(c) Nao Iizuka

Article: Felecia M. Briscoe & Muhammad A. Khalifa (2013): ‘That racism thing’: a critical race discourse analysis of a conflict over the proposed closure of a black high school, Race, Ethnicity and Education (published online in June 2013).

Research that combines Habermas and Foucault as part of its analytical/methodological framework tends to get a warm reception on this website. And so it is with this just published paper from Felicia Briscoe and Muhammad Khalifa, who take a critical race discourse analysis approach to examine the case of Du Bois high school, a school threatened with closure. Here’s the abstract:

Using critical race discourse analysis, this study examines descriptions of a heated controversy over the proposed closure of the only primarily black high school in a large urban city. Participants included community members and the district and school leaders who were key in the controversy. Based on Foucault’s analysis of power we looked for conflicts in the narratives of the participants in their description of the controversy. Four strands of discursive conflict emerged: the purpose of school; the relationship of school and community; communication; and the issue of racism. Taking these four strands together, the themes found in the discourse of the community members enacted an emancipatory knowledge paradigm, while the themes found in the discourse of the administrators enacted a technical-rational, instrumental paradigm of knowledge.

The abstract doesn’t explicitly state the Habermas connection, although it’s represented in the take on knowledge paradigms and also present in the analysis. It should also be noted the significance placed on neoliberalism as context for school closures:     

Under the aegis of neoliberal state policies, test scores and other numerical data have come to dominate as the criteria for evaluating the success or failure of schools. Most of the schools judged as failures by these neoliberal criteria are located in economically disadvantaged and minority-majority schools (Briscoe and de Oliver 2012). The state of Texas adopted a high-stakes testing accountability system mandated in order to receive federal funding. Based upon this neoliberal accountability system, the state has formally labeled Dubois High School as a failing school for the past five years.

The research offers much food for thought, especially around the interplay between Foucault and Habermas’ core ideas and how such interconnections might be fruitfully developed. For all its other good qualities, the article doesn’t engage in this kind of theoretical discussion –  which is a pity as the data collected would be manna from heaven for someone willing and able to join the dots between Habermas/Foucauldian conceptions of power/knowledge (usually associated with the latter but just as significant for the former).

Work for the future maybe? Any takers?

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