Markets, privilege and the practice of violence

Year: 2012

Author: Saltmarsh, Sue

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Within the education marketplace, choice, competition and success tend to function in tandem with other social values in the promotion of educational 'goods and services'. Promoted by many elite schools as part of the educational 'products' they offer, values such as dignity, compassion, respect for others, integrity, self-discipline and faith become signifiers of institutional worth and exemplary student behaviour. They are thus transformed into commodities that 'value add' to the educational advantages and opportunities generally associated with a private school education, potentially enhancing the competitive edge of both institution and individual. But what happens when violent events occur - sexual harassment, physical or verbal assaults, cyber-bullying, systematic abuse and even killings - which disrupt the prevailing discourses of an educational marketplace that sees economic privilege, individual entitlement and educational quality as unproblematically synonymous? How are we to make sense of such incidents occurring in some of the world's best known and most respected schools, and of the scandals resulting in damaging headlines, court cases and public debate about the 'pros and cons' of privileged education? This paper considers school violence as situated within specific institutional histories and environments that incorporate symbolic and material violence into the everyday - the development and implementation of student welfare and discipline policies, the management of classrooms and playgrounds, the conduct of relations with students, parents, and community members, and the gendered and raced promotion of educational and social privilege. As Michel de Certeau has observed: "If, by violence, we mean a growing distortion between what a discourse says and what a society does with it, then this very discourse functions as a manifestation of violence. It becomes itself a language of violence" (Certeau, 1997: 30). Following this line of thinking, the paper explores how market-driven educational discourses of choice, competition, elitism, entitlement and achievement constitute the violent conditions they persistently disavow.