Theory and Culture: Excavating school leadership, a case from Trinidad and Tobago

Year: 2012

Author: Bristol, Laurette, Esnard, Talia, Brown, Launcelot

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Purpose: This paper originates from a study that has been guided by the central question: How do early career principals (ECPs) learn to practice leadership in primary schools? We point to a collection of pre-existing and localised orders and arrangements which influence ECPs experiences of being socialised into leadership. The findings that we will present contribute to research design debates by highlighting a challenge of re-presentation and representation: a challenge which emerges when the theoretical framework of a research project works to distil the established culture of the research space.

Methods: For our purposes, an early career principal (ECP) was characterised as a person who has held an appointed primary school leadership position as Principal Primary 1 (P1) for no more than five years. We interviewed eleven ECPs from schools along the East-West corridor and the Southern region of Trinidad and Tobago. The study utilised recent developments in practice theory to examine the social, material and political conditions that influence the practices of socialising into leadership. It employed an interpretivist research design and engaged the theoretical lens of Schatzki's (2002) 'social sites' and Kemmis and Grootenboer's (2008) 'practice architectures' to excavate practices of socialising into leadership.

Results: Using practice theory as the analysis scheme for this study gave rise to significant challenges that revolved around (1) re-presenting the data and (2) representing the cultural dynamics of the site. While particular theoretical constructs provide researchers with the explanatory power to describe events, these theories, which often originate outside of the cultural contexts in which they are applied, can serve to distort the ways in which particular communities are re-presented and represented; and, in so doing, facilitate a research practice that can become culturally unethical (Bristol 2008, 2010; Allen, Anderson, Bristol, Downs, O'Neill, Watts & Wu 2009).

Conclusions: We show how we resolve an analysis challenge by approaching the data through a conception of the practice of socialising into leadership as a mosaic of overlapping social processes and animated practice landscapes. Treating the data as a mosaic of landscapes demonstrated the "multi-functionality of landscapes" (Lapka and Cudlinova, 2003, p. 324) and illuminated the interaction between the worlds of the ECPs, the union representative and the school's supervisor. This, as they negotiated and transformed the cultural- discursive, material-economic and social-political dimensions of a practice of socialising into leadership (Aplin, 2007; Mosler, 2009).