Distributed forms of school leadership: A critical and sociological analysis
Youngs, H. (2012). Distributed forms of school leadership: A critical and sociological analysis (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/10289/6995
Permanent Research Commons link: http://hdl.handle.net/10289/6995
Distributed leadership is a free-floating concept that has come to prominence in the education field. Policy-makers, researchers and practitioners alike tout it as the mode of leadership suitable for twenty-first century schools. The quantity of commentary, related typologies, research and recognition in education policy gives the impression that distributed leadership is a mature concept. Most writers appear to assume that distributed leadership is beyond controversy, contributes to official legitimised school improvement and so is in no need of any re-theorising. The thesis in this study provides an alternative view. It argues that it is time to reject the grand narrative of distributed leadership and replace it with a critical and sociological re-theorising of distributed forms of leadership that reveal how authority and symbolic power co-exist in hybrid configurations of day-to-day leadership practice. In other words, the conceptual development of distributed leadership is at a pivotal point. Two forms of analysis led to this rejection and re-theorising. One was in the broader school and generic leadership fields, while the other was on research in schools. The discussion in the first part of this study reveals that existent theorising and research of distributed leadership is predominantly silent around power, micropolitics, and the performative policies that have created environments conducive to distributed leadership being recommended as a ‘vehicle’ for reform. Most of the research to date can be categorised as either descriptive, with a tendency to be apolitical, or normative, with a tendency to oversimplify complexity. However, a critical analysis of related typologies and research suggests that there is a recent acknowledgment that distributed leadership exists in differing forms and is more complex than originally thought. The school-based research in part two of this study was a commitment to understand day-to-day leadership practice in situ over 20 months, in two New Zealand suburban secondary schools. This investigation confirmed that existing conceptualisations, normative research and commentary of distributed leadership tended to be over-simplified. The distributed forms of leadership that emerged in each school were unique, due to the different educative, social, political and historical contexts that shaped and re-shaped the differing forms over time. There was no one preferred way of understanding how leadership existed in distributed forms. Analysis of the case studies led to the development of an analytical framework that can help understand the complexity of distributed forms of leadership that schools rely on. The third and final part focuses on the thesis of this study. It rejects the distributed leadership grand narrative and argues for a critical and sociological re-theorising, that incorporates symbolic capital, symbolic power and authority. The re-theorising illustrates how authoritative capital co-exists with human, cultural and social forms of capital to form organisational and emergent distributed forms of leadership in hybrid configurations. This leads to a satisfactory theorising of distributed forms of leadership that builds on the complexity recently acknowledged in the field and reflects the reality of day-to-day school leadership practice.
University of Waikato
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