Deconstructing educational leadership: Derrida and Lyotard

Year: 2013

Author: Niesche, Richard

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The use of poststructuralist ideas in education research has been widespread. However, their use has been much less common in the field of educational leadership. The aim of this paper is to draw upon two key poststructuralist thinkers, namely Jacques Derrida and Jean-François Lyotard, to show how deconstruction can provide a useful lens with which to view research and scholarship in educational leadership. This is not simply for the purposes of critique and unsettling the taken for granted ways of ‘doing’ educational leadership (although this is a fruitful and necessary endeavour), but also for providing new ways of exploring problems or issues in ways that had not previously been conceptualised.

In this conceptual paper, I provide two examples of deconstruction at work educational leadership. The paper is inspired by Biesta’s notion that deconstruction is affirmative in its relation to the coming of the other (Biesta, 2009) and not just an attack or critique of particular ideas or approaches. First, I use Lyotard’s notions of language games and performativity to demonstrate how the recent emphasis on leadership standards consists of incommensurable moves between language games and also privileges particular models of leadership that best suit current forms of performativity. Second, I draw upon Derrida’s philosophy of deconstruction to highlight how a particular leader-follower hierarchy is constructed through popular models such as transformational and distributed leadership even though the latter claims otherwise. In the final section, I suggest alternative ways of researching leadership, to not only encourage new ways of thinking but also the practice of thinking itself, which has become increasingly marginalised in the current performative context. I make the case for a re-philosophising of educational leadership in the examination of leadership ‘as it happens’ (Lyotard, 1991) and of leadership ‘to come’ (Derrida, 1992). These ideas can have practical applications both in terms of leaders’ practice in schools and in the research of educational leadership.

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Lyotard, J. F. (1991) The Inhuman. Trans. G. Bennington and R. Bowlby. Cambridge: Polity Press.