ERG SES D 14, Sociology and Education
Swedish educators are tasked with a double mandate: to instruct their students in content domains and to simultaneously promote democratic values, knowledge, and skills. According to Swedish policy documents, both mandates are equally important and must be implemented in every subject, at every grade level. While teachers ostensibly agree to this double mandate as a condition of their employment, the Swedish Schools Inspectorate released a report in 2012 asserting that many teachers are failing to incorporate democratic citizenship education into their instructional activities. Needless to say, this provocative claim begs investigation and calls into question the very nature of democracy in the Swedish educational context. The following article employs Foucault’s notion of disciplinary power to identify the structures that promote a particular understanding of democracy in official discourses in Swedish education. The article then draws upon the voices of ten Swedish educators to explore possibilities for resistance under the prevailing educational regime. The article identifies discourses exemplifying resistance strategies of avoidance, re-articulation, subversion, rejection, and ignorance. These discourses are employed to discuss how the democratic mandate has been transformed in an educational context predicated upon an increasingly neoliberal systems of governance. The article concludes with a discussion of how understandings of the democratic mandate may be further transformed to create better opportunities for critical dialogue and meaningful participation both in Sweden and beyond.
The study draws upon Foucault’s (1979) notion of disciplinary power. Foucault describes how organization, surveillance, and training are employed as strategies and structures of power in order to establish ‘knowledge’ or what is possible to be known, ‘learning’ or the ways in which knowledge can be known, and ‘assessment’ or the ways in which knowledge can be evaluated. Foucault (1979) contends that disciplinary power is negative and repressive in the sense that it is imposed upon the subaltern--- or individuals considered less powerful in particular contexts--- and is used to punish members of the subaltern that question or oppose it. However, Foucault does not see disciplinary power as absolute because the subaltern are constantly interacting with this power and thus in a position to both strengthen and undermine it.
Lilja and Vinthagen (2014) draw about Foucault’s notion of disciplinary power to outline techniques of resistance. They begin by arguing that power and resistance are interconnected and entangled (Lilja & Vinthagen, 2014, p. 111), existing in a relationship of mutual constitution and dependency. Thus the existence of disciplinary power yields certain types of and opportunities for resistance (Lilja & Vinthagen, 2014). Specifically, “the power of discipline is met by forms of resistance that challenge through avoiding, rearticulating, (and subverting)” (Lilja & Vinthagen, 2014, p. 114). These strategies are typically enacted in private and are thus hidden from those in positions of power.
If we apply Foucault’s (1979) notions of disciplinary power and opportunities of resistance to such power as outlined by Lilja and Vinthagen (2014), we can see that the Schools Inspectorate report constitutes an official discourse on democratic citizenship education in Swedish schools. However, it is important to note that this discourse is socially constructed and, thus, does not epitomize absolute truth. Instead, this discourse is a truth constructed by governmental agents and imposed upon educators. As a subaltern group, educators interpret and deploy the official discourse in their own ways. In some instances, educators are complicit with this discourse and work to deploy it literally. In other cases, educators are resistant to this discourse and work to avoid, reinterpret, and undermine it . This process of compliance and resistance allows educators to transform official discourses thus creating alternative truths about the democratic mandate.
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