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Beyond the terrors of performativity: teachers developing at the interface

Goodley, Claire (2019) Beyond the terrors of performativity: teachers developing at the interface. Doctoral thesis (EdD), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

Stephen Ball’s seminal 2003 paper The Teacher’s Soul and the Terrors of Performativity perceptively captured changes in educational policy and their effects on the outer and inner lives of teachers. Sixteen years after its publication, Ball’s radical, readable critique of accountability structures in schools appears to have a lasting resonance with many postgraduate students, particularly by those completing professional awards whilst also working within schools as teachers, managers and leaders. In this thesis I acknowledge that there was a need not only for the terminology such as performativity and fabrication that Ball (re)introduced, but also for his passionate denunciation of accountability measures and the associated paraphernalia of control which appear central to neoliberal models of educational governance. The paper seemed to speak to me directly when I started a professional Masters in Education, helping me to describe the changes I was experiencing in the classroom and the axiological tensions that I was facing. Several years on, it still has a clear resonance for many of the full-time working teachers studying on the professional practice Masters award that I lead today. In this thesis I move the argument forward, and contend that there is a need not only to reflect on how these changes have been embedded in practice, but also to better describe the way that performativity is experienced by teachers in England. For me, Ball’s use of such Foucauldian notions such as “docile bodies” and “subject-position” flatten out teachers, rendering them passive bystanders rather than agentic professionals. This perspective combined with stark binarisms such as sell your soul to the performative regime or leave the profession altogether did not fit with how I identified as a teacher or the continuum of options that seemed available to me. Using Holland, Skinner, Lachicotte Jr and Cain’ s Identity and Agency in Cultural Worlds theory, I examine the “Figured Worlds” of education using the voices of three experienced secondary school teachers, and consider how the way that they are positioned within schools affects their professional identities. I also consider how performativity is one of many competing narratives that brush up against each other and explore how teachers “develop at the interface” by choosing how to act and respond and which narratives to prioritise. Through telling their stories, the teachers demonstrate “where along the margins and interstices [they] are able to redirect themselves” through moments where they appropriate, resist or reject performative and other dominant practices and policies. This theoretical lens allows teachers to be seen as heteroglossic agents rather than what Ball terms sufferers of “values schizophrenia”, as they attempt to orchestrate the competing voices around them and author themselves in terms that go beyond ethical or enterprising and outstanding or inadequate. These teachers’ stories offer a way to explore the inadequacies of binary perspectives in general, and the options available to teachers in particular. This study thus extends our understanding of the different ways that performativity is experienced by teachers as well as the different ways that they can choose to respond.

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