Accepted Paper:

Modular education: exploring international education through the competing myths of the oil workers' school and the international civil servants' school  


Matthieu Bolay (Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies)

Paper short abstract:

The paper draws on two competing foundational myths in international education - the Shell school in Piasau and the Ecolint in Geneva - to mutually inform on logics of abstraction and recontextualisation both in contexts of extractive enclavement and international cosmopolitan education.

Paper long abstract:

International education has dramatically expanded over the last 20 years. This growing industry relies on two competing foundational myths which will serve as heuristic tools to explore the concept of "cosmopolitan enclave". The most circulated narrative in the field relates international education to the birth of the League of Nations, suggesting ideals of peace and cosmopolitan engagements on an ideational level (e.g. Kurt Hahn colleges) and the need to cater for the children of international civil servants on a practical one (e.g. Ecole Internationale de Genève in 1924). The second myth traces the birth of "international education" back to the first Shell school in Indonesia in 1922 and to subsequent corporate policies towards expatriates employees.

The paper explores the intertwining practices and discourses of "cosmopolitanism" and "enclavement" within the field of international education by discussing in what ways extractive enclavement (illustrated in the Shell narrative) informs the development of cosmopolitan education (illustrated in the Ecolint narrative). To do so, I borrow Anna Happel's reflexions on "modularity" (2012) to tease out logics of global abstraction and local recontextualisation and use it to link different and often contradictive trends in international education. Building on desk research, ethnographic fieldwork in "international" schools and interviews with various actors of the field, the paper subsequently traces modularity in schools' infrastructures, workforce, and curricula. It suggests that the expansion of international education largely follows spatio-temporal fixes of capital and thereby requires techniques of abstraction and recontextualisation which cosmopolitan ideals contribute to articulate.

Panel P092
Cosmopolitan enclaves: tensions and paradoxes