Educational Theory in an Era of Knowledge Capitalism


Two related aspects of the present ‘knowledge capitalism’ stage of globalisation are discussed in this article: the transformation of education to make it more directly supportive of educational growth and competition, and the growing demands on educational research to provide scientific evidence for education policy and practice, using narrowly defined methods and techniques. It is argued that both developments have profound consequences for the construction and use of educational theory, and the vital need for critical discussion and communication in this respect is emphasised.

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  1. 1.

    For a British analysis of the research evidence of the effects of the Swedish free schools and conclusions for the British context, see e.g. Allen (2010).

  2. 2.

    See e.g. Whitty (2010), Yates and Collins (2010), Young (2008), Young and Muller (2010).

  3. 3.

    In some very interesting studies, Scott Davies, Linda Quirke and Janice Aurini have empirically tested such assumptions of neo-institutional theory on cases of public schools, private elite schools and new private sector school in Ontario (Aurini 2006; Davies and Quirke 2007).

  4. 4.

    For example, teachers´ work is radically changed when they are expected to execute pre-made instructional packages rather than building on professional skills. The free school combine Kunskapsskolan, also exported internationally, is illustrative. Here teachers are expected to follow a centrally prescribed pedagogical model of individualized student learning in defined stages. As Ylva Ståhle concluded in her thesis on Kunskapsskolan: The working method is not negotiable and it is expected to operate similarly in all schools. (Ståhle 2006, p. 152).

  5. 5.

  6. 6.


    (A) The term ‘‘scientifically based research standards’’ means research standards that—

    (i) apply rigorous, systematic, and objective methodology to obtain reliable and valid knowledge relevant to education activities and programs; and

    (ii) present findings and make claims that are appropriate to and supported by the methods that have been employed.

    (B) The term includes, appropriate to the research being conducted—

    (i) employing systematic, empirical methods that draw on observation or experiment;

    (ii) involving data analyses that are adequate to support the general findings;

    (iii) relying on measurements or observational methods that provide reliable data;

    (iv) making claims of causal relationships only in random assignment experiments or other designs (to the extent such designs substantially eliminate plausible competing explanations for the obtained results);

    (v) ensuring that studies and methods are presented in sufficient detail and clarity to allow for replication or, at a minimum, to offer the opportunity to build systematically on the findings of the research;

    (vi) obtaining acceptance by a peer-reviewed journal or approval by a panel of independent experts through a comparably rigorous, objective, and scientific review; and

    (vii) using research designs and methods appropriate to the research question posed. (the U.S. Education Sciences Reform Act of 2002).

  7. 7.


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Correspondence to Lisbeth Lundahl.

Additional information

The article is based upon an invited keynote speech to the First International Theorising Education Conference, University of Stirling, June 2010.

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Lundahl, L. Educational Theory in an Era of Knowledge Capitalism. Stud Philos Educ 31, 215–226 (2012).

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  • Knowledge capitalism
  • Educational theory
  • Educational phenomena
  • Evidence-based