Technologies of power: discipline of Aboriginal students in primary school

Kevin Gillan

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This study explored how the discursive practices of government education systemic discipline policy shape the behaviour of Aboriginal primary school students in an urban education district in Western Australia. First, this study conducted a Foucauldian genealogical discourse analysis of the historical and contemporary discursive forces that shaped systemic discipline policy in Western Australian government schools between 1983 and 1998 to uncover changing discursive practices within the institution. This period represented a most turbulent era of systemic discipline policy development within the institution. The analysis of the historical and contemporary discursive forces that shaped policy during this period revealed nine major and consistent discursive practices. Secondly, the study conducted a Foucauldian genealogical discourse analysis into the perspectives of key interest groups of students, parents and Education Department employees in an urban Aboriginal community on discipline policy in Education Department primary schools during the period from 2000 to 2001; and the influence of these policies on the behaviour of Aboriginal students in primary schools. The analysis was accomplished using Foucault's method of genealogy through a tactical use of subjugated knowledges. A cross section of the Aboriginal community was interviewed to examine issues of consultation, suspension and exclusion, institutional organisation and discourse. The study revealed that there are minimal consistent conceptual underpinnings to the development of Education Department discipline policy between 1983 and 1998. What is clear through the nine discursive practices that emerged during the first part of the study is a strengthened recentralising pattern of regulation, in response to the influence of a neo-liberal doctrine that commodifies students in a network of accountability mechanisms driven by the market-state economy. Evidence from both genealogical analyses in this study confirms that the increasing psychologisation of the classroom is contributing towards the pathologisation of Aboriginal student behaviour. It is apparent from the findings in this study that Aboriginal students regularly display Aboriginality-as-resistance type behaviours in response to school discipline regimes. The daily tension for these students at school is the maintenance of their Aboriginality in the face of school policy that disregards many of their regular cultural and behavioural practices, or regimes of truth, that are socially acceptable at home and in their community but threaten the 'good order' of the institution when brought to school. This study found that teachers and principals are ensnared in a web of governmentality with their ability to manoeuvre within the constraints of systemic discipline policy extremely limited. The consequence of this web of governmentality is that those doing the governing in the school are simultaneously the prisoner and the gaoler, and in effect the principle of their own subjection. Also revealed were the obscure and dividing discursive practices of discipline regimes that contribute to the epistemic violence enacted upon Noongar students in primary schools through technologies of power.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Publication statusUnpublished - 2008


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