This paper draws on the authors’ long-standing experiences as comparative and international education (CIES) academics living and working in a region of the world quite far removed from where the foundational knowledge of the field was established (Connell 2007; Takayama 2017), but one in which decolonial and postcolonial approaches to CIE theory and practice are gaining in strength. One author is a previous president of Australia New Zealand Comparative and International Education Society (ANZCIES); the other is current President of Oceania Comparative and International Education Society (OCIES). The paper’s purpose is to both document the process of changing the name of a well-established and widely respected regional CIE society in order to more inclusively represent the region in which it is located, and to reflect the theoretical and practical implications of the shift for CIE generally and OCIES in particular.
ANZCIES origins and development
CIE has long held a presence in Oceania, having been first formalised as a disciplinary group with the founding of the Australia Comparative Education Society in 1973. In subsequent years the Australia-based society changed its name to include ‘International’, first as AICES in 1975, and then as ACIES in 1976. These name changes reflected wider debates and contestations (which began in the 1960s and continue 50 years later) among comparative educationists globally about the research purposes and methodological approaches of comparative education, and where and how ‘international’ work, usually seen as ‘applied research’ fits with comparative education as it has evolved (Fox 2007).
Ten years later, in 1983, when New Zealand was for the first time the location for a comparative education conference, ACIES became ANZCIES, the Australia New Zealand Comparative and International Education Society. At the same time ANZCIES became the second regional member of the World Congress of Comparative Education Societies, the only member of WCCES’s fifth and by far least populated region of Oceania.
As detailed by one of the society’s best-recognised CIE scholars and activists, Christine Fox (2007, 2014), during the early-1980s to late-1990s period, although the membership of ANZCIES remained relatively small, the society itself was developing a strong reputation in disciplinary terms. CIE teaching programmes in a number of Australian and New Zealand universities attracted large numbers of students, including the international students that began arriving in those countries due to governments introduction of ‘education export’ policies most notably in tertiary education (Fox 2007). These and other changes arising from the international development community’s initiation of global agenda in education, for example the commodification of education aid programmes (Coxon 2002, 2008), were reflected in themes chosen for ANZCIES’ annual conferences of the time and in the research and publication programmes of many members. Also notable was the commitment and contribution to the World Council of Comparative Education Societies (WCCES) with ANZCIES members undertaking key roles on standing committees and as Vice-President and in hosting the ninth World Congress at Sydney University in 1996.
Although, by the end of the 1990s, most universities in the region no longer offered CIE as a teaching/learning subject, ANZCIES continued to produce a number of eminent comparative and international education scholars and contribute in a major way to the work of WCCES, holding such positions of President and Secretary-General (Fox 2007). Thus ANZCIES’s strong institutional history and its well-recognised position in global and regional CIE scholarship and practice sustained it into the first decade of the 2000s (see Masemann, Bray & Manzon 2007).
Moving towards OCIES
As defined by UN agencies and many other international and regional bodies, the region of Oceania includes the ‘developed’ states of Australia and New Zealand, the relatively large ‘developing’ state of Papua New Guinea, and the many small island states and territories located across the Pacific basin. These 22 Pacific Island Countries (PICs) represent a large proportion of the world’s smallest states all of which are categorised according to various indexes as ‘developing’ or ‘least developed’. Per capita, PNG and the PICS make up the world’s most aid-dependent (sub) region. And as indicated previously ‘Oceania’ is one of the five regions comprising WCCES as a global organisation – the only region including but one society; each of the other regions is comprised of many societies.
Increasingly into the 2000s, annual conferences provided the forum for discussion about how to strengthen ANZCIES as a truly regional society. Partly this was motivated by growing scholarly and research interest into the effects of globalisation and regionalisation on education policies and practices worldwide. For example, a particular focus for some members was on the directional shifts in the historically developed influences of Australian and New Zealand institutions and agencies on Pacific education systems, and how Pacific educational communities responded to these (Coxon 2004, 2008; McLaughlin 2011). Concerns were also growing about a reduced membership of the society and lower participation in the annual conference and the need to recruit and retain emerging CIE scholars. Furthermore, some expressed concern about the lack of diversity among the overall membership – especially in light of the extent to which the scholarly concerns of CIE were more and more highlighting issues that one could have expected to be reflected in the membership of the only CIE society in the most culturally diverse region of the world, a region in which wealth and power relationships exacerbated educational inequalities that had long been characteristic within and between regional sub-groups. The north/south relationship between Australia/New Zealand and PNG/PICs, particularly as exemplified through educational aid, was another issue of concern (Coxon 2016).
From its early years, as well as Australian and New Zealand based comparative educationists, ANZCIES’s membership and activities had included expatriate educators and researchers who worked in Pacific Islands. The annual conferences became a meeting place to discuss research on their educational practice, and issues surrounding the state of education in the colonial and later postcolonial context of these developing nations. In more recent times, ANZCIES membership has included some Pacific scholars and educationists who have also participated in annual conferences held in Australia or New Zealand (McLaughlin, 2017). Moreover, through issues of ANZCIES’s International Education Journal: Comparative Perspectives and other CIE publications, a number of Pacific scholars have engaged in research collaborations and authored articles and papers pertaining to regional CIE (see, for example, Coxon and Cassity 2011; Coxon 2016; Ma Rhea and McLaughlin, 2013). The various interactions and discussions surrounding these activities made clear that many Pacific colleagues, well aware of CIE’s colonial and neo-colonial “entanglements” (Takayama et al 2017) had doubts about the nature and intent of CIE research in the PICs, and in particular a regional society that through its nomenclature (ANZ) appeared to exclude them and their interests. Doubts were also raised as to whether Australia and New Zealand even constituted a region.
Thus another name change for the regional society, one that positioned members as Oceanic, was firmly on the ANZCIES agenda. It is not surprising that changing the name that had been in place for around 30 years, and by which the society had established a respected disciplinary position, gave rise to at times quite contentious debate. Some ANZCIES members argued against the notion of the current name being exclusionary, pointing to the number of members other than Australian and New Zealanders, not only those from the Pacific but also many from Asian countries, who had always been welcome as members and participants in ANZCIES activities; others suggested that those who wanted to identify as Oceanic leave ANZCIES and establish their own CIE society. Responses largely went along the lines of the notion of being welcome is not the same as belonging – and for Pacific educationists, unlike those from Asian countries and elsewhere, there is no other ‘home’ CIE society. In response to the idea of starting a second regional society, it was pointed out that the effect of this on ANZCIES’s already dwindling membership would be counter-productive; a far better case could be made to strengthen rather than deplete what already existed for CIE in Oceania.
From ANZCIES to OCIES
At the Annual General Meeting held during the annual conference in November 2014, ANZCIES members voted strongly in favour of a name change for their regional society, to one more representative of the region within which the society exists, and more inclusive of educationists from throughout Oceania, particularly those from PICs. Thus ANZCIES became OCIES, reflecting the wish of many members to reinvigorate their society by encompassing the diversity of issues, interests, perspectives and contexts represented in Oceania.
To an extent the name change called into question the society’s original scholarly and professional identity and purpose, most notably in recognising that the society incorporated a much wider region than Australia and New Zealand. Since then, the annual conference attendance and society’s membership has witnessed increased overall and specifically in the numbers of scholars and educational practitioners from the global south, especially the Pacific islands, as well as those working in educational institutions in the global north (including Australia and New Zealand) (McLaughlin, 2017). Thus our aim at annual conferences since then, to both widen participation in and add depth to debates and dialogue about how CIE can contribute, theoretically and practically, to education for sustainable development in the post-2015 era, has been positively received.
Another objective informing OCIES’s activities in the post-2015 era is to explore the means of developing CIE’s potential to enhance educational transformation in the region. Calls from the wider CIE community for attention to such issues as critical engagement with issues of context and culture(s), and the significance of indigenous epistemologies (Crossley & Tickly 2004; On Lee et al 2014; Takayama et al 2016), lend themselves well to a dialectical approach to CIE in Oceania.
Although increasingly influenced by processes of globalisation, Pacific cultures are still shaped by traditions that effectively predate colonisation; indigenous political and economic structures, embedded within ethics of redistribution, reciprocity and inclusiveness, to varying degrees still characterise Pacific cultures. Thus the meanings and values which inform Pacific peoples’ social relationships and everyday material practices continue to be shaped by indigenous ‘traditions’, and the extent to which these articulate with ‘modern’ institutions such as education cannot be ignored in the pursuit of sustainable education development (Coxon 2008).
Towards a Critical Regionalism: Oceania as a Relational Space
Over the past decade a number of Oceanic academics and commentators have developed a critique of moves, largely driven by Australia and New Zealand, towards what they term as “hegemonic regionalism” (Fry 2006). They identify the challenge of reclaiming regionalism from “the clutches of neoliberalism” and investing it with the building of sustainable, equitable societies; of developing a critical Oceanic regionalism within a system of regional governance centred less on economic integration and more on human rights and social well-being (Jolly 2007; Stone 2011).
The Oceanic regional model revived by these debates is one advanced by the late Epeli Hau’ofa in his seminal work, Our Sea of Islands (1993, 1994) and which has underpinned the rationale for our change of name, and the thematic underpinnings for many OCIES activities since. Hau’ofa provided an alternative to the prevalent regional perspective at the time, “the economistic and geographic determinist view” (1993:6) which he saw as maintaining the power relations of colonial times between Pacific Rim ‘developed’ countries and the small island ‘developing’ states and territories within the Pacific Basin. Hau’ofa’s “New Oceania” focused on the Pacific Ocean as a shared post-colonial space for both the revitalisation of the pre-colonial interconnectedness of Pacific peoples and the development of extensive and expansive new connections with Pacific Rim countries, particularly Australia and New Zealand, of “a vibrant and much enlarged world of social networks that criss-cross the ocean …” (1998:391). Hau’ofa’s ocean-centric approach attributed the development and survival of the complexity of societies which make up the most culturally and ecologically diverse region in the world to the ocean. His spatial-temporal analysis in which the natural environment and society condition and shape each other, presented Oceania as a relational space (Coxon 2011).
On Lee’s statement that “…comparative education always works in dialectics, considering views that seem to be in opposition, but at the same time generating richer meanings in the process of considering such opposing views” (2014:146), we see as offering potential for the production of new CIE knowledge, theoretical and methodological, within the relational space of Oceania – knowledge embedded in the reality of dialectical interactions between global/local, universal/particular, north/south, insider/outsider – by exploring the “indigenisation of modernity … in all its dialectical ups and down” (Sahlins 1992 cited in Coxon 2008). At the core of this approach is the expectation that “… it responsibly promotes research and scholarship that is both authentically defensible and deeply respectful of Pacific Islanders’ wisdom, cultures and belief systems” (McLaughlin, 2017).
Johansson-Fua (2016), drawing on Hau’ofa (2008), explores this further in affirming “a relational, hybrid and dialogic approach” to the “new season” for CIE, one in which indigenous researchers and other Oceanic researchers together develop the research approaches, methodology, ethical protocols that “contextualise and make sense of the ‘ocean within us’ – our cultures, traditional knowledge systems and trusted traditional processes – and the ocean around us – the global agendas for education development and ‘modernisation’”.
Some Implications for OCIES Moving Forward
A number of features inherent in Comparative and International Education, as a research area that is both academic and applied and in which many educationists adopt the ‘academic-practitioner’ role, have been emphasised as the means of both rejuvenating our regional society and developing CIE’s potential to enhance educational transformation in Oceania. While some see CIE’s very broadly defined notion of ‘comparison’, its inter-disciplinarity and theoretical/methodological eclecticism as negative (Bray and Manzon, p.231), these features can, we contend, also be seen as enabling openness to the innovative research approaches and new collaborations at the heart of OCIES’s process of reinvigoration (Coxon 2016). We maintain that such approaches and collaborations are required to inform education for sustainable development in all parts of the region, and to strengthen educational interconnectedness within the relational space of Oceania.
In conclusion, however, we must acknowledge the most significant implication of our shift from ANZCIES to OCIES: that it “invites conversations concerning the distinctive historical and existing colonial legacies and practices in education, and future directions for the field of comparative and international education in Oceania” (McLaughlin, 2017).
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