Performativity and affectivity: Lesson observations in England's Further Education colleges

Teaching and learning observations (henceforth ‘observations’) are commonly used in a broad range of educational environments to assess teaching quality and support professional development. Research centred on observations in England’s Further Education colleges (FE), suggests these strategies are often ineffective because of tensions between ‘authentic’ teaching and the inherent performativity required by some managerialist policies (Ball 2003). This psychosocial study draws on interpretive interactionism (Denzin 1989) to explore lived emotional experiences of FE staff involved in observations and perceptions of embodied ‘performativity’. My research involved in-depth semi-biographical interviews with FE staff (n=14) which explored emotional experiences of teaching and learning within the context of their roles as observer and/or observee. Using my personal reflections as an FE teacher, together with my creative writing skills, fictionalised accounts are presented to demonstrate anonymised consolidations of the participants’ narratives (Sparkes 2002). Using conceptual tools from Bourdieu (1991) and the lens of psychoanalysis (Mollon 2002) I draw on Richardson’s (1997) ‘writing as a method of inquiry’ and Ochberg’s (2002) non-linear approach to data analysis to explore shared and disparate themes within the accounts, reflections and fictionalised texts. Vocational and personal learning experiences are argued to form a fundamental aspect of the professional habitus of FE staff (James, Biesta 2007). Outcomes from my innovative approach, illuminates this interplay of factors, specifically within the affectivity in the performativity of observations. Hence these findings provide an original contribution to knowledge in this area, by demonstrating how the potential tension in observations is situated in the personal significance of perceptions of an ‘in/authentic self’, rather than the performativity per se. Fictionalisation could be a useful tool to further explore lived emotional experiences of teaching and learning. Indeed, raising awareness of the perceived performativity intrinsic within the affectivity of observations could hold benefits for teaching practice more widely.
Type of thesis
Edgington, U. (2013). Performativity and affectivity: Lesson observations in England’s Further Education colleges, Doctor of Philosophy thesis, Canterbury Christ Church University, Kent, UK. Retrieved from
Copyright 2013 The Author.
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