School leadership, subjectification and the politics of indigenous representation

Year: 2012

Author: Niesche, Richard, Keddie, Amanda

Type of paper: Abstract refereed



Examinations of educational leadership have tended to work with fixed identities of leaders as working in a particular style, having certain characteristics or adopting a model or approach to leadership. These models tend to result in de-contextualised understandings of leadership practice. However, in this paper, we bring issues of context and culture to the fore by exploring the tensions and complexities for two white, female principals as they work towards equity and improved social and educational outcomes for their Indigenous students.


Drawing on Foucault's work on ethics and technologies of the self and poststructuralist notions of the subject, this paper presents the different ways these principals of Indigenous schools are formed as subjects. The research draws upon a comparative case study of two white, female principals of Indigenous schools in Queensland. The paper largely draws on interview data with the principals, although some reflections from teaching staff are also used.


The two case studies illustrate how the multiplicities of these principals' subject formation are influenced by the historicity and contextual factors of the schools and communities. These factors, along with their assumptions about race, play a significant part in how these principals work as advocates and differently experience and negotiate the tensions around representation of and for Indigenous schools and their communities.


The paper cautions against one principal's tendency to deploy culturally reductionist understandings of Indigeneity, that assumes it to be incompatible or incommensurable with White culture/Western schooling. In so doing, the paper argues for the central imperative of school leadership that engages in a critical situational analysis of Indigenous politics, relations and experience.