This paper considers the question of why we might draw on resources from the work of Michel Foucault to explore questions related to education and education research. These are questions of the exercise of power and government.
The paper is written in three main parts. First, the perspective offered through Foucault’s work is outlined. This is a perspective through which the education and education theory can be explored as the exercise of power. This perspective is positioned as diagnostic and analytic, and set in contrast to positivist and interpretative approaches and theories.
Second, we develop an argument that Foucault’s notions of government and governmentality offer an alternative approach to the analysis of government as it is commonly drawn upon in educational research and practice. This approach is outlined in terms of its intentions and effects. The analytics of government is presented as one that aims not for description and unification, as is often the case in education theory and practice, but for diagnosis of the fragmented and serendipitous, complex and contradictor lines of action and thought, and agents that seek to govern conduct, so as to better understand how we come to act and think as we do within the present (Rose 1999). It is presented as one whereby the activities for the government of ourselves, the government of others and the government of the state can be shown in their complex relationships, and whereby the ways in which our thought operates within the taken-for-granted ways that we do things can be identified and described.
Third, the perspective is elaborated in some detail. Here the interest in analysis is depicted as that directed towards the specific ways human beings are made objects of knowledge within educational research and practice and their subjection through different techniques. In this section specific such techniques are identified and described. For example, educational guidance and counseling is considered as a practice of confession that operates to shape a specific subjectivity – an individual who is self-responsible and possessing of a will to learn. Through expressing inner desires, the student becomes an object of knowledge through which the exercise of power can more efficiently and effectively target the body and be channeled through it by the guide or counselor (Fejes 2006). As two further examples, rationalities of professional development in education, characterized as the technical expert and reflective practitioner, are examined for their work in the constitution of particular forms of assignment work, and considered for the subjectivities these then fashion and the limits to possibilities that are then set (Nicoll 2007).