Constructing and Concealing Difference in International Comparative Research in Mathematics Education
by Professor David Clarke
Abstract: The intention of this presentation is to draw attention to acts of comparison undertaken in international cross-cultural comparative research. Judgements of similarity or difference are inevitably products of the analytical categories employed. Every comparison will require some concealing of difference, since every act of comparison requires first the typification of the objects to be compared. Equally, application of any set of criteria involve the drawing of distinctions and these may construct difference where no difference was previously perceived. Both acts: the construction and concealing of difference seem fundamental to contemporary international cross-cultural comparative studies. In this presentation, I highlight some concerns that the mathematics education community needs to address if such international comparative studies are to contribute usefully to educational policy and curriculum development in mathematics and to the actions of teachers and students in classrooms. Narratives of national identity are constructed based on such acts of comparison and the metrics by which they are performed. We must be sensitive to the assumptions and conditions on which such comparisons are contingent.