You know when you are at an academic conference and people ask what your research area is? Well, my default response is “educational leadership” … and then there is usually a pause followed by “But…” This is me living, researching and writing in the margins of a range of research areas and topics of interest. As I stated in the about section of this site, I have a very critical view of educational leadership. I am of the opinion that it is a very conservative, narrow, instrumentalist and self-referential field that often excludes and marginalises other and diverse perspectives (and have detailed these and more through numerous publications). I have chosen to bring into this field a range of post-structural approaches as well as a focus on social justice as a key element of what leadership is for. I have also raised questions as to whether such a ‘thing’ as leadership even exists. If it is something that is in the eye of the beholder and constructed through discourse then perhaps we talk, research and write it into being. I have never had an adequate answer to the question of what leadership looks like. How do you know it when you see it? Can it be seen? You might think it is leadership but from another perspective it could simply be talking, directing, managing or organising.
Such a critical perspective as this has lead me to exist outside the mainstream educational leadership discourse, which is all about efficient, effective and ‘good’ leadership. I have critiqued standards, models and prescriptive approaches, as in my experience talking to school principals, they often find these pretty useless and disciplining. I use the phrase ‘in the margins’ as I do not exist in the mainstream educational leadership discourse, nor strictly in philosophy as I apply a range of post-structural concepts and ideas to educational leadership. So apparently I am not a philosopher either.
I find the analogy of the fishbowl to be a good one and that is why it is on the font of this website. Paul Veyne uses the metaphor of the fishbowl to describe Michel Foucault’s ‘positionality’ as a sceptic:
“A sceptic meanwhile is a dual being. So long as he keeps thinking, he remains outside the fishbowl and can watch the fish swimming round and round inside of it. But given that one has to live, he then finds himself within the bowl, a fish like all the rest, faced with deciding which candidate he will vote for in the forthcoming elections (even if he cannot claim his decision to be based on the truth). This sceptic is at once an observer, outside the fishbowl about which he has misgivings, yet also one of those very goldfish. However, there is nothing tragic about that duality” (Veyne, 2010, p. 2).
This description I find useful to think about my own positionally as a researcher in educational leadership – outside looking in, and yet also within the fishbowl even if it is at my own self referential level.
In many cases, perhaps as researchers we could all be described as transgressing multiple disciplines and research areas, so I hope the notion of ‘writing in the margins’ resonates with some of you. This blog will focus on this issue as well as providing a venue to critique what I find intolerable in educational leadership research and writing, as well as putting forward my own thoughts as to how post-structural thinking is still useful and relevant, while also moving beyond some of the original ideas of those initial thinkers such as Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida and Jean Francois Lyotard. There is more to come in this space as it is forming a new upcoming book length project. I hope you will stick around.
Veyne, P. (2010). Foucault: His Thought, His Character. Cambridge: Polity Press.