As with many doctoral candidates (and faculty I might add) working in the intellectual space that is educational leadership, management and administration during the early stages of my doctorate I was primarily working in an instrumental (almost atheoretical) analytical framework. However, as my candidature progressed I reached a point where the (a)theoretical resources I had engaged with during my Master’s (also in educational leadership) and that populated the many of the journals of the discipline were not enabling me to do the sort of work I wanted to do in relation to how school leaders thought and acted strategically. That is, I needed an analytical lens that could engage with the theoretical problem of the legitimation of practices and its empirical manifestation rather than just the latter.

As a result of the work of, and engaging with, other doctoral candidates in the department, I began reading Michel Foucault, particularly around governmentality, the panopticon, and on strategy. I also revisited some of the key thinkers I came across during my Master’s program, notably those from Deakin University (Victoria, Australia) during the 1980-90s such as Richard Bates, Jill Blackmore and John Smyth, whose work was built upon a foundation of critical social theory (see Tinning and Sirna, 2011). It was however during a conversation with James Ladwig (who ended up supervising my doctorate) that he suggested Bourdieu’s work on strategy might be what I was after. He gave me a copy of From rules to strategies – an interview between Bourdieu and Pierre Lamaison (1986) published in Cultural Anthropology and then later in the collection, In other words (Bourdieu, 1990). It was at this point I was hooked.

[this is an extract from Eacott, S. (2015) ‘Mobilising Bourdieu to think anew about educational leadership research’, in Mark Murphy and Cristina Costa (eds) Theory as method in research: On Bourdieu, social theory and education (Routledge)]