Skip to main content

Swedish School Culture in Comparative Perspective

Research project
Inactive research
Project period
2001 - 2011
Project owner
The Department of Education and Special Education, University of Gothenburg

Riksbankens Jubileumsfond

Short description

The purpose of this research was to analyze Swedish school culture and to comprehend this culture in a comparative perspective – internationally and historically.

This was to be done in three parts

  • Studies in learning practices and organization of interaction in teaching
  • Studies in how learning in mathematics is constituted in interaction
  • International comparisons of learning practices and school cultures

This aim was formulated against the background of three research traditions; Curriculum theory and teaching as an institutionalized interaction process, based on specific linguistic patterns; Phenomenography and variation theory analyzing the teaching object in process and by that the potential for learning; and Comparative analyses of teaching over time and space.

Three most important results

Research in the KULT project has been demanding but intellectually and organizationally productive as can be noted in the large amount of publications presented from KULT and its extensions.

A first result was the development of sustainable international research cooperation and networking manifested in a large set of international seminars, symposia and workshops as well as in international copublishing (see the list of publications and websites.

A second result concerns international comparisons of maths educationbased on the international research cooperation out of which KULT played a part in different ways. We could show that the conclusions drawn from previous international comparisons werepremature and out of scope. For instance, the analyses within the international TIMSS-­‐R studies (Stigler & Hiebert, 1999, as a highly recognized example) was founded on too broad categorizations and too short teaching sequences, and their attempt to identify specific school cultures with certain “scripts” for teaching were not accurate according to Clarke et al (2008). Furthermore, Lindblad & Marton (2004) could show that there was a lack of content validity in the recordings of TIMSSR. These and other results of the LPS research was a result of the international cooperation in the LPS, but the contribution from the Swedish team was substantial in many ways.

Based on KULTdata we could also develop comparative analyses of maths education and how the teaching object is constituted in our school classes compared to corresponding activities in school classes in other countries such as in mainland China and the US. These analyses contribute to an increased understanding of differences in school results in mathsin different social and cultural contexts (see e.g. Clarke, Emanuelsson et al, 2006).

A third group of results is based on research on teaching processes and learning practices. In our research we have developed a more differentiated understanding of teaching by means of international and historical comparisons in tandem with the development of new tools for analyses of patterns in teaching processes (Reichenberg, 2012) and for microethnographic analyses of learning, as presented in a special issue in Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research (Sahlström, 2009). These results are based on the construction of a national and international database for studies on teaching and interaction in educational settings.

Based on the beforementioned studies we havealso develop a criticism of the previously predominant connection between national boundaries and school cultures as noted in the change of our title from “Swedish School Culture” to “School Cultures in Sweden”.  Considering these school cultures our analyses are presenting two predominant and interacting norms for teaching; one based on “traditional schooling practices” in teacherstudent interaction referring to questions and answers concerning a certain content, and one based on the experiences and interests among students e.g. corresponding to school progressivism and reform ideas. Given these norms there is an increased complexity, but also an increased flexibility and vulnerability in teaching processes and classroom interaction. An implication of these conflicting norms in interaction is potentially a development of a more advanced capacity to deal with more complex communication something hardly noted in international comparisons of school results.

New Research Questions

In research literaturesteaching is characterized as a highly stabilized and institutionalized interaction based on specific positions and actions. However, our research is presenting teaching as in many ways a complex and uncertain process. A fruitful and relevant question is then how this complexity and uncertainty is produced and managed in interaction. Of special importance is here the stabilization or dissolution of the teaching object and more unpredictable moments in the sequencing of teaching processes. A secondary, but important question is how potential turning points are identified and understood by the actors in the teaching process.

A second and complementary question concerns interaction outside teaching processessuch as student cooperation by means of social media. What is distinct in such interaction e.g. in terms of instruction and learning and how do such processes compare to interaction in teaching processes? This we consider important in order to understand potentials and traps in e.g. classroom interaction and vice versa.

Choice of two publications

We have chosen two articles by younger researchers. These texts present interesting findings and potential for further research.

The first article is an international comparative study emanating from a wellknown critique (Sfard, 1998) of the distinction in two metaphors in research on learning as acquisition or as participation. Instead of leaning to one of these metaphors,a detailed analysis, based on variation theory and conversation analysis, is carried out (jfr Marton, 2009):

  • Emanuelsson, J & Sahlström, F. (2008). The price of participation. Teacher Control versus StudentParticipation in Classroom Interaction.

The article is presenting significant differences in teaching processes, based on similar mathematical content, in a school class in the US and in Sweden, considering student participation and teacher control. It is explaining these differences and discussing alternative paths of development. These results are of considerable importance tounderstand the design of teaching in mathematics and the practical principles that serve as the basis for classroom interaction.

The second article is based on historical comparisons of classroom interaction in Sweden (Lindblad et al, 2011) and the fact that later interaction seems to be more complex and contingent in sequencing. In the text an analytical tool for capturing interaction sequences based on a systemtheoretical and conversationanalytic basis:

  • Reichenberg, O. (2012): A sequential analysis ofassessment in classroom interaction.

Expected relations between different events are compared to actual connections in classroom interaction how such processes are stabilized or collapsing and the importance of assessment 4 in this respect. This text – though in an early stage – is conceived of as being of importance in the development of analyses of extended classroom interaction.



The list is divided into three sections. The first consists of texts published in the context of the KULT project. The second section is the publications in the wake of KULT and accounted for "the Learner Perspective Study". The third section consists of doctoral theses and texts published in relation to these theses. These publications can generally be linked to those of VR finaninsierade projects ' Interaction-­‐learning-­‐Education "and" Education resources and educational attainment in the Late modern society "

Alexandersson,. M., Huang, R., & Marton., F. (2002) Why the content should be kept invariant when comparing teaching in the same subject in different classes, in different countries. Paperpresented at the meetings of the AERA, April 1-5, 2002, New Orleans, U.S.A.

Clarke, D., Emanuelsson, J., Mok, I. & Jablonka, J. (2006). The Learner’s Perspective Study and International Comparisons of Classroom Practise. In D., Clarke, J., Emanuelsson, E., Jablonka & I., Mok (Eds.) Making Connections: Comparing Mathematics Classrooms Around the World: Rotterdam: Sense Publishers

Clarke, D., Sahlström, F. Mitchell, C., & Clarke, N. (2004) Optimising the use of available technology in educational research. In V. Uskov (Ed.) Computers and Advanced Technology in Education, pp. 191-197. Calgary: Acta Press

Emanuelsson, J., Häggblom, J., Häggström, J., Liljestrand, J., Lindblad, S., Marton, F., Runesson, U. & Sahlström, F. (2002): The way we do things in Sweden: On school cultures and maths lessons from different perspectives. Presentation to the Learner’s Perspective Study symposium in Melbourne, December 2002.

Emanuelsson, J., & Sahlström, F. (2006) Same from the outside - different on the inside. On interaction in Swedish mathematics classrooms. In C. Clarke, C. Keitel & Y. Shimizu (Eds.) Mathematics Classrooms in 12 countries: The Insider's Perspective. Dordrecht: Sense.

Emanuelsson, J & Sahlström, F. (2008). The price of participation. Teacher Control versus Student Participation in Classroom Interaction. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 52(2), 205-223.

Emanuelsson, J. (2008). The everyday mathematical reasoning of young children. Paper presented at AERA 2008, New York

Heikkilä, M & Sahlström, F. (2003). Om användning av videoinspelning i fältarbete [On the use of
video recordings in fieldwork]. Pedagogisk Forskning i Sverige, 8(1-2), 24-41.

Liljestrand, J. & Sahlström, F. (2003): High and low – on the construction of understanding in a Swedish mathematics classroom. Paper presented at NERA, Kopenhagen, Mars 2003

Lindblad, S. (2001): Researching Swedish School Culture: Notions on classroom interaction. contexts and cultures of schooling. Presentation of a Swedish research project to Learner’s Perspective Study Teamin Durban January 27/28, 2002, following the 2002 SAARMSTE Conference

Lindblad, S. (2002): Notes on the construction of teaching and learning in international comparative studies: LPS, PISA and TIMSS. Paper presented at the LPS meeting in New Orleans, March 2002.

Lindblad, S. (2003): The new utopians: On international assesment and the construction of schooling. A contribution to the symposium ”Curriculum and globalization: An international perspective” at the AERA meeting in Chicago 21-25 April 2003.

Lindblad, S. (2006): The education system and mathematics education in Sweden. In D., Clarke, C.
Keitel & Y. Shimizu (Eds) Mathematics Classrooms in 12 countries: The Insider's Perspective.
Rotterdam: Sense Publishers. (Similar paper also presented at AERA 2007)

Lindblad, S., & Marton, F. (2004). What is compared in comparative studies? Paper presented at PME, Bergen.

Lindblad, S., & Sahlström, F. (2002): From teaching to interaction: On recent changes in the perspectives and approaches to classroom research. Current Issues in Classroom Research: practices, praises and perspectives conference, Oslo, May 22-24 2002.

Lindblad, S., & Sahlström, F. (2003): Contexts in classroom research: concepts and research strategies. A contribution to the symposium ”Classroom research methods” at the NERA
meeting in Copenhagen 6-9 March 2003.

Marton, F. ; Tsui, A. (2004). Classroom discourse and the space of learning. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Marton, F., Runesson,. U., & Tsui, A. B. M. (2004) The space of learning. In Marton, F., & Tsui, A. B. M Tsui (Eds.). Classroom discourse and the space of learning.

Sahlström, F (2003) Turfördelning i undervisning – organisation och interaktionella implikationer. I Leelo Keevallik Eriksson, Bengt Nordberg, Kerstin Thelander & Mats Thelander (Red.) Grammatik och samtal. Skrifter utg. av Institutionen för nordiska språk vid Uppsala universitet

Sahlström, F. (2004) På återbesök hos klassrumsforskningens klassiker. Kapitel i A-L. Østern & R.
Heilä-Ylikallio (Red.) Språk som kultur - brytningar i tid och rum. Rapport från Pedagogiska Fakulteten vid Åbo Akademi nr 11, ss 177-192.


Publications in the continuation of the CULT project

Emanuelsson, J. & Gallos Cronberg, F. (2011). Students’ private work in mathematics classrooms of competent teachers in Sweden, Philippines and Japan: Are these adidactical situations? Presented as part of the symposium: The performative realisation of competence in Asian and Western mathematics classrooms at the EARLI conference in Exeter, August 30- September 3, 2011.

Emanuelsson, J. & Häggström, J. (2008.) Algebra teaching and classroom evaluation in the west and the east: A comparative study of classroom interaction in relation to algebraic tasks. Paper presented at AERA 2008, New York

Emanuelsson, J., Fainsilber, L., Häggström, J., Kullberg, A., Lindström, B. & Löwing, M. (red.) (2011). Voices on learning and instruction in mathematics. Göteborg: Nationellt centrum för matematikutbildning. ISBN/ISSN: 978-91-85143-20-7

Erlandsson, P., Harling, M & Reichenberg Carlström, O. (2009) The school class as a new social system. Paper presented at the 2009 ECER in Vienna.

Foss Lindblad, R. & Lindblad, S. (2009): Informing about education under a performative turn: What is the Game and what are the Arts of its Practices? Paper presented at the 2009 ECER in Vienna

Foss Lindblad, R. ; Lindblad, S. (2010). Invitations to contextualizing teaching and learning: International and comparative studies on classroom interaction. Presentation at the LPS meeting in Melbourne, December 6-10, 2010.

Gallos Cronberg, F. & Emanuelsson, J. (2010). Adidactical situations in mathematics classrooms in the Philippines, Sweden and Japan. Presentation at the Learner’s Perspective Study December Conference, Melbourne, Australia

Gallos Cronberg, F. & Emanuelsson, J. (in progress). Marlin’s Voice. Book chapter proposed for the Sense LPS book series.

Gallos Cronberg, F. & Emanuelsson, J. (in progress). Students´private work in mathematics classrooms of competent teachers in Sweden Phillipines and Japan: Are theses adidactival situations? Book chapter proposed for the Sense LPS book series.

Hansen, M. Lindblad, S. (2010): Classroom Studies in Educational Research Discourses. Presentation at the Classroom Interaction Symposium at NFPF in Malmö. March 2010.

Harling, M. Hansen, M. & Lindblad, S. (2008): From studenting to teaching: On the persistence of recitation in classroom interaction 1968-2003. Paper presented at the EERA 2008 meeting in Gothenburg

Lindblad, S. (2011): "Interaktion-Lärande-Undervisning”: En plattform för studier av pedagogiska praktiker", (Interaction – Learning – Teaching: A platform for studies of Educational Practices). Resultatdialog 2012 (2011): 90-92.

Lindblad, S. (2011): Agora and education in transition: Explorations of significant spaces in the making of education. In Kusch, J. (ed): Knowledge, differences and identity in the time of globalization. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholas Publication

Lindblad, S.; Reichenberg Carlström, O; Harling, M. et al. (2011). Classroom Interaction in Changing Contexts: Positions and Practices Performed in Recordings from 1960s into 2000s.. AERA 2011 meeting program: Inciting the Social Imagination.

Martin, C. & Sahlström, F. (2010). Learning as Longitudinal Interactional Change: From Other-repair to Self-repair in Physiotherapy Treatment. Discourse Processes, 47, pp. 1–30.

Marton, F (2009): Beyond learning as changing participation. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, vol 53, No 2, p 211-215

Marton, F., & Morris, P. (Eds.). What matters? Discovering critical conditions of classroom learning. Göteborg Studies in Educational Sciences, nr 181 Göteborg: Acta Universitatis Gothoburgensis.

Melander, H. & Sahlström, F (2010). Lärande i interaktion. Stockholm: Liber

Melander, H. & Sahlström, F. (2011): Process eller produkt? Om samtalsanalysen möjligheter att studera lärande i interaktion. I R. Säljö (red) Lärande och minnande som social praktik. Stockholm: Norstedts.

Nilsson, R & Emanuelsson, J (submitted) Students’ Voice: The Interactive Construction of Interest in Mathematics Classroom. Book chapter proposed for the Sense LPS book series Niss, M., Emanuelsson, J. & Nyström, P. (in press). Methods for studying mathematics teaching and learning internationally. Third International Handbook of Mathematics Education

Odenbring, Y. (2011). Gender Constructions in Children’s Verbal and Bodily Interactions. AERA Online Paper Repository

Odenbring, Y. (2011). Gender Constructions in Children’s Verbal and Bodily Interactions. Detta paper presenterades vid American Educational Research Association (AERA), New Orleans, 8-12 april, 2011. Publicerat i AERA Online Repository.

Odenbring, Y. (2011). Ordning och reda och kön. Förskoletidningen 1(36), 35-39.

Odenbring, Y. (2011). Shock Absorbers and Sub-Teachers: Cracks in the Wall or Stable Gender Patterns in the Preschool Class? Presented at the ECER konferensen i Berlin, 13-16 september, 2011.

Odenbring, Y. (under produktion). Könade kategoriseringar i samtal: könskonstruktioner i förskoleklassen. (Kommer att publiceras i Norsk pedagogik - temanummer om Utbildning och kön, 2012). Popkewitz, T. & Lindblad, S. (manus): Statistics Reasoning, Governing Education and Social Inclusion/Exclusion.

Reichenberg, O. (2012): A sequential analysis of assessment in classroom interaction. (Submitted)

Sahlström, F. & Melander, H. (2011): Lärande i ett samtalsanalytiskt perspektiv, i M. Jensen (red.) Lärandets grunder - teorier och perspektiv, 185-202. Lund: Studentlitteratur.

Sahlström, F. (2008) Trettiofem sidor klarsyn. Kapitel i K.-A. Petersen & M. Høyen (red.) At sætte spor på en vandring fra Aquinas till Bourdieu - æresbog til Staf Callewaert, s. 191-198. Köpenhamn: Hexis.

Sahlström, F. (2011). Learning in action: on the oriented-to developmental aspects of children’s interaction in different settings, in L2 Interactional Competence and Development, edited by: Joan Kelly Hall, John Hellermann, Simona Pekarek Doehler and David Olsher. Multilingual Matters ltd. Pp45-65

Sahlström, F. (2011). Vad händer egentligen i klassrummet? [What really happens in the classroom?] Chapter in S-E Hansén & L Forsman (Eds). Allmändidaktik – vetenskap för lärare [General didactics – science for teachers], pp. 185-204. Lund: Studentlitteratur.

Sahlström, F. (2012). “The truth lies in the detail”. On epistemic positioning in classroom interaction. In Baljit Kaur (Ed.): Understanding teaching and learning: Classroom research revisited. In memory of Graham Nuthall. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers

Sahlström, F. , Melander, H. & Sundblad, M. (2008) "Jag tror jag fattar" Epistemic stance displays in classroom interaction. Paper presented at NERA 2008, Copenhagen, March.

Sahlström, F., Hummelstedt, I., Forsman, L., Pörn, M. Slotte-Lüttge, A. (2010) Samma innehåll – olika sammanhang: mikro-longitudinellt lärande i sjuåringars vardag. Språk och interaktion, 2. Nordica Helsingiensia


Doctoral theses and masters theses based on the CULT-°©‐the project's database, but with other financiers

Häggström. J. (2008). Teaching systems of linear equations in Sweden and China: What is made possible to learn? (Ph. D. Thesis). Göteborg: Acta Universitatis Gothoburgensis.

Johansson, M. (2006): Teaching Mathematics with Textbooks. A Classroom and Curricular Perspective. Doctoral Thesis 2006: Luleå University of Technology

Odenbring, Y. (2010). Kramar, kategoriseringar och hjälpfröknar. Könskonstruktioner i interaktion i förskola, förskoleklass och skolår ett. (Gothenburg Studies in Educational Sciences, 292).


Publications as part of doctoral theses based on CULT project but not funded by RJ

Gallos Cronberg, F. (2011). Seminar for PhD students on the use of the Studiocode applications for data organization and analysis.

Harling, M & Reichenberg Carlström, O. (2009) School performance and the politics of identity - analyses on difference-making and competence in classroom interaction. Paper presented at the 37th Annual Congress of the Nordic Educational Research Association (NERA), Network 22: Politics of Education and Education Policy Studies, Trondheim, Norway, March 5-7, 2009.

Häggblom, J. (2005). From digital tapes to analogue drives. On the development of methods and techniques for classroom interaction research. D-uppsats, Uppsala universitet: Pedagogiska Institutionen

Häggström, J. (2006). The introduction of new content: what is possible to learn? In D. Clarke, J.

Emanuelsson, E. Jablonka, & I. A. C. Mok, Making connections: comparing mathematics classrooms around the world (pp. 185-200). Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

Häggström, J. (2007). The same topic - Different opportunities to learn. In C. Bergsten & B. Grevholm (Eds), Developing and researching quality in mathematics teaching and learning. Proceedings of

MADIF5 - The 5th Swedish Mathematics Education Research Seminar, Malmö, January 24-25, 2006 (pp. 69-79). Linköping: SMDF.

Häggström, J. (in progress). Different opportunities to learn: the case of simultaneous equations. Book chapter proposed for the Sense LPS book series

Häggström. J. (2006, March). Interaction on mathematics. Paper presented at Symposium for Classroom research and ethnographic studies at NERA/NFPF Congress 2006 (Nordic Educational Research Association), in Örebro, Sweden.

Häggström. J. (2008, March). Bringing back mathematics into research on mathematics teaching. Paper presented at Forskningssymposium om lärande och undervisning i matematik, 10-11 mars 2008 (Research symposia on teaching and learning of mathematics), in Göteborg, Sweden. (Published in the proceedings)

Melander, H. (2010): Trajectories of Learning. Presentation at the Classroom Interaction Symposium at NFPF in Malmö. March 2010

Nilsson, R. (2009). An Empirical Study on Interest in Classroom Settings Presentation at a doctoral student workshop Lärande-Undervisning-Matematik (University of Gothenburg, LUM)

Nilsson, R. (2010). How to Approach the Interactive Contruction of Interest Paper presented at the Nordic Conference on Mathematics Education, May 11th - 14th 2011 (NORMA11)

Nilsson, R. (2010). Räkna med intresse. [Calculate with interest] Poster presentation at the Annual Conference for doctoral students (The University of Gothenburg, CUL)

Nilsson, R. (2011). Interest as an Interactive Construction in Swedish Settings. Presentation at a doctoral student workshop Forskarstuderande Lärande Undervisning i och om Matematik (The University of Gothenburg, FLUM)

Nilsson, R. (2011). Interest in Mathematics Classrooms. Planning seminar at the yearly post grad conference, University of Gothenburg, Faculty of Education

Nyman, Rimma (2012): Two contributions: (a) “What do students attend to? Task-related attention during student-teacher interaction in Swedish settings” Abstract accepted for oral presentation. (b) Task related attention during student-teacher interaction in Swedish mathematics classrooms. Paper. To the University of South Africa, Institute for Science and Technology Education International Conference (ISTE 2012), 21 - 25 October 2012: "Towards effective teaching and meaningful learning in Mathematics, Science and Technology"

Odenbring, Y. & Öhrn, E. (2008). Crossing and borderwork. On gender relations in preschool class. ECER konferensen i Göteborg, 11-13 september, 2008.

Odenbring, Y. (2006). “I want to be the Sleeping Beauty!”: Pre-school children’s constructions of gender. ECER konferensen i Genève, 13-16 september, 2006.

Odenbring, Y. (2006). Previous empirical gender research among young children. NERAs kongress i Örebro 9-11 mars, 2006.

Odenbring, Y. (2007). Ordning, disciplin och genus i förskoleklass. NERAs kongress i Åbo, 15-17 mars, 2007.

Odenbring, Y. (2010). “How do you love most?” Body, intamicy and love. Gender constructions in preschool class and the first grade (presentationstitel). ECER-konferensen i Helsingfors 25-27 augusti, 2010.

Odenbring, Y. (2010). Constructions of gender in preschool, prechoolclass and primary school. NERAs kongress i Malmö 11-13 mars, 2010.

Reichenberg Carlström, O. (2009): Om institutionella förändringar, klassrumsinteraktion och konstruktion av elevers identiteter - Jämförande studier av en lektion 1968 och en lektion 2003. Examensarbete vid lärarutbildningen i Göteborg:

Reichenberg Carlström, O. (2010). Risk and double contingency in the politics of learning. Paper presented at the 38th Annual Congress of the Nordic Educational Research Association (NERA)

Reichenberg Carlström, O. (2011). The difference between knowing/not knowing in the school class. The sequencing of Continuous Assessment. Paper presented at the EERA meeting in Berlin, September 2011