Informational power manifests in the relationship between a provider, rather than a mere emissary, and a recipient. Informational power can result from a lack of shared understanding between the producer and the consumer of the information being disseminated or from the lack of a shared understanding between the international parties involved in its production. It is also characterized by an emphasis on the responsibility of providing information that leads to an effective decision-making. The perception herein is that to provide information is in essence empowering. Although this is a commonly held perception of empowerment within functionalist contexts where information is transmitted to mold the individual to “better function” within a given society, and “functional” is defined by the dominant culture, this perception is problematic. In the international context where rationalist conceptions such as context-bound considerations co-exist with realist conceptions informed by functionalism it is problematic to assume that the culture-bound information being passed is empowering to all who receive it regardless of their cultural context.[i]
There is a tendency for international institutions, and to some extent regional institutions, to place local governments at the mercy of their information by defining what successful institutions should look like, how policies should be crafted and implemented for better societal functioning, what constitutes good governance, how educational reform should look like, and so forth. This renders international institutions, both at the global and regional level, to a position of indispensable expertise, which makes them guardians of indispensable information.
For me, as an expert in comparative and international education, this should be disconcerting and a matter to be addressed. In my observation, the field of comparative and international education is at a cross-road of defining itself in regards to its agenda. This position of being at a cross-road, amidst the pressure of competition to accumulate informational power, would require that comparativists ask themselves very hard questions such as, ‘should we sponsor a perspective of international and of development education founded on the information era project [my own term] of creating information banks to inform the so-called developing world on educational policy formation and implementation, teacher training, curricula, good governance of educational and political institutions, literacy campaigns, peace education, etc.?’ or ‘should we embark on a learning experience and a campaign for equality of acceptance and equity of engagement of multi-contextual knowledges from the various ethno-geographic contexts about each of these issues?’ This is a matter to be tackled by those whose burden is to continue the legacy on which the field seems to have been founded, as many delight in citing Sadler’s analogy, of mutual learning amidst the pressure of competition for monopoly of expertise and intellectual colonialism [my term].
In summary, although not always recognized by those involved in negotiations over (educational) policy, informational power plays an important role in the fairness of negotiations. The more active role a party has in establishing an agreement, the more likely it is to actively participate as expert in bringing the terms of the agreement to fruition. The goal should be to have no provider and recipient, but co-sharers of information that has the same weight in value and utility.
[i] According to Moseley (2006) political rationalism emphasizes the employment of reason in social affairs: that is, individuals ought to submit to the logic and universality of reason rather than their own subjective or cultural preconceptions. Rationalists argue that reason unifies humanity politically, and hence it is a conducive vehicle to peace. Political realism is a theory of political philosophy that attempts to explain, model, and prescribe political relations. It takes as its assumption that power is (or ought to be) the primary end of political action, whether in the domestic or international arena. In the domestic arena, the theory asserts that politicians do, or should, strive to maximize their power, whilst on the international stage; nation states are seen as the primary agents that maximize, or ought to maximize, their power. The theory is therefore to be examined as either a prescription of what ought to be the case, that is, nations and politicians ought to pursue power or their own interests, or as a description of the ruling state of affairs-that nations and politicians only pursue (and perhaps only can pursue) power or self-interest.