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The good student: subjectivities and power in secondary schools

Thompson, Gregory (2009) The good student: subjectivities and power in secondary schools. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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Schooling has become one of the core, generalisable experiences of most young people in the Western world. This study examines the ways that students inhabit subjectivities in school through the normalising vision of the good student. The idea that schools exist to produce good students who become good citizens is one of the basic tenets of modernist educational philosophies that dominate the contemporary education world.

This study takes a different position, arguing that the visions of the good student deployed in various ways in schools act to produce various ways of knowing the self that are ultimately concerned with behaviour and discipline rather than freer thought and action. Developing the postmodern theories of Foucault and Deleuze, this study argues that schools could be freer places than they are, but current practices act to teach students to know themselves in certain idealised ways through which they are located, and locate themselves, in hierarchical rationales of the good student.

Part of the promise of schools lies in the ways that students become negotiators and producers of their subjectivities, albeit in narrow and limiting ways. By pushing the ontological understandings of the self beyond the modernist philosophies that currently dominate schools and schooling, this study problematises the ways that young people are made subjects in schools. Part of this modernist tradition is found in the institutional tendency to see students as fixed, measurable identities (beings) rather than dynamic, evolving performances (becomings).

Schools and schooling largely appear to make sense to us because we think we understand what happens and what should happen in schools. The good student is framed within these aspects of cultural understanding. However, this commonsense attitude is based on a hegemonic understanding of the good, rather than the good student as a contingent multiplicity that is produced by an infinite set of discourses and experiences. I argue that this understanding of subjectivities and power is crucial if schools are to meet the needs of a rapidly changing and challenging world.

This study utilises socially critical case study research across multiple sites to investigate those micropractices of power in schools that produce the normalising vision of the good student. Data from three school sites was gathered using a variety of techniques including interviews and focus group research.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Education
Supervisor(s): MacCallum, Judy and Bell, James
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