Separating teacher learning from compliance: working with Bakhtin and the centrifuge

Year: 2013

Author: Talbot, Debra

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


This paper explores the relationship between teacher professional learning and current contexts of compliance particularly as they relate to professional standards and the implementation of the Australian Curriculum.  It works with and against Bahktin’s metaphor of the centrifuge to explore the types of professional learning that enable teachers to resist the compliance agenda in the interests of quality teaching.

In order to explore the phenomenon of dominance and subversion, Bahktin uses a ’s metaphor employs based on circular motion where ‘centripetal’ forces to describe the effect of the “dominant, hegemonic, centripetal discourse” (Halasek, 1992, p67)that is are exerted to move subjects to a centralised position of conformity and compliance. The notion of ‘centrifugal’ force in the sense of a reaction force as described by Newton’s third law of motion, is used to explain the resisting or subversion of such centralizing forces by a “marginalized, heterologic, dialogic centrifugal discourse”(Halasek, 1992, p67) .

The notion of the ‘centrifugal’ force is problematic for me and yet the metaphor has an explanatory power for my work concerning teachers’ learning that is too good to completely discard. This paper aims to refresh the metaphor in such a way as to retain the essence of Bakhtin’s ideas and simultaneously adjust the physics to explain the effect of the net centralizing force.

It draws upon a three year study that engaged teachers in open-ended ‘research conversations’ about what and how they learn about their work, and how they know when they have really learned something and how they demonstrate their learning. The conversations also explored the impact of professional standards and the impending Australian Curriculum on their learning.

Halasek, K. (1992). Feminism and Bakhtin:Dialogic reading in the academy. Rhetoric Society Quarterly, 22(1), 63-73.