Equity Versus Excellence : an Anthropological Study of Neoliberal Reform in an Australian High School
(University of Western Australia)
||Este texto se presentó como comunicación al II Congreso Internacional de Etnografía y Educación: Migraciones y Ciudadanías. Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona, Barcelona, 5-8 Septiembre 2008.
||Based upon fifteen months of ethnographic study of school reform in a single school site, this paper takes seriously Appadurai’s (1996) plea for those researching the ‘global diaspora of ideas’ to pay attention to the semantics and the pragmatics of specific situations, as well as the contextual conventions, governing the translation of global ideals. Adopting this approach allows us to contemplate the ways in which beliefs and practices that are produced as part of a global swirl of ideas are adapted to meet local conditions. In other words it is study of neoliberalism in practice. As this paper shows, those keen on reducing the influence of a large education bureaucracy can all too easily lose sight of why this form of governance came into being in the first place. Through this paper I argue that a single-minded focus on neoliberal ideals caused various key players in the social drama discussed here to lose sight of the context in which they were operating and the pragmatic realities of running an education system that caters for a diverse population spread very unevenly across an enormous expanse of land. The research is based on a naturalistic study of the organisational culture of the school I came to call Ravina High. Like all institutions, schools are both ‘sites of struggle’, and a ‘field of forces’, where structure and agency collide unevenly, producing unequal outcomes (Reed- Danahay 1996:4; Bourdieu 1998:32). What I witnessed in a humble Western Australian high school reflects the inevitable dialectic that arises between newly received systems of thought and local practices (Sahlins 1981:33). The resultant hybrid structures created high levels of confusion, mainly because a commitment to devolutionary practice had become so much a part of the accepted, conventional wisdom of the education system, people were not necessarily able to clearly acknowledge the limits of their own devolutionary reform. Thinking of Western Australia’s government education system in the late 1990s as ‘deconcentrated’ rather than ‘devolved’ (Lyons 1985) acknowledges the realities of the local translations of a global grand narrative. If we accept the premise that ‘globalization has not translated into homogenization’ (Straight 2002:8), and that all of the grand narratives circling the globe will inevitably be transformed into localised renderings of their underlying concepts, then any devolutionary reforms absorbed into local education systems are bound to result in deconcentrated, rather than fully devolved versions of these systems.
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||article ; recerca ; publishedVersion
Reforma escolar ;
Sistema educatiu local ;
School reform ;
Local education system
||EMIGRA working papers, Núm. 83 (2007) , p. 1-16, ISSN 2013-3804
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