The Translation and Circulation of “Evidence”

Obviousness, Demonstration, and Effect in Educational Research in Germany and England


  • Susann Hofbauer
  • Peter Kelly
  • Anna Beck


Evidence, Educational Research Cultures, Obviousness, Visibility, Translation, Circulation


In current educational research communications, especially in English and increasingly also in German publications, the term “evidence” refers to international homogenizing gold standards and is often linked to European evidence policies, large scale assessments and justified and proven knowledge. Against the background of international communication and the related circulation of terms and concepts, this paper analyses German and English OECD publications that recommend the development of educational research in 1970s and 90s. In England, the OECD and thus the external perception of their own education system hardly played a significant role due to years of awareness of the need for reform. Rather, Hargreaves's lecture (1996) about the disappointing effects of educational research when compared with the achievements of evidence-based medicine was decisive for the evidence movement. In addition, non-university institutions have gained legitimacy through acting as “evidence” providers for the school system. Based on analyses of German educational research literature, we show that “evidence” appeared in neurological, medical, technological, and economic texts in the 90s and early 2000s. Usage of “evidence” increased after the PISA shock in 2000 and is now linked to the expression of disciplinary development into empirical educational research. However, based on relatively stable patterns of communication and interpretation in two academic cultures, it is shown that the connectivity of an epistemological term like “evidence” does not necessarily reduce misunderstanding.