Although I have published a number of papers on educational leadership theory and leadership preparation and development, my main research effort has concerned the systematic development of a relational research program in educational administration. This relatively new theoretical approach to the study of educational administration is based on my questioning of the explanatory value of contemporary labels such as ‘leadership’. Blending sociology, historical analysis, managerial theories and general philosophy, I propose a relational turn that shifts the unit of analysis to the dynamic relations between actors that legitimize social action. This is articulated in my latest book, features in multiple papers and book chapters. It provides a methodological framework that can be mobilized for doctoral (and honors) candidates.
The intellectual heritage of this relational approach is eclectic, drawing heavily on French social theory such as the critical sociology of Pierre Bourdieu and the pragmatic sociology of Luc Boltanski, but also critical management studies, political science, organizational studies, and given our own disciplinary location, recognized educational administration thinkers such as Richard Bates, Colin Evers and Gabriele Lakomski, Thomas Greenfield, and contemporaries such as Helen Gunter, Pat Thomson, John Smyth and Fenwick English.
Centrally, in bringing critical pluralism to scholarship this relational approach engages with the key theoretical problem of the legitimation of the social world and its empirical manifestation in the administration of education. Through this theoretical and empirical focus, the relational research program investigates how the production of knowledge about the legitimacy, effectiveness, efficiency, and morality of administration connects with the practices of administration. In doing so, we ask questions regarding the extent to which existing ways of thinking are generative or limiting of alternate ways of being.
A relational focus enables scholarship to move beyond internal tensions and external pressures by opening up institutions and engaging with the dynamic relations that they hold with other social institutions and those which constantly redefine their existence. As a means of outlining our relational approach into being, below we list five key features:
- The centrality of ‘administration’ in the social world creates an ontological complicity that makes it difficult to epistemologically break from our spontaneous understanding of the social world;
- Rigorous social ‘scientific’ scholarship would therefore call into question the very foundations on which the contemporarily popular discourses are constructed;
- The contemporary social condition cannot be separated from the ongoing, and inexhaustible, recasting of administrative labour;
- Studying administration ‘relationally’ enables the overcoming of the contemporary, and arguably enduring, tensions of individualism / collectivism, and structure / agency; and
- In doing so, there is a productive – rather than merely critical – space to theorize administration.
The type of analysis made possible by a relational approach offers a means of crafting theoretically charged narratives illuminating the situated nature of administration. Specifically, it opens up analysis that brings to the level of discourse the underlying generative features of practices. In doing so, it provides a means of constructing an alternate narrative or logic whereby legitimacy of what it means to administer education.
The relational approach features in (Group members in bold, doctoral and honours candidates underlined):
Eacott, S. (2015). Educational leadership relationally: a theory and methodology for educational leadership, management and administration. Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense Publishers.
Eacott, S. (2015). Problematising the intellectual gaze of the educational administration scholar. Educational Philosophy and Theory.
Eacott, S. (2015). Sociological approaches to scholarship in educational leadership, management and administration. In D. Burgess & P. Newton (Eds.), Theoretical foundations of educational administration and leadership (pp. 279-300). London: Routledge.
Eacott, S. & Hodges, K. (2014). The generative temporality of teaching under revision. Critical Studies in Education, 55(3), 289-302.
Eacott, S. & Norris, J. (2014). Management rhetoric, accountability and contemporary school leadership in Australia. Leadership & Policy in Schools, 13(2), 169-187.
Eacott, S. & Asuga, G.N. (2014). School leadership preparation and development in Africa: a critical insight. Educational Management, Administration and Leadership, 42(6), 919-934.