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Technologies of Power in a State-initiated School Improvement Programme: Governing by school self-improvement
Dalarna University, School of Teacher Education, Educational Work.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-3084-8411
2024 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Description
Abstract [en]

This thesis investigates the power dynamics between state and municipal actors within the state-initiated school improvement program, Co-operation for the Best School Possible (CBS). CBS can be seen as an example of the numerous reforms driven by the global education reform movement (GERM), which is rooted in neoliberal ideologies. The thesis aims to illuminate how power operates within the CBS program, focusing on the construction and regulation of local school actors. It explores the intricate power relations between the Swedish National Agency for Education (SNAE) and local school actors, including headteachers, local education authorities and local politicians.

A Foucauldian perspective serves as the overarching analytical framework, incorporating key concepts such as governmentality, sovereign, disciplinary, and pastoral power, along with neoliberalism, discourse, and resistance. The study also employs soft governance and policy instruments. The research adopts a case study approach, utilising data collected through interviews, meeting observations, and documents from a municipality, as well as national policy documents. The analysis methods include narrative discourse analysis, thematic analyses, and a scoping review.

The findings underscore the constitutive role of language in official policy texts and how local actors are governed through policy instruments such as carrots, sticks, and sermons. From a Foucauldian perspective, local school actors are identified as deviant under the normalising gaze of experts, internalising state-imposed norms and standards. Subtler methods of steering involve pastoral techniques, such as self-evaluation, requiring local actors to reflect on their weaknesses and how to better themselves. The Systematic Quality Assurance (SQA) work exemplifies a self-monitoring trend in education, where schools continuously self-evaluate based on preset standards, combining disciplinary, sovereign, and pastoral power to improve performance. The SNAE functions as both a monitor and a pastor, providing the local actors with a roadmap to redemption.

Eight years after CBS’s implementation, research on its various aspects remains limited. This thesis contributes to understanding how power technologies operate in large-scale school improvement initiatives like CBS. It addresses gaps in existing research by examining how power functions in public education and how neoliberal reforms shape the professional identities and practices of local school actors.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Falun: Dalarna University, 2024.
Series
Dalarna Doctoral Dissertations ; 35
Keywords [en]
power, governmentality, large-scale school improvement, policy instruments, Foucault
National Category
Pedagogical Work
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:du-48679ISBN: 978-91-88679-74-1 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:du-48679DiVA, id: diva2:1866919
Public defence
2024-08-23, lecture hall F135, campus Falun, 13:00 (Swedish)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2024-06-25 Created: 2024-06-09 Last updated: 2024-06-25Bibliographically approved
List of papers
1. Styrning genom samverkan? – En textanalys av dominerande diskurser i en statlig skolförbättringssatsning
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Styrning genom samverkan? – En textanalys av dominerande diskurser i en statlig skolförbättringssatsning
2021 (Swedish)In: Pedagogisk forskning i Sverige, ISSN 1401-6788, E-ISSN 2001-3345, Vol. 26, no 1, p. 42-69Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [sv]

Artikeln tar sin utgångspunkt i tre texter rörande skolförbättringssatsningen Samverkan för bästa skola (SBS) varav två kan betecknas som policytexter och den tredje är en myndighets hemsida rörande SBS. Policydiskurser är viktiga att undersöka i och med att de ramar in vad som är den politiska viljan kring ett givet fenomen. Genom policy konstrueras mening och identifieras problem i utbildning. Syftet med studien är att skriva fram ett tänkbart narrativ om SBS för att synliggöra och lyfta fram underliggande diskurser i retoriken kring SBS i de analyserade texterna. Analysen har guidats av både en narrativ och en diskursiv ansats. Ett styrningsperspektiv har anlagts i analysen med utgångspunkt i governance och governmentality. I analysen lyfts olika konkurrerande diskurser fram spänningen mellan samverkan och styrning, mellan decentralisering och kontroll. Studiens kunskapsbidrag är att den kritiskt granskar en av de största skolutvecklingssatsningar som gjorts i svensk skola och ett resonemang om de underliggande antaganden som identifierats i analysen förs. Att vara kritisk betyder inte att säga hur saker egentligen är, utan vad diskursanalyser av detta slag kan bidra med är att lyfta blicken från dessa under-liggande common sense-antaganden som genomsyrar offentliga texter och på så sätt öppna upp för alternativa tankesätt och handlingssätt.

National Category
Educational Sciences
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:du-43932 (URN)10.15626/pfs26.01.03 (DOI)
Available from: 2022-12-08 Created: 2022-12-08 Last updated: 2024-06-09Bibliographically approved
2. Government steering and government disruption: co-operation between government and municipal actors in a state-initiated school improvement programme from the municipal actors’ perspective
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Government steering and government disruption: co-operation between government and municipal actors in a state-initiated school improvement programme from the municipal actors’ perspective
2023 (English)In: Nordic Journal of Studies in Educational Policy, ISSN 2002-0317, Vol. 9, no 2, p. 113-125Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

This article focuses on the co-operation between the Swedish National Agency for Education and school actors at the municipal level, examined from the latter’s perspective, within the context of a state-initiated school improvement programme, namely Co-operation for the Best School Possible (CBS). Co-operation between different levels of the school system is a neglected but essential aspect to analyse in a decentralised system such as Sweden’s, which is showing signs of re-centralisation. Empirically, the article is based on interviews with local actors in a small municipality participating in CBS. The interviews were part of a case study, and the analysis was guided by the theory of soft governance, Vedung’s concepts of sticks, carrots, and sermons as policy instruments, and Weick’s concept of sensemaking. Sensemaking, evident in the case study as a retrospective communicative notion, was employed to capture the local actors’ stories of how they perceived CBS. The connection with past experiences also played a part in their sensemaking since a clear history exists and was noted between the state and municipal levels. In conclusion, the analysis shows that CBS used sticks, carrots and sermons to steer municipal school actors towards the right path as regards school improvement. © 2023 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Routledge, 2023
Keywords
Co-operation, policy instruments, school improvement programme, sensemaking, soft governance
National Category
Pedagogy
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:du-45819 (URN)10.1080/20020317.2023.2189991 (DOI)2-s2.0-85150773712 (Scopus ID)
Available from: 2023-04-03 Created: 2023-04-03 Last updated: 2024-06-09Bibliographically approved
3. The Quest for Continuous Improvement in Light of Power: Disciplinary, Sovereign and Pastoral Power in a State-initiated School Improvement Programme
Open this publication in new window or tab >>The Quest for Continuous Improvement in Light of Power: Disciplinary, Sovereign and Pastoral Power in a State-initiated School Improvement Programme
2024 (English)In: Article in journal (Refereed) Submitted
Abstract [en]

There is a global movement of education reform, informed by a neoliberal agenda, emphasising continuous improvement, and accountability through performance measurements, surveillance and monitoring. This puts local school actors under a constant gaze and endless pressure to perform. This article uses a Swedish state-initiated school improvement programme, Co-operation for the Best School Possible (CBS), to investigate how power is exercised within the programme and to discuss possible implications for the local actors. A theoretical model based on Foucault’s power modes of sovereign, disciplinary and pastoral power as well as governmentality is used. Empirically the article builds on a case study from a municipality participating in CBS. The analysis takes impression of Jackson and Mazzei’s ‘thinking with theory’. The CBS programme illustrates the widespread and multifaceted nature of power in educational governance, prompting local actors to internalise norms, self-regulate, and continuously evaluate their practices. This study highlights the importance of understanding the interplay of different power modes in shaping educational practices and the professional lives of local school actors. This article has contributed to questioning the common sensical, and it has made the exercises of power recognisable through the use of Foucault’s concepts.

Keywords
power, governmentality, continuous improvement, large-scale school improvement, Foucault
National Category
Pedagogical Work
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:du-48678 (URN)
Available from: 2024-06-09 Created: 2024-06-09 Last updated: 2024-06-10Bibliographically approved
4. School Leaders’ Response to Neoliberal Education Reforms: A Scoping Review
Open this publication in new window or tab >>School Leaders’ Response to Neoliberal Education Reforms: A Scoping Review
2024 (English)In: Article in journal (Refereed) Submitted
Abstract [en]

The aim with this scoping review is to provide an overview of research on school leaders’ response to neoliberal education reform. There have been claims that there is a lack of empirical research critically examining the vast amounts of education reforms from a local perspective This review is an answer to that call, as it analyses existing research on school leaders’ experience of neoliberal reforms using empirical data. This article employs a resistance theory perspective. The search resulted in 21 articles that met all the inclusion criteria. A descriptive analysis and a content analysis was undertaken. The latter considers how school leaders navigate the reforms, and also how they resisted them. The results show that resistance was manifested in terms such as speaking your mind, irony, simulation and compliance. The reviewed studies exemplify some of the problems of the ‘new professionalism’ fashioned by educational policy seeking to steer the work of schools in a competitive school marketplace. Overall, the review underscores the transformative nature of educational reforms on education and the imperative for using resistance and power theories to both help shed light on the sometimes soul altering changes these initiatives can achieve and point to possible counter-discourse and counter-conduct.

Keywords
School leader, neoliberal education reform, navigate, resistance, scoping review
National Category
Pedagogical Work
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:du-48677 (URN)
Available from: 2024-06-09 Created: 2024-06-09 Last updated: 2024-06-25Bibliographically approved

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