The role of affect in the adoption and implementation of resisted policies in public school settings

Year: 2012

Author: Moore, Alex

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Drawing on two externally-funded research projects in the UK based on interviews and discussions with elementary and high school teachers and young students, this presentation  illustrates some of the ways in which affect contributes to the successful implementation of 'resisted policies' - that is to say,  policies imposed by central governments, by local authorities or by school principals, which many teachers find initially unpopular and counter to their own understandings of effective teaching and learning.  Discussion of the ways in which classroom practitioners either collaborate with or sign up to policies to which they are initially opposed (for example, ability-set teaching groups or mandatory school uniform) focuses on teachers' desire to be popular and perceived as untroublesome in the workplace and to conform to idealised behavioural and institutional  norms, as well  as fears of being made redundant or of being passed over for promotion. At the same time, young learners' need to please and be loved by their teachers supports and enables modes of pedagogic interaction, overtly criticised by their teachers, that prioritise front-of-class teaching, quick, 'surface' answers, and 'knowledge demonstration' through grades and testing.  The presentation describes how, in their desire to gain more nuanced and helpful understandings of   teachers' response to and students' acceptance of resisted policies, the research team combined sociological theory derived principally from Bernstein and Bourdieu with a range of complementary psychoanalytical understandings drawn from Lacan, Zizek, Guattari, and Sigmund and Anna Freud.  Arguing that affect is routinely marginalised within rationalist education policy discourse, even though such policy relies on affect for its effective implementation, the study employs Pinar's metaphor of the 'cutting-room floor' to draw a parallel with the way in which issues related to affect are routinely omitted from or under-represented in education policy research, including, initially, the studies on which this current presentation draws.  Guattari and Deleuze's exploration of the relationship between psychic and political/economic life is drawn on in considering the way in which tendencies within the wider socio-economic order create  in private individuals 'an infinite, internalized debt',  as well as  possibilities for  resistant action involving deliberate movements away from the fixed and dominated 'subjected group' to the self-identifying and transgressive 'group-subject.'   It is suggested that only by including and 'authorizing' affect in our understandings of  education policy, whether as practitioners or as researchers or as both,  can resisted policy be fully understood and more effectively countered.