Leadership Identity in Ethnically Diverse Schools in South Africa and England Opening a dialogue about diversity



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Identity and diversity
Researching and writing about diversity and particularly ethnicity is trammelled by the slipperiness of language. We have used a number of terms so far whose meaning is variously understood. We have chosen to use the concept of diversity as a term which potentially encompasses not only the infinite variation of human beings, but the socially and psychologically constructed meanings, attributes and value which are taken by the self and imposed by others on individuals and groups. The significance of attributed meaning and value is the consequent acquisition or absence of privilege which is unjustifiably differential (DiTomaso and Hooijberg, 1996). Diversity, then, signals a range of socially constructed and understood ‘differences’ between people, which do not reflect immutable characteristics, but rather a mosaic of privilege and advantage (Litvin, 1997).
As prejudice and disadvantage are differentially experienced by those deemed ‘other’ in any context, and particularly by those who are visibly different in terms of their physical characteristics, it may be necessary to focus on those with particular attributes or origins in order to resist injustice. In this context, Chisholm and Sujee (2006) reflect on the debate in South Africa between those who believe race remains a potent term and those who see it as unhelpful. Vandeyar (2008: 10) for example, insists that the term has been questioned since the early twentieth century and depends on ‘discredited 18th century ideas that human beings are biologically divided into races’. In the UK the term ‘race’ is still embedded in legislation, but the more commonly used concept in education is ethnicity, indicating a less rigid classification of people. In this article the terms ethnicity and ethnic minority are used to avoid any suggestion of biological ‘race’ and to refer to groupings of people merely as a strategy to better understand their position of privilege or the contrary, not to suggest homogeneity within each group. Minority ethnicity has been shown repeatedly to relate to oppressive reactions from others (Allard and Santoro, 2006; Gillborn, 2005; King, 2004; Rusch, 2004).
A further concept which underpins the article is that of identity. Our focus on leadership impels a consideration of individuals and the identity of particular school leaders. The concept of identity is explored within a very large body of literature and is highly contested (Bauman, 2004; Goffman, 1959). We understand it as:
a system of negotiated, fluid choices which are in part controlled by the individual and in part imposed. Identity is a performance where what is constructed is part of the battery to create, maintain, defend and enhance self-worth and status in the eyes of others …. It is intimately related to notions of power.

(Lumby, 2008: 29-30)


We also note Walker’s definition of identity as ‘an interlocking personal and social project under particular discursive conditions of possibility’ (2005: 42), as this reflects her work in South Africa and emphasises the necessity to explore not only the understandings of identity of self and colleagues, but also the influence of possibilities and limitations in the specific context. In both South Africa and in England the leaders we spoke to negotiate a path through multiple identities within shifting social parameters (Gaganakis, 2006).

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