The Politics of Competencies: policy trajectory study of the re-contextualisation of the 2009-2011 competency-based curricular reform of Mexican primary education

Rosanne Elisabeth Tromp
University of East Anglia, School of International Development
September 2016

In this thesis I study the politics of the re-contextualisation of the Mexican 2009-2011 competency-based curricular reform to primary education, aiming to understand the processes of “complex contestation, resistances and refractions at play between policy text production and practice” (Rizvi &Lingard, 2010, p. 84). Increasingly, education policy ideas such as competency-based education emanate from the global field. It is less clear how and why these are re-contextualised in local conditions, and ultimately connected to either trends towards homogenisation or heterogenisation of education practices. I argue that the re-contextualisation of education policy needs to be studied at countries’ (sub)national scales to understand how curricular approaches that draw on global discourses and imaginaries are re-contextualised differently.

Drawing on the post-structuralist work of Ball (cf. 1994, 2012), Buenfil-Burgos (cf. 2000) and Rizvi &Lingard (cf. 2010), I apply a policy trajectory study to trace the processes of interpretation and enactment of the idea of competencies by different actors both ‘vertically’ (at international, national, state and school scales) and ‘horizontally’ (in the states of Michoacan and Durango). This allows for an understanding of the curricular reform as being given meaning and enacted within multiple and contested discourses that are informed by different social imaginaries, as it was struggled over at different scales and in different contexts. The analysis focused on the idea of competencies as a floating signifier and suggests that its meaning was fixed, first, within different competency discourses to produce heterogeneous curricular texts. Second, key interpreters, such as teachers’ unions, played a significant role by representing the meaning of competencies differently at different scales and contexts. And, third, meanings of competencies changed through its enactment within the different material and political contexts of teachers’ classrooms. The research suggests that these processes produced heterogeneous competency practices.

I contribute to the study of the re-contextualisation of education policies that draw on global education imaginaries by expanding the methodological tools of a policy trajectory study and applying it in Latin America. The findings have implications for understanding the politics of the re-contextualisation of education policies as an active struggle to define the meaning of floating signifiers by key interpreters, and by allowing a better understanding of the role of political and material contexts in producing unique meanings, practices and outcomes at the (sub)national scales.

Thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy

University of East Anglia, School of International Development

September 2016

Affiliation and contact details: Postdoctoral Research Fellow | Free University of Amsterdam | Faculty of Law, Constitutional and Administrative Law | tel. nr. +31(0)642951080 email: