparison and case study methodology. The second part of the session deals with social network analysis which draws on relational data to identify types of policy actors (e.g., policy brokers, policy entrepreneurs, policy translators) and policy networks.

Part 3 highlights four emerging issues that are currently being heatedly debated in the policy research community: (i) public-private partnership in education, (ii) transnational accreditation (iii) businesses and philanthropy in education, and (iv) alternative financing in aid and international cooperation.

Students are expected to read 2-3 texts in details for each lecrture/session, and the rest only cursorily. The syllabus includes a few texts produced by scholars based in Scandinavian countries.

In addition to the discussion of the reading, there will be time set aside during the seminar to discuss the research projects of the students, regardless of the stage in which they currently are. Starting on the second day, the participating doctoral students are encouraged to present their ongoing dissertation research and get feedback from the lecturer and the peers. Handouts on how to structure and present dissertation research will be provided in the first session. Depending on what is most useful for the doctoral student, the feedback may be on issues related to the interpretive framework, research design and methodology, data analysis and interpretation of findings, or the write-up of the dissertation research.

Upon completion of the summer school course, students are encouraged to choose a topic for their seminar paper that relates to their own research.

The course is structured in interactive lectures/power point presentations followed by discussions on how the reading relates to current debates as well as to students' own dissertation research.


Lecture 1: The Policy Process: Rational, Political, Social, Economic, and Global Frames
The first session consists of an overview of several perspectives/frames that are applied for the study of the policy process: the rational, political, social, economic, and global frames. In addition, the first session introduces two widely referenced theories in public policy studies: the Advocacy Coalition Framework and the Multiple Streams Framework. In an attempt to explore under-studied aspects of the policy process, the lecturer presents her own classification of theoretical concepts taking into account transnational networks and global actors.


  • Howlett, M. and Ramesh, M. (2003). Agenda-Setting: Policy determinants, policy ideas, and policy windows. In Michael Howlett and M. Ramesh, Studying Public Policy. Policy Cycles and Policy Subsystems, chapter 5, pp. 120-142. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Sabatier, P. A. (2007). Theories of the Policy Process. Boulder: Westview (337 pages; read selectively).
  • Ridde, V. (2009). Policy implementation in an African state: an extension of Kingdon's Multiple Streams Approach. Public Administration87(4), 938-954.
  • Addey, C., Sellar, S., Steiner-Khamsi, G., Lingard, B. and Verger, A. (2017). Forum discussion: The rise of international large-scale assessments and rationales for participation. Compare, 47 (3), 434 – 452.
  • Steiner-Khamsi, G. (2003). The Politics of League Tables. Journal of Social Science Education, 1 (on-line journal SOWI).

Lecture 2: Theories I: Governmentality, Managerialism and the Role of the State
The session 2 starts out with a reflection on the changing role of the state in agenda setting, policy formulation, and policy evaluation drawing on Foucault’s concepts of governmentality. The shift from government to governmentality, first described by Foucault, has been applied to educational studies by scholars such as Jenny Ozga (“governance by numbers”), Stephen J. Ball (“network governance”), or Christian Maroy (“theory of the post-bureaucratic state”). 


  • Foucault, M. (1991). Governmentality. In G. Burchell, C. Gordon, and P. Miller, eds, The Foucault Effect: Studies in governmentality, pp. 87-104. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Ball, S. and Junemann, C. (2012). Networks, New Governance and Education. Excerpt: Chapter 2, pp. 19 - 46. Bristol: Policy Press.
  • Ozga, J. (2009). Governing education through data in England: from regulation to self-evaluation. Journal of Education Policy, 24 (2), 261-272.
  • Maroy, C. (2008). The New Regulation Forms of Educational Systems in Europe: Towards a Post-Bureaucratic Regime. In N. C. Soguel and P. Jaccard, eds., Governance and Performance of Education Systems, pp. 13–33. New York: Springer.
  • Alawattage, C. and Elshihry, M. (2017). The managerialism of neoliberal global governance. In A. Littoz-Monnet, ed., The Politics of Expertise in International Organizations. How International Bureaucracies Produce and Mobilize Knowledge, chapter 10, pp. 166 - 186. London: Routledge.

Lecture 3: Theories II: Neo-Institutionalism and the Role of Transnational Regimes
Arguably, neo-institutionalist theories lend themselves for a reflection on why national systems adopt international knowledge, beliefs and standards and what role international organizations play in propelling such international scripts.  Both the Stanford University variant of neo-institutionalist theory is discussed (notably, Meyer, Ramirez, Bromley, Chabbott) as well as modifications associated with the Scandinavian schools or historical institutionalism. Examples from education, health and managements studies are supposed to illustrate the neo-institutionalist interpretive framework. The reading for this session also includes two texts (Dale 2005, Steiner-Khamsi 2012) that critically reflect on neo-institutionalist theory. 


  • Bromley, P. and Meyer, J. W. (2016). Hyper-organization. Global organizational expansion, chapter 3, pp. 61 - 92. London: Oxford University Press.
  • Chabbott, C. (2015). Institutionalizing Health and Education for All, chapter 1, pp. 1-19. New York: Teachers College Press.
  • Meyer, J. W. (2002). Globalization and the Expansion of Standardization of Management, chapter 2. In Kerstin Sahlin-Andersson and Lars Engwall, eds, The Expansion of Management Knowledge: Carriers, flows, and sources, chapter 2. Stanford: University of California Press.
  • Sahlin-Andersson, K. and Engwall, L.: Carriers, Flows, and Sources of Management Knowledge. In Kerstin Sahlin-Andersson and Lars Engwall, eds, The Expansion of Management Knowledge: Carriers, flows, and sources, chapter 1. Stanford: University of California Press.
  • Czarniawska, B. and Sevón, G. (2005). Translation Is a Vehicle, Imitation its Motor, and Fashion Sits at the Wheel. In Barbara Czarniawska and Guje Sevón, eds, Global Ideas. How Ideas, Objects and Practices Travel in the Global Economy, pp. 7 – 12. Malmö : Liber and Copenhagen Business School Press.

See also critiques:

  • Dale, R. (2005). Globalization and Education: Demonstrating a "Common World Educational Culture" or locating a "Globally Structured Educational Agenda?" Educational Theory, 50 (4), 427 - 448.
  • Steiner-Khamsi, G. (2012). The global/local nexus in comparative policy studies: analysing the triple bonus system in Mongolia over time. Comparative Education, 48 (4), 455-471.

Lecture 4: Theories III:  Sociological Systems Theory and the Function of Externalization
There is an interesting debate in comparative education between authors writing within the interpretive framework of neo-institutionalism and those with an affinity to system theory. The main tenets of the controversy will be discussed. Key concepts of system theory, such as functional differentiation, exclusion/inclusion, and self-referentiality will be explored and subsequently applied to shed light on two issues: (i) public-private partnerships in education and (ii) the use of “scientific rationality” (Luhmann), and (iii) the definition of "evidence" in the policy process.


  • Andersen, Niels Å. (2000). Public Market – Political Firms. Acta Sociologica, 43, 43 – 61.
  • Luhmann, N. (2010). Globalization or World society: How to conceive of modern society? International Review of Sociology, 7 (1), 67-79.
  • Schriewer, Jürgen and Martinez, Carlos (2004). Constructions of Internationality in Education. In Gita Steiner-Khamsi, ed., The Global Politics of educational borrowing and lending, chapter 2, pp. 29 – 53. New York: Teachers College Press.
  • Waldow, Florian, Takayama, Keita and Sung, Youl-Kwan (2014). Rethinking the pattern of external policy referencing: media discourses over the ‘Asian Tigers’’ PISA success in Australia, Germany and South Korea. Comparative Education, 50 (3), 302-321.
  • Steiner-Khamsi, Gita (2012). Understanding Policy Borrowing and Lending. Building Comparative Policy Studies. In G. Steiner-Khamsi & F. Waldow, eds., Policy Borrowing and Lending. World Yearbook of Education 2012. London and New York, pp. 3-17.
  • Takayama, K. (2010) Politics of externalization in reflexive times: Reinventing Japanese education reform discourses through "Finnish success", Comparative Education Review, 54 (1), 51-75.
  • Kvernbekk, T. (2011). The concept of evidence in evidence-based practice. Educational Theory, 61 (5), 515-532.

Lecture 5: Theories IV: Policy Transfer, Local Adaptation and Domestication (including texts on Scandinavian debates)
The study of global education policy, international standards, "best practices" or policies that "travel" from one country to the next and get translated/adapted differently has traditionally been a core research area of comparative education. This research area has been revitalized over the past twenty years or so by scholars in sociological systems theory with a keen interest in understanding the phenomenon of "externalization" (see session/lecture 4) but also more broadly by researchers in globalization studies. In session/lecture 5, we read several Scandinavian authors who analyzed policy transfer.


  • Sivesind, K., Afsar, A. and Bachmann, K. E. (2016). Transnational policy transfer over three curriculum reforms in Finland: The constructions of conditional and purposive programs (1994 – 2016). European Educational Research Journal, 15 (3), 345 – 365.
  • Alasuutari, P. (2009). The Domestication of Worldwide Policy Models, Ethnologia Europaea, 39 (1), 66 – 71.
  • Alasuutari, P. and Qadir, A. (2014). Epistemic governance: an approach to the politics of policy-making. European Journal of Cultural and Political Sociology, 1 (1), 67 – 84.
  • Alasuutari, P. and Alasuutarum N. (2012). The domestication of early childhood education plans in Finland. Global Social Policy, 12 (2), 129 – 148.

Lecture 6: Methods of Comparative Inquiry and Social Network Analysis
The first part of the methods session provides an overview of comparative methods of inquiry drawing on Todd Landman’s textbook. The second part deals with relational data and presents applications of social network analysis in policy studies. 


  • Landman, Todd (2008). Issues and Methods in Comparative Politics, chapter 2 ("How to compare countries", pp. 23-48. New York: Routledge.
  • Goldie, D., Linick, M., Jabbar, H., and Lubienski, C. (2014). Using Bibliometric and Social Media Analyses to Explore the „Echo Chamber“ Hypothesis. Educational Policy, 28 (2), 281-305.
  • Mølstad, C. E., Pettersson, D. and Forsberg, E. (2017). A game of thrones: Organising and legitimising knowledge through PISA research. European Educational Research Journal, 16 (6), 869 - 884.
  • Baek, C., Hörmann, B., Karseth, B., Pizmony-Levy, O. Sivesind, K. and Steiner-Khamsi, G. (2018, forthcoming). Policy Learning in Norwegian School Reform: A Social Network Analysis of the 2020 Incremental Reform. Nordic Journal of Studies in Educational Policy.  
  • Shields, Robin (2013). Globalization and international student mobility: a network analysis. Comparative Education Review, 57 (4), 609-636.
  • Ball, Stephen (2016). Following policy: networks, network ethnography and education policy mobilities. Journal of Education Policy, 31 (5), 549 – 566.

Lecture 7: Issues I: Public-Private Partnership in Education The third part of the seminar (sessions 7 – 10) addresses current issues in policy studies from an international comparative perspective. In addition to the reading, students are encouraged to review blog discussions, podcasts and livestreams on the following four emerging issues discussed in class:

  • Lecture 7: public-private partnership in education
  • Lecture 8: transnational accreditation
  • Lecture 9: businesses and philanthropy in education
  • Lecture 10: alternative financing in aid and international cooperation.


  • Komljenovic, J. and Robertson, S. L. (2016). The dynamics of “market-making” in higher education. Journal of Education Policy, 31 (5), 622 – 632.
  • Hogan, A., Sellar, S. and B. Lingard (2016). Commercialising comparison: Pearson puts the TLC in soft capitalism. Journal of Education Policy, 31 (3), 243-258.
  • Robertson, Susan L. and Verger, Antoni (2012). Governing education through public private partnership. In S. L. Robertson, K. Mundy, A. Verger and F. Menashy, eds., Public Private Partnership in Education. New Actors and Modes of Governance in a Globalizing World, pp. 21-42. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.
  • Verger, A., Fontdevila, C. and Zancajo, A. (2016). The Privatization of Education. A Political Economy of Global Education Reform. New York: Teachers College Press. http://download.ei-ie.org/Docs/WebDepot/The_Privatization_of_Education.pdf

Lecture 8: Issues II: Transnational Accreditation


  • Resnik, J. (2012). The Denationalization of Education and the Expansion of the International Baccalaureate. Comparative Education Review, 56 (2), 248 – 269.
  • Coleman, H. (2011). Allocating resources for English: The case of Indonesia’s English medium International Standard Schools. London: British Council. A
  • ACDP. (2013). Evaluation of International Standards School in Indonesia. Jakarta: ACDP (Education Sector Analytical and Capacity Development Partnership).
  • Maxwell, C., Deppe, U., Krüger, H.-H., Helsper, W., eds. (2018). Elite education and internationalization. From the early years to higher education. New York: Palgrave.

Lecture 9: Issues III: Businesses and Philanthropy in Education 


  • Ridge, N., Kippels, S. and Shami, S. (2016). Economy, Business, and First Class: The Implications of For-Profit Education Provision in the UAE. In Antoni Verger, Christopher Lubienski and Gita Steiner-Khamsi, eds, The Global Education Industry. World Yearbook of Education 2016, chapter 16. London and New York: Routledge.
  • Srivasteva, P. (2016). Questioning the Global Scaling-up of Low-fee Private Schooling: The Nexus between Business, Philanthropy and PPPs. In Antoni Verger, Christopher Lubienski and Gita Steiner-Khamsi, eds, The Global Education Industry. World Yearbook of Education 2016, chapter 15. London and New York: Routledge.
  • Please see livestreams and powerpoint presentations of the NORRAG symposium (November 2017): http://www.norrag.org/inaugural-symposium-philanthropy-education-global-trends-regional-differences-diverse-perspectives/

Lecture 10: Issues IV:  Alternative Financing in Aid and International Cooperation


  • Bellinger, A., Terway, A., Burnett, N. (2016). Background Paper. The Learning Generation. Innovative Financing – Recommendations. Washington, DC: Results for Development.

Please also review the documents listed on the following sites:





The lecturer
Gita Steiner-Khamsi is Professor of Comparative and International Education at Teachers College, Columbia University in New York, and Director of NORRAG. Over the next few years, she holds a dual academic appointment at Columbia University in New York (always in the fall semester) and at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva (always in the spring semester).

Prior to her appointment at Columbia University (1995), she worked for close to ten years as policy analyst in the Ministry of Education, Canton of Zurich, Switzerland. She published eight books, numerous journal articles and book chapters on areas related to comparative policy studies, globalization, comparative methods, and international educational development. She has analyzed school reforms and teacher policies in North America, Europe as well as in Mongolia and in Central Asia. She is series editor of three book series in comparative education: World Yearbook of Education (Routledge), International Perspectives on Educational Reform (Teachers College Press), and NORRAG Series on International Education and Development (E. Elgar Publisher). Her most recent book is entitled The Global Education Industry, co-edited with Antoni Verger and Christopher Lubienski, published by Routledge in 2016.

She is a part-time R2 Visiting Research Professor at the University of Oslo, funded from an UTNAM grant and secured/coordinated by Kirsten Sivesind.

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Tags: Educational Science, Political Science, Sociology, Research Methods, Summer School, PhD, Social Science
Published Oct. 25, 2017 8:43 AM - Last modified June 4, 2018 11:38 AM