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Schools and Ideology: A Critique
by Dimitrios Thanasoulas
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Foucault does not see power as negative. Power is typically analysed in a negative way, but a view of power based on Foucault is not concerned with delimiting and proscribing activities so much as converting the body into something both useful and docile. In this way, it relates power to self-discipline. It views structures and cultures as empowering the individuals within them to carry out fruitful tasks on behalf of the collectivity. A more critical reading of Foucault, however, may interpret docility as restricting creativity and creating the conditions for fascism.

To hark back to school culture; Hargreaves, D. (1995) has proposed a heuristic typology of school cultures in which he identifies four "ideal types": the formal school culture characterised by pressure on students to achieve learning goals but weak social cohesion between staff and students; a welfarist culture where relations between staff and students are friendly and relaxed but there is little academic pressure; a hothouse culture which pressurises staff and students to participate in all aspects of school life, academic and social; and a survivalist culture characterised by poor social relations and low academic achievement. Nevertheless, irrespective of the school culture, there are certain characteristics that apply across the board. For instance, Schein (1985: 9) holds that there are three levels to organisational culture: artifacts (e.g. allocation of space, use of language) which can be easily observed even if not easily understood; the values which individuals say are held by members of the organisation, though these may be espoused rather than practised; and the basic assumptions that guide behaviour which are taken for granted and may be unconscious.


This brief discussion of the political processes underlying the culture of schools has only skimmed the surface of the subject. A more detailed analysis would touch upon a wide range of topics, such as contemporary perspectives on school effectiveness and school improvement, criticisms of theory and methodology, characteristics of school improvement and school effectiveness, strategies for promoting or resisting change in schools, and others. What the present article suggests is that schools as institutions are subject to a number of political processes which, despite the clashes and synergies they may create, shape and modify them ad infinitum. In this constant process of shaping and reshaping of school practices, the role of teachers and practitioners is deemed of utmost importance. Only by gaining insights into the nature of the organisation can its members fully understand how it functions and what courses of action are legitimate. Metaphorically speaking, a school is more like a living organism and just as one cannot graft the leg of a cheetah onto an alsatian to make it run faster, so one cannot graft one particular factor into a school and expect it to make dramatic improvements (Bottery, 2001).


Bacharach, S. (1998). Notes on a political theory of educational organisations. In A. Westoby (Ed.). Culture and Power in Organisations. Milton Keynes:
Open University Press.
arber, M. (1998). The dark side of the moon: Imagining an end to failure in urban education, in L. Stoll and K. Myers (eds). No Quick Fixes. Perspectives on Schools in Difficulty. London: Falmer Press.
Barker, B. and Busher, H. (1998). External contexts and internal policies: a case study of school improvement in its socio-political environment. Unpublished paper given at the British Educational Research Association Annual Conference, Queens University, Belfast, August.
Bottery, M. (2001). School Effectiveness, School Improvement and the Teaching Profession of the Twenty-first Century. In Harris, A. and Bennett, N. School Effectiveness and School Improvement: Alternative Perspectives. London: Continuum.
Bourdieu, P. (1990). In Other Words: Essays Towards a Reflexive Sociology, trans. M. Adamson, Cambridge: Polity Press in association with Blackwells, Oxford.
Busher, H. (1992). The politics of working in secondary schools: Some teachers' perspectives on their schools as organisations. Unpublished PhD thesis, Leeds: School of Education, University of Leeds.
Busher, H. (2001). The micro-politics of change improvement and effectiveness in schools. In Harris, A. and Bennett, N. London: Continuum, p. 75.
Carr, W. (1993). Reconstructing the curriculum debate: an editorial introduction. Curriculum Studies. 1(1): 5-6.
Clegg, S. R. (1989). Frameworks of Power. London: Sage.
Foucault, M. (1977). Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Harmondsworth: Peregrine.
Gramsci, A. (1971). Selections from the Prison Notebooks. London: Lawrence and Wishart.
Hargreaves, D. (1995). School culture, school effectiveness and school Improvement. School Effectiveness and Improvement. 6(1): 23-46.
Harris, A. and Bennett, N. (2001). School Effectiveness and School Improvement: Alternative Perspectives. London: Continuum.
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Sammons, P., Thomas, S. and Mortimore, P. (1997). Forging Links: Effective Schools and Effective Departments. London: Paul Chapman.
Schein, E. (1985). Organizational Culture and Leadership. Oxford: Jossey-Bass.
Young, K. (1981). Discretion as an implementation problem: a framework for Interpretation, in M. Adler and S. Asquith (eds). Discretion and Welfare, pp. 33-46. London: Heinemann.


Dimitrios Thanasoulas studied English Literature and Linguistics at Athens University and then did an MA in Applied Linguistics at Sussex University. After that, he earned an MBA from Mooreland University and is currently finishing the second year of my PhD studies in Education at Nottingham University. His academic interests include fostering cultural awareness and learner autonomy, as well as such issues as language and ideology, Critical Discourse Analysis, Pragmatics, Sociolinguistics, and the Psychology of Education.


Dimitrios can be contacted at:

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