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ECNU review of education highlights network ethnography in researching global education policy

A special issue of the journal showcases papers that used network ethnography to map global education policy networks.

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ECNU Review of Education Highlights Network Ethnography in Researching Global Education Policy


A special issue of the journal showcases papers that used network ethnography to map global education policy networks.

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Credit: ECNU Review of Education

The word “mobility” conjures up images and ideas of the movement of people, capital, and things from one place to another. The globalized world of the 21st century has ushered in an era of “new mobility” studies fronted by sociology researchers and human geography scholars. It encompasses not only the diverse movements of people, including tourists and corporate elites, and the associated regulatory policies like border control but also the flow of finances across various sectors and the transportation of goods and services, spanning from waste disposal to organ transport.

In an article published on September 10, 2023, for a special issue of the ECNU Review of Education, Dr. Diego Santori from the School of Education, Communication and Society at King’s College London and Dr. Jin Jin from the School of Education at East China Normal University charted the landscape of network ethnography in education policy studies and highlighted the researchers breaking new ground in the field.

What exactly is network ethnography? It is a method that combines ethnographic methods with social network analysis to understand mobilities and dynamics in a policy network. The interactions within the network, their evolution, and their movement are analyzed to determine how policy shapes and changes.

The two main elements in a social network include the nodes and the edges—the nodes include individuals and organizations, and the edges link them together. The researchers focus on exploring what is shared through the networks, such as schemes, programs, artifacts, techniques, or technologies. Thus, network ethnography requires extensive internet searches on the actors, organizations, events, and their connections, sifting through material such as newsletters, press releases, videos, and speeches, among others, and attending conferences where network participants often come together.

For Dr. Santori and Dr. Jin, defining what is included and excluded in the policy network is a critical challenge for conducting network ethnography. “When conducting this searches on key organizations, we usually look at ‘about us’ tabs to access information about the governance structure of the organization, as well as ‘our partners’ tabs, which generally include information about associated organizations and business,” they say. “Thus, it is often difficult to make decisions about what nodes are beyond the scope of the network ethnography and hence to draw the boundary around the network.”

Another challenge for conducting network ethnography is their ever-changing nature. The time between recording and transcribing patterns of interaction and their dynamics, followed by the subsequent analysis and discussion in publications, might mean that the information has become outdated as policymakers and organizations change priorities. Dr. Santori and Dr. Jin suggest that improvising and planning simultaneously can help mitigate some of these effects. “Network ethnography requires space for the unknown and the flexibility to navigate emerging data collection opportunities without diverting from the research aims and objectives,” they say. “Those opportunities can look like accessing a partner organization that was not originally included in the research design or attending a network-related event that was not apparent when the project was conceived.”

For Dr. Santori and Dr. Jin, shedding light on the varied relationships between policy mobilities and moorings in different contexts will propel the field forward. The researchers of this special issue by the ECNU Review of Education are grappling with unique and varied questions, such as “the structure and dynamics of the global education policy field, the divergences of policy networks in traditionally different policy spaces, the politics within policy networks and possibilities of reflexivity and resistance,” they say.

In summary, the authors in this special issue deployed network ethnography in different countries. They also addressed different kinds of policy actors and investigated the effects of the related labor and social relations in shaping policy networks and education reforms. This work will potentially spark new ideas and conversations among researchers and stakeholders.






Authors: Diego Santori1 and Jin Jin2


1King’s College London
2East China Normal University


About ECNU Review of Education

The ECNU Review of Education (ROE) is an international, peer-reviewed journal established by the East China Normal University (ECNU) in Shanghai, China. This open-access journal seeks to facilitate in-depth dialogue among various stakeholders and build a global community of scholars. The journal accepts empirical and conceptual papers, integrated research reviews, scoping reviews, policy reviews, and voices. It is interested in scholarship that theorizes educational experiences in non-English speaking contexts and education-related research, policies, and issues.


About Dr. Diego Santori

Dr. Diego Santori is a senior lecturer in education and society at King’s College London, the United Kingdom. His research is in policy sociology, especially on how policy structures and assumptions shape or bind the social imaginary. Currently, he is interested in the role of high-stakes testing and school performance data in contemporary education systems and how they produce new cultural forms and practices. He is also interested in policy networks in education and how they mobilize resources (both material and symbolic) and eventually legitimize related initiatives, discourses, and practices.


About Dr. Jin Jin

Dr. Jin Jin is an Associate Professor at the School of Education at East China Normal University. Her research interest is in the sociology of education, especially the relationships between social structures and human agency. Currently, she is working on a research project following three cases of education innovations in Shanghai to understand the effects of policy networks and the shapes of education governance in China.

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