In this post, Donald Gillies talks about his forthcoming book Educational Leadership and Michel Foucault (Routledge, July 2013)…

The origins of this book were serendipitous. I gave a paper at the ECER conference in Helsinki  in 2010 where I used  a Foucauldian approach to critique certain neoliberal concepts which I had identified as emerging within educational discourse. The session happened to be one where Bob Lingard and Fazal Rizvi were presenting some data from their excellent book Globalizing education policy which was not long published. As a result the session was well attended and so my own work reached a wider audience than the normal (two Foucauldians and a stray delegate).

The following week I was at BERA in Warwick and two people who had been in Helsinki approached me and mentioned that they were putting together a new book series for Routledge where they wished to bring social theory to bear on the field of educational leadership and management. One they had in mind was from a Foucauldian perspective and they asked if I would be interested. Others in the series (so far) look at leadership from the theoretical positions of Bourdieu, Arendt, Fraser, and Derrida/Lyotard. Rashly I agreed – rashly, because although I was confident enough about the Foucault element, I had erased from my memory the pain I had previously experienced when ploughing through leadership texts. Nevertheless, the die was cast. As Routledge already had a book on the stocks on a similar theme – the excellent study by Richard Niesche, Michel Foucault and educational leadership – I had a bit of work to do to convince the publishers that my angle would be new and not repetitive. Richard’s book is based on empirical studies whereas in mine I wanted to critique the discourse more conceptually, using Foucault’s tools to do so.

I think what I most relished was the opportunity to position educational leadership as a discourse – a constructed view of the educational world – and so probe its contingent formation, its assumptions, and perspectives. I did not have a strong view of what this would result in and so the project was something of a journey of discovery for me.  The fundamental reliance of leadership discourse on the concept of assessment and evaluation was what was most striking –  how it operates in a powerful disciplinary way. This was not how I had originally imagined the field to be. However, this crucial element of performative accountability is actually central to the discourse. I also enjoyed probing how ‘leaders’ position themselves, how they form themselves in alignment with this discourse and this whole concept fits very well with Foucault’s focus on technologies of the self, on subjectivation. Indeed, I am hoping to pursue this in an empirical study commencing in the autumn where this phenomenon will be examined in much closer detail through empirical research around the lived experience of those in educational leadership roles – how they self-create as leaders and what ethical criteria they exercise in this practice – Donald Gillies, February 7th, 2013


Donald is Professor of Education Policy at York St. John University. He is the compiler of A Brief Critical Dictionary of Education, a free online resource available at Donald can be contacted at

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