Researching The ‘North’: Educational Ethnography Of A (Sub)Urban Region

Year: 2015

Author: Hattam, Robert

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Unfortunately education policy in Australia is under the influence of positivist decontexualised knowledge that pretends objectivity and offers little insight into ‘actually existing’ schools. At best such knowledge offers banal versions of a normative project that provides two word slogans for politicians such as ‘quality teaching’, which is apparently self-evident, and generalisable. What could be easier than that! But as John Smyth reminds us, terms like ‘quality’ are aeresol terms that get sprayed around, become normalised and eventually operate as ‘common sense’. Against neoliberalising policy conformity, this paper argues for contexualised understandings of schooling. At a minimum such accounts have these characteristics: located in’ real’ places and don’t pretend universal generalisation (i.e. knowing about everywhere from nowhere); demonstrate reflexivity of the researcher and especially showing some awareness of the partiality of knowledge, and how researcher subjectivity is implicated in the production of knowledge; acknowledges that power works on and through knowledge and subjectivity and hence doesn’t pretend knowledge is outside of power/knowledge.
This paper takes up the challenge for critical contextualised knowing about actually existing schools and provides a brief reading of a collection of studies that have examined schooling in the Northern suburbs of Adelaide--one the most educationally disadvantaged regions in Australia. The paper argues that context might be a regional geographical context. The paper briefly revisits Making the Difference (Connell et al 1982), Schooling the Rustbelt Kids (Thomson, 2002), and various reports for the Redesigning Pedagogies in the North Project (Prosser et al 2010, Hattam et al 2009). The paper also reads three recent studies that contribute to critical leadership studies that have been conducted in the Northern Suburbs. One by Rogers (2013), who reports on the constitution of leadership practices in Northern suburbs public schools during recent attempts at ‘devolution’, or local school management. A second by Semmens (2014) who examined how principals of public secondary schools operated with and against maketisation logics. The third, by Hattam, Comber and Hayes is examining precarious leadership in public primary schools.