Speaking The Datafied Self: Datafication, Discourses And School Leadership

Year: 2015

Author: Thompson, Greg, Mockler, Nicole

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The central idea of this symposium is that educational leadership remains a somewhat undertheorised field, however we would suggest that the problem is not so much that it is undertheorised as that it remains largely oriented to ‘humanist’ ontologies. In his essay ‘What is policy? 21 years later’, Stephen Ball reflects on the overall contributions of the policy toolbox approach. Intriguingly, he argues that “the attempt to reorient policy analysis research, to destabilise the modernist, humanist ontology of mainstream education policy analysis has failed” largely because “there is a lot more text work than discourse work; that is, a lot more focus on what is written and said, rather than how those statements are formed and made possible” (Ball 2015, 311). In this presentation we consider educational leadership as a field dominated by a resilient ‘modernist, humanist ontology’ that privileges textual critiques, ‘what works’ recipes and essentialisations of the value of good leadership. However, while Ball’s account seems to argue that more work focusing on the discursive production of policy, leadership and other ‘order words’ that command the enunciative surfaces of education theory and practice, in our view this is not enough.
In this paper we attend to a reconsideration of the importance of the ‘linguistic turn’ in the age of datafication. While there are clearly relationships (flows, schizzes, mixes) between the discursive and datafication, it is not sufficient to see datafication as only discursive. In other words, it is not enough to merely return the linguistic turn, situated as it is at a particular episteme or juncture between structural and poststructural thought. If, as Deleuze argued, we “must create worlds of thought, a whole new conception of thought, of ‘what it means to think’” so that thought “must be adequate to what is happening around us” (Deleuze 2004, 138), then in the context of performative cultures and the datafication of schools (including school leadership), how do we understand discourse and data? Our paper will consist of a thought-experiment about the discursivity of data and the datafied discourses from interviews with 13 school principals in WA, SA and NSW around the implications of NAPLAN data for their practice.
Ball, S. “What is policy? 21 years later: reflections on the possibilities of policy research.” Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education 36, no. 3 (2015): 306-313.
Deleuze, G. “On Nietzsche and the image of thought.” In Desert islands and other texts 1953-1974, by Gilles Deleuze, 135-145. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2004.