PISA shocks, competitive threats and contagious germs: affect and global education policy

Year: 2013

Author: Sellar, Sam

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

In recent years theories of affect have been taken up in educational research, particularly for thinking about circulations of desire in pedagogical encounters. However, affects have less often been objects of analytical attention in education policy studies. Affects can be defined as felt dimensions of experience that feed into but exceed rational thought and representation. The ‘affective turn’ in social theory emerged from a growing sense of unease that the linguistic emphasis in poststructuralism and deconstruction did not sufficiently attend to bodies and materiality. This paper argues for incorporating theories of affect into poststructural approaches to policy studies and contributes to an emerging literature exploring the usefulness of affect theories for describing how policy produces effects through the modulation of feeling.

The paper focuses on three examples in which the effects or transfer of policies can be understood to occur at the level of affects. First, there are now a number of cases in which media coverage and political responses to comparatively poor national performance on international tests such as PISA has provoked a sense of shock among national publics. This is linked to the second example: the use of feelings of insecurity or competitive threat associated with these ‘shocks’ to create conducive conditions in which to push for policy reform. Third, Sahlberg’s (2010) notion of the Global Education Reform Movement, or GERM, and research showing the important role of face-to-face meetings in policy transfer suggest a model of contagion which has been productively used to describe the spread of affects through groups.

The paper contributes to understanding governance in education in the context of ‘control societies’ (Deleuze 1995) by showing how education policies produce effects through the modulation and movement of bodies within and across global networks.