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Power and Knowledge in the Technology Classroom: The Development and Illustration of a Conceptual Framework.
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Educational Sciences, Department of Education. Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Arts, Centre for Gender Research.
Umeå universitet.
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Educational Sciences, Department of Education.
Göteborgs universitet.
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2014 (English)Conference paper, Abstract (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

This paper explores the constitution of power and knowledge in science and technology classrooms. A deepened examination of the teaching of science and technology is partly motivated by these subjects high status in society, how they 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 . In the Swedish context, where this research is carried out, it can further be noted that while the country is top-ranked on a number of equality indices and in general has a reputation that highlights its commitment to eradicating social inequalities, the labour market is still highly gender segregated and in university educations focused on the physical sciences and engineering men are substantially overrepresented (Nyström 2009, Alexandersson 2011). This somewhat paradoxical situation further motivates studies of how science and technology are constructed in and beyond the classroom in Sweden, since often cited reasons to women’s underrepresentation in science and technology in, for example, the U.S., such as the legislation regarding parental leave and the tenure clock (Rosser 2012), is much less applicable to the Swedish context. In our research project we take a particular interest in a period where research show that many students lose interest in science and technology, namely the last years of compulsory schooling (cf. Lindahl 2003, Archer et al. 2010). By a deepened exploration of how power and knowledge interrelate in moment-to-moment interactions in the classroom we therefore hope to provide some additional clues as to how micro-inequalities, adding up to patterns of exclusion in science and technology (Rosser 2012), occur in the classroom context.

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. In short, practical epistemology is a description of what students and teachers use in action as relevant or irrelevant knowledge and appropriate ways to attain knowledge. In a practical epistemology analysis epistemology is understood as a result of human beings functional coordination with their environment. It explores how a conversation or other actions take a certain direction and continue in a specific way, i.e. explores how meaning making result in a more developed and specific repertoire of actions (Lidar et al. 2006).  In addition, our conceptual framework also utilises an adaptation of Brousseau’s (1997) concept ‘didactical contract’ that includes a Foucauldian conceptualisation of power. Central to Foucault’s conceptualization of power is the idea that power is exists in a net-work of micro powers, rather than being located in a few individuals and organisations (Foucault 1980:98). A key concept in Foucault’s theoretical build, in particular when applied to an educational context, is power/knowledge. This concept communicates the idea that power and knowledge are always intertwined and can never be separated: ’there is no power relation without the correlative constitution of a field of knowledge, nor any knowledge that does not presuppose and constitute at the same time power relations’ (Foucault 1977:27).

Methodology or methods 400 words

The empirical design relies on a purposive sampling of teachers and classrooms, documenting classroom activities using video recordings and field notes. This paper will illustrate the use of the conceptual framework, by an analysis of a case of three one-hour lessons in one Swedish technology classroom in grade 8. The topic of these lessons concerns ‘solid and stable constructions’ (The Swedish National Agency for Education 2011). The pupils work in smaller groups with construction of models of bridges, with certain specifications, a very common activity when working with this topic in Swedish classrooms. The lessons were video recorded, using multiple cameras. The analytical process was initiated by several viewings of the video recordings, in order to acquaint ourselves with the empirical material. Next, sequences judged to be of particular importance to our research question, i.e. sequences where to teacher interacted with the groups, were transcribed. The first stage of the analysis focused the actions initiated by the teacher, through the identification of epistemological moves (Lidar et al. 2006), such as instructional or confirming moves. The teacher’s actions were coded in relation to the students’ interaction, following how practical epistemological analysis considers interactions as a language game where people create meaning together. In a second stage, the analysis focuses on how the epistemological ‘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 1999:47). The understanding of classroom practices, regarding both content and form, as constituted reciprocally by teacher and students opens up for a parallel understanding of classroom power relations, as a relational phenomenon. Consequently, inspired by a Foucauldian conceptualization of power, we argue that power relations are, and must be, integral to the didactical contract. Gore (1995) has explored the potential of Foucault’s analysis of power for investigating pedagogical sites, in an empirical study of four such sites. In her work she makes use of eight techniques of power, distilled from Foucault’s work, in order to do demonstrate the micro-level workings of power. In this paper we apply Gore’s (1995) techniques of power as a way to operationalise the Foucauldian power perspective in our analysis.

Conclusion, expected outcomes or findings 300 words

The main outcome of the study is the development of a conceptual framework for analysing the simultaneous constitution of knowledge and power in the classroom. This framework utilises practical epistemological analysis (Lidar et al. 2006) as the means of describing teacher and student action, and then uses an adaptation of Brousseau’s didactical contract to deepen the exploration of how power and knowledge are co-constitutive. In particular, we see the integration of a Foucauldian perspective on power, drawing on the work of Gore (1995), into Brousseau’s (1997) notion of ‘didactical contract’ as a fruitful avenue for further theoretical development and empirical explorations. The paper will present the conceptual framework, and provide empirical illustrations of how a didactical contract is constituted. In doing so, we demonstrate how the epistemological moves contribute to frame the expected behaviour of students and teacher. To exemplify, as long as the teacher-student interactions continues in the expected way the didactical contract is largely invisible, and it is not until it someone is perceived – by the teacher – as violating it that it is made explicit. In the classroom we have observed, teacher utterances that explicitly name the didactical contract are surprisingly abundant. The teacher repeatedly brings didactical contract to the foreground, by signalling how knowledge ought to be constituted in this technology classroom, e.g. by not basing knowledge claims on ‘who is your friend’. In summary, we argue that an increased understanding of the processes of knowledge and power constitution, and the relationship between them, in the classroom is important in what it can tell us about conditions for different students for engaging with science and technology. The ultimate aim of the research is to inform the ways in which an increased engagement in science and technology of a more diverse student body may be encouraged.


Alexandersson, M. (2011). Equivalence and choice in combination: the Swedish dilemma. Oxford Review of Education, 37(2), 195–214. Archer, L., DeWitt, J., Osborne, J., Dillon, J., Willis, B. &Wong, B. (2010) "Doing" Science Versus "Being" a Scientist: Examining 10/11-Year-Old School children's Constructions of Science Through the Lens of Identity'. Science Education, 94(4),617-639. Brousseau, G. (1997). Theory of Didactical situations in mathematics 1970-1990, [Edited and translated M. Cooper, N. Balacheff, R. Sutherland and V. Warfield.] Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers. Brousseau G. & Warfield V.M. (1999). The case of Gaël. The study of a child with mathematical difficulties. The journal of mathematical behaviour, 18(1), 7-52. Foucault, M. (1977). Discipline and Punish: the birth of the prison. New York: Pantheon Books. Foucault, M. (1980). Two Lectures. In: Power/knowledge: selected interviews and other writings 1972-1977, ed. G. Gordon. New York: Pantheon Books. Foucault, M. (1982/2002). The subject and power. In: Essential Works of Foucault 1954-1984. Volume 3, Power, ed. D. Faubion, 326-348. London: Penguin Books. Gore, J. (1995). On the continuity of power relations in pedagogy. International Studies in Sociology of Education, 5(2), 165-188. Lidar, M., Lundqvist, E. & Östman, L. (2006). Teaching and learning in the science classroom. The interplay between teachers’ epistemological moves and students’ practical epistemology. Science Education, 90, 148-163. Lindahl, B. (2003). Lust att lära naturvetenskap och teknik? En longitudinell studie om vägen till gymnasiet. Ph.D. diss. Gothenburg University. Nyström, E. (2009). Teacher talk: producing, resisting and challenging discourses about the science classroom. Gender and Education, 21(6), 735–751. Rosser, S. V. (2012) Breaking into the Lab: Engineering Progress for Women in Science. New York: New York UP. The Swedish National Agency for Education (2011). Curriculum for the compulsory school, preschool class and the recreation centre. Downloaded February 1st 2014, from www.skolverket.se Wickman, P-O. & Östman, L. (2002). Learning as discourse change: a sociocultural mechanism. Science Education, 86, 601-623.

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URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-228076OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-228076DiVA: diva2:732092
ECER 2014 “The Past, the Present and Future of Educational Research in Europe”
Swedish Research Council
Available from: 2014-07-03 Created: 2014-07-03 Last updated: 2016-05-15

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