The culture of education regimes: Efficiency, equality and governance in education and social policy

Cathie Jo Martin*, Matthew Pastore, Peter Munk Christiansen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal/Conference contribution in journal/Contribution to newspaperJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Education has become a key tool for reducing inequality in the postindustrial economy; however, educational reformers must address tensions in goals of efficiency and equality. Cross-national differences in cultural assumptions about education provide context for countries’ choices in resolving tensions between efficiency (developing skills) and equality (ensuring educational access for marginal workers). Cultural frames encourage actors to consider the role of education in solving social problems in strikingly different ways across countries. Britain and Denmark exemplify cross-national variation in coping with efficiency and equality. I first demonstrate how cultural frames regarding education differ historically in Britain and Denmark in large corpora of literature from 1700 to 1920 (Martin, 2018). I show that British and Danish authors (as producers of culture) differ significantly in their depictions of education with respect to efficiency (skills), equality (perceptions of class and society) and governance (role of the state, assessment and coordination). I then report findings from an online internet survey of 2100 British and Danish young people that demonstrate the continuing divergence in cultural constructions of education in Britain and Denmark today. The survey reveals that the same cross-national cultural distinctions apparent in the nineteenth-century continue to resonate in contemporary views of education reform. The paper contributes by adding a cultural perspective to the factors driving diverse country choices about efficiency and equality in education policy, and it reinforces the importance of public opinion in policy choices. Moreover, the paper expands upon our understanding of Nordic social democracy from a historical perspective.

Original languageEnglish
JournalSocial Policy and Administration
Pages (from-to)204-218
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2023


  • culture
  • literature
  • solidarity


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