Research with the Swedish Research Council

3 Oct 2023
Decorative image of building with flower illustrations overlaid


Professor Martin Lawn is an Honorary Professor affiliated to the Centre for Research in Digital Education. For many years Martin has researched and published on teacher professionalism and the labour process of teaching. Currently, he researches European education policy and the 20th Century history of the educational sciences and comparative education. In this blog post, Martin shares details and links to his recent work.

Over the last eight years or so, I have worked in two Swedish Research Council funded projects, and with the same team of researchers (including Prof Sotiria Grek, School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh). Both projects deal in different ways, using different cases, with the growth of international comparisons in education, illustrated by the work of Sweden since the late 19thC until the 1980s. The first four year project was ‘From Paris to PISA – governing education with comparisons 1862 – 2017’ and the following one was ‘The Disembedded Laboratory - Torsten Husén and the Internationalisation of Educational Research for Policy’. Influencing and governing the field of education, in its widest sense, through comparison, is historically deep-seated and takes place through varied forms of public engagement. Learning from competition and display was present from the early days in the World’s Fairs [like the Great Exhibition in London] and today, in relation to PISA rankings.

In the particular cases we studied over time, the idea of Sweden as a leading modernist nation, in its domestic consumption, housing and culture, was established by the mid 20thC. It continued to grow in the immediate post war years and in turn, it allowed Sweden to take a leading role in education innovation across Europe. It developed clear research data about its education system and then reorganised to produce a comprehensive national system of schooling. This advance became a major source of study for researchers and governments and then, through its leading researcher in this area, Torsten Husén, influential publications on the ‘Learning Society’, ‘The School in Question’ and many more, were produced.

Over the course of these projects, it is possible to see how comparison through material objects, chosen to represent modernity and education progress, and shown in major world exhibitions, has been overtaken by the massive production of abstract information and data visualization, both illustrating and questioning the idea of modernity and progress. This exists within the same world of competition that it has since the mid 19thC. But beyond simple rankings lies the field of governance through soft power and persuasion.


From Paris to PISA: Governing Education by Comparison 1867-2015

Professor Martin Lawn

Professor Sotiria Grek