Working on the margins

This week I received positive feedback, well for the most part, on a book proposal. While not a contract just yet, I will keep you posted as that develops. What is more interesting, at least for now, is the less than positive feedback.

Some comments in particular struck a chord with me. First is this one:

… this is not a mainstream view in educational leadership, and there does not seem to be much care taken to connect with more robust and empirically based views of educational leadership.

There is much to be made of this, but I am going to focus on two parts: i) that the view is not mainstream; and ii) more robust and empirically based views.

In principle, I agree that my position sits outside the mainstream of educational leadership (management and administration – but more on that later) scholarship. Jane Wilkinson and I have written about this previously, and to be completely honest, I am glad I am not a ‘mainstream’ scholar. After all, the field has been critiqued for over 50 years for lacking rigor and robustness. Not to mentioned its failure to deliver on its promise. But the bigger question is whether there is anything wrong with sitting outside the mainstream? If anything, mainstream scholarship in educational leadership focuses on individuals and groups that sit outside the mainstream so interesting that as a field we ‘other’ those who do such.

The idea that mainstream scholarship is more robust and empirical based is intriguing. As noted above, an enduring critique of educational leadership research is its lack of rigor. As I have argued previously, and located within a lengthy line of inquiry, ‘leadership’ is very much a methodological artefact. It is whatever the observer wants it to be. Irrespective of the sophistication of the methods employed, the lack of rigor in establishing the research object is rarely acknowledged yet alone engaged with in mainstream research.

Additionally, this caught my eye:

… reverting to the dated term of administration is an interesting idea. Scott needs to separate the ideas of administration, management and leadership, and largely the research world has moved away from the idea of administration.

Similar to the above, the demonizing of ‘administration’ and the belief that it is a part of the past – the history of the field – is central to my argument. While mainstream research may have moved away from administration (although tell that to the fields of public administration and administrative sciences), the distinctions between administration, management and leadership frequently, if not always, reflect little more than the pre-existing orientation of the observer.

The divisions between the mainstream and the margins in educational leadership have arguably never been wider. Publication in mainstream journals and outlets is increasingly difficult when reviewers of all forms reject anything that does not conform to their version of what is educational leadership. How do we engage with these challenges and engage with them becomes a challenge for all current and aspiring scholars and thinkers in the area.

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