Numero 12 - 2016

  • Numero 11 - 2016
  • Politiche

Governing The Governance: Rhetoric, Influences And Educational Space

di Valentina D'Ascanio

ABSTRACT

This article has been presented, for the first time, at the Conference of CESE Comparative Education Society in Europe, entitled Governing Educational Spaces: Knowledge, Teaching, and Learning in Transition, held in Freiburg from 10 to 13 June 2014 and, after, rewritten to examine the new developments of its major themes.

Starting from an historical-conceptual analysis of the idea of performance, this contribution is devoted to individuate its reformulation putting in relief both its new meanings and its associations with other terms, like quality and excellence. These changes have situated and comprehended in European educational space so giving relevance to the rhetoric promoted and used by supranational and national agents in order to present and justify the evaluation of performance as a lever to improve the quality and excellence of the European higher education systems and to enhance their competitiveness in the global educational scenario.

The choice to give prominence to the transformations in the idea of performance stems from the assumption that it can be a fruitful doorway to comprehend the dynamics associated to the governance of higher education and to the changes in the production of knowledge.

Moreover, looking at these years, growing attention has been given to the so-called culture of evaluation and to the relevant issues linked to it: the push for a type of knowledge and for the ongoing specialisation, the new roles requested to higher education institutions and the influence of diverse political actors, the demands for an efficiency declined in economic terms and for the adoption of an entrepreneurial governance based on value for money and competitiveness.  So, in the light of these considerations, the study of the meanings associated to the idea and to the evaluation of performance can contribute to deepen the discussion around the role of European universities and the sense of higher education in our complex scenario.

PERFORMANCE IN EDUCATIONAL CONTEXT: PATHS AND BONDS

Nowadays, the concept of performance is broadly used at supranational level, is varying translated at national level, and it is suitable to endorse a governance based on a specific form of management, founded on the requests for accountability and transparency. Taking into account this observation, firstly, this contribution is devoted to analyse the use of the term performance and its meaning within the discourse about the evaluation of the European universities and their production of knowledge.

Secondly, I would like to propose a detailed lexical and historical analysis of the term performance in order to show and clarify some meanings attributed to it. I will underline two different reformulations that have arisen since the Fifties and that represent diverse semantic fields, meanings and uses. Finally, the consequences deriving from a reductionist and unidirectional approach to this term will be discussed.

With regard to the first point, the diffusion of a global educational discourse about the evaluation of teaching and research, many scholars[1] underline the role assumed by supranational Organizations, like OECD, World Bank, European Union, who have shaped and conveyed a specific idea of governance, where the evaluation of performance is presented as a lever to enhance the quality and excellence of the European universities and, at the same time, as a mean to guarantee an efficient distribution of public expenditure, a central issue in mass education. Moreover, the evaluation and communication of performance is seen as a fundamental prerequisite to respond to the demands for accountability and transparency[2]. In this regard, Gili Drori argues that governance can be viewed as «an umbrella term»[3] that indicates the movement for management reform, a movement begun in the Eighties, coordinated by a web of supranational organizations and national agencies and strongly influenced by the neoliberal principles. According to the neo-institutionalism theory, this movement for governance can be viewed as a transnational organizational change that has produced a condition of isomorphism among institutions due to the role of international organizations as «teachers of norms»[4], namely they construct and provide standards and then they encourage the local institutions to adopt their standards.

Drawing on the neo-institutionalism theory, Jürgen Schriewer[5] acknowledges the rise of a transnational cultural environment and the formation of interconnected discourses, by which ideas, models and the so-called institutionalized myths are diffused and promoted. Nevertheless, according to him, it is necessary to take into consideration how transnational policies, influences and patterns are filtered by national and local level and, at the same time, to explain the ongoing dynamic between supranational harmonization and intra-national differentiation. In particular, the so-called universalism of trans-nationally models, rules and policies

fans out into multiform structural patterns wherever such models, rules or policies interact, in the course of their actual implementation, with different state-defined frameworks, legal and administrative regulations, forms of the division of labour in society, national academic cultures (…) and religio-cultural value systems[6].

So, these interconnected discourses about the evaluation of performance and governance can be situated and comprehended in this educational space characterized by interdependence, complexity and variability. In this sense, the analysis of the term performance, and its formulation, could represent a doorway to understand how this idea enables a functioning governance.

In this regard, to respond to the demands for transparency and accountability, performance is depicted as what has to be measured, operationalized and communicated. Looking at research carried by universities, the push is for creating a specific type of knowledge, relevant, applicable and with a social impact within this framework and, at the same time, universities are evaluated for their competitiveness and entrepreneurship, namely their capacity both to increase the rate of student success and to attract funds, students and researchers[7].

So, the performance is conceptualized as strong efficiency, surely a complex concept but intentionally rooted on the well-known slogan: working better and costing less. Moreover, the evaluation of performance is presented and justified within the so-called TINA rhetoric, where the taken-for granted lack of alternatives allows, to use Robert Cowen’s expression, «deductive rationalities»[8] among competitiveness, pay for performance and excellence.

As a consequence, this generalized request for a measurable and communicable performance has given rise to a constellation of documents[9] in educational landscape: in particular, supranational agents have assumed the role of experts in constructing performance standards for teaching and research. According to Jon McKenzie, performance standards «are evaluative criteria agreed upon and recognized by members of a particular community and designed to be applicable across a wide range of contexts»[10]. Underpinning to this rationale is the standardization of the procedures and the solutions across context, pillars of the New Public Management, whose main ideas have driven the so-called re-invention of governance. Particularly since the Eighties, indeed, this idea of performance has become the cornerstone of a specific style of managerialism that, according to John Meyer, acts as a «popular discourse»[11] across contexts thanks to its universalistic and deterministic approach and its emphasis on quantitative criteria[12]. Thus, in order to evaluate the efficiency of organizations, it is necessary to construct and implement indicators and benchmarks by which setting in motion the mechanism of feedback, or in Michael Power’s words, «rituals of verification»[13]. Moreover, according to him, the push for predictability, control and quantification is connected to the rhetoric of transparency and accountability and the diffusion of these interrelated discourses has given rise to the audit society, where performance has to be technically formalized and compared. To explain the relationship between the ideals underpinning audit practices and the need to construct an auditable performance, M. Power states:

Audit functions (…) as an explicit vehicle for change in the name of ideals such as “cost effectiveness”, “efficiency”, “quality” and so on. (…) In short, audits work because organizations have literally been made auditable; audit demands the environment, in the form of systems, and performance measures, which makes a certain style of verification possible[14].

So, the concept of performance is associated to terms such as measurability and communicability and, at the same time, its formulation is framed into transparency and accountability rhetoric and implies and supports a specific model of university and idea of knowledge.

PERFORMANCE: TWO SIDES OF THE SAME COIN?

As outlined above, the term performance can show many other meanings, shades and differences of sense. In this respect, it is necessary to propose a brief lexical reconstruction: the term performance has its root in the ancient Latin verb performare, whose meaning is to give shape, to model and, with this meaning, first, it moves into French, with performance, then, into the English language with to perform and finally, in the Italian vocabulary, with performare. However, the term performance has been characterized by a strong semantic slippage: by moving into English, indeed, it has been influenced by another verb, to furnish, whose ancient meaning was to complete, to bring to an end. Then, this development explains the rise of the current widely-known meaning of the term, strictly linked to an idea of doing.

With regard to the different formulations, according to Marvin Carlson, from the Fifties onward, the concept of performance has been used as «metaphor or analytic tool»[15], to analyse the role of the play and improvisation in ordinary life[16], the ways in which social meanings and values are embodied in behaviours and events[17] and, drawing on a famous title, how to do things with words[18]. In particular, Performance studies scholars, like Victor Turner[19] and Richard Schechner[20] among the others, have formulated performance as efficacy, namely a contingent, singular, liminal event, with a transformative potential and so, able to change rules, norms and structures.

Obviously, this idea of performance mirrors a specific vision of society, expressed by terms like conflict, crisis and discontinuity, as well as, a cultural turn toward process, presentation, body and desire, and presence[21]. In this respect, French philosophers, like Deleuze[22], Lyotard[23] and Derrida[24], have defined performance as Event, the radical expression of singularity, contingency, difference and evanescence. In The inhuman, Lyotard puts in relieve these features:

Before asking questions about what it is and about its significance, before the quid, it must “first” so to speak “happen”, quod. That it happens “precedes”, so to speak, pertaining what happens. Or rather, the question precedes itself, because “that it happens” is the question relevant as event, and it “then” pertains to the event that has just happened[25].

Hence, according to them, performance represents both the resistance against fixed and totalizing categorizations and the experimentation of new ways of thinking[26]; S. Malpas, Sublime ascesis. Lyotard, art and event, in «Angelaki. Journal of the theoretical humanities», vol. 7, n° 1, 2002, pp. 199-211; In reference to Derrida’s work, I would like to suggest C. Lanzmann, Jacques Derrida: l’événement déconstruction, Les temps modernes, vol. 67, 2012.].

However, Lyotard is also the thinker who has warned against the terror stemming from performativity or, in other words, the «positivistic philosophy of efficiency»[27], fed by the information-based capitalism. So, within a technocratic-economic discourse, performance is conceptualized as efficiency, translated in bit of information and made functional to the controllability of the system. In this regard, Lyotard’s words are illuminating:

Determinism is the hypothesis upon which legitimation by performativity is based: since performativity is defined by an input/output ratio, there is a presupposition (…) that the system must follow a regular “path” that is possible to express as a continuous function possessing a derivative, so that an accurate prediction can be made[28].

According to Bill Readings[29], Lyotard’s notion of performativity can be fully comprehended taking in account the relation between the hegemony of capitalistic discourse and the use of time; in particular, in his works following to The postmodern condition, like The differend, Lyotard argues that economic discourse subjects diverse phrase regimens to its single end, namely «that of profitability (…) that of gaining time»[30], p. 138.]. Likewise, in The Inhuman, he devotes a chapter to the concept of time describing how it is used to reach the maximizing of performance:

there are many “language games” – I prefer to say “genres of discourse” – in which a later defined occurrence is expected (…).  But in the case of exchange, the “second” occurrence, the payment, is not expected at the time of the first, it is presupposed as the condition of the “first”. In this manner, the future conditions the present[31].

Therefore, the concept of performance can be read as experimentation, transformation and resistance and, in this formulation, it is linked to terms such as singularity, contingency, evanescence. Otherwise, it can be read as measurability and normativity, is framed into the discourse of evaluation, losing its main features: singularity and evanescence. This discourse and the idea of performance associated to it rely on belief that societies, like organizations, can be managed to achieve the best input/output relation.

CONCLUSION

Looking at educational scenario, the idea of performance is crushed into a reductive definition, whereby it is completely deprived of other meanings, like transformation, invention or experimentation. However, this formulation implies, and raises, not only a mere semantic matter but, above all, a conceptual one.

In particular, the use of a formulaic approach in defining and construing performance implies a specific idea of evaluation founded on a deterministic relation between input and output, so depicting a sort of crystallized and flattened landscape, where socio-political, historical and institutional differences are erased. In this regard, under the veil of technical objectivity, the so-called «trust in number»[32] is the political and ideological support of the interplay among autonomy and accountability rhetoric and, at the same time, it enables to mask the weight of specific political choices. Many scholars underline and criticize the underlying values and the specific vision of world associated to the adoption of technical rationality: this

includes assumptions (…) that a particular model of efficiency is of outmost importance; that competition is productive; and that particular models of accountability are more compassing than they actually are and that models can secure quality. The values of technical rationality are linked to a neoliberal discourse[33].

Moreover, defining performance as a measurable standard signifies to put the accent on verifiable outputs, overlooking outcomes, to embrace a specific logic of evaluation: deeply normative, aimed to verify the correspondence and the conformity between outputs and stifling performance standards and, for this reason, closer to audit[34].

In conclusion, preserving the semantic and conceptual wealth of the term performance can mean to give relevance to the use and the choice of vocabulary, a fundamental element that universities have to recognize and claim as their own task.

Moreover, broadening and deepening the meanings associated to the concept of performance could represent a first step both to rethink evaluation, without reducing epistemological differences among fields of knowledge, and to begin a real debate among the actors involved, without sterile contrapositions between disciplines or approaches. Drawing on a Michael Walzer’s sentence, «critical distance is measured in inches»[35], so: “What is the right distance for university to evaluate the evaluation?”

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  1. A. Amaral, Transforming higher education, in From governance to identity (a c. di A. Amaral et al.), Springer Science+Business Media B.V., 2008, pp. 81-94; P. Maassen, C. Musselin, European integration and the Europeanisation of higher education, in European integration and the governance of higher education and research (a c. di A. Amaral et al.), Higher Education Dynamics 26, Springer Science+Business Media B. V., 2009, pp. 3-14; G. Pasias, Y. Roussakis, Towards the European panopticon: EU discourses and policies in education and training 1992-2007, in International handbook of comparative education (a c. di R. Cowen & A. K. Kazamias), 2 voll., Dordrecht-Heidelberg-London-New York, Springer, 2009, pp. 479-495; F. Rizvi, B. Lingard, The OECD and global shifts in education policy, in International handbook of comparative education (a c. di R. Cowen & A. K. Kazamias), cit., pp. 437-453; N. C. Soguel, P. Jaccard (a c. di), Governance and performance of education systems, Springer Science+Business Media B. V., 2008; S. Talburt, Ideas of university, faculty governance, and governmentality, in Higher education: handbook of theory and research (a c. di J. C. Smart), vol. XX, Springer Science+Business Media B.V., 2005, pp. 459-505.
  2. In a similar vein, this position is expressed by the European University Association: «Progress requires that European university be empowered to act in line with the guiding principle of autonomy with accountability. (…) Thus, universities must be able to shape their strategies, choose their priorities in teaching and research, allocate their resources». European University Association, Salamanca convention 2001. The Bologna Process and the European Higher Education Area, p. 7.
  3. S. Gili Drori, Governed by governance: the new prism for organizational change, in Globalization and organization. World society and organizational change (a c. di S. Gili Drori, J. Meyer and H. Hwang), Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2006, pp. 91-116.
  4. M. Finnemore, International Organizations as teachers of norms: the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization and science policy, in «International Organization, vol. 47, 1993, pp. 567-597.
  5. J. Schriewer, Editorial. Meaning constellations in the world society, in «Comparative Education», n° 4, November 2012, pp. 411-422.
  6. Ivi, p. 416.
  7. « (…) the Bologna Process, the EU agenda for the modernisation of universities and the creation of the European Research Area show that the challenges and policy responses transcend national borders. In order to maximise the contribution of Europe’s higher education systems to smart, sustainable and inclusive growth, reforms are needed in key areas: to increase the quantity of higher education graduates at all levels; to enhance the quality and relevance of human capital development in higher education; to create effective governance and funding mechanisms in support of excellence; and to strengthen the knowledge triangle between education, research and business». In this regard, higher education institutions have to promote partnership with business as a core activity and to adopt «more flexible governance and funding systems which balance greater autonomy (…) with accountability to all stakeholders. Autonomous institutions can specialise more easily, promoting educational and research performance and fostering diversification within higher education systems». European Commission, Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European economic and social Committee and the Committee of the regions, Supporting growth and jobs – an agenda for the modernisation of Europe’s higher education systems, Bruxelles, COM (2011) 567, p. 3 and p. 9 (Bold in text).
  8. R. Cowen, Comparing and transferring: visions, politics and universities, in Higher Education and national development: universities and societies in transition (a c. di D. Bridges, P. Jucevičiené, R. Jucevičius, T. H. McLaughlin e J. Stankevičiūte), London, Routledge, 2007.
  9. Lisbon European Council, Presidency Conclusion, March 23-24, 2000; European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA), Standards and guidelines for quality assurance in the European Higher Education Area, Bruxelles, 2015; European Commission, Towards a Europe of Knowledge, Bruxelles, 1997; European Union, Ranking Europe’s universities. Call to tender, Bruxelles, 2008; European Union, Assessing Europe’s University Based Research, Bruxelles, 2010; OECD, The Knowledge-based Economy, Paris, 1996; L. Georghiou, P. Larédo, Evaluation of publicly funded research: recent trends and perspectives, in OECD, Science, technology and industry outlook, Paris, pp. 177-199, 2006; OECD, Performance-based funding of public research in tertiary education institution, Paris, 2010; UNESCO-European Centre for Higher Education (UNESCO-CEPES), Higher education ranking systems and methodologies: how they work, what they do, Paris, 2010.
  10. J. McKenzie, Perform or else. From discipline to performance, New York, Routledge, 2001, p. 108.
  11. J. W. Meyer, Management model as popular discourse, in «Scandinavian Journal of Management», vol. 21, 2005, pp. 133-136.
  12. «The managerialist discourse involved has all the properties we note above. It is universal in its claims, and does not parade the parochial and local. It applies to all sorts of organized activity, and tends to be abstracted from the technical details of any specific activity. And it can be applied essentially anywhere». In Ivi, p. 135.
  13. M. Power, The audit society. Rituals of verification, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1999 (1997)
  14. Ivi, p. 91.
  15. M. Carlson, Performance: a critical introduction, London, Routledge, 1996, p. 195. Moreover, M. Carlson encourages to consider performance «as an essentially contested concept» and he warns against «the futility of seeking some overarching semantic field to cover such seemingly disparate usages as the performance of actor, of a schoolchild, of an automobile». Ivi, p. 5.
  16. G. Bateson, A Theory of Play and Fantasy, in «Psychiatric Research Reports», vol. 2, 1955, pp. 39-51; Id., Steps to an ecology of mind, Chicago, The University of Chicago Press, 1972.
  17. E. Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, Garden City, NY, Doubleday & Co., 1959.
  18. J. L. Austin, How to do things with words, Harvard, Harvard University Press, 1955.
  19. V. Turner, The ritual process: structure and anti-structure, Chicago, Aldine Publishing, 1969; Id., The anthropology of performance, New York, PAJ Publications, 1970; Id., Liminality and the performative genres, in Rite, drama, festival, spectacle: rehearsals toward a theory of cultural performance (a c. di J. J. McAllon), Philadelphia, publication of the Institute for the study of Human Issue, 1984, pp. 19-41.
  20. R. Schechner, Essays on performance theory: 1970-1976, New York, Drama Book Specialists, 1977.
  21. Many scholars evidence the relationship among performance, postmodern theory and postmodernism: for example, Nick Kaye states that «the condition of “performance” may be read, in itself, as tending to foster or look towards postmodern contingencies and instabilities», likewise, Michel Benamou holds that performance represents «the unifying mode of postmodern» and, reflecting on postmodernism, Ihab Hassan conceives it as an artistic, social and philosophical phenomenon that «veers toward open, playful, optative, disjunctive, displaced, or indeterminate forms, a discourse of fragments, an ideology of fracture» and, in this frame, he underlines the meaning associated to process, performance, happening, seen as activities in opposition to modernism’s «art/object/finished work».  However, the link among performance, postmodern and postmodernism is very complex because it mirrors the difficulty of defining postmodernity with its manifold aspects: according to Steven Best and Douglas Kellner, «there is no unified postmodern theory (…). Rather, one is struck by the diversities between theories often lumped together as “postmodern” and the plurality – often conflictual – of postmodern positions». So, they distinguish modernity and postmodernity «in the field of social theory» as well as modernism and postmodernism in the arts; in your opinion, the common theme in the diverse postmodern theories is the «sense of an ending, the advent of something new, and the demand that we must develop new categories, theories and methods to explore and conceptualize this novum». In N. Kaye, Postmodernism and performance, New York, St. Martin’s Press, 1994, p. 22; M. Benamou, «Presence and play», in Performance in postmodern culture (a c. di M. Benamou and C. Caramello), Milwaukee, Wisc., Center for Twentieh Century Studies, 1977, pp. 3-7, p. 3; I. Hassan, The question of postmodernism, in «Bucknell Review» special issue Romanticism, Modernism, Postmodernism (a c. di H. R. Garvin), vol. 25, 1980, pp. 117-126, p. 123; S. Best, D. Kellner, Postmodern theory. Critical interrogations, London, MacMillian Press LTD, 1991, p. 2; p. 4; p. 30.
  22. G. Deleuze, Différence et répétition, Paris, P.U.F., 1968; Id., Logique du sens, Paris, Les Éditions de Minuit, 1969; G. Deleuze, F. Guattari, Qu’est-ce que la philosophie?, Paris, Les Éditions de Minuit, 1991.
  23. J-F. Lyotard, Discours, figure, Paris, Klincksiek, 1971; Id., Par-delà la représentation, Introduction à A. Ehrenzweig, L’ordre caché de l’art, Paris, Gallimard, 1974; Id., Peregrinations. Law, form, event, New York, Columbia University Press, 1988.
  24. G. Derrida, La structure, le signe et le jeu dans le discours des sciences humaines, in Id., L’écriture et la différance, Paris, Seul, 1967, pp. 409-429; Id., De la grammatologie, Paris, Les Éditions de Minuit, 1967.
  25. J-F. Lyotard, The inhuman. Reflections on time, Stanford, Stanford University Press, 1991, p. 90.
  26. For an analysis of Deleuze’s thought, I would like to refer to F. Zourabichvili, Deleuze. Une philosophie de l’événement, Paris, Presses Universitaires de France, 1994. For what regards Lyotard’s notion of event: G. Bennington, Lyotard: writing the event, Manchester, New York, Manchester University Press and Columbia University Press, 2008, [1988
  27. J-F. Lyotard, The postmodern condition. Report on knowledge, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 1984, p. 54.
  28. Ivi, pp. 53-54.
  29. B. Readings, Introducing Lyotard. Art and politics, London Routledge, 1991.
  30. J-F. Lyotard, The differend. Phrases in dispute, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 1988 [1983
  31. J-F. Lyotard, The inhuman. Reflections on time, cit. p. 66.
  32. T. M. Porter, Trust in numbers. The pursuit of objectivity in science and public life, Princeton, New Jersey, Princeton University Press, 1995.
  33. D. Ruth, Monoculture on the intellectual landscape: research performance regime, in «London Review of Education», Vol. 8, n° 2, 2010, pp. 141-151, p. 147.
  34. «Audit is a normative check whereas evaluation provides empirical knowledge and address cause and effect issues; audit is oriented towards compliance as a normative outcome whereas evaluation seeks to explain the relationship between the changes that have been observed and the programme». M. Power, The audit society. Rituals of verification, cit., p. 118.
  35. M. Walzer, Interpretation and social criticism, Harvard, Harvard University Press, 1987, p. 61.