In ‘obey’-ance: one principal’s critically reflexive engagement with research in a culture of compliance

Abstract

Motivated by my attendance at the 2017 AARE conference and Jane Kenway’s 2017 AARE Honorary Life Membership Award, and framed through the case of an event staged by students, this paper seeks to contribute to a ‘grassroots’ challenging of predominant bureaucratic managerialism in discourses of educational leadership, teaching and school excellence. Drawing on Jacques Derrida’s notion of spectrality, a prevailing discourse of generalised excellence and performance standards is interrupted by a (re)turn to moral purpose in and through an engagement with educational research that recognises the affordances of diverse outputs and approaches. I argue that educational knowledge cannot be justly understood and implemented through such neoliberal ideological artefacts as excellence frameworks and codified lists of universal performance standards because of aporias knowingly overlooked in claims as to the efficacy of such measures. Critically reflecting on my own work and being as a principal, through a hauntological reading of relevant documents, I advocate for a halt to an abyssal slide into standardised instrumentalism, which extends in NSW to the limiting restrictions of an ‘evidence hierarchy’ that has been designed to rank educational research and govern teachers’ engagements with it.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The term neoliberalism is used here with due recognition that it is not a “stable or unified object, but rather ranges and changes temporally and geographically” (Brown 2015, p. 49). But, influenced by Brown’s recognition of its “differential instantiations and encounters with extant cultures and political traditions”, I am writing in a specific educational context to pursue an interest in neoliberalism as a “specific mode of reason, of the production of the subject, ‘conduct of conduct’, and scheme of valuation….” (p. 48).

  2. 2.

    Aporia is used here in a Derridean sense: “A Greek term denoting a logical contradiction, ‘aporia’ is used by Derrida to refer to what he often calls the ‘blind spots’ of any metaphysical argument….[T]he aporia—or the ‘aporetic’ moment—takes the form of something that cannot be explained within standard rules of logic…” (Lucy 2004, p. 1). A key point made by Lucy is the term’s significance to deconstruction: “What distinguishes a deconstructive analysis…is that it always begins from an encounter with the aporias that must be overlooked in order to make presence seem undeconstructible” (pp. 4–5).

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Howie, M. In ‘obey’-ance: one principal’s critically reflexive engagement with research in a culture of compliance. Aust. Educ. Res. 47, 679–692 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13384-019-00359-7

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Keywords

  • Spectrality
  • Hauntology
  • Leadership
  • Standards
  • Moral purpose
  • Neoliberalism