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

Abstract

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.

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