The potential of the “Économie des conventions” for socio-scientific educational research

Session at the SSRE 2017 conference in Fribourg

These days, from 26-28 of June 2017, at the University of Fribourg the annual congress of the Swiss Society for Research in Education took place. Numerous workshops and symposia dealt with educational aspects like early childhood education, competence measurement in schools, school-to-work transitions, education policy and professional identities of teachers. The overall topic was the aspect of time and learning. The congress attracted 400 researchers and practitioners from the German-speaking, French-speaking and Italian-speaking part of Switzerland, as well as some international researchers.

One of the workshops was dedicated to the potential of the „Économie des conventions“ and the phenomenon of Education. In this meeting, chaired by Prof. Philipp Gonon (University of Zurich) three presentations were held and discussed. One by Dr. Hauke Straehler-Pohl (Freie Universität Berlin), another by Prof. Regula Leemann (FHNW School of Education) and a third one by Prof. Esther Berner (Helmut Schmidt University, Hamburg).

Hauke highlighted the situation in a Berlin social focus area, where teachers are in a dilemma, between furthering immigrant children (coming mainly from Middle East Countries) and selecting them for further advancement in the educational system or bringing them closer to the world of work. These educational aims can be conflicting and the EC approach is very helpful to identify conflicts and consensus possibilities. Out of the axiom of common mankind, diversity and accountability to values, as it was developed in Boltanski/Thévenot (1999), there is a ground for legitimation and critique. The situational aspect of referring to different possible conventions is decisive for pedagogical orders, which can be stipulated or criticised. Analysing one interview (out of several ones which are the basis of his post-doc thesis) with a female teacher in Wedding-Berlin, Hauke referred to project-based, industrial and household-based conventions, which highlighted this back-and-forth approach between supporting and oppressing youngsters in their learning attitudes.

Regula was asking herself and the audience why in Switzerland, in contrast to Norway, training circles – networks of apprenticeship-providers who are organizing the apprenticeship in different training companies and who are in charge of the wages for apprentices – are such a minor model in the Swiss Vocational Education and Training system, although the law is encouraging such formats. With the EC-approach she states only a small reachability of such a format of training provision, due to the dominant orientation towards the market convention of small firms. Since the times of economic crisis in the 1990s, when the claim for the civic convention in order to surrender market failures (and a lack of apprenticeship opportunities) prevailed, the topical situation has changed and the conventions of the market and of networks have pushed aside the industrial and civic conventions.

Esther used the EC-approach for a historical account of written apprenticeship contracts that have replaced oral contracts in the period from 1874-1930 in Switzerland. Her theoretical framing was also a critique of functional and system-theoretical approaches. The concept of an apprentice is in her view the result of negotiations: is she or he more a learner, or a person, who has to be protected as minor (not an adult person), or is she or he a worker. In Swiss history this question was debated around the legislation of industry, trade and civic regulation, which was also based on quality claims, referring to the respective conventions. The result of this long-standing debate was really a far-reaching compromise, which defined an apprentice as a person, who has to be protected in his or her learning aspirations and thus needs a written contract.

All these shortly presented arguments were developed further in the discussion, which found a resonance in the audience who partly was first time confronted and challenged with the EC-approach.

The workshop activists warming up with a Fondue Fribourgeoise on the eve of the conference