Rolland G. Paulston (1930 - 2006)

Paulston Rolland G.

Short Biography & Significant Contribution

Rolland Paulston was a former president of CIES (1975) and professor emeritus (1999) at the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education. He earned his bachelor's degree in art history and geography at UCLA and his master's degree in economic geography at the University of Stockholm (Sweden). After teaching social studies in Los Angeles and Tangier, Morocco, Paulston earned his doctorate in Comparative and International Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. In 1968 he began teaching at the University of Pittsburgh, was granted the position of full professor in 1972, and remained an influential figure in comparative education there until his death in 2006.

In one of Paulston's early works, an evaluation of the contributing factors to the results of teacher-centered educational reform in four schools in Peru, he critically tested the prevailing notion that education is the logical choice for carrying out change and development in society. In order to understand why the reform worked in some schools and failed in others, Paulston focused on the point of contact, or the "interface" of the movement; the teacher and the community. Instead of relying on a structural functionalist or neo-Marxism perspective to observe these interactions based on hierarchies or class, Paulston instead focused on multiple variables including community values (i.e. religion), self-perception of national/local identity (i.e. language, ethnicity), and the teacher's own sense of identity in relation to the community. Paulston concluded that the teacher-centered approach to educational reforms is more successful when the teacher and school are more closely aligned to the main cultural characteristics of the community. Infusions of financial resources, technical experts or teacher training were effective only in contributing to the failure of reform in a school. This characterization was prescient and incisive, essentially foreshadowing the problems of the participatory development movements of the following decades that was "discovered" and noted by scholars and agencies thirty years later. Traditional dualist approaches would have only reiterated assumed distinctions based on class or bureaucratic hierarchies. Paulston's inclusion of human interactions based on cultural relations added more voices and perspectives to his evaluation, thus adding more accuracy, validity and applicability to his findings.

Paulston is best known for his work in "social cartography." For Paulston, rigid, reductionist perspectives like structural functionalism are not useful in understanding the "true" reality in a given field of observation or study. Additionally, Paulston found that equilibrium theories (i.e. evolutionary, neo-evolutionary, and structural functionalist) of social and educational reform movements are largely descriptive with very little to offer by way of predictive capabilities. Conflict or transformative orientations (i.e. neo-Marxist, cultural revival, and anarchist utopian) or are more useful in describing and predicting social and educational reform movements, but are sometimes simply not realistic enough for concrete results. Thus, the comparativist is left between alternating either/or theoretical constructs that leave too may gaps or exclude too many non-aligned perspectives and voices. Enter social cartography.

Paulston relied significantly on Foucauldian analysis of history to inform his theory of social cartography. His application of Foucault's postmodernism to comparative education led him to assert that a postmodern (deconstructive) analysis was the best means by which to understand educational policy analysis, and this is best articulated through the process of social cartography. This process allowed the comparativist to map the spatial relations in which competing perspectives were situated, providing a better way to understand the manner in which they negotiated that space in relation to each other. By admitting multiple "voices" in any given discussion the comparativist is able to apprehend a more representative picture (or map) of the theoretical space in which s/he is working, including the identification of his/her space on that map, an important part of the process for Paulston.

Paulston's career was marked by a persistent and consistent desire to compare, educate and transform not just education but the educators and comparativists themselves. Always keen to improve the field of comparative education, he even issued a challenge to his fellow colleagues in a speech delivered at a meeting of comparative education scholars in Canada in 1976. After identifying the problems, limitations and failures of the comparative education field and listing possible solutions for them, he adamantly encouraged his colleagues to comparatively address the political and ideological characteristics of ethnicity as a social construction with the force of a social movement. He called for more "rigorous study of ethnogensis" which he felt would improve comparative education theory and scholarship as well as result in a more democratic and humane society. Paulston targeted himself, too, with his criticisms and challenges, working and reworking his approach through social cartography over many years, and addressing the dynamism and fluidity of ethnicity as a social force in educational reform.

Educational Background

BA, University of California-Los Angeles

MA, University of Stockholm

EdD, Teachers College, Columbia University

Professional Background

Teacher, Social Studies, Los Angeles Public Schools

Teacher, Social Studies, Tangier, Morocco

Professor, Administrative and Policy Studies, School of Education, University of Pittsburgh (1968)

Professor Emeritus, Administrative and Policy Studies, School of Education, University of Pittsburgh (1999)

Affiliations (associations, organizations, institutions)

President, Comparative and International Education Society (1976)

Honorary Fellow, Comparative and International Education Society (1976)

Selected Publications

Beauchamp, E. R., & Paulston, R. G. (1996). Social Cartography: Mapping Ways of Seeing Social and Educational Change. Levittown: Taylor & Francis.

Liebman, M., & Paulston, R. G. (1994). An Invitation to Postmodern Social Cartography. Comparative Education Review, 38(2), 215-232.

Nicholson-Goodman, J., & Paulston, R. G. (1996). Mapping/Remapping Discourse in Education Policy Studies (Occasional Paper No. 4). Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh.

Paulston, R. G. (1968). Educational Change in Sweden: Planning and Accetping the Comprehensive School Reforms. New York: Teachers College Press.

Paulston, R. G. (1971). Society, Schools and Progress in Peru (1st Edition ed.): Pergamon Printing.

Paulston, R. G. (1971). Education & Community Development in Peru: Problems at the Cultural Interface. Council on Anthropology and Education Newsletter, 2(2), 1-8.

Paulston, R. G. (1972). Cultural Revitalization and Educational Change in Cuba. Comparative Education Review, 16(3), 474-485.

Paulston, R. G. (1973). Non-formal Education: Praeger Publishers Inc.

Paulston, R. G. (1976). Conflicting Theories of Social and Educational Change: A Typological Review. Pittsburgh: University Center for International Studies.

Paulston, R. G. (1976). Ethnic Revival and Educational Conflict in Swedish Lapland. Comparative Education Review, 20(2), 179-192.

Paulston, R. G. (1976). Ethnicity and Educational Change: A Priority for Comparative Education. Comparative Education Review, 20(3), 269-277.

Paulston, R. G. (1977). Separate Education as an Ethnic Survival Strategy: The Finlandssvenska Case. Anthropology & Education Quarterly, 8(3), 181-188.

Paulston, R. G. (1977). Social and Educational Change: Conceptual Frameworks. Comparative Education Review, 21(2/3), 370-395.

Paulston, R. G. (1980). Education as Anti-Structure: Non-Formal Education in Social and Ethnic Movements. Comparative Education Review, 16(1), 55-66.

Paulston, R. G. (1980). Other Dreams, Other Schools: Folk Colleges in Social and Ethnic Movements. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.

Paulston, R. G. (1990). From Paradigm Wars to Disputatious Community. Comparative Education Review, 34(3), 395-400.

Paulston, R. G. (1997). The Perspectivist Turn in Comparative Education (Occasional Paper). Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh.

Paulston, R. G. (1999). Mapping Comparative Education after Postmodernity. Comparative Education Review, 43(4), 438-463.


Created: 3/16/2008

Updated: 3/17/2008

Contributed By: Matthew Hayden, Teachers College, Columbia University