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A new education for a new era: the contribution of the conferences of the New Education Fellowship to the disciplinary field of education 1921-1938

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This article examines the role played by the conferences of the New Education Fellowship (NEF) in the emerging disciplinary field of the sciences of education between the two world wars. The NEF was a movement connecting lay enthusiasts for educational reform with major figures in the developing disciplines of psychology and education, such as Carl Gustav Jung, Jean Piaget and John Dewey. Use is made of Bourdieu's concepts of field, forms of capital and habitus to analyse the strategies of agents at the conferences and their relation to developments in the disciplinary field. The NEF is also considered from the perspective of social movement theory as a non-class-based movement of opposition. Seven international conferences on education are discussed plus others in South Africa and Australia. The themes are discussed and their social composition is analysed both in terms of the countries represented and the participation of members of the academy. The origins of the NEF are traced from the Theosophical Fraternity in Education and the leading roles of Beatrice Ensor and Elizabeth Rotten are considered in the framework of habitus. Discussion of the work of Ferrière, the third founder of the NEF, reveals a distinction between philosophical and moral conceptions of education and ones associated with positivism. The location of psychology in this binary is also revealed. Accounts of the conferences held in the 1920s reveal a strong commitment among the leaders of the NEF to the fostering of international understanding and a world consciousness through education and Support for the League of Nations. This and other elements of the NEF's ideology are characterized as a heretical discourse. Tensions between members of the academy and the other participants are highlighted and the heterogeneity of the audiences are identified as a source of strength as well as friction. The following section addresses the change of emphasis of the NEF in the 1930s in response to the worsening international situation and the involvement of leading figures from the academy. The NEF's position on research in education and the need to bring teacher training into the academy was made explicit at the conferences held in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. These involved bureaux of education research, which were financed by American foundations, and the combination of the NEF's network with this money is considered in terms of the field's development and the consequences for the competition for prestige and other forms of capital. The conclusion reviews the extent to which these conferences contributed to the development of the field and to the necessity for historical accounts of its development to take account of the dimensions analysed by Bourdieu's conceptual framework.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: October 1, 2004

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