Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Denise Mifsud, Foucault and School Leadership Research. Bridging Theory and Method, Bloomsbury Academic, 2017

Extract from the book

Foucault and School Leadership Research illustrates the application of Foucauldian theory to an educational leadership research context, thus staging the ways a researcher negotiates the methodological tensions and contradictions in the conduct of qualitative inquiry within education research.

The book draws on an empirical study of a multi-site school collaborative that investigates relations of power within the unfolding network among the various leadership hierarchies in school governance. The book is anchored around a narrative dramatization that the author, Denise Mifsud, crafts from her data, using the dramatic play as a medium to present her research findings so as to show rather than just tell readers about network leadership dynamics. Mifsud’s innovative use of dramatization to communicate her findings and analysis serves to problematize the representation of qualitative research, as well as to incorporate researcher interpretation and explicate the intertwining nature of theory and methodology. Through the use of Foucauldian theory, mainly his notions of webs of power, discipline, governmentality, discourse, and subjectification, the research narrative critiques and problematizes traditional understandings of educational leadership.

The book focuses on and demonstrates the challenging enterprise of the art of theory application in method by outlining the epistemological, operational and analytical challenges encountered: the application of Foucauldian concepts in education research contexts; the adaptation of methodological and theoretical concerns; in addition to showing how the quality of research outcomes is shaped by social theory.

Table of contents

1. Introduction: Setting the Stage for the Research Narrative
2. Foucauldian Props for Data Interpretation and Representation I
3. Foucauldian Props for Data Interpretation and Representation II
4. Data Analysis Choices and the Crisis of Representation
5. Data Analysis Choices and the Fictional Representation of Narrative
6. Raising the Curtain on Sunnyside College
7. The Performance of Collegiality
8. The Fluidity in the Emerging Relations of Power
9. The Unfolding of Leadership Distribution
10. Bringing Down the Curtain?
11. Presenting Conclusions and Theorisations: The Quasi-Final Stage


“There are now many books about Foucault. This book uses Foucault and takes on the spirit and style of his method to explore the practice of institutional leadership. Drawing on Foucault’s interest in absurdist drama, Mifsud’s study examines some of the dramas of institutional life. In doing so she throws down a challenge to the orthodoxes of qualitative method.” –  Stephen J. Ball FBA, Distinguished Service Professor of Sociology of Education, UCL Institute of Education, UK


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Barker, D., Quennerstedt, M.
Power and group work in physical education: A Foucauldian perspective
(2017) European Physical Education Review, 23 (3), pp. 339-353.

DOI: 10.1177/1356336X15620716

Group work is used in physical education (PE) to encourage student-directed, collaborative learning. Aligned with this aim, group work is expected to shift some power from teacher to students and enable students to make decisions and co-construct meaning on their own. There are, however, very few investigations focusing on power in group work situations in PE, with most research focusing on learning and content. Assumptions about the nature of power and its mechanisms have been largely implicit. The purpose of this paper was consequently to explore power relations in PE group work. To do this, we have drawn primarily on observational data of three groups working together to choreograph a dance performance in a Swedish PE lesson. A small amount of pre- and post-lesson interview material is used as a complementary data source. Michel Foucault’s notion of power as action-on-action is used to identify different types of power relations in this group work. Four specific kinds of relations are presented concerning: (1) the students’ task; (2) other cultures; (3) gender; and (4) interactions with one another. These relations suggest that power relations are not simply created locally between group members, nor are power relations only a function of the members’ proficiency in the task. In these respects, the results encourage a reconsideration of learning in group work and open up new avenues for further research. The paper is concluded with practical considerations that relate to common assumptions about student power, teacher authority and the potential benefit of ambiguous tasks in group work. © 2016, © The Author(s) 2016.

Author Keywords
Foucault; Group work; interaction; power relations

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Öhman, M.
Losing touch – Teachers’ self-regulation in physical education
(2017) European Physical Education Review, 23 (3), pp. 297-310.

DOI: 10.1177/1356336X15622159

The question of physical interaction is especially relevant in school physical education, where a lot of the teaching and activities are based on body movements. However, the issue of ‘touching’ has been questioned in recent years. This paper takes its starting point in the discourse of child protection and the growing anxiety around intergenerational touch in educational settings. The purpose is to examine PE teachers’ self-regulation in relation to the child protection discourse and no touch policies. What sort of strategies have the teachers developed for dealing with physical contact in their teaching? It is a matter of problematising teachers’ pedagogical interactions in PE practice. The study takes its starting point in a discourse-analytical tradition using a methodology based on Foucault’s ideas about governmentality. Twenty-three teachers (10 women and 13 men) aged 30–63 and at different stages in their careers were interviewed. The results show two different self-regulating processes: (1) adaptation using avoidance-oriented strategies and (2) resistance using downplaying-oriented strategies. The paper discusses potential consequences for PE teachers’ pedagogical work if they feel that they have to protect themselves instead of operating in a way that is in the best interest for students’ learning and development. The study aims to contribute to the literature on child protection and ‘no touch’ policies and to a more multifaceted understanding of physical interaction in PE. © 2016, © The Author(s) 2016.

Author Keywords
Foucault; Physical education; physical interaction; self-regulation; touching

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Paul Sutton, Lost souls? The demoralization of academic labour in the measured university, Higher Education Research & Development Vol. 36 , Iss. 3,2017
DOI: 10.1080/07294360.2017.1289365

In this conceptual paper, I contend that the soul of academic labour is becoming lost in performativity. Performativity, I explain, is a form of regulation and control that deploys technical rationality and judgements to incentivize and punish academics. Indeed, performativity is central to the culture of measurement within contemporary universities. This, I contend, is demoralizing academic labour as performativity only measures and values those dimensions of academic labour that can be captured by quantitative performance indicators. To critique this process, I firstly locate performativity within a moral economy perspective. I argue that the university economy is no longer structured by the moral norm of education as a public good. It has been restructured, commodified and marketized by neo-liberal capitalism. Secondly, I explore how the reorganization of institutional practices and academic identity within the university by performativity wreaks terror in the academic’s soul. Thirdly, I critique the unsatisfying post-structural reduction of the soul to a synonym for subjectivity and offer a sociological conception of the soul as the spiritual dimension of academic labour emerging from deep, rich social relations of production. My conjecture is that the soul is the moral energy and purpose central to species-being: the peculiarly human ability to transform the socio-human world for the good of all. Finally, I suggest that within the soulless technical measure of academic labour that now dominates the university lies the possibility for developing a more soulful normative measure. My aim then is to articulate a dialectical humanist conception of the soul of academic labour in order to critique the reductive positivism of the measured university.

KEYWORDS: Academic labour, dialectical humanism, performativity, soul, species-being

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Stephen J Ball, Neoliberal education? Confronting the slouching beast, Policy Futures in education, Volume: 14 issue: 8, page(s): 1046-1059
Article first published online: August 23, 2016;Issue published: November 1, 2016

DOI: 10.1177/1478210316664259

A major aim of this paper is to draw attention to the insidious manner in which the deficit discourse and practices associated with neoliberal reform are de- or re-professionalising educationists through an acculturation process. In the context of Ireland, as elsewhere, the author identifies how the three ‘technologies’ of Market, Management and Performance have inconspicuously but harmfully changed the subjective experience of education at all levels. It is argued that the power of privatisation in service delivery gives rise to change in education as part of a slow burn; how management is altering social connections and power relations to less democratic and caring forms, and how performativity and accountability agendas are radically undermining the professionalism of teachers in the hunt for measures, targets, benchmarks, tests, tables, audits to feed the system in the name of improvement. The paper adopts a personal tenor exhorting all educationists to become increasingly critically reflexive, politically aware and urging them to reawaken to their real educational work – the ethical and moral project that most signed up to but which has since become lost.

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O’Brien, Peter C. (2017). The adaptive professional: Teachers, school leaders and ethical-governmental practices of (self-) formation. Educational Philosophy and Theory, Pages 1-15 | Published online: 16 Jun 2017

DOI: 10.1080/00131857.2017.1339585

This article analyses the relations that teachers and school leaders establish with themselves and with others—especially those who would seek to govern them—through the professional and personal–professional activities that increasingly accompany pedagogical and administrative practice today. Specifically, the article seeks to analyse the conditions under which such ‘ethical-governmental’ relations have become possible and to clarify the lines of power, truth and ethics that are in play within them. In this way, it is argued, their intelligibility may be recovered; their contingencies disclosed. The article first posits a non-psychologised, ‘enfolded’ notion of the self on which analysis rests before turning to an analytics of (self-) government of the conditions themselves. An important element within this entanglement of diverse events, discourses, practices and foldings is the ensemble of policies and practices developed by the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership. The article argues that the programmes of this national agency are a salient and widespread force for acting upon teachers’ and school leaders’ self-constitution as a subject of their own actions—a subject which, in consequence, is enjoined to be more agile, self-reliant, engaged and entrepreneurial than its ‘routine-bound’ predecessors; a subject we describe as the ‘adaptive professional’.

Keywords: Self, ethics, governmentality, neoliberalism, professional standards

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Liz Kirwan* and Kathy Hall, The mathematics problem: the construction of a market-led education discourse in the Republic of Ireland, Critical Studies in Education,
Vol. 57, No. 3, 2016, 376–393.

DOI: 10.1080/17508487.2015.1102752

Educational change in the neoliberal state is permeated by the effects of forces from outside the field of education itself. The process of governmentality welcomes, indeed demands, the participation of those non-state actors valorised by neoliberalism as well as government agencies dedicated to the advancement of such groups. Inevitably, the concerns of such organisations become central to how the state sees education. This article traces the assembly of national and international agents from industry, business and special interest groups around the concept of ‘knowledge economy’. It treats this assemblage as an apparatus (dispositif), examining how the construction of an economic problem is brought to bear on the demand for educational change, and how this construction of the problem is used to shape public opinion in order to prepare the public for a radical change of direction. Confining itself to the reform of mathematics education introduced in the Republic of Ireland in 2010, this article traces the emergence of a mathematics discourse focused on market-led education. It interrogates the construction of ‘the mathematics problem’ or ‘crisis in maths’ and argues that the discourse of the present construction is economic in nature, centring as it does on human capital production and market-led reform.

Keywords: governmentality; human capital; Ireland; knowledge economy; market-led education; mathematics education; neoliberalism; Project Maths

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