Liquid Learning: Contextual Politics Of Teachers’ Work

Year: 2015

Author: Seddon, Terri

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

‘Perpetual learning’ is a condition of life at the end of the 20th and early 21st century. It is an effect of global transitions that also prompt changes in policy and governance, and shift borders and orders that previously secured architectures of educational knowledge and authority. But when the idea of ‘teaching’ is repositioned in relation to a world of ‘perpetual learning’ questions arise about the work that teachers do, and also the work they should, can, and might do. These shifting terms and conditions trouble habitual understandings of education as a context for teaching and learning, and also fuel boundary politics that recontextualise education. The question so how does recontextualisation contribute to the politics of learning and labouring?

I use the concept of ‘boundary politics’, the bordering and ordering of space and orientation, to understand the remaking of education. I report on research that tracked ‘learning’ as a travelling policy theme through three different spaces of orientation where learning and laboring sedimented in novel ways. Using discourse analysis, I plunge into each space of orientation to reveal the recontextualisation of ‘learning’: as a policy theme; as knowledge-based regulatory tools, such as the Australian and New Zealand Classification of Occupations; and as regulatory frames that border and order Australia’s teachers and their work.

Following this trail that re-borders ‘learning’ and its effects on the occupational ordering of ‘teaching’ shows how recontextualisation provides a spatial fix to address ‘new times’. I also note how this recontextualisation disturbed teachers’ historic contextual understandings and commitments to learners as individuals rather than learners as production factors. I argue that this melting and morphing of established educational borders and orders creates ‘liquid learning’: terms and conditions of work that complicate how educator’s exercise knowledge and authority, but also turns attention to the way the teaching occupation can and might mobilize its knowledge and authority to reposition in a liquid learning order. I suggest that these questions to the teaching occupation call for forms of occupational boundary work that recognize, encourage and resource learning for mobility in, through, between and across the historic borders, orders and scales of national schooling.