A genealogical analysis of intersubjective assessment practices in two South African classrooms.
In this study, I conduct a genealogical analysis of intersubjective assessment practices. With the help of Foucault (1926-1984) as well as other writers who provide genealogical insights, I set out to examine the effects of productive power within the realm of intersubjective assessment practice. My key concern, guided by Foucault, was to investigate the forms of power, trace its pathways and explore the discourses involved. The study was carried out in a high school located within a city suburb. The key participants were three teachers within the learning areas of Maths, Languages (English Home Language) and Arts and Culture and their respective learners. Data was reduced from video transcripts, observations, and documents. Taking on the genealogical role of “specific intellectual” (Foucault, 1984), I attempted to “disturb” the truth of intersubjective assessment by standing up against the current of new ideas in assessment. I aimed to challenge the things that came across as natural or unquestionable about intersubjective assessment. As part of this project, I tell two stories. In the first, I show through a look into the limitations of the past “objective” view of assessment, how the present “intersubjective” view has been conceptualised. I portray this move from the “objective” to the “intersubjective” view as a story of victory- which I go on to challenge through genealogical analysis. In the other story, I provide a perspective of actual practices of intersubjective assessment. My aim is to show that both stories are tied up in power, substantiating this study’s decision to explore the phenomenon of intersubjective assessment via a genealogical approach. This genealogical analysis revealed a complexity of struggles on the part of teachers and learners in their intersubjective assessment practices. The sense was conveyed that the actual complexity of intersubjective assessment is back-grounded in the many petty and detailed practices in and around it. Some of these include, the conflicting subjectivities on ii the part of both teachers and learners; the impact of the school’s order mark system on intersubjective assessment; the impact of oppositional discourses in existence beneath the surface of schooling life; the panoptic hold those in power have over individual bodies, and the extent to which normalizing practices, both from sources external and internal to the school, impact on intersubjective assessment practices. A pervasive discourse revealed by the analysis was that of “composed performances” of intersubjective assessment. The study found that overt and covert forms of Accountability within the context of the study constructed teachers and learners as compliant subjects rather than autonomous and critically questioning individuals. This study demonstrates that Foucault’s (1926-1984) theories, methods and the model constructed for this study are respectively relevant, valuable and effective when investigating power in intersubjective assessment. Foucault’s suggestions for genealogical inquiry have enabled a perspective of “different things” that exist within the notion of intersubjective assessment. It has revealed points of “fragility”, possibilities for resistance and openings for change within the practice of intersubjective assessment.