Exploring the concept of insider-outsider in comparative and international research: essentialising culture or culturally essential?

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The comparative method implicit in the concept of insider-outsider perspectives can be traced back to Sadler’s seminal speech in 1900 on the aims of comparative education. Since then, the question of ‘inside or outside what?’ has become ever more complex. The dominance of economistic values in international educational research and policy institutions has been accompanied by an essentialised notion of culture. This has led to generalising cultural difference in debates on the internationalisation of higher education and a disregard for cultural context in assessments of learning produced by international policy organisations. The insider-outsider concept has limitations as an analytical tool and can end up promoting a reductive dichotomised view of culture. I compare the etic-emic construct from anthropology, which places greater emphasis on the interconnectedness of the terms as a way of exploring how knowledge is constructed through research. Through analysis of the etic-emic-etic dialectic and insights into ethnographers’ experiential learning, I investigate the potential of insider-outsider as an educational tool for researchers. By drawing on three vignettes from my research in comparative and international education, I look at how insider-outsider perspectives can contribute understanding about the ways in which culture is constructed. From the common and sometimes necessary starting point of essentialising culture through polarising insider-outsider perspectives, we can use this dialogue to develop greater understanding of the processes of comparative analysis.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRevisiting Insider-Outsider Research in Comparative and International Education
EditorsMichael Crossley, Lore Arthur, Elizabeth McNess
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherOxford, Symposium Books
Number of pages17
ISBN (Print)9781873927670
Publication statusPublished - 2016

Publication series

NameBristol Papers in Education

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