“Inter-referencing” as methodology

The “emotional contagion” of PISA and the discursive formation of an emergent East Asia policy field

Authored by: Aaron Koh

Routledge International Handbook of Schools and Schooling in Asia

Print publication date:  May  2018
Online publication date:  May  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138908499
eBook ISBN: 9781315694382
Adobe ISBN:


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East Asia’s education systems have been in the global spotlight ever since they “aced” the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). Shanghai created history when it clinched the top spot in 2009. Most recently, in 2016, Singapore took the lead. Emotions run high for countries who have performed consistently well, notably, East Asia countries. But “shock” is the emotional contagion widely circulated in Western media, as the US, UK and Australia have fallen behind this international benchmarking test. Indeed, PISA test results have generated ripples of emotion in the global education policy field but also the production of an East Asian imaginary and global discourse about “Asia Rising”. In this chapter, I take the emotional contagion around the PISA test further. I argue that the success of East Asian education systems in PISA test has inadvertently contributed to the discursive formation of an emergent East Asian policy field. In presenting this argument, I also critique the idea of a global education policy field which has been in circulation in the education policy studies literature. This chapter further contributes new theoretical and methodological directions to the sociology of policy studies. First, an East-West theoretical entrée combining Bourdieu’s (1993) field theory, Massey’s (2005) spatial theory and Chen’s (2010) “Asia as method” is developed to conceptualize an East Asia education policy field. Second, I demonstrate the use of “inter-referencing” as methodology to contour this emerging field.

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