23 SES 07 D, School Choice
This paper explores and analyzes how student subjects are constructed and what role market principles play in these constructions. In particular, the focus is directed towards the logics that constitute upper secondary school choice practices, and how these practices are legitimized, interpreted and challenged.
The backdrop for this study are the de-regulations in the early 1990's, that turned Sweden to become the most market oriented and de-regulated school system in the world - a fact that is vital for the international relevance of this study. Inspired by New Public Management and corporate principles, a wave of neoliberal policy changes were launched, including a taxed based voucher system, free school choices and for-profit private schools, that we may today explore the consequences from (Lundahl, et al. 2014). This marketization of education was first, and formost introduced in Swedish upper secondary schools. According to the neoliberal rationality inherent in these reforms, education is here understood in terms of investment, i.e. something that one have to invest in, in order to become competitive in an ever-changing knowledge-economy. Here, the ideal learning citizen-subject is conceptualized as active, employable and adapted to the needs and expectations of the labour market (cf. Fejes & Dahlstedt, 2013). The individual learners are interpellated as customers who should “invest” in their education and are made personally responsible for their own success and failure (Harling, 2014; Dahlstedt & Olson, 2013). However, students increasingly have a strong sense of anxiety when they are to “invest” in education, faced with important choices without having sufficient knowledge and resources to make those choices (Lundahl, et al. 2014). Strong concerns are also raised by educators, researchers and in public discourse that the current system increases achievement gaps, and in turn reproduces inequality in society.
The research questions are:
• How are student subjects constructed, governed and regulated in upper secondary school choice-practicies at the schools and fairs studied?
• What logics are structuring students' speaking and thinking about the present and the future?
• How are school practices constituted, legitimized and challenged in relation to these logics and how can the notion of rituals explain the practicies?
The theoretical framwork for the study draws on Foucaultdian governmentality (2008), analysing how governing is accomplished through percieved freedom, and 'the logics perspective', introduced by Glynos and Howarth (2007). This perspective has grown out of a need to ground discourse analyses in empirical data and to explain how “the political” works in social practices, that is, how relations between contingency and hegemony is played out in concrete settings. This approach works from the assumption that subjects and objects in any social practice are basicly constructed and political par essence. However, this contingent nature of things is rarely considered, as social relations and practices tends to be seen as “natural”, or unchangeable. A vital task for social science is thus to provide critical understandings of the “radical contingency and structural incompleteness” (p. 11) forming any ontology. The explicit aim with the perspective then becomes ”to characterize, explain and criticize [a] social phenomena” (p. 8) that becomes available for research in an articulatory practice. In tandem with these theoretical tools, I will use Robert Pfaller's (2014) theory of "interpassivity" to think about the school choise practices as rituals allowing actors to act under contradictory conditions.
Glynos and Howarth (2007) put forwards a typology of social, political and fantasmatic logics – three dimensions accounting for both change and continuity in social reality, which are used to analyze and interpret the study's data. The data consists of a three month high-school-ethnography, field studies at four different school fairs (including observations, interviews and documents) and focus group-interviews with 56 pupils in ninth grade. These datasets were coded on the basis of contextual content on the one hand (the ontical dimension), and based on social, political and fantasmatic logics on the other (the ontological part). The study's result has grown out of a synthesis between the ontical and ontological dimensions of the material, resulting in a map over the logics that becomes intelligible within the studied context. Putting the emphasis on articulatory practices, this approach allowed me to map how certain sedimented ways of thinking about, for instance, what the promise of school choice means, that in turn stabilized the social logics in the study. Furthermore, by approaching other elements in my data through notions of constitutive lack and fantasy, an understanding of subjectivation was made possible. Analyzing fantasmatic logics (fantasies) created an understanding of both how individual subjects were attracted by, and drawn in to the social logics of school choice, as well as ways of interpreting how fundamental lack, dissonance, and paradoxes in my data, were compensated and covered over. The notion of interpassitivity (Pfaller, 2014) is used to explain some speech when fantasies also are turned into rituals.
The result shows that the fairs and secondary school choice practicies divide both the present and the future for the students, as the choice between an explicit utopia or an implied dystopia. Here, the students themselves becomes responsible for the success or the failure to realize the staged utopia. This division appears to a large degree as natural and apolitical for the students, which in turn legitimizes its effects in terms of division, inequality and segregation, often on the basis of social class. The market-driven school given order differentiates the students as if they were commodities of different value. This is done by means of an explanatory logic, where they are assigned to different places and positions, to which the students in the study largely identify themselves and work on themselves through self-technologies of choice, competition and investment in themselves. Subjectivation in the form of fantasmatic logics (fantasies) can explain how students handle contradictory conditions in everyday practicies. For instance, school choice for students may simultaneously evoke aspirations of change to become what they want, while at the same time the choice may be used as a technology to be more of what they already are, by choosing to become what one already is. However, students also problematize and destabilize dominant market logics in all contexts studied. By penetrating secondary school choice's supposed neutrality, the students exposes how the market orientation of education in general and the staging of exhibitions in particular seems to be in the schools', rather than the students' interest. The main conclusion is that the market logics largely characterizes the secondary election practitioners surveyed, which not only reproduce, but also neutralizes the inequality in and through education, and by extension - in society in general.
Dahlstedt, Magnus & Olson, Maria (2014): Medborgarskapande för ett nytt millennium. Utbildning & Demokrati, 23(2), s 7-25. Fejes, A., & Dahlstedt, M. (2013) The confessing society. London: Routledge. Foucault, M. (2008). The birth of biopolitics: Lectures at the College the France 1978-1979 New York, NY: Picador. Glynos, Jason & Howarth, David (2007): Logics of Critical Explanation in Social and Political Theory. New York: Routledge. Gustafsson, Jan-Eric; Sörlin, Sverker & Vlachos, Jonas (2016): Policyidéer för svensk skola. Stockholm: SNS. Harling, Martin (2014): A Fair (Af)fair?. Göteborgs universitet, Institutionen för pedagogik och specialpedagogik. Lundahl, Lisbeth; Erixon Arreman, Inger; Holm, Ann-Sofie & Lundström, Ulf (2014): Gymnasieskolan som marknad. Umeå: Boréa. Pfaller, Robert (2014): On the Pleasure Principle in Culture: Illusions Without Owners. London: Verso.
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