The “willful” characters of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research: Within/against neo-liberal agendas in education

Year: 2015

Author: Bright, David, Mackinlay, Liz

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

In her recent work, Sara Ahmed explores willfulness as a negative charge often made by some against others. She offers a way of thinking about the relationship between ill will and good will, the will of the particular and the general, the embeddedness of will in a political and cultural landscape, and such wills are embodied, controlled and socially mediated. In Ahmed’s reading, willfulness is a characteristic often ascribed to those who do “not will the reproduction of the whole” (2011, p. 246) – those who are deemed wayward, wandering, and/or deviant. Using Ahmed’s discussions of “willful” characters and subjects, in this paper we report on the successes and failures of a research project exploring the effectiveness of mentoring programs in enhancing the recruitment and retention of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander pre-service teachers as a response to the reform and research agenda of improving educational outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. We think about the tensions always present between two faces of such a project: the need to reproduce modes of compliance to the expectations of a neo-liberal funding regime; and the willful pursuit of the kinds of wayward resistance and critique that may be potentially undermining and self-sabotaging as well as wholly necessary. In doing so, we position Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research as a performative doubleness which needs willfulness in order to “stand up, to stand against the world” (Ahmed, 2011, p. 250) of colonial reproduction in neo-liberal times.
Ahmed, S. (2011). Willful parts: Problem characters or the problem of the character. New Literary History, 42(2), 231-253.