Studying Power and Knowledge in the Technology Classroom: Towards a Conceptual Framework
Conference contribution, 2014
This paper reports on an empirical exploration of the constitution of power and knowledge in science and technology (S&T) classrooms. A deepened examination of the teaching of S&T is partly motivated by high status of these subjects in society, how they are portrayed as crucial both for the individual, in order to function in an increasingly technologically advanced society, and for the society at large, while finding it increasingly difficult to attract interest among the youth. The aim of this paper is to develop and illustrate the use of a conceptual framework for exploring how power relations are constituted in the technology classroom – in terms of what Foucault (1982/2002) conceptualises as ‘actions upon actions’ (p. 340) – by the research questions: 1) How are teacher actions communicating how and what knowledge is privileged in the classroom? 2) How is this knowledge privileging establishing power relations, in terms of possibilities for student actions? The conceptual framework makes use of practical epistemological analysis (Wickman & Östman 2002) as an analytical tool for describing teacher actions that involves a privileging of a certain educational content. Furthermore, it also utilises an adaptation of Brousseau’s (1997) concept ‘didactical contract’ that includes a Foucauldian conceptualisation of power. The empirical design relies on a purposive sampling of classrooms, documenting classroom activities using video recordings. This paper will illustrate the use of the conceptual framework, by an analysis of a case of three lessons in one Swedish technology classroom in grade 8. The topic of these lessons concerns solid and stable constructions. The pupils work in smaller groups with construction of bridges, a very common activity when working with this topic in Swedish classrooms. The first stage of the analysis focuses the actions initiated by the teacher, through the identification of epistemological moves (Lidar et al. 2006), such as instructional or confirming moves. In a second stage, the analysis focuses on how these ‘moves’ are functional in constituting a ‘didactical contract’, that is ‘the (specific) set of behaviours of the teacher which are expected of the students and the set of behaviours of the student which are expected by the teacher’ (Brousseau & Warfield 1999, p. 47). In summary, we argue that the investigation of how power and knowledge interrelate in moment-to-moment interactions in the classroom may provide additional clues to how micro-inequalities, adding up to patterns of exclusion in S&T (Rosser 2012), occur in the classroom context.