Productive learning or technologies of government: a Foucauldian reading of the politics of professional development

Year: 2000

Author: DEVOS, A

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

In this paper I propose to use the conceptual tools provided through Foucault's later work on governmentality to examine the role of professional development in higher education. As Foucauldian scholars have observed, governmentality refers to much more than just the 'state'. It refers: "to all endeavours to shape, guide, direct the conduct of others, whether these be the crew of a ship, the members of a household, the employees of a boss, the children of a family or the inhabitants of a territory. And it also embraces the ways in which one might be urged and educated to bridle one's own passions, to control one's own instincts, to govern oneself." (Rose, 1999:3)

I will undertake an analysis of the ways in which professional development governs staff of the university, the ways in which it involves subjects 'educating themselves into accepting, valuing and working to achieve the congruence of personal and organisational objectives'. The site for this examination is WomenResearch 21, a staff development program designed to help women academics at the beginning of their academic careers develop their research confidence, effectiveness and productivity. The 'subjects of government' in this case are the women participants in the program.

The purpose of this enquiry is threefold: to investigate the usefulness of a Foucauldian perspective on the politics of professional development; to provide me as the manager of the project with an analytic distance from which to conduct a form of evaluation which places the institution, its values and my own practices, under question; and finally to explore the concept of agency in a Foucauldian analysis of the constitution of subjects.