Resistance : re-imagining innovation in higher education teaching and learning

Winslett, Gregory Michael (2010) Resistance : re-imagining innovation in higher education teaching and learning. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


The call to innovate is ubiquitous across the Australian educational policy context. The claims of innovative practices and environments that occur frequently in university mission statements, strategic plans and marketing literature suggest that this exhortation to innovate appears to have been taken up enthusiastically by the university sector. Throughout the history of universities, a range of reported deficiencies of higher education have worked to produce a notion of crisis. At present, it would seem that innovation is positioned as the solution to the notion of crisis. This thesis is an inquiry into how the insistence on innovation works to both enable and constrain teaching and learning practices in Australian universities. Alongside the interplay between innovation and crisis is the link between resistance and innovation, a link which remains largely unproblematized in the scholarly literature. This thesis works to locate and unsettle understandings of a relationship between innovation and Australian higher education. The aim of this inquiry is to generate new understandings of what counts as innovation within this context and how innovation is enacted.

The thesis draws on a number of postmodernist theorists, whose works have informed firstly the research method, and then the analysis and findings. Firstly, there is an assumption that power is capillary and works through discourse to enact power relations which shape certain truths (Foucault, 1990). Secondly, this research scrutinised language practices which frame the capacity for individuals to act, alongside the language practices which encourage an individual to adopt certain attitudes and actions as one’s own (Foucault, 1988). Thirdly, innovation talk is read in this thesis as an example of needs talk, that is, as a medium through which what is considered domestic, political or economic is made and contested (Fraser, 1989). Fourthly, relationships between and within discourses were identified and analysed beyond cause and effect descriptions, and more productively considered to be in a constant state of becoming (Deleuze, 1987). Finally, the use of ironic research methods assisted in producing alternate configurations of innovation talk which are useful and new (Rorty, 1989).

The theoretical assumptions which underpin this thesis inform a document analysis methodology, used to examine how certain texts work to shape the ways in which innovation is constructed. The data consisted of three Federal higher education funding policies selected on the rationale that these documents, as opposed to state or locally based policy and legislation, represent the only shared policy context for all Australian universities.

The analysis first provided a modernist reading of the three documents, and this was followed by postmodernist readings of these same policy documents. The modernist reading worked to locate and describe the current truths about innovation. The historical context in which the policy was produced as well as the textual features of the document itself were important to this reading. In the first modernist reading, the binaries involved in producing proper and improper notions of innovation were described and analysed.

In the process of the modernist analysis and the subsequent location of binary organisation, a number of conceptual collisions were identified, and these sites of struggle were revisited, through the application of a postmodernist reading. By applying the theories of Rorty (1989) and Fraser (1989) it became possible to not treat these sites as contradictory and requiring resolution, but rather as spaces in which binary tensions are necessary and productive. This postmodernist reading constructed new spaces for refusing and resisting dominant discourses of innovation which value only certain kinds of teaching and learning practices. By exploring a number of ironic language practices found within the policies, this thesis proposes an alternative way of thinking about what counts as innovation and how it happens.

The new readings of innovation made possible through the work of this thesis were in response to a suite of enduring, inter-related questions – what counts as innovation?, who or what supports innovation?, how does innovation occur?, and who are the innovators?. The truths presented in response to these questions were treated as the language practices which constitute a dominant discourse of innovation talk. The collisions that occur within these truths were the contested sites which were of most interest for the analysis. The thesis concludes by presenting a theoretical blueprint which works to shift the boundaries of what counts as innovation and how it happens in a manner which is productive, inclusive and powerful. This blueprint forms the foundation upon which a number of recommendations are made for both my own professional practice and broader contexts. In keeping with the conceptual tone of this study, these recommendations are a suite of new questions which focus attention on the boundaries of innovation talk as an attempt to re-configure what is valued about teaching and learning at university.

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ID Code: 32086
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: McArdle, Felicity & Grieshaber, Susan
Keywords: innovation, higher education, teaching and learning, academic development, policy analysis, postmodernism, resistance, crisis
Divisions: Current > Research Centres > Office of Education Research
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Education
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 30 Apr 2010 05:42
Last Modified: 28 Oct 2011 19:56

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