Notes on: Honan, E (2004) '(Im)plausibilities: a rhizo-textual analysis of policy texts and teachers' work'.  Educational Philosophy and Theory 36 (3): 267 -81

Dave Harris

This is about seeing texts as rhizomes, used critically to understand the relation between teachers and policy texts the [sounds like a massive sledgehammer to crack a nut].  It is a critique of neoliberal philosophy and managerialism which have become widespread, including some examples in Australia and the USA.  Professional worker has become devalued, so social critique is essential in the interests of democracy and social justice.  Deleuze helps by seeing the relationship between texts and readers as rhizomatic.

The main contribution of post structuralism is 'the disruption of "methodolatry"' (268), or fetishism of methods.  There has been much controversy about whether or not Deleuze had a method, including St Pierre's indifference to the search for correct meanings.  Buchanan sees this as central to Deleuze's work, and urges us to avoid any attempt to slavishly apply Deleuze and to think in terms about liberating creativity: this is why for him the major interest is in how Deleuze works.  This paper is written in the same spirit, to explore multiple effects [and to bend it to the cause that she had already?].  A textual analysis using rhizomes will disrupt commonsense understandings like those found in policy makers wanting to bureaucratize [looks like a pretty slavish application to me] .

Teachers have always had an uneven relationship to policy texts, and Ball says we need to look at the adjustments which teachers make as much as what policy makers say.  Assuming that policy is important implies a reading of them as 'linear and monological' (269).  There are instead many and varied readings of texts [must be in principle, or actually are?].  Texts are also multi dimensional.  We should read them as rhizomatic, defined, as in Thousand Plateaus as a multiply connected network, joining up semiotic chains and relations of power [and, to be fair, '"social struggles"', apparently on page seven].  A rhizomatic analysis will address these multiple readings rather than seeing the text as a simple repository of truth or knowledge.  This in turn will help us understand how teachers adjust to policy, including pursuing lines of flight.  Possible mappings are infinite, since linkages are infinite.  We also need to address the notion of the subject, in this case of the teacher, as constituted 'not only within the rhizomes of the policy texts, but by and through the various discursive systems in which teachers are located' [including, presumably, her discourse of struggling professional teachers and social justice].  We should map connections, including links between contradictory work and ideas, in order to reveal new linkages and discontinuities.  This is 'rhizo-textual analysis', and she has already done one.

She does not want to slip into method, but she has formed some 'methodological considerations'(270).  She starts in the middle, in order to keep herself open to discontinuities and ruptures and rejects the usual understanding of texts as linear, as in the term plateau.  She tries this out on various syllabus documents in Australia and the USA, concerned with the teaching of English, which are considered as 'discursive plateaus', a multiplicity connected to other multiplicity by underground stems, in the words of the masters.  The multiplicities are formed by familiar discursive patterns relating to particular pedagogical approaches—based on skills or growth or development or whatever.  These discourses are now considered as plateaus [seems a movable feast], and she wants to look at the linkages that connect them [in order to search for the machine or the virtual or the phylum?].  She cites Grosz on the assemblage as a linkage of elements, fragments and flows [empirical multiplicities, so to speak?].

We have to realize that rhizomes are made of lines of segmentarity and stratification in one dimension, and lines of flight or deterritorialization in another.  She found that connections were being made between 'what seemed to be disparate "lines of flight"', which allowed teachers to pursue their own particular lines of meaning (271) [connections in the discourses, or by teachers themselves?  It seems both—both texts and teachers produce 'equally (im)plausible readings'].  In turn, she had to ask how teachers as subjects formed a provisional linkage within policy texts, and thought there were 'different subject positions made available to teachers' [the only options?  No intertextuality or transversal semiotization?]. 

In particular, texts construct teachers as 'both regulated and effective', authorized versions of teaching, the curriculum, the student and so on.  These versions can be contradictory, although they really work together 'to enable teachers to produce their own plausible positions within the texts' [they lay out authorized options].  The regulation of teachers has been influenced by corporate capitalism producing and needed two airlines schools to the system requirements, while limiting the options for teachers to resist.  Regulatory mechanisms have become apparent, for example, in the Australian States writing texts that assume their authority and set out their assumptions which are simply to be transferred to teachers.  This in turn requires devaluing the status of teachers: one way to do this is to focus on what teachers are supposed to do, assuming that teachers will simply operate these requirements.  Other stakeholders are also addressed, again weakening teachers' unique claims to expertise.  The syllabus is supposed to be 'teacher proof' (273), connected to work intensification and deskilling as in Apple [but deskilling is set in an orthodox Marxist understanding of capitalism, requiring no Deleuze].  The views of the community takes up the popular view that you are an expert if you have been to school.

Even though these trends challenge the notion of teacher as professional, they are still expected to be effective, to be flexible and dutiful. Goals are set out in the texts but not really prioritized.  Post fordist management seems dominant, with specific guidelines to complete management practices.  This invokes 'the his superhuman effective teacher...omniscient in her knowledge of each individual child' (274), responsible for individual development and the resolution of equity issues, [looking rather like the development of Foucaldian technology to manage inner lives].  Professionals develop their own expertise, and again are required to possess interpersonal, communicative and executive qualities, to construct a suitable environment, to be able to plan and evaluate, even undertake classroom research.  They should mirror other qualities of the modern manager.  Is about governing the population, keeping detailed records, regulating the self and others.

Teachers respond in different ways, and rhizo-textual analysis lead to gathering examples of teacher talk, videotapes of lessons and interviews to see how connections are established.  An initial picture that emerged was an understanding of the teacher as a bricoleur, assembling meaning for practices.  Policy texts are only one example of input, and substantial differences with them can emerge.  [One example has a teacher explaining that she does not teach formal functional grammar despite what the policy requires, and accepting that this will get her into trouble.  She just thinks other things are more important, and that grammar can be acquired from other teachers.  Another teacher agrees to teach functional grammar,  but has found it difficult, and blames herself: she is coping by addressing certainly bits of functional grammar that she can work with.]

These are not contradictory ways of coping, since both use policy texts as part of 'a complex assemblage of meaningful practices'(277) [otherwise the whole paranoid discussion would look pointless if it was just so easily ignored?].  This is bricolage, or taking 'quite different paths through the rhizomes of the texts', yet still offering a plausible readings.  [Then an odd bit, explaining the emergence of the importance of teaching functional grammar in the professional training offered to teachers at the time.  This emphasis 'lent official status to this "line of flight"', so a line of flight means any path through a rhizome?  We have the old split between kantian and hegelian critique here—on the one hand, any path can indicate the existence of the rhizome, but this will not automatically lead to a political critique of a particular path].

It is not possible to describe ignoring the official path just as resistance, which is a term that has been overused says Ball.  It is however an 'agentic' choice, and these depend on how fluid power relations are, and how power does or does not operate as an affect in Deleuze's terms, and if so, whether or not it is met with passivity or reaction.  Agentic possibilities must always be present, but this will not always appear as passive resistance.

'I am deeply committed to the recognition of teachers as professionals who engage in rigorous theoretical work as they create assemblages of meaningful practices'(278) [so no need for further analysis then?].  Policy texts try to narrow the options, however and deny complexity and the essential bricolage of teacher work.  Policy texts will never be sufficient on their own [so this is the shift to political critique?]; texts are never just linear; readers always have more options than the official path, because rhizomes have multiple entry ways etc. Policy developers need to construct different kinds of texts that allow for multiple entry ways and equally plausible but different readings.  In this case, an open discussion of a variety of teaching approaches and models, including some outcomes of educational research might be offered [in other words, treat teachers as autonomous professionals.

This is been one example of how to use Deleuze.  There is no insistence on particular methods to establish particular groups of educational researchers.  St Pierre is right to insist that your Deleuze might not be mine [so anything goes, even fascist readings], because we all have different assemblages.  Researchers might still share the diverse possibilities, however, becoming '"circles of convergence"' (280) [another term in Thousand Plateaus] , while of course retaining the notion of the rhizome.  This paper is one illustration of what might be done.

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