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Agonistic democracy and passionate professional development in teacher-leaders

Hammersley-Fletcher, LJ and Clarke, M and McManus, V (2017) Agonistic democracy and passionate professional development in teacher-leaders. Cambridge Journal of Education. ISSN 0305-764X

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Abstract

Politicians and policy-makers in education routinely proclaim the centrality of schools and teachers in sustaining and consolidating democracy and democratic society. This article offers an account of teachers engaged in research in their schools and classrooms, with peers and students, so as to highlight the democratic potential of this engagement. In order to do so, it draws on an agonistic account of democracy that is distinct from more familiar liberal or procedural versions. Such an account is characterised by an emphasis on the values of constitutive pluralism, robust contestation and enduring tragedy, where the latter entails recognition of the ineliminable nature of (political) conflict and the inevitability of loss in human life. The teachers involved in this research demonstrated capacities which, it is argued, reflect an agonistic democratic ethos, including: developing the confidence to assume intellectual leadership by asking questions and eliciting and engaging plural perspectives in relation to these questions; engagement in the cut and thrust of research without the expectation of finding any final or perfect solutions; and an acceptance of difference and disagreement as constitutive and constructive elements in rethinking areas of policy and practice. Developing and encouraging these capacities, it is argued, is important in an increasingly authoritarian policy context that threatens the vital links between democracy and education highlighted by Dewey a century ago.

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