Education and (Australian) politics: what's Foucault got to do with it?

Year: 2017

Author: Saunders, Robyn

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Teacher quality was a target of policy reform in the Australian Education Revolution (2007-2013). The phrase 'teacher quality' has a generic feel, allowing us to place our own meaning of 'quality' onto teachers, and making the need for quality teachers undeniable to all. However, when teacher quality is a political mandate, it has significant implications for how teachers are known and how they are to know themselves.
In this paper I showcase the utility that Foucault's archaeological methods can bring to an analysis of 'teacher quality' in the politics of the Education Revolution. Foucault's archaeologies are often derided as being 'primitive' and a point of departure for his more nuanced genealogies to come later. His archaeological period is not completely ignored however in academic literature, with most methodologies involving Discourse Analyses of one type or another. In many of these analyses, the status of 'discourse' is either accepted a priori, or assumed through a multiplicity of usage across policy, media, commentary etc. However, for Foucault discourse is more than an 'utterance', regardless of its multiplicity of usage. Discourse has knowledge and power relations associated, indeed entwined, with it. The political weight of teacher quality acting as discourse, rather than utterance, is worthy of analysis.
I analyse the knowledges and power relations carried with the teacher quality discourse using a selection from Foucault's archaeological methodology, namely his 'rules of discursive formation'. These rules are the conditions which formulate what can be spoken as discourse. What is spoken (re)produces erudite knowledge: knowledge that is so taken for granted we no longer question its 'truthiness'. These same rules also circumscribe what is no longer 'known': knowledges that are disqualified because they fall below the scientificity of erudition.
I outline my archaeological analysis of a collection of policy and conversation texts using Foucault's rules of discursive formation to establish teacher quality as a discourse. I identify the knowledges that the teacher quality discourse (re)produces as erudite in the political context of the Education Revolution. I also identify the knowledges held in the local context of three suburban primary schools in Canberra, which are disqualified beneath this erudition.
Foucault's archaeological methods allow me then to bring these knowledges up against each other as a tactic to highlight the epistemic injustices wrought on primary school teachers when their knowledge of themselves as teachers is disqualified by politics.