Bruno Latour’s and Steve Woolgar’s book, Laboratory life. The Construction of Scientific Facts (1979/1986) departs from a very evident example of what the production of knowledge could look like in practice. Would it be possible to find an equivalent example to the natural sciences laboratory from the social sciences? Possibly editorial work can get close to resemble the laboratory work. This paper draws on the research from the rigorous archive of the editorial work behind The International Encyclopaedia of Education (IEE) from 1985 and 1994. The IEE had as its ambition to be the first true international encyclopaedia of education. This meant being a comprehensive collection of all relevant educational knowledge from around the world; breaking with ethnocentrism and reaching out to educational systems in the Third World. One important motif of IEE was for it to be useful in international education policymaking. The IEE was a huge project and contracted some 500 authors from 100 different countries, resulting after five years of work in 10 volumes with an index of more than 45,000 entries (Husén & Postlethwaite 1985, preface). Many people tend to perceive encyclopaedic facts as solid, truthful and fair representations of the reality. But how fair are really these representations? The purpose of the paper is to provide an understanding of the re/production of encyclopaedic knowledge of international education. Issues concerning representativeness in what has been displayed as internationally valid knowledge and knowledge of educational systems world wide, will be discussed, using IEE articles, archive material such as meeting protocols and editorial correspondence. Research about re/production of knowledge is often interested in the (micro) processes that shape scientific knowledge (e.g. Latour & Woolgar 1979/1986, Woolgar 1988, Ringer 2000, Camic, Gross et al 2011). What kinds of processes, decisions, problems, relations and networks leads to the specific entries in an encyclopaedia? Encyclopaedias often claim to be collections of facts. Typically we perceive facts as ‘unconstructed by anyone’ (Latour & Woolgar 1979/1986). But producing an encyclopaedia is not a straightforward and simple editorial process. Sections, headings, topics and the structure of the thematic articles are constantly changed based on new insights and on circumstances not possible to control. A better way to frame the knowledge in an encyclopaedia would be to understand it as a product of a specific epistemic culture; the actual and theoretical conditions of the production of knowledge (Knorr Cetina 1999).
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Husén, T. & Postlethwaite, T.N. (ed.) (1985). The international encyclopedia of education: research and studies. Oxford: Pergamon.
Knorr Cetina, Karin (1999).Epistemic Cultures. How the sciences make knowledge. Harvard University Press.
Latour, B. & Woolgar, S. (1979/1986): Laboratory Life. The Construction of Scientific Facts. NJ: Princeton University Press.
European Conference on Educational Research (ECER 2016), Dublin, Ireland, August 22-26, 2016