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Discoursing performativity for 21st century education: an ethnographic study of high-achieving 6th form students completing A-Level study and progressing into higher education in the UK from Brook College

Elliott, M (2020) Discoursing performativity for 21st century education: an ethnographic study of high-achieving 6th form students completing A-Level study and progressing into higher education in the UK from Brook College. Doctoral thesis, Liverpool John Moores University.

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This thesis reports on an ethnographic case study, informed by the critical frames of postmodernism and poststructuralism, and offers a critical evaluation of qualitative-interpretive methodology alongside a discussion of substantive issues. Primarily, I focus on neoliberal performativity in the context of Level 3 students’ completion of their A-Level studies as they navigate progression into Higher Education (HE) in the UK from a large sixth form college – Brook College. Brook College students and staff, therefore, account for the study’s primary participants, though other stakeholders were also involved such as HE representatives. Data collection and analysis proceeded iteratively and reflexively via extended periods of in-depth participant observations and interviewing, supplemented with documentary evidence and researcher-generated photographs, analysed using an socio-theoretically informed style of critical discourse analysis, understood as both theory and method. The analytic-interpretive chapters focus, in turn, on UCAS Personal Statements, and on a new teaching and learning approach called The A-Level Mindset implemented in Brook College during fieldwork. I explore these analytic ‘subjects’ as “instrumental” cases (Stake, 2005) to, ultimately, examine the nature and effects of discourses and practices of neoliberal performativity, firstly, on students’ experiences of completing their A-Levels as they attempt to progress into HE, their social identities and subjectivities as learners and their thinking about what HE is (and what it might be for) today; and, secondly, on the pedagogical practices and professional identities of Brook staff, as they guide and support students through this process. In conclusion, I extend my substantive-interpretive analyses through an interrogation of the hegemonic discourse of skills and associated (re)constructions of ‘learning as a form investment’ that appear to characterise the dominant pedagogical practices and understandings of education in Brook College amounting to a ‘preparation’ for the forms of education students will experience in HE. In particular, I further develop my interpretive analyses relating to the popular contemporary 9 educational notion of “resilience” – a central plank of The A-level Mindset programme – as a technology of the self indicative of “embedded neoliberalism” (Joseph, 2014), and draw wider connections to the contemporary mental health “crisis” in HE. Secondly, I more deeply explore the methodological problematics I encountered during this study and reflect on the learning, enhanced reflexive understandings and ‘new’ positions I feel I have arrived at through a discussion of the onto-epistemological fields of posthumanism and ‘new’ materialism. Though, this study’s central contribution, as I see it, is a critically reflexive parallel evaluation of methodology alongside discussions of substantive issues to outline the conjoined forms of learning I feel I have achieved regarding performativity – both in the context of contemporary HE and today’s prospective HE students in the UK, and in the context of doctoral study and ‘becoming (an) academic’ in the neoliberal academy as I have experienced it. In doing so, I try to articulate resonances that I believe exist between this study’s interpretive assertions, its methodological problematics and my own experiences of doctoral academic labour as manifestations of the same kinds of performative neoliberal discourses and governmentalities. To close I offer a series of more ‘personal’ reflections on the performativities, I feel, are central to ‘becoming (an) academic’. I try to connect my own reflexive commentaries of conducting this study and my embodied experiences of doctoral study, to extant discussions regarding the changing nature of contemporary doctoral education and the mental health and wellbeing of today’s doctoral students within the performative, neoliberal ‘culture’ of the academy set within the wider knowledge economy.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Performativity; Higher Education; Ethnography; Resilience; Personal Statements; Reflexivity; Neoliberalism; HE progressions; Postmodernism; Poststructuralism; New Materialism; Posthumanism
Subjects: L Education > LB Theory and practice of education > LB1603 Secondary Education. High schools
L Education > LB Theory and practice of education > LB2300 Higher Education
Divisions: Education
Date Deposited: 04 Jun 2020 14:07
Last Modified: 21 Dec 2022 11:42
DOI or ID number: 10.24377/LJMU.t.00013018
Supervisors: Frankham, J and Lawless, A
URI: https://researchonline.ljmu.ac.uk/id/eprint/13018
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