Zombie Leadership, The Differend And Deconstruction

Year: 2015

Author: Niesche, Richard

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

How do you kill a concept that will not die? In thinking about the problems associated with the term leadership, for example its requisite instrumentalism, exceptional individualism, best practice models, incestuous repetitive adjectival approaches, performative standards based discourses and so on; these discourses of leadership refuse to die. They are the “living dead” of educational leadership. The metaphor of the zombie seems appropriate for these relentless, shambling movements of scholarship, a leadership industry that cannot transition away from particular modes of thinking. There have been numerous excellent critiques of these kinds of discourses, so I will not focus on those here, or the marginalisation of such critical perspectives. My focus in this chapter is to look at our responses to this issue and the difficulties and problems with doing so. The chapter is largely philosophical rather than argumentative although if pushed to outline the sketches of an argument, it would be that one must use the language and discourse of leadership in order for a witnessing of its deconstruction to occur.

In thinking about this issue I propose to point out what Lyotard would term a differend between two possible responses, or perhaps Derrida’s incompossible, an antinomy. A first response, as I mentioned above, is the idea that we must do away with, or come up with alternatives to, while not mentioning the word leadership. Second, is the act of deconstructing leadership, or engaging with and using the term in order for its problematisations (Foucault) and deconstructions (Derrida) to be seen. There appears to be a differend (Lyotard) between these two statements, or phrases. The rules and genres of discourse applicable to each phrase are not commensurable, that is, there is a lack of a rule of judgement between the two, resulting in a differend. It is this differend that is the object of this chapter. I proceed first by examining the problematic of leadership and considering its limit through deconstruction. Second, I consider how we might proceed without using the term but then still achieving a trace of leadership in the process. Finally I consider the implications of this line of thinking for how we might then need to capture leadership as it happens, or preparing for the incalculable, the “other” of leadership.