Policy Assemblage in Education
Author: Gorur, Radhika , firstname.lastname@example.org
Department: Education Policy and Leadership
University: The University of Melbourne, Australia
Supervisor: Dianne Mulcahy; Fazal Rizvi
Year of completion: 2011
Language of dissertation: English
Areas of Research:
, Political Sociology
, Risk and Uncertainty
Evidence based policy making (EBP) has become the dominant practice in education policy globally. How do certain policy ideas and practices become pervasive? How is knowledge produced, validated and rendered authoritative? What are the institutional practices and routines through which ‘policy doings’ occur? How do policy actors gain the capacity to act? These are some of the questions this thesis attempts to answer.
In this study, I explore how EBP is assembled, promoted and stabilised. I follow closely the practices by which evidence is ‘gathered’: how entities are rendered calculable and the means by which calculation is effected. Drawing upon the theoretical and conceptual resources of material semiotics, I examine two performances of EBP: the OECD’s well known survey, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), in which education systems are evaluated and compared; and a national school reform effort, Australia’s Education Revolution, where EBP is employed to standardise, centralise and organise the system. Using documentary evidence and interviews with 18 policy actors, I analyse EBP’s ordering practices and the practical politics by which it is performed.
EBP seeks to close off debates and settle understandings by seeking ‘what works’ and identifying ‘best practice’. It seeks to trump uncertain politics with certain science. Its politics lies in creating a divide between an apparently neutral and apolitical ‘science’ on the one hand and an uncertain, prejudiced ‘politics’ on the other, so that employing reliable and good science can be presented as an antidote to untrustworthy politics. Rather than seeing science as politics by other means, as Latour suggests, EBP proposes that politics is science by other means. In this study, I demonstrate how this division between science and politics is achieved in EBP.
Closing off spaces for debate prematurely through ‘scientific evidence’ comes at the high cost of diminished understanding and unwarranted certainty. In short, the clarities sought in EBP can be blinding rather than illuminating. Through this detailed empirical study, I show that EBP is a techno-political assemblage. Following my ethical impulse, I reintroduce politics into the apparently purely technical and turn ‘matters of fact’ into ‘matters of concern’. This opens up new spaces for intervention, new ‘assemblies’ where debate and openness and a desire to do ‘good’ are admissible. It is my hope that this thesis will encourage a shift to more creative and more considered ways of ‘doing’ EBP.