The production of present and absent presences in education

Anneli Frelin Ph.D. 1  and Jan Grannäs Ph.D 1
  • 1 University of Gävle Faculty of Education and Business Studies 801 76 Gävle Sweden


Drawing on the distinction between absent and present presences, this article contributes to our understanding of how new managerial and performative discourses are played out in a secondary school context in Sweden. The consequences of numerous educational reforms during the last 20 years include a surge of new independent schools and increased segregation between students due to individual school choice. Following international trends, a yearly national municipal school ranking is published, drawing much attention both in the media and on the policy level, intensifying pressure for results at the municipal level. A case study was conducted in one bottom-ranked Swedish secondary school over the 2012-13 school year, focusing on how relationships between students and staff were negotiated in informal spaces and places. The results illustrate how absent presences and present presences are produced in the practice of schooling. The present presences were publication of results, raising merit scores and grading pressure, and the absent presences were the role of the media in the self-image of schools, increased workload for teachers, the misuse of statistical data and demoralization and determination. The results contribute to the understanding of a) the challenges that teachers and schools are faced with as a consequence of the new managerial and performative discourses in educational settings, and b) the means they draw on to face and resist them in their everyday practices.

If the inline PDF is not rendering correctly, you can download the PDF file here.

  • Apple, M. W. (1999). The absent presence of race in educational reform. Race, Ethnicity & Education, 2(1), 9.

  • Apple, M. W. (2004). Controlling the work of teachers. In D. J. Flinders & S. J. Thornton (Eds.), The curriculum studies reader (pp. 183-197). New York: N.Y.: Routledge Falmer.

  • Apple, M. W. (2007). Ideological success, educational failure?: On the politics of No Child Left Behind. Journal of Teacher Education, 58(2), 108-116.

  • Apple, M. W. (2009). Some ideas on interrupting the right: On doing critical educational work in conservative times. Education, Citizenship and Social Justice, 4(87), 87-101.

  • Apple, M. W. (2010). The measure of success: Education, markets, and an audit culture. In T. Monahan & R. D. Torres (Eds.), Schools under surveillance - Cultures of control in public education (pp. 175-193). Rutgers University Press.

  • Ball, S. J. (2004). Education for sale! The commodification of everything? Annual Education Lecture, Department of Education and Professional Studies, King’s College London, University of London. Retrieved September 16, 2013 from http://

  • Ball, S. J., Maguire, M., & Braun, A. (2012). How schools do policy: Policy enactments in secondary schools. London & New York: Routledge.

  • Ball, S. J., & Olmedo, A. (2013). Care of the self, resistance and subjectivitiy under neoliberal governmentalities. Critical Studies in Education, 54(1), 85-96.

  • Barber, B. R. (2003). Strong democracy: Participatory politics for a new age (Twentieth- -anniversary ed.). Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press.

  • Beach, D., & Sernhede, O. (2011). From learning to labour to learning for marginality: School segregation and marginalization in Swedish suburbs. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 32(2), 257 - 274.

  • Bejerot, E. (2013) Professioner i fokus. Fakta om professioners arbetsvillkor: Diagram om lärare. [Professions in focus. Facts on professions’ work conditions. Diagrams on teachers.] Retreived September 16, 2013, from Stockholm University website: http:// Bieber, T. , & Martens, K. (2011). The OECD PISA study as a soft power in education? European Journal of Education, 46(1), 101-116.

  • Bingham, C., & Sidorkin, A. M. (2004). The pedagogy of relation: An introduction.In C. Bingham & A. M. Sidorkin (Eds.), No education without relation. New York: P.Lang.

  • Blomqvist, P., & Rothstein, B. (2008). Välfärdsstatens nya ansikte: demokrati och marknadsreformer inom den offentliga sektorn ([Ny utg.] ed.). Stockholm: Agora.

  • Bottery, M., & Barnett, R. (1996). The challenge to professionals from the New Public Management: Implications for the teaching. Oxford Review of Education, 22(2), 179.

  • Boyatzis, R. E. (1998). Transforming qualitative information: thematic analysis and code development. London; Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

  • Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77-101.

  • Bunar, N. (2008). The free schools “riddle”: Between traditional social democratic, neo-liberal and multicultural tenets. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 52(4), 423-438.

  • Creswell, J. W. (2009). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, Calif: Sage.

  • Davidson, A. Locke. (1999). Negotiating social differences: Youths’ assessments of educators’ strategies. Urban Education, 34(3), 338-369.

  • Englund, T. (1994). Education as a citizenship right-a concept in transition: Sweden related to other Western democracies and political philosophy 1. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 26(4), 383-399.

  • Englund, T. (2010). Questioning the parental right to educational authority - arguments for a pluralist public education system. Education Inquiry, 1(3), 235-258.

  • Fransson, G., & Grannäs, J. (2013). Dilemmatic spaces in teachers work - Towards a conceptual framework for dilemmas in teachers work. Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice, 19(1), 4-17.

  • Frelin, A. (2013). Exploring Teachers’ Relational Professionalism in Schools. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

  • Frelin, A., & Grannäs, J. (2011). Questioning the modern conception of time - The Politics of complexity reduction in education. Paper presented at the AERA, New Orleans.

  • Frelin, A., & Grannäs, J. (forthcoming). Navigating middle ground. A spatial perspective on the borderlands of teacher-student relationships in secondary school.In D. B. Zandvliet & M. T. Mainhard (Eds.), Interpersonal relationships in education: From theory to practice Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

  • Frelin, A., & Grannäs, J. (accepted). Direct and indirect educational relationships: The varying significance of content in school relationships. Paper to be presented at the 2013 AARE conference, Adelaide, Australia.

  • Furlong, J., Cochran-Smith, M., & Brennan, M. (2008). Editorial. Teachers and teaching: Theory and practice, 14(4), 265-269.

  • Gewirtz, S. (1997). Post-welfarism and the reconstruction of teachers’ work in the UK. Journal of Education Policy, 12(4), 217-231.

  • Gewirtz, S., & Ball, S. (2000) From ‘welfarism’ to ‘new managerialism ’: Shifting discourses of school headship in the education marketplace. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 21(3), 253-268.

  • Grannäs, J. (2011). Framtidens demokratiska medborgare: Om ungdomar, medborgarskap och demokratifostran i svensk skola. (Doktorsavhandling), Uppsala Universitet, Uppsala.

  • Hargreaves, A. (2000). Mixed emotions: teachers’ perceptions of their interactions with students. Teaching and Teacher Education, 16(8), 811.

  • Hopmann, S. T. (2008). No child, no school, no state left behind: schooling in the age of accountability. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 40(4), 417-456. Hoyle, E., & Wallace, M. (2007). Beyond metaphors of management: The case for metaphoric re-description in education. British Journal of Educational Studies, 55(4), 426-442.

  • Kaščák, O., & Pupala, B. (2011). Governmentality - neoliberalism - education: The risk perspective. Journal of Pedagogy, 2(2), 145-160.

  • Kumashiro, K. K. (2008). The seduction of common sense: How the right has framed the debate on America’s schools. New York Teachers College Press.

  • Laitsch, D. (2013). Smacked by the invisible hand: The wrong debate at the wrong time with the wrong people. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 45(1), 16-27.

  • Leys, C. (2003). Market-driven politics: Neoliberal democracy and the public interest.New York: Verso.

  • Lingard, B., Hayes, D., & Mills, M. (2003). Teachers and productive pedagogies: Contextualising, conceptualising, utilising. Pedagogy, Culture & Society, 11(3), 399-424.

  • Lipman, P. (2009). Beyond accountability: Toward schools that create new people for a new way of life. In A. Darder, M. Baltodano & R. Torres (Eds.), The critical pedagogy reader (pp. 364-383). New York, London: Routledge.

  • Lipman, P. (2010). Politics by other means - Education, accountability and the surveillance state. In T. Monahan & R. D. Torres (Eds.), Schools under surveillance - Cultures of control in public education (pp. 159-174). New Brunswick, New Jersey, and London: Rutgers University Press.

  • Locke, R. R. (2009). Managerialism and the demise of the Big Three. Real-world Economics Review, 51(1), 28-47.

  • Minarechová, M. (2012). Negative impacts of high-stakes testing. Journal of Pedagogy, 3(1), 82-100.

  • Mulcahy, D. (2010). Assembling the ‘accomplished’ teacher: The performativity and politics of professional teaching standards. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 43 (1), 94-113.

  • Müller, J., Norrie, C., Hernández, F., Sancho, J. M., Creus, A., & Larraín, V. (2011).European school teachers’ work and life under restructuring: Professional experiences, knowledge and expertise in changing contexts. In I. F. Goodson & S. Lindblad (Eds.), Professional knowledge and educational restructuring in Europe (pp. 65-80).Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

  • NAfE. (2012). Betygsinflation - betygen och den faktiska kunskapsutvecklingen. [Grade inflation - grades and the actual knowledge development.] (Dnr 2012:387).

  • Oreshkina, M., & Greenberg, K. (2011). Teacher-student relationships: The meaning of teachers’ experience working with underachieving students. Journal of Pedagogy, 1(2), 52-66.

  • Ranson, S. (2003). Public accountability in the age of neo-liberal governance. Journal of Education Policy, 18 (5), 459-480.

  • Skolverket. (2011). Curriculum for the compulsory school system, the pre-school class and the leisure-time centre 2011. Stockholm: Swedish National Agency for Education.

  • Skolverket. (2012). Likvärdig utbildning i svensk grundskola?: en kvantitativ analys av likvärdighet över tid. Stockholm: Skolverket.

  • Takayama, K. (2013). OECD, ‘Key competencies’ and the new challenges of educational inequality. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 45(1), 67-80. Taubman, P. M. (2009). Teaching by numbers : deconstructing the discourse of standards and accountability in education. New York: Routledge.

  • Wedin, A-S.. (2007). Lärares arbete och kunskapsbildning. Utmaningar och inviter i den vardagliga praktiken [Teacher’s work and knowledge creation. Challenges and contextual invitations in everyday practice]. Diss. Linköping: Institutionen för beteendevetenskap och lärande Linköpings universitet.

  • Wilkins, A. (2012). Pedagogy of the consumer: The politics of neo-liberal welfare reform.Journal of Pedagogy, 3(2), 161-173.

  • Yates, L. (2013). Revisiting curriculum, the numbers game and the inequality problem.Journal of Curriculum Studies, 45(1), 39-51.

  • Yin, R. K. (2003). Case study research: design and methods (3 ed.). Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

  • Zembylas, M. (2003). Emotions and Teacher Identity: A poststructural perspective.Teachers and Teaching, 9(3), 213-238.


Journal + Issues