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Leadership, the Vanishing Mediator and Organisation

Hammersley-Fletcher, Linda and Schostak, John and Darwish, Usama (2020) Leadership, the Vanishing Mediator and Organisation. In: Paradoxes of Democracy, Leadership and Education: Struggling for social justice in the twenty-first century. Foundations and Futures of Education . Routledge. ISBN 9781138492967

Restricted to Repository staff only until 3 December 2021.

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It is common to argue that Western and Westernised societies are ‘democratic’. However, it is difficult to describe the corporations that dominate their public and private sectors as exemplars of democratic organisation. In particular, their schools are largely driven by non-democratic managerialism imposed through a system wedded to hierarchy and inequality. In Rancière’s (2005: 71) terms such so called ‘democratic’ states and their key organisations are ruled by a ‘dominant intelligencia’ who broadly, willingly or unwillingly, serve the interests of an economic elite. However, if a society claims to be democratic, then it would be reasonable to expect its key systems and institutions should exemplify forms of organisation and practice that articulate democratic principles. Thus, it is possible to argue as Dewey (1927) did, that re-engaging in ‘democratic practices’ could reawaken the desire for freedoms that will allow all to have an equal voice in order to influence the present and the future of our children and thus of society, positively towards a more equal, socially just world. It is possible too as Robert Owen (1816) argued that by adopting co-operative rather than competitive practices society could be reformed for the better. The Rochdale pioneers drew upon the views of Owen and others to create a practical model that has grown to the extent that it has “supported at least half the world’s population” (Woodin 2014: 2). It is relatively easy to point to such existing legacies and models of democratic forms of social, economic and indeed educational organisation that can be drawn upon (Fielding 2005; Fielding and Moss 2011) - but given contemporary societies are still overwhelmingly hierarchical and competitive, the odds remain stacked against their practical accomplishment. At its most radical, democracy demands both freedom and equality. Balibar (1994) called this the principle of égaliberté in order to articulate the co-extensiveness of freedom with equality. Thus for example, in a world of wealth inequality, where the billionaire can use wealth to influence political parties, manipulate markets and shape the behaviour of individuals in their market and political decision making, those who are relatively or absolutely poor have their freedom of choice of where to live, of access to the best education and the best jobs, restricted by the capacity of the rich. Geographically, the relation between inequality for the many and freedom for the few can be seen in the contrasts between thriving, well sourced centers of financial activity and depressed, overlooked areas that had once been industrial powerhouses and are now ‘rust belts’. Infrastructures are skewed towards sustaining and responding to the demands of the rich and powerful. It echoes Simon’s (1960) historical description of education for the ‘two nations’. In this context, schools represent, if not a microcosm, then at least a quasi-laboratory for the testing of personal freedoms against the controls of superior forces. It is in this space where the place of authority constructs its powers over the subjective experience, behaviour and capacities to act of individuals. Here there is the individual in the role of adult of being in ‘locus parentis’ and teacher as the one who is supposed to know and be able to speak that knowledge to others. There is also the individual in the role of pupil, of being a locus of present and future potentials and of being a growing developing child in need of protection and in want of knowledge. This division contributes powerfully to the psychological conditions necessary to accept later divisions between bosses and employees and more generally between a governing class and those to be managed, disciplined, or moulded. The head teacher then is in a place of governance that amplifies and reinforces these divisions, a mediator, as it were, between the policy forming governing classes and those who most directly deliver policy face-to-face with the children whose performance is to be managed. It does not have to be this way though.

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