Archaeology of a language development non governmental organisation : excavating the identity of the English Language Educational Trust.
Any attempt at understanding the influences that impinge on teacher development in South Africa is incomplete without an exploration of the role of NGOs, particularly those alternative development agencies that were conceived in response to apartheid education and which continued to pursue progressive, contextually relevant interventions in the transitional democracy. Using the archaeological approach to excavate deep insights into the behaviour of a language development NGO, this study documents the institutional memory of the English language Education Trust (ELET). Portraying two decades of its history (1984 to 2001) through the eyes of key participants in the organisation, the study traces the multiple influences, internal and extraneous, that have shaped ELET's mutating identity as it negotiated the challenges of a volatile and unpredictable NGO climate. The study pursues two reciprocal outcomes. First, it attempts methodological elaboration. In advocating transdisciplinary research, it borrows from the established traditions of empowerment and illuminative evaluation, appropriating their key tenets for an institutional evaluation. Underpinned by the genre of narrative research, the study expands the lifehistory method as an evaluative tool, providing opportunities for organisational members to engage in self-reflexive interrogation of the organisation's life as it negotiated a multiplicity of development challenges. Second, it attempts theoretical elaboration. It challenges classical organisational theory (which derives from the structural - functionalist corporatist mode of management theory), as conservative and inadequate in understanding the organisational culture of an NGO. The study proposes a post-structuralist mode of discourse analysis as complementary to classical management theory in organisational analysis. Conflating theory and method provides incisive conceptual lenses to appraise the contribution of ELET to language teacher development. The study finds that while ELET has been complicit in allowing its mission as a counter-hegemonic agency to be undermined by its submission to normative, coercive and mimetic isomorphism, it nevertheless demonstrates agency to innovate rather than replicate. It achieves this despite the cumulative constraining pressures of globalisation, manifest through volatility in corporate funding, shifting imperatives of bilateral funding agencies, and the fickle agendas of the fledgling democratic government. The study demonstrates that, given these unpredictable conditions, NGOs Iike ELET are forced to reinvent themselves to respond to emerging development opportunities as a hedge against attrition. In this regard, ELET has benefited from astute management and a vigilant quest for homegrown intervention programmes as alternatives to imported literacy programmes, all of which helps it redefine what constitutes emancipatory literacies. Despite its proven record of accomplishment as a site for alternative teacher development, the study demonstrates that a competitive higher education sector a hostile policy environment and the debilitating reporting mechanisms demanded by funders results in ELET's potential as a site for 'authentic' knowledge production to be devalued. A further consequence of this marginilisation is that the organisation finds itself increasingly vulnerable to co-option by the state as a functionary of service delivery, accounting upwards to funders rather than downwards to beneficiaries of development. The study argues that the exploitative relationship the NGO endures with other development constituencies is as much a consequence of the NGO's failure to embrace an expedient corporate culture as it is the failure of these constituencies to acknowledge the potential of the NGO. Hence, rather than preserve the antagonistic relationship between higher education institutes and alternative agencies for knowledge production, they will each benefit by mutually appropriating the accumulated expertise of the other, giving substance to the ideal of a community of reason through creative dialectical evolution. The study concludes with the proposition that one mechanism to operationalise the notion of a community of reason is community service learning, a partnership between higher education institutes, corporate funders and development NGOs, a relationship in which the NGO provides leadership in appropriating disparate energies towards the cultivation of a socially literate country.