A web site for the developing language teacher

Schools and Ideology: A Critique
by Dimitrios Thanasoulas
- 2

Politics, then, emerges as the key element in understanding the process of shaping and changing what takes place in schools. This is because it is through processes of negotiation that people assert their views and values, and through the manipulation of power to gain access to material and symbolic resources that they attempt to implement them. Bacharach (1988: 282) contends that educational organisations are best conceived as political systems, while participants can be conceived of as political actors with their own needs, objectives and strategies to achieve those objectives. Moreover, an individual's or a group's effort to have their point of view reflected in the decision outcome rests on authority and influence. A key concept in a micro-political analysis, then, is power and how people use it.

Negotiations between individuals and interest groups take place within the social framework of the school. This is what constitutes the culture of a school and it is made up of its rites, rituals, customs and language which are the manifestations of the values and beliefs held by the senior staff. Embedded within this cultural milieu or habitus (Bourdieu, 19990) are understandings about how people bargain for material and symbolic resources.
It has become clear so far that these interpersonal relations are not between equals. People interactions at both classroom and school levels are riddled with power and status. How this power is used depends on how each individual interprets the situation. Young (1981) proposed that we bring to every situation a number of elements:

• Cognitive knowledge of the situation and of ways in which it might be possible to act;

• An affective valuation of the situation, leading to a judgement of the potential worth of any given action in the situation;

• The 'cathectic' sense of how we ourselves relate to the situation, interpret it and understand it: the combination of the cognitive and affective elements;

• The directive sense of being required to decide on a course of action and take it.

According to Young, we actively deploy these four elements in an attempt to understand the situation, our freedom to act in it and our sense of what is the right course of action-what he calls our 'assumptive world'.

Two views of power as sources of norms: Hegemony and discipline

The institutional and environmental origins of many organisational norms reflect two major views of power in society. One is the concept of hegemony (Gramsci, 1971; Lukes, 1974) and the other is Foucault's (1977) concept of disciplinary power with its associated concept of bio-power. Hegemony is a concept based on the idea that domination and control rest on both coercion and consent. As Clegg (1989: 160) suggests, this 'active consent' can be generated and sustained by means of four activities:

1) Taking systematic account of popular interests and demands;

2) Making compromises on secondary issues to maintain support and alliances in an inherently unstable political system;

3) Organising support for national goals which serve the fundamental long-term interests of the dominant group;

4) Providing moral, intellectual and political leadership in order to reproduce and form a collective will or national popular outlook.

Certain organisations are particularly significant in generating this active consent, notably the Church, schools, trade unions and the mass media.
Foucault's view of disciplinary power is somewhat different but emphasises the way in which state apparatuses are at work to control not just how individuals act but how they think. Foucault (1977) suggests that modern society has developed through techniques of surveillance. The best expression of this is Jeremy Bentham's 'panopticon', a design for a prison (or a workhouse or a school) which was intended to provide maximum surveillance of the prisoners by a minimum staff. In a panopticon, all the cells led off a central point, from which it was possible for a guard to observe what was going on in all the cells on that floor. The essence of Foucault's view of power was that it derived, not from direct surveillance, but from the fact that no prisoner could be sure that the guard was not looking along that wing.

To page 3 of 3

Print-friendly version

Back to the articles index

Back to the top

Tips & Newsletter Sign up —  Current Tip —  Past Tips 
Train with us Online Development Courses    Lesson Plan Index
 Phonology — Articles Books  LinksContact
Advertising — Web Hosting — Front page

Copyright 2000-2016© Developing