Steering Dynamics in Complex Education Systems. An Agenda for Empirical Research (2016)

Theisens, H., Hooge, E., Waslander, S.
Steering Dynamics in Complex Education Systems. An Agenda for Empirical Research
(2016) European Journal of Education, 51 (4), pp. 463-477.

DOI: 10.1111/ejed.12187

Many policy systems and education systems have grown more complex in the last three decades. Power has moved away from central governments in different directions: upwards towards international organisations, sideways towards private institutions and non-governmental organisations and downwards towards local governments and public enterprises such as schools. Where once we had central government, we now have governance, which can be defined as the processes of establishing priorities, formulating and implementing policies, and being accountable in complex networks with many different actors. Steering in such complex education systems emerges from the activities, tasks and responsibilities of state and non-state actors, operating at different levels and from different positions and often has un-deliberate, un-intentional and un-foreseen consequences. There are many conceptual models that encapsulate this complexity, but this article suggests that there is a real need for empirical research. Without empirical research it remains unknown whether and how steering in complex networks works out in practice, what are its effects and for whom. Moreover, it is only through empirical research that we can find out whether central government has become less dominant, or rather whether its appearance has changed and it has become less visible, but not necessarily less influential. Foucault’s governmentality perspective is a useful notion on which to build such a framework for empirical research which allows for a careful study of the interactions that signify steering. Inspired by Foucault, this article develops a trilogy of assumed conditions for steering to take effect in modern societies. Following this reasoning, ‘something’ first needs to be made thinkable, calculable and practicable by different actors for steering to occur. This trilogy is a promising starting point for empirical research into very specific phenomena which can help us to understand how steering in complex education systems works. © 2016 John Wiley & Sons Ltd

Author Keywords
complexity; education; Governance; governmentality; steering

Education Journal articles

Government of Self, Government of Others (2017)

International Conference
Ethical and political questions in the late Foucault


6-8 March 2017
IFILNOVA – EPLab / FCSH – Philosophy Department
I&D Multiusos 2-3, Av. Berna 26C, Lisbon


Michel Foucault’s last lecture series at Collège de France constitute a unity that testifies a shift in his thought. This shift deepens and expands the course of his preceding works concerning the genealogy of subjectivity, while, at the same time, adding to it a significant ethical and political dimension. Foucault returns to the practices of the self in antiquity and looks at the birth of the techniques of truth that allow us to understand how the Western subject has developed from the creation of particular relationships with its own body and other subjectivities. At the same time, these courses put in evidence the relationship between truth and power which lies at the core of Western forms of power and even Western democracy, thus inciting us to question our current political environment and face some political challenges of our time.

Finally, Foucault’s concern in these last years with the technologies of ethical self-formation through what he calls “care of the self” sheds new light on his philosophical endeavor as a whole and situates his reflections at the center of contemporaneous moral debates.
On the occasion of the 35th anniversary of The Hermeneutics of the Subject (1981-1982) and celebrating the conclusion of the publication of all the lecture courses from the 1980s – from On the Government of the Living (1979-1980) to The Courage of Truth (1984) -, this conference aims to (re)launch the critical debate on the last stage of Foucault’s thought, evaluating in what way and to which extent the perspectives that Foucault offers in this period might help us to unravel modernity and also give us tools to ethically and politically understand and transform our present.

Keynote Speakers
Judith Rével (Université Paris Ouest Nanterre)
João Constâncio (Universidade Nova de Lisboa)
Philippe Sabot (Université de Lille)
Luca Lupo (Universitá della Calabria)
Ernani Chaves (Universidade Federal do Pará)

Marta Faustino, Gianfranco Ferraro, Luís de Sousa

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