Comparison is a valuable and widely touted analytical technique in social research, but different disciplines and fields have markedly different notions of comparison. There are at least two important logics for comparison. The first, the logic of juxtaposition, is guided by a neopositivist orientation. It uses a regularity theory of causation; it structures the study by defining cases, variables, and units of analysis a priori; and it decontextualizes knowledge. The second, the logic of tracing, engages a realist theory of causation and examines how processes unfold, influenced by actors and the meanings they make, over time, in different locations, and at different scales. These two logics of comparison lead to distinct methodological techniques. However, with either logic of comparison, three dangers merit attention: decontextualization, commensurability, and ethnocentrism. One promising research heuristic that attends to different logics of comparison while avoiding these dangers is the comparative case study (CCS) approach. CCS entails three axes of comparison. The horizontal axis encourages comparison of how similar policies and practices unfold across sites at roughly the same level or scale, for example across a set of schools or across home, school, religious institution, and community organization. The vertical axis urges comparison across micro-, meso-, and macro-levels or scales. For example, a study of bilingual education in the United States should attend not only to homes, communities, classroom, and school dynamics (the micro-level), but also to meso-level district, state, and federal policies, as well as to factors influencing international mobility at the macro-level. Finally, the transversal axis, which emphasizes change over time, urges scholars to situate historically the processes or relations under consideration.
Lesley Bartlett and Frances Vavrus
Over the past 30 years, a growing field of scholarship has explored the relationship between education and the media. Scholars within this field have explored representations of education, schooling, teachers’ work and students in print and other news media, utilizing approaches that include critical discourse analysis, news framing analysis and, more recently, corpus-assisted discourse analysis. The relationship between these representations, public understandings of education and education policy has also been explored in the research literature, with a focus on the complex interplay between media discourses and public policy around education. The emergence of social media and the engagement of both educators and members of the general public on social media around issues related to education has seen this relationship shift in the first two decades of the 21st century. This, along with the growth of computer-assisted research approaches (including corpus-assisted analysis and network analysis, for example) has brought new theoretical and methodological possibilities to bear on the field.
Jonathan Pratschke and Giovanni Abbiati
In the social sciences, the term “peer effects” has been widely used to describe the various ways in which individual behaviors and attitudes can be influenced by friends, acquaintances, and the wider social environment. Due to the crucial role of social interactions within the school context, the role of peers in shaping academic outcomes has been under scrutiny for decades. Following seminal work by Manski, we distinguish between three different components of peer influence: endogenous (where the behavior of an individual varies in accordance with the behavior of the peer group), exogenous (where the behavior of an individual varies with the characteristics of the members of the peer group), and correlated (where the behavior of individuals is shaped by shared environmental or institutional factors). By estimating a simultaneous autoregressive model, we assess the relative strength of these three forms of peer influence in relation to secondary school exam results in a large sample of Italian school-leavers. One limitation is that we are only able to observe peer influence within the classroom, while another is that the study is confined to a specific moment in time, which comes quite late in young people’s educational trajectories. The results confirm that peer processes play an important role in the reproduction of social inequalities, against the backdrop of institutional criteria for the selection of students into schools and classes. These factors therefore demand the sustained attention of educational administrators and policymakers.