Exploring the subjectification of principals: Moving beyond the disciplining of school leaders

Year: 2018

Author: Niesche, Richard

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper considers the relevance and importance of Foucault’s later works on subjectivity, counter-conduct and parrhesiaas windows into the complex subjectification of school principals. At a time when neoliberalism and particular consumer capitalist dimensions of education politics and policy continue to have profound influences on schools and the work of school leaders, I argue there is still a need to theorise and better understand these shifting tensions and complexities for school leaders. With school and principal autonomy promoted as key features of high performing education systems, principals are potentially constructed as either subscribing to neoliberal regimes or working as resistors to such regimes. However, the subject formation of principals is complex. Principals are uniquely positioned as both those that exercise power and also, at the same time, subject to various modes of power. It is through looking at these discourses via Foucault’s later works that more generative understandings might be located and understood that go beyond the disciplinary. In doing so, I also consider the work of Bernard Stiegler in his diagnosis of contemporary consumer capitalism as a form of psycho-power, as distinct from Foucault’s notion of bio-power. This paper then contributes to a more nuanced and sophisticated understanding of the subjectification of principals rather than continuing the much over-researched and limiting focus on heroic leadership identities that have captivated the educational leadership field for too long.