Maybe the target nowadays is not to discover what we are but refuse what we are. (Foucault 2002a, p. 336)
As leaders, one of the main roles we undertake is to develop specific strategies to improve performance against our own data and the national data. It is at this level, the level of our daily practices, that we can see how power operates through the accountability regime.
What has become apparent from the previous posts is that there is a tension, between our undertaking of particular practices in pursuit of measurability and the subversive day-to-day resistances to these practices, resistances that we use in our quest to attempt to be more authentic to the needs of our college and students.
Various academics claim there is an increasing need to consider leadership as a form of resistance (e.g. Ryan 1998, Zoller & Fairhurst 2007, Thomson 2008) to intense compliance structures and expectations in education. These forms of leadership are in contrast to the pervasive influence of the accountability agenda, the reliance on heroic representations of leadership, and also what Nigel Wright calls “bastard leadership” (Wright 2001, 2011).
According to Foucault, power is a relation between individuals or groups of individuals, not a thing held or owned by individuals to be used. Power is something that is exercised, or is “a set of actions upon other actions” (Foucault 2002a, p. 341), the “conduct of conduct” (note that Foucault preferred the term “counter conduct” to resistance).
Power, as Foucault stated:
… applies itself to immediate everyday life, categorises the individual, marks him by his own individuality, attaches him to his own identity, imposes a law of truth on him that he must recognise and have others recognise in him. It is a form of power that makes individuals subjects. (Foucault 2002a, p. 331)
We can conclude that we have been subjectified (become subjects) by our use of and compliance with data driven accountability. For Foucault, one can become subjected to someone else’s control and dependence and maybe more importantly, to one’s own identity by a conscience or self-knowledge (Foucault 2002a, p. 331). So while we can aim to be authentic to the needs of our college and students, maybe we ought to start with ourselves.
How do we fight this subjection and participate in the “art of not being governed quite so much” (Foucault, 1997e, p. 29)? Foucault argued that this could be achieved through a form of critique, a “care of the self” and “care of others” through truthful discourse and self-reflection.
A critique does not consist in saying that things aren’t good the way they are. It consists in seeing on just what type of assumptions, of familiar notions, of established and unexamined ways of thinking the accepted practices are based…to do criticism is to make harder those acts which are now too easy (Foucault, 1981, p. 456).
I hope that your participation in this blog so far has provided a space for that form of critique, which can work
“as an act of defiance, as a challenge, as a way of limiting these arts of governing and sizing them up, transforming them, of finding a way to escape from them” (Foucault, 1997, p. 28),
a space within and between the accountability discourse which allows you to exercise a form of counter-conduct and develop advocacy for our students and be more authentic to yourselves.
To do this, there has to be engagement in discourse and practice that
“will separate out, from the contingency that has made us what we are, the possibility of no longer being, doing or thinking what we are, do, or think” (Foucault, 1997f, pp. 315-6).
However, there are costs to be considered here, the costs of constant vigilance, the costs of a commitment to a kind of “permanent agonism” (Burchell, 1996, p. 34), the possibilities of ridicule and precarity – what Lazzarato calls the “micro-politics of little fears” (2009, p. 120).
Over and against these however, there are the costs of silence and who bears them. If we take Foucault seriously we must confront the problem of standing outside our own history, outside of ourselves, and do the ethical work on ourselves to bring authenticity and moral purpose back to our profession and practice.
For the penultimate question then:
If we are being ‘‘disciplined’’ by data into being particular types of people, and at the same time our ethical practice is determined by institutionally defined process and procedure, how do we reconcile ourselves as moral subjects of our own actions (Foucault 1984d), tell the truth and care for our selves and each other?