Chapter 5: Understanding travelling reforms from a systems perspective
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The chapter introduces the reader to a system-theoretical framework of a special kind: the sociological systems theory of Niklas Luhmann. Even though it is genuinely sociological in orientation, the theory appears to be ideally suited to understand how and why certain "traveling reforms" or global education policies surface in different parts of the world. Known in comparative policy studies as policy borrowing or policy transfer research, this body of research attempts to explain the political and economic reasons for why policy actors adopt reforms that were either tried elsewhere or are framed as "best practices" or "international standards." Attention is given to the agents of change, the window of openness for innovation, and the power dynamics in the policy process. In addition to examining why a national education system is receptive to innovation, change, or reform, this body of research investigates how borrowed global reforms are actually translated at the national level. Four sets of key concepts of sociological systems theory lend themselves for theorizing policy borrowing at the national level: (i) externalization, (ii) projection, (iii) reference and counter-reference societies, and (iv) reception and translation. The chapter briefly explains each of these system-theoretical concepts and puts them in relation to policy borrowing research, that is, the study of transnational policy transfer in education.