Pedagogic authority, action, and power: The distribution of labour in the activity of pedagogic work

Year: 2015

Author: Cross, Russell, Mills, Carmen, Gale, Trevor, Smith, Catherine

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

In many OECD nations educational attainment can be increasingly mapped directly on to students’ socioeconomic status. Yet the pedagogic relationship between teachers and learners also plays a critical role in influencing the likelihood of success in school. This paper presents findings from the second phase of a large multisite qualitative study into the social justice dispositions of teachers and their pedagogic work with students in advantaged and disadvantaged Australian secondary schools. The aim of the broader study is to explore the potential of ‘disposition’ as a new site for intervening in the nexus between class background and academic achievement.

We understand teachers’ dispositions as the tendencies, inclinations, and leanings that provide un-thought or pre-thought guidance for practice (Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1992). Following Bourdieu and Passeron (1977; 1990), we conceive of ‘pedagogic work’ as comprising a series of ‘pedagogic actions’ conferred with ‘pedagogic authority’. In our analysis, we extend this Bourdieuian framing through the influence of cultural-historical activity theory (Engeström, 1987), to recast pedagogic work as systems of activity. This enables us to further explore the opportunities that the findings present to rework existing activity systems of pedagogic work to bring about different outcomes, change, and transformation that might guide new forms of future action and practice.

Of particular interest in the present paper is the distribution of labour — “the … horizontal division of tasks and the vertical division of power, positions, access to resources, and rewards” (Foot, 2001, p. 61) — within the activity systems of differently positioned teachers. Our aim is to trace how pedagogic authority is conferred across varied sites and contexts for teachers’ pedagogic work. Using data from schools at the extremes of education advantage and disadvantage, we argue that teachers’ socially just pedagogic practice is influenced and shaped differently according to varied social, cultural, and material conditions for practice, including the different types of authority present and at work within each of these sites.