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Dramatic encounters: My methodological engagement with Foucault [PART 2]

Published in Foucault, Latest Posts, Method by Denise Mifsud on January 30, 2016

image by Wackystuff

image by Wackystuff

This carries on from the previous blog post that explored policy reception in terms of decentralised neoliberalism and/or masked re-centralisation. Part 2 will now demonstrate borrowing from Foucault’s notions of discourse and governmentality.

A taste of the methodology … and unconventional mode of data representation …

Narrative is both the phenomenon under exploration and the methodological approach adopted for analysis, as well as being the mode for data representation. I craft a narrative dramatization from my data by collating testimonials from the interviews and observed meeting, inserting the policy document as the character FACT in order to bring out the contrast between what is actually happening and what should be happening – the ‘policy to practice trajectory’ (Ball 2006). Besides inserting myself directly in the drama as Narrator, I also insert myself as the Interpreter who explores what is going on with Foucault, another character, obviously using his theories. Instead of just presenting a Foucauldian interpretation of my data in prose form, I insert Foucault as a character on stage involved in a discussion with the Interpreter (one of my selves).

Neoliberal College, that provides the context for my research setting, is made up of a number of primary and secondary schools. The participants are all given the female gender and referred to numerically as Policy Actors (PA1, PA2, etc.), except for the Principal who has to be identified (as GP – The Governing Principal) due to the purposes of my research.

Policy ‘reception’: An enactment of the leaders’ responses

Narrator: These scenes unfold in the boardroom of Neoliberal College, which is represented on stage by a large oval table around which all the leaders are seated, with the Governing Principal occupying the chair at the head of the table. The Interpreter and Foucault occupy a seat on the landing of the left-hand side flight of steps leading to the auditorium.

Scene: (Non-) autonomy

Narrator: The Policy Actors discuss the degree of autonomy present in Neoliberal College, their understanding of this concept differing from that of the Governing Principal in distinct ways.

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GP: Are you telling me that you would have been better off on your own, not belonging to Neoliberal College, not having me as your Principal? I regard you as the college in this way – it is as if we bought a house with seven rooms. Each room is different from the other. You all know that at the beginning, I worked a lot on maintaining respect for autonomy, ethos, school culture…those are still going to be kept…you still have them. The fact that we have become a college does not mean that you have to divest yourself and become how someone else wants you to be. Every school had to remain autonomous and that’s how I believe you all are.

PA2: Autonomy? I still have to see it being born! I cannot even organize Prize Day the way I like – it has to conform to the Principal’s standards and be similar to that of the other college schools.

FACT: Whilst retaining their individual identities, the schools within the network would be co-ordinated by a leading facilitator. In this way, ideal school networking should lead to the development of autonomous educational institutions, working within an agreed framework of performance, accountability and outcomes. (41)[1]

Interpreter: The school leader is ultimately mobilized as the protagonist who will ‘transform’ and ‘deliver’ what is required for a successful outcome[2], with limited scope for improvisation. This transforms one into a regulatory tool of the State[3], with an accompanied erosion of professional autonomy.

PA1: The schools are not autonomous; I would not want to say that they are never autonomous! When it comes to the School Development Plan[4], I’m supposed to cater for the individual needs of my school. But if the Principal imposes the inclusion of healthy eating, of eco-school, of literacy, of Assessment for Learning[5]…how many items can be included? I then end up not catering for my school’s basic needs!

Narrator: The issue of autonomy remains a bone of contention at both school and college level.

FACT: This is a system where the autonomy of schools and the decentralization of services are expected to assume an increasing profile. (25)

Interpreter: It seems that the Principal has a different understanding of ‘degrees of autonomy’ than what is understood by the Heads. There is a clash between how educational leadership discourse is ‘performed’ in schools, and how the schools are ‘positioned’ by the educational leadership discourse in the FACT policy. An example in point is that the agenda of the School Development Plan is dictated by the Principal.

FACT has not maintained its promise of decentralization, as although school leaders respect the different levels of leadership present, there is an expressed wish for more school autonomy. Due to the interference by the Principal, belonging to the college may be regarded as ‘a mechanism for increased surveillance’[6]. The FACT policy made false promises as rather than giving more autonomy gradually, the Heads complain about having none at all! The Principal embraces the discourse of autonomy. Her exercise of leadership as narrated by the Heads (PA2 and PA1), however, is an open contradiction of the FACT discursive framework which is the Principal’s ‘regime of truth’ as you [turning to Foucault] yourself describe.[7]

Foucault: The Heads are subject to her ‘normalizing judgement’[8] which aims at conformity, thus generating more homogeneity within the college.

______________________________

Conclusions and implications: Suggestions for a possible dethroning of the reigning neoliberal hegemony?

If you want to read more, you can download a free copy of my full article by clicking on the following link: http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/PImd4G3s4qzJjaStDCdn/full

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List of References:

Ball, S.J. 2006. Education Policy and Social Class: Selected Works. London: Routledge.

Ball, S. J., Maguire, M. and Braun, A. 2012. How Schools do Policy: Policy Enactments in Secondary Schools. London: Routledge.

Foucault, M. 1991. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. London: Penguin Books.

Foucault, M. 2002. “Truth and Power.” In Michel Foucault. Power. Vol 3, edited by J. D. Faubion, 111-133. London: Penguin Books.

Gunter, H. 2012. Leadership and the Reform of Education. Bristol: The Policy Press.

Honan, E. 2004. “(Im)Plausibilities: A Rhizo-Textual Analysis of Policy Texts and Teachers’ Work.” Educational Philosophy and Theory 36 (3): 267-281.

Ministry of Education, Youth and Employment. 2005. For all Children to Succeed: A New Network Organization for Quality Education in Malta. Malta: Ministry of Education, Youth & Employment.

Sullivan, H. and C. Skelcher. 2002. Collaborating across Boundaries. London: Sage.

[1] The bracketed numbers following each intervention by FACT refer to the actual pages of the policy booklet from where they have been taken.

[2] (Gunter 2012)

[3] (Honan 2004, Ball et al. 2012)

[4] The ‘School Development Plan’ [SDP] is drawn up by the Head of each individual school together with the other SMT (School Management Team) members, according to the needs of their school.

[5] [AfL]

[6] (Sullivan and Skelcher 2002)

[7] (2002, 132)

[8] (1991, 177)

About


Denise MifsudDr. Denise Mifsud is a full-time lecturer in education at the University of the West of Scotland. Previous to that, she was involved in the Maltese education field for the past sixteen years as teacher of English in secondary schools, and then as a lecturer at FE level, where she moved on to a deputy headship position. She has very recently been awarded her PhD by the University of Stirling. Research areas of interest include educational policy analysis, generation, reception and enactment; leadership theories, with a particular interest in educational leadership, especially distributed forms; school networks and educational reform; power relations; Foucauldian theory; Actor-Network theory, as well as qualitative research methods, with a particular focus on narrative, as well as creative and unconventional modes of data representation.

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