[This blog post refers to the following article: Mifsud, D. (2015) ‘Decentralised’ neoliberalism and/or ‘masked’ re-centralisation? The policy to practice trajectory of Maltese school reform through the lens of neoliberalism and Foucault, Journal of Education Policy, DOI: 10.1080/02680939.2015.1121409. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02680939.2015.1121409]

A preview of my latest article

The politics of the later part of the twentieth century have been marked by the emergence of neoliberalism, which has consequently impregnated the global policy climate with neoliberal technologies of government. This imperious policy climate has refashioned education policy – its construction, presentation, reception, and eventual enactment/translation (amid a politics of resistance) – concurrently centralising and decentralising the State by constructing an ideological fantasy of empowerment which conceals the subordination of these policy implementers to neoliberal logics by constituting them as powerful actors who have been freed from central government constraints. It is within this political scenario of hegemonic neoliberal discourse that I explore one aspect of school reform in Malta – contrived school networking as mandated by the policy document ‘For All Children to Succeed’(FACT), issued in 2005, by which Maltese primary and secondary state schools were geographically clustered into ten colleges. This reform eventually brought about changes in the organisation, structure, and leadership practices of the local education landscape.  I explore the influence of neoliberalism and the presence/absence of its characteristics, namely, State central control, the ‘empowerment’ agenda, and the tension between autonomy and accountability. The aim of this writing piece is to explore how policy-mandated collegiality, in the form of school networks, is constructed and consequently presented to the leaders in the document FACT. It also examines how these actors (the educational leaders) react to this policy-mandated reform within an infrastructure of hegemonic neoliberal discourse. It is about the construction, presentation, reception and enactment/translation of policy, with a specific focus on neoliberalism and concomitant, interconnected processes of decentralisation and re-centralisation.

This is done both through policy analysis and policy reception – I carry out a documentary analysis of FACT and present this together with the leaders’ views, collated from interviews and observation, after being subjected to narrative analysis and interpreted through Foucault’s concepts of discourse and governmentality. Despite the gradual unfolding of the decentralization process, there is a very strong presence of State central control. Besides methodological significance for policy scholarship, this article has particular philosophical implications for educational policy, practice and theory within the infrastructure of globalised neoliberal governmentality.

Borrowing from Foucault: his notions of discourse and governmentality

‘When people follow Foucault, when they are fascinated by him, it is because they are doing something with him, in their own work, in their own independent lives’ (Deleuze 1990, 86). This is the stance I follow in my adoption of a selective Foucauldian theoretical framework. Foucault’s concepts of discourse and governmentality present the opportunity of delineating a distinctive analytical approach to the critical reading and comprehension of education policy.

Foucault’s (2002) ‘regimes of truth’ enable an exploration of how the subject is produced ‘as an effect’ through and within discourse and within specific discursive formations – how the leaders in my research are positioned by the leadership policy discourse, and how they, in turn, position themselves according to their distributed leadership performance. The notion of discourse helps me explore issues of knowledge and power, determining what sort of knowledge is considered legitimate according to the games of truth, the discourses generating in the college and subjugating the leaders, in addition to the discourses being produced by them as a form of resistance and needed to subjugate others. Gillies (2013) explores the utilization of a Foucauldian governmentality perspective in relation to the discourse of educational leadership – it allows one to examine the rationality of its exercise; the justification of its own activity; as well as the way it comprehends its own function (66). Foucault’s concept of governmentality is a very useful analytical tool in my exploration of the leadership behaviour at college level as it facilitates the study of how leadership is justified, and how its exercise is to be understood – leadership being one of the main issues that emerges in the FACT policy document. It allows me to explore the extent to which the leaders’ behaviour is shaped by FACT. When an analysis of governmentality is applied, ‘it increases our awareness of the role of construction and the constructed in governmental landscapes and institutions, and of the way in which habit leads us to accept these constructions as facts of nature or universal categories’ (Gordon 2002, xxiv). According to Gordon (2002), this governmentality generates critique, ‘a certain decided (decisoire) will not to be governed’ (xxxix).

For more details on my methodology and unconventional mode of data representation in its direct engagement with Foucault and his theories, watch out for the next blog post.


List of References:

Deleuze, G. 1990. The Logic of Sense. 1969 Les Editions de Minuit ed. New York: Columbia University Press.

Foucault, M. 2002. The Archeology of Knowledge. (Translated by R. Sheridan, Ed.). London: Routledge.

Gillies, D. 2013. Educational Leadership and Michel Foucault. London: Routledge.

Gordon, C. 2002. “Introduction.” In Michel Foucault. Power. Vol 3, edited by J. D. Faubion, xi-xli. London: Penguin Books.

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.