The limit(s) of the expansive public

Year: 2018

Author: Gulson, Kalervo, Thompson, Greg

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Stakeholders in many countries are concerned that public education is under threat, or at least changing, as funding is reduced, alternative forms of public school such as charters and academies emerge, and the rise of competition between schools threatens the idea of the neighbourhoodschool. In this paper we draw on empirical work from Alberta and British Columbia, Canada to explore how notions of the public are put to work by people to understand what is public about their public education systems.  
The first part of the paper explores the different ways that the public is theorised in education research, particularly research broadly classified as education policy research. Three main trajectories emerge. First is the idea that the constitution of the public emerges through a ‘procedural politics’, where a policy problem is constituted as part of debates, including notions of crisis and threats to public education (Gerrard et al., 2017). Second, is Nancy Fraser’s advocation of multiple publics as a way to deliver “participatory parity” in both hierarchical and egalitarian societies (Fraser, 1990, p.73). Fraser’s work posits a non-normative expression of the public reconciled to “the relationship between public discourse and social identities” (p.68). This necessarily means accounting for “the use of the public as cultural classifications and rhetorical labels” (p.73).  The third example is Benedict Anderson’s ‘imagined community’ that posits an aspiration to and constitution of an imagined public that does not emerge from a problem but rather is immanent around essential, though contested, notions of the public.
The second part takes these three tools and applies them to interviews conducted with 27 politicians, policymakers, bureaucrats, union officials, principals and parents in Alberta and Vancouver concerning what is ‘public’ about their system. Using the insights gleaned from these interviews, the presentation will conclude by addressing Deleuze and Guattari’s (1994) idea of limit-points of assemblages, to ask ‘What is the cutting edge of the public, that moment where we journey into something that is different, even while it has many of the same components, organised in similar ways?’
Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (1994). What is philosophy? London: Verso.
Fraser, N. (1990). Rethinking the public sphere: A contribution to the critique of actually existing democracy. Social text, (25/26), 56-80.
Gerrard, J., Savage, G. C., & O’Connor, K. (2017). Searching for the public: school funding and shifting meanings of ‘the public’in Australian education. Journal of Education Policy,32(4), 503-519.