Power and subjectivity in leadership and management : an ethnographic study of the school management team in a South African school.
1994 was a watershed in the history of education in South Africa. The post-apartheid government was faced with a large number of schools that were dysfunctional, especially black secondary schools in urban areas (Fleisch, 2004). Schools were in greater need of effective leadership than ever before. Since the advent of democracy in South Africa in 1994, there have been increasing demands on education leaders and managers. School leaders have been toted repeatedly in the media and literature as the key drivers of change. Studying school leadership is thus indeed an imperative, and the question to answer is not whether but how. This study uses ethnographic techniques to explore ways in which leadership is experienced in a school by individuals and groups through interactional events. Initial enquiries thrown up by this include: What best practice models could be revealed from a prolonged stay in the research field? What new leadership vocabularies permeate the educational space and what do these reveal about leadership practice? Given the political changes in South Africa, how has leadership evolved? This thesis presents an ethnographic portrait of a functional school in South Africa and focuses specifically on providing an analysis of how discourse, power and ethics are central to individual subjectivities of school leaders and managers by addressing the following critical research questions: (i) What are the leadership discourses in a school setting?; (ii) How do power and subjectivity play out within daily interactions of the school management team (SMT)? The concepts of surveillance, gaze, normalisation, and discourses throw new light on the discipline and practice of leadership and management, exposing their power relations’ pervasive effects in shaping the ethical decisions made. Without critical reflection and attention to power relations, school management could easily become inward looking and give inadequate attention to parents, learners and other stakeholders. The thesis concludes by drawing out four significant findings on the practice of leadership and management: (i) discourses shed light on institutional practices and the working of power; (ii) building social capital is an essential part of effective leadership; (iii) in an organisation such as the school, individuals are placed in a matrix of power relations; and (iv) schools advance iii the concept of moral ecology through the subjectivities and ethical actions of collective leadership of the school and community. Key Terms: Power relations, leadership, discourse, subjectivity, ethics, ethnographic techniques.