28 SES 08 B, New Regimes of Accountability and the Making of Subjectivities
In this paper we discuss the reactions of Russian schools and teachers to the new quality assurance system. Our research belongs to the body of literature on emerging audit cultures in different contexts and their effects on schools and the work of teachers. Embarking on a sociology of the actual and localized audit culture we ask how the introduction of novel quality assurance principles and measurement tools influences subjectivities and observable practices. We are interested in the audit culture as it is implemented in and exerts influence over particular contexts - “incompletely, in modified ways, and in the face of resistance, transformation, subversion by those who are its objects” (Dunn, 2004, p. 23).
Studies on audit cultures across different sectoral and geographic contexts have emphasized their deeply political and personal consequences. This is because evaluation processes that rely on the quantification and ranking of complex qualitative phenomena make remote control possible through surveillance and access to the inner world of an organization (Shore & Wright 2015, p. 23). What is particularly interesting and surprising for our case is how the ostensibly benign, liberal policy of promoting public accountability through greater transparency functions as “illiberal governance” and fosters authoritarian forms of control, echoing non-democratic regimes (Shore & Wright 2015), thus interrupting the dichotomy between East and West or liberal and authoritarian.
Research on the influence of expanding audits and performance management on the subjectivities of school teachers points to the damaging effects of performance-based accountability on teachers’ autonomy and professional identity, and documents a predominantly negative attitude of teachers towards accountability reforms (Day 2002; Ball, 2003; Müller and Hernández 2010). Scholarly accounts of post-socialist transformations also show how professions, practices and personalities have been affected by the introduction of audit cultures to different spheres of life. Even though analysis of the school context is still lacking, and our study seeks to fill the gap, existing research sheds light on how post-socialist and even pre-socialist practices and mentalities help to construct forms of resistance to and isolation from performance metrics (e.g. Dunn, 2004). In this manner, these studies not only expand the geographical spectrum of available research, but also form a welcome addition to research that often presents the effects of audit cultures as totalizing and inescapable.
Inspired by a question posed by Domenic Boyer (2013, p. 212) “What does late socialism teach us about late liberalism?”, we claim that some concepts and theories first developed in the context of socialist societies can be of use to explore the effects of audit cultures. Surprising parallels can be drawn between contemporary audit culture and socialist practices: the model of audit and control currently spreading across Western educational institutions resembles the five-year plans of socialist states (Amann, 2003), and the reactions it evokes, such as fabrications or formalism, are reminiscent of responses to socialist plans and communist bureaucratic controls (Aydarova, Millei, Piattoeva & Silova, 2016). Late socialist subjects did not take the official representations of reality at face value, but pretended to do so, which gave them the opportunity to live a “normal life” (Yurchak, 1997, pp.162-163). Simulation and pretense as mechanisms of noninvolvement, in Yurchak’s terms, should not be seen as resistance, but rather as a “lack of interest in power”. In this manner Yurchak highlights the limitations of the binary of submission vs. resistance and offers an additional interpretative framework and concept to apply. Following this, our research seeks to capture diverse and entangled forms of teachers’ reactions to the new regime of audit culture.
The study was conducted in a region of Russia that was among the first to implement new quality assurance policies in education in the early 2000s. The data was collected primarily through ten-week participant observation and twenty-five interviews with teachers and administrators in two schools located in the capital of the region. Three interviews were conducted with principals of other schools, and three municipal-level meetings for teachers and administrators were observed. Our interview questions were grouped into three main blocks and elicit: (1) how the interviewees define the quality of education and how, in their view, it should be evaluated; (2) the main criteria and procedures of quality assurance, and what may or may not be problematic about them; (3) what has changed with the introduction of new policies. These questions also guided the observations of classwork, administrative meetings and other aspects of school life. The performativity regime focused on productivity and outcomes was introduced into Russian schools in the 2000s. Before 2001, there was no standardized achievement testing in Russia that would provide more or less commensurable statistics at the national level and serve as a measure of the effectiveness of school education. In 2001, the national examination was introduced which serves simultaneously as a school leaving test, a unified university entrance examination, a measure to ensure the compliance of school education with state education standards, and a source of data for monitoring and accountability purposes (Bochenkov, 2013; Piattoeva, 2015; Tyumeneva, 2013). Examination results became a key measure of performance of schools and teachers, and a basis for publicized school rankings. Russia’s approach to quality reforms, on the macro level, is characterized by an acceptance of the international quality narrative (accountability, performance assessment, objective performance measurement) (see Minina et al., forthcoming), which makes Russia a relevant case for the study of audit culture in the making, with implications of such research relevant also for other contexts penetrated by new audit procedures.
Our study reaffirms and enriches the understanding of multiple controversies and vulnerabilities produced by the audit culture in schools. There are several assumptions regarding the policy that conflict with the practices established and valued by the professionals. Moreover, the policies often contradict their tools, that is, the one-sided numerical measures introduced to foster their implementation in practice. At the same time, despite the prevalence of a critical attitude towards new policies among teachers and administrators, we observed no attempts at open resistance. However, teachers’ compliance does not necessarily signify the internalization of performativity aims, to which some previous studies in other contexts point. School workers consciously make a distinction between their professional identity and performativity thinking, and their behavior can be interpreted as noninvolvement and simulated support (Yurchak, 1997). Explaining the phenomenon of noninvolvement, Yurchak underscores that it did not aim to create any opposition to the dominant state power. Still, he argues, the passivity of citizens eventually brought about a crisis of the Soviet system. Postsocialist perspectives help to understand how the conflict between policy, its tools, and profession becomes normalized in two ways. First, normalization means that teachers accept the incompatibility between the interests and needs of the students and the authorities. Second, normalization, in Yurchak’s terms, means not taking the official policies at face value, but pretending to do so, to live a “normal life” (Yurchak, 1997). Normalization thus implies how teachers strive to reconcile practical decisions and moral choices in a manner that would allow them to benefit from the system and live a life that is satisfactory, that is, normal, morally and materially. We need to contemplate on how normalization, noninvolvement and simulated support of local actors contribute to the perpetuation of audit culture and the potential of undermining it with the lapse of time.
Amann, R. (2003). A sovietological view of modern Britain. The Political Quarterly, 74(4), 468–480. doi:10.1111/1467–923x.00558. Aydarova, E., Millei, Z., Piattoeva, N. & Silova, I. (2016) Revisiting Pasts, Reimagining Futures: Memories of (Post)Socialist Childhood and Schooling, European Education, 48 (3), 159-169, DOI: 10.1080/10564934.2016.1223977 Ball, S. J. (2003). The teacher’s soul and the terrors of performativity, Journal of Education Policy, 18(2), 215–228. doi:10.1080/0268093022000043065. Bochenkov, S. (2013). Uchitel’, shkola, sistema obrazovaniia v zerkale EGE [Teacher, school, system of education in the mirror of USE]. Problemy sovremennogo obrazovaniia, 3, 27–47. Boyer, D. (2013) Afterword. A postcard from Berlin: Rethinking the juncture of late socialism and late liberalism in Europe. In Klumbyte, N. & Sharafutdinova, G. (Eds.) Soviet Society in the Era of Late Socialism 1964-1985. Plymouth: Lexington Books, 203-214. Day, C. (2002). School reform and transitions in teacher professionalism and identity,International Journal of Educational Research, 37(8), 677–692. doi: 10.1016/S0883 -0355(03)00065-X. Dunn, E.C. (2004). Privatizing Poland: Baby Food, Big Business, and the Remaking of Labor. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. Minina, E., Piattoeva, N., Centeno, V. G., Zhou, X. & Candido, H. (forthcoming) Transnational policy borrowing and national interpretations of educational quality in Russia, China, and Brazil. In Silova, I. & Chankseliani, M. (eds.) Comparing Post-Socialist Transformations: Education in Eastern Europe and Former Soviet Union. Oxford: Symposium Books. Müller, J., & Hernández, F. (2010). On the geography of accountability: Comparative analysisof teachers’ experiences across seven European countries, Journal of EducationalChange, 11(4), 307–322. doi: 10.1007/s10833-009-9126-x Piattoeva, N. (2015). Elastic numbers: National examinations data as a technology of government. Journal of Education Policy, 30(3): 316–334. Shore, C. & Wright, S. (2015). Governing by numbers: audit culture, rankings and the new world order. Social Anthropology/Anthropologie Sociale 23 (1), 22–28. Tyumeneva, Y. (2013). Disseminating and using student assessment information in Russia. Washington: World Bank. Yurchak, A. (1997). The cynical reason of late socialism: power, pretense, and the anekdot. Public culture, 9(2), 161-188.
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