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Policy-driven curriculum restructuring: academic identities in transition?

Rob Moore

University of Cape Town

Paper presented at the Higher Education Close Up Conference 2, Lancaster University, 16-18 July 2001

 

Introduction

Recent debates over curriculum have increasingly raised the issue of the implications of curriculum reform for the traditional forms of social organization and identities in the academy. For example, Moore and Young (forthcoming) note how contending pressures for change are exerting pressure on both modes of knowledge production and forms of curriculum organization, usually towards increasing integration. This pressure for integration includes increasing connectivity between disciplines, between knowledge and its application, and between the academy and the outside world. Moore and Young remind us that knowledge is essentially social in character, and derives from particular sets of codes and values pursued systematically within specialist communities and networks. These codes and practices historically found organizational form in university subject departments and specialist professional and academic organizations concerned with knowledge production. Moore and Young argue that claims for shifting forms of knowledge in the curriculum should not be considered apart from "the role of specialist communities, networks and codes of practice" that are needed to sustain these (forthcoming: p16). In other words, attempts to change curriculum towards more integrated forms of knowledge has implications for the forms of social organization that underpin curriculum delivery. This has potentially far-reaching implications for the higher education sector, where the organizational base for curriculum is often related to that for knowledge production.

In her study of how academic identities are responding to policy shifts in higher education in the UK, Mary Henkel (2000) argues that the primary resources for academic identities are the discipline and the institution. Following Bourdieu, Mary Henkel notes that the processes of identity formation in the field of science are essentially competitive: "Competitors have both to distinguish themselves from their predecessors and their rivals and to integrate the work of these groups into a construction that transcends it. The achievement of identity is therefore instrumental to the way in which science works" (Henkel 2000, p.18). Bourdieu argues further that the various scientific fields have strongly differentiated power and status, stand in competition with one another, and are "the locus of competitive struggle" for individual scientists located within the fields: What is at stake is the power to impose the definition of science ... best suited to [the individual scientist's] specific interests" (Bourdieu 1975, p.23, cited in Henkel 2000, p. 17). Henkel then draws on the work of Burton Clark (1983) to argue that academics stand in a matrix "formed by the cross-cutting imperatives of discipline and enterprise (the university or college)", and that the institutional form of this intersection is the academic department. Academics thus experience "the complexities and tensions inherent in two major sources of identity, one local, visible and tangible, the other cosmopolitan, largely invisible and disembedded" (Henkel 2000, p19). The forms of social organization in which academics are located thus perform the dual function of ensuring the epistemological integrity of knowledge production and transmission, and of constructing and sustaining the professional identities of academics.

In a paper which outlines what he calls the 'slide' toward 'performativity', Ronald Barnett notes the multiple forces competing for influence on contemporary curriculum - coming from, amongst others, the state, the labour market, knowledge fields and institutions. He develops a set of hypotheses that aims to predict the broad trajectory of curriculum change in higher education. Drawing on the work of Basil Bernstein, he distinguishes between curricula that are "inward-looking, reflecting a project of introjection where they are largely the outcome of academic influence" and curricula that are "outward looking, reflecting a project of projection, where they are subject to external influences" (Barnett 2000, p263). Barnett predicts that at the macro level (state and institutional policies), change will be in the direction of projection (clearly the case in the South African context, as we shall see below) and (again drawing on Bernstein) from insulated singulars towards increasingly multi-or inter-disciplinary regions. However he notes that despite the multiple claims from outside the academy, "the discipline (or knowledge field) constitutes the largest claim on the identity of academics" (p264) and consequently the micro level of actual curricular changes will reflect both the extent to which disciplines within institutions are yielding their insularity, and changes within disciplinary fields of inquiry (p264). He further predicts that changes will depend on the relative strength of institutions against that of their constituent disciplines, and the positioning of individual institutions within the higher education system. Barnett thus generates a complex picture of how curricular change will come about, predicting - in spite of the drift to projection and performativity - the salience of strongly-established disciplinary identities, particularly in situations where institutions are powerfully-positioned in the national hierarchy of universities.

This paper explores one context of curriculum restructuring in higher education, and reports on a study which looks at how academics in two South African universities have responded to national curriculum policy, both in terms of the extent of curriculum changes, and in terms of the implications for academic identities and forms of academic organization. The paper will firstly outline the South African higher education curriculum policy context. I will then draw on the work of educational sociologist Basil Bernstein to propose an interpretive frame for the study, illustrating this with some examples. Finally I will present a case study of attempts to change curriculum in response to the policy which illustrates issues of identity and social organization, and which - in conclusion - proposes conditions under which significant curriculum change can be achieved.

 

Policy Context

Since the transition to democracy in 1994, higher education in South Africa - like other sectors - has been subject to a series of policy papers and bills which seek to reconstruct the field in various ways. These policy moves reflect two broad imperatives: a response to global developments in the knowledge economy and the changing role of higher education internationally, and a local concern for economic development, social reconstruction and equity. Higher education is seen as a means of helping to integrate South Africa into the global economy on the one hand, and as a vehicle for correcting the social and economic imbalances inherited from apartheid on the other. A central ambition of the policies has thus been to enhance levels of state control over the higher education system so as to steer the system more effectively towards these goals. The key means by which the state plans to exert this enhanced control is the academic 'programme'. The Draft White Paper on Higher Education notes that "the most significant conceptual change is that the single co-ordinated system will be premised on a programme-based definition of higher education" (DoE 1997: paragraph 2.4). Programmes would thus become the unit by which the system would be planned, governed and funded, enabling a greater responsiveness of the system "to present and future social and economic needs, including labour market trends and opportunities, the new relations between education and work, and in particular, the curricular and methodological changes that flow from the information revolution" (DoE 1997: paragraph 2.6). Programmes are thus not only a structural device to enable better steerage of the system; they are intended to be a vehicle for a qualitatively different form of curriculum.

One of the arguments advanced for curriculum reform is the changing nature of knowledge, and where and how it is produced. Cloete and Bunting note that science has come to depend more on reconfiguration of knowledge produced at multiple sites and less on dramatically novel knowledge:

"Increasingly there is a tendency for knowledge to be produced in the context of application by trans-disciplinary groups, or teams, who are from within and outside of higher education, where the organizational structures and teams are less hierarchical and more heterogeneous, and both quality control and social accountability become more broadly based. ... This new social organization of knowledge requires a differently equipped cadre of knowledge workers than those who are currently based in universities. The new cadre must consist of problem-identifiers, problem-solvers and problem-brokers" (Cloete & Bunting 2000: 39).

The key curriculum policy provision which responds to the growth of mode 2 knowledge, and to the changing conditions of the workplace, is thus a shift away from discipline-based degrees towards more vocationally purposive 'programmes' - "It would also break the grip of the traditional pattern of qualification based on sequential, year-long courses in single disciplines." (DoE 1997: para 2.6) - a shift of particular significance for the natural sciences and humanities. A further justification for the shift towards programmes is the argument that curricula need to be responsive to the needs of society. This intention motivating the notion of a programme is best reflected in the Report of the National Commission on Higher Education (NCHE) which preceded (and informed) the regulations sunsequently issued by the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA). In the extract below one notes the connection made between a particular notion of educational design and the goal of greater responsiveness to economic and social needs:

The sequential learning activities leading to the award of particular qualifications can be called programmes. These are almost always invariably trans-, inter- or multidisciplinary.... The demands of the future of South Africa as a developing country require that programmes, while necessarily diverse, should be educationally transformative. Thus they should be planned, coherent and integrated; they should be value adding, building contextually on learners' existing frames of reference; they should be learner-centred, experiential and outcomes-oriented; they should develop attitudes of critical enquiry and powers of analysis; and they should prepare students for continued learning in a world of technological and cultural change" (NCHE in SAUVCA 1999: p7.).

The logic thus connects the social purpose of South Africa as a "developing country" with a need for programmes that are "educationally transformative", and that the characteristics of such programmes include the fact that they are "planned, coherent and integrated".

A third justification for the emphasis on programmes draws on the discourse of accountability. The NCHE report expresses this theme in terms of 'responsiveness':

It can be described as a shift from a closed to a more open and interactive higher education system, responding to social, cultural, political and economic changes in its environment. ... There will also be greater social accountability towards the taxpayer and the client/consumer regarding the cost-effectiveness, quality and relevance of teaching and research programmes. In essence, increased responsiveness and accountability express the greater impact of the market and civil society on higher education and the consequent need for appropriate forms of regulation. ... Overall, greater responsiveness will require new forms of management and assessment of knowledge production and dissemination. It has implications for the content, form and delivery of the curriculum. (NCHE 1996b: 6 - 7).

The NCHE report is explicit that the consequences of 'responsiveness' for academic disciplines is a weakening of the autonomy of disciplines, and a shift of regulative authority toward more negotiated forms:

At an epistemological level, increased responsiveness entails a shift from closed knowledge systems (controlled and driven by canonical norms of traditional disciplines and by collegially recognised authority) to more open knowledge systems (in dynamic interaction with external social interests, consumer of client demand, and other processes of knowledge generation). (NCHE 1996b: 6)

The subsequent regulations governing academic programmes issued by SAQA blend the discourses of outcomes-based approaches and accountability. The regulations require a qualification to (amongst other things):

represent a planned combination of learning outcomes which has a defined purpose or purposes, and which is intended to provide qualifying learners with applied competence and a basis for further learning;

and to

incorporate integrated assessment appropriately to ensure that the purpose of the qualification is achieved, and that such assessment shall use a range of formative and summative assessment methods such as portfolios, simulations, workplace assessments, written and oral communication. (Quoted in SAUVCA 1999: 19-20)

The ideas of "defined purpose", "planned combinations", "applied competence" and "integrated assessment" are "to ensure that the purpose of the qualification is achieved". The body representing university top executives (the South African Universities' Vice Chancellors' Association - SAUVCA) notes that while "no country has succeeded in including its University qualifications in a national qualifications framework", and invokes the example of New Zealand where "the Universities will remain in a separate system of programme approval and quality validation", it (SAUVCA) nevertheless believes that the development of what it calls "NQF-alignment features" would make it "feasible for massive improvements in quality to be achieved" through "putting into place the most important requirement of any quality assurance system: clearly defined outcomes against which the quality of student performance and institutional provision can be assessed" (SAUVCA 1999: p26). Thus while reserving judgement on the feasibility of the inclusion of university qualifications on a tightly formatted qualifications framework, SAUVCA sees advantages of programmatization lying in its potential for increasing levels of accountability and (by implication) centralisation of control.

SAUVCA has published a Facilitatory Handbook (SAUVCA 1999) intended to guide the implementation of the policy in South Africa's universities The handbook is explicit about the implications of the policy: what is required is nothing less than

a new model of Higher Education practice. For example, academics will now have to make explicit their learning outcomes and assessment criteria and offer these for public scrutiny. When designing curricula, they will be required to work in programme teams rather than as single individuals.... The demand for summative integrated assessment, across specific course outcomes and across modules within a programme will be particularly demanding in relation to design and implementation, given traditional territorial and individualistic approaches to teaching.... (SAUVCA 1999: 27-8)

The policy of programmatization(1) was thus anticipating significant shifts in the nature of academic practices, in the professional identities of academics, and in the forms of authority that are invoked to regulate curriculum decisions. In particular, it anticipates a weakening of the insulations between disciplines, and that academics will participate in collectives which cross disciplinary boundaries, and which are predicated on serving external accountabilities. This accountability has at least two dimensions: firstly a responsiveness to broader social and economic goals, and secondly an accountability for achieving the cross-cutting learning goals stipulated for academic programmes as a whole (rather than simply discipline-specific ones). Both of these dimensions ask for a weakening of prior insulations between departments or disciplines as academics meet to agree on graduate identities deemed suitable for the contemporary workplace, translate these into overarching outcomes that curricula should achieve, and then (at least) modify disciplinary curricula or (preferably) collaborate in interdisciplinary or multi-disciplinary curricula to achieve these outcomes.

This paper reports on a comparative study of the implementation of this curriculum restructuring policy in the science and humanities faculties of two South African universities with a particular interest in the responses of academic staff. This study aims to explore the programmes implementation process, seeking to understand some of the motivations and conditions that have driven the responses to the policy. Compared to the other universities in the country, the two chosen for this study are relatively well-established institutions with strongly entrenched traditions of discipline-based departments, and with good research track-records. These institutions were chosen for the study in the knowledge that the assumptions of the policy about weakening of disciplinary identities would be particularly challenging for universities with strong departmental cultures. In 2000, the year of principal data gathering, the two institutions (UniA and UniB) were respectively in their first year and second year of programme implementation, although effectively both were implementing the changes at second-year undergraduate level. Data for the broader study included in-depth interviews with academic staff at all levels associated with the programmatisation process, as well as institutional documentation of various kinds, where this was available. This paper reports on a component of the broader study, drawing on interviews with humanities-based academics in each institution associated with newly-produced programmes in development studies.

Questions motivating the study reported in this paper thus include: Are insulations between departments and disciplines weakening, and are academics meeting across disciplinary boundaries to achieve consensus, and to monitor and adjust their curricula? If so, is there evidence that new communities of practice are forming which may be signaling the emergence of new academic identities?

 

An Interpretive Frame

I now turn to the work of educational sociologist Basil Bernstein to develop an interpretive frame through which to give an account of the data emerging from the study. Bernstein argues that initiatives of curriculum reform are concerned to change the "bias and focus of official knowledge", and that these competing initiatives attempt to construct different pedagogoic identities: "thus the bias and focus of this official discourse is expected to construct in teachers and students a particular moral disposition, motivation and aspiration, embedded in particular performances and practices" (Bernstein 2000, p165). Bernstein emphasizes that the construction of identity is not a purely solitary and inward psychological construction, but that it is formed through social processes. Identity, he says, "is the dynamic interface between individual careers and the social or collective base.... [I]dentity arises out of a particular social order, through relations which the identity enters into with other identities of reciprocal recognition, support, mutual legitimization and finally through a negotiated collective purpose" (1996: p73). This is consistent with Henkel's (2000) "communitarian" view which sees identity as shaped by the communities it is embedded within, and which provide the normative space for individual choices. From this view, the various institutional communities (and their values and practices) that academics locate themselves in thus play a major role in shaping their professional identities. How these communities are realised at local levels, and attempts to change these social forms as suggested in the policy discourses outlined above, can thus have significant influence on identity formation.

Bernstein distinguishes between two "official" (or centred) identities projected by the discourse of the state, and two "local" (or decentred) identities generated within institutions, particularly where these institutions (like the two universities in this study) have a degree of autonomy. The two official pedagogic identities are the retrospective, and the prospective. Retrospective identities are "shaped by national religious, cultural grand narratives of the past ... appropriately recontextualised to stabilise that past in the future". Importantly, notes Bernstein, the discourse of this identity "does not enter into an exchange relation with the economy. The bias, focus and management here leads to a tight control over the inputs of education, that is its contents, not over its outputs" (2000: p166). By contrast, the prospective identity "is constructed to deal with cultural, economic and technological change. Prospective identities are shaped by selective recontextualising of features of the past to defend or raise economic performance". Because of "the emphasis on performances which have an exchange value", management of these identities "requires the state to control both inputs for education and outputs" (2000: p167-8). From this view, the South African policy discourses noted above thus articulate a broadly prospective position, in comparison to the retrospective position of , say, the era of grand apartheid.

Bernstein calls the two local identities, which can be generated within reasonably autonomous institutions, the therapeutic and market positions. Whereas the two official identities distinguished above recontextualise various resources from the past, these two local identities are concerned with the present, although different versions of the present. With the market identity, the institution shapes its pedagogy and management to produce products which have an exchange value in a market. Management tends to be explicitly hierarchical, and acts to monitor the effectiveness of the components of the institution in satisfying and creating local markets, and to reward and punish accordingly.

We have here a culture and context to facilitate the survival of the fittest as judged by market demands. The focus is on the short term rather than the long term, on the extrinsic rather than the intrinsic, upon the exploration of vocational applications rather than upon exploration of knowledge. The transmission here views knowledge as money. And like money it should flow easily to where demand calls.... [This] position constructs an outwardly responsive identity rather than one driven by inner dedication. Contract replaces covenant.... The [market] position projects contingent, differentiated competitive identities. (Bernstein, 2000: p169-170)

By contrast, the therapeutic position emphasizes "an integrated modality of knowing and a participating co-operative modality of social relation". Compared to the competitive identities of the market position, this position projects (ideally) stable, integrated identities with adaptable, co-operative practices: "the management style is soft, hierarchies are veiled, power is disguised by communication networks and interpersonal relations" (2000: p170). Bernstein notes that the pedagogy (because of its collaborative and student-centred approaches) of this position is relatively costly, and that this identity position is sponsored by a social group with relatively little power.

I want to suggest that the official policy discourses discussed earlier, whilst of a generally prospective orientation, contain within them signals which could be drawn on to make the case for both of these local identity positions, although more strongly for the market than the therapeutic position. As the case study presented below will suggest, the discourse of individual academics in the two institutions under study can be shown reflect both of these orientations. However, it is also necessary to consider other identity positions, in particular the traditional position of academics in a dispensation of minimal state or other outside intervention in higher education, or what I'll call the 'old collegium'. This is a position of high levels of individual autonomy within institutions, with clearly-defined disciplinary bases as the chief locus of social integration, and with relatively strong insulations between disciplines, and between the academy and the outside. This is the position that the policy discourses invite academics and institutions to move from, towards the new prospective position that the policy advocates. I also want to distinguish between those positions in the old collegium that are relatively introjected or inward looking (the disciplinary position), and those that are more projected or outward looking (typically the professional disciplines).

I'll represent these four positions diagrammatically, using as the axes the two key pressures for change embedded in the policy: the shift from an insular introjected orientation towards a more outwardly integrated and responsive projected orientation, and the shift from high levels of personal autonomy within disciplinary groupings to patterns of teamwork across disciplinary boundaries. For this latter distinction, I'll use Durkheim's notion of mechanical and organic solidarities, rather as Bernstein (1975a) discussed them.

 

Diagram 1: Contemporary identity positions in the academic field.

 

Introjected

Projected

 

Mechanical

 

Disciplinary

(old collegium)

 

 

Professional

 

Organic

 

Therapeutic

(new collegium)

 

 

Market

(entrepreneurial)

 

The policy thus attempts to exert pressure for (especially) academics in the formative disciplines (the "disciplinary/old collegium" section) to move towards the bottom two quadrants. Although Bernstein argues that the therapeutic position is a relatively weak one, it is one that is nevertheless articulated in the advocacy literature on higher education (see for example Harvey and Knight's 1996 account of 'new collegialism' as the social form to replace what they call the 'cloisterism' of the past).

I want to propose a possible relationship between these four positions, and this is that the therapeutic and market positions are necessary transitional positions in the movement of some introjected disciplinary singulars towards projected professional regions. In order for singulars to collaborate across disciplinary boundaries in an interdisciplinary project, which eventually becomes codified and institutionalised as a newly-emerging region, it is necessary for discipline-based academics to abandon insularity in pursuit of the "vocational applications" of the market position, and the "integrated modality of knowing and a participating co-operative modality of social relation" of the therapeutic position. Once the new region has coalesced and found stable organizational forms, then the social relations of academics within that form begin take on the features of the professional position, with increasing forms of specialization within an established field with an identity in its own right. But such a transition has as its primary engine the processes of knowledge production, rather than transmission. Interdisciplinary curriculum which does not ride on the coat-tails of a regionalising field of knowledge production and/or a field of practice would seem to have a flimsy base for the achievement of cross-border consensus, and may be consequently quite unstable in the absence of authoritative criteria for recontextualisation.

Diagram 2: Potential transitions of identity

 

Therapeutic

Disciplinary (singulars)                             Professional (regions)

Market

(transitional positions)

 

 

The issue of authority is an important one, as the case study below will illustrate. In this regard, a key distinction between the therapeutic and market positions in terms of the procedures of curriculum construction is whether the selection of content is driven by criteria that emerge from the knowledge base of the disciplines themselves, or by criteria determined by the job market. This distinction is illustrated in the comments below, taken from a humanities context (for a fuller account of this case study, see Moore, 2000):

[These are] people with very different theoretical approaches to how it should be taught ... [One senior academic] for example, is very strong on the pragmatic side of things: "We are training media practitioners and to infuse your courses with a lot of intellectualisation and theory and what-nots is highly suspect. These kids want to go out there and be journalists and movie-makers, and we have to build up an equipment pool and we've got to teach them how to do these things". And then you get other people saying "This is not a technikon, this is a university, and they must do literature and language and cultural studies-type things, along with the film and media. They must theorise what they do. Yes, they can go out and be marvellous film-makers but if they are coming out of a university, you want them to be able to have the self-reflexive approach to their work" So that is a major area of contention. (BH1)

In the context from which this was drawn, the new programme construct was highly contested precisely over differing forms of authority invoked to legitimate differing approaches to pedagogy. By contrast, the next quote illustrates quite clearly the team-oriented approach advocated for the 'new collegialism', which is often driven by a strong commitment to pedagogy as well as by collective approaches to disciplinary and interdisciplinary projects. Crucially, the strong ethic of collaboration and consensus-seeking becomes central to negotiating a commonly-agreed, authoritative basis for collective action, whether this be curriculum construction or knowledge production:

I think that my experience of teaching is that it often takes quite a long time to build up a relationship with colleagues, whether within the department or outside, where you get to learn how you can work with each other . ... I came in with a number of colleagues ... who were very committed to team teaching, to listening to one another and to making the time to go to meetings, to briefing tutors, to selecting tutors quite carefully. And so in a way, there were a group of us who taught very closely to each other and when we evolved other courses, ... we would do it in the same sort of way, spend a great deal of time preparing the course, a great deal of meetings, particularly in the first year of the course, a great deal of feedback and thinking about what had gone wrong, what had worked at the end of the course. [This was] a group of people within that department who took teaching very seriously, people who were very much reading changes within the discipline, who were wanting to keep up with cutting edge innovations, in terms of journal reading or whatever. Again, it is not just teaching, but it is how the teaching relates to one's research, and wanting to bring new things in. (BH4)

In the case study below, I will use this interpretive frame of varying identity positions to interpret the identity aspirations articulated in the discourse of academics who are responding to the policy-driven pressures. In the account, it will become clear that while some academics have a view of the new identity positions and the practices they imply, few are willing to make the transition, and those who do aspire to shift to these positions find considerable obstacles in their way. The case study will conclude with some suggestions for the conditions under which substantive shifts in academic identities and practices might be achieved, conditions which are likely to find realization only rarely.

 

The Case Study

This case study traces efforts to establish a programme in the broad field of development studies in each of the two universities (UniA and UniB) chosen for this study. Prior to the programmatization process, development studies as a focus of interest had been pursued only by individuals within departments, usually without reference across departmental boundaries. Although this period marked the first time that such programmes were listed in the respective handbooks of the two institutions, it is not the first time that attempts had been made to forge similar multi- or interdisciplinary curricula in this broad area.

 

The Case of UniA

At UniA, for example, efforts four years previously had been "scuttled ... because of turf battles", where the field was seen by one department as "their disciplinary domain, and they didn't really want to open up their field of academic activities to other departments" (AH11: p1). A further constraint seems to have been the system where student enrolments are used to calculate staffing levels in departments, prompting a reluctance from academics to "share" students across departments. The context of programme implementation at UniA in 1999 and 2000, however, placed a greater pressure on academics to respond to the policy. Although South African higher education generally was experiencing declining enrolments, UniA's student numbers had dropped further than those of comparable institutions, and the programmatization exercise was presented as an opportunity to attract more students. In particular, the Arts Faculty in this institution felt under pressure as a consequence of a restructuring exercise that had closed or merged some departments, the retrenchment of a number academics, and a staffing formula which suggested that the faculty was still 'overstaffed'. This faculty responded to the policy much more promptly than others, and faculty leadership played a strong role in galvanising compliance and establishing procedures which, in retrospect, most informants agree were transparent and fair.

By the beginning of 2000, the range of offerings in the faculty handbook had, on the face of it, been transformed into multidisciplinary programmes of various kinds. These programmes could be divided broadly into two groups: loosely-structured programmes that allowed students some limited choice in their combination of majors and electives, and tightly-structured programmes with few or no such options available. The Development and Environment programme is of the latter type, and consists of three compulsory majors in Geography and Environmental Studies, Sociology, and Public and Development Management. Students are also required to do a year of Economics, either the mainstream version or a less numerate version designed for humanities students. Apart from this, students only have space to choose one additional one-year subject from a very limited list of electives.

The process of developing this programme drew academics into the cross-border negotiations envisaged by the policy, and thus into the new academic relationships and practices, potentially characteristic of a new identity. Staff most closely involved in the initiatives understood in theory what the new role required of them:

[It required] actually getting consensus on what a programme entailed. I think the central theme, really, was the outcome. There's a little person that you have to produce at the end of the day ... to produce someone who would be able to go out there and do a specific job. We looked for a niche out there where we think we would be able to place people,... and then you said, "Okay, if this is the field in which there is an opening, then what do you require to be able to be trained for that purpose?" (AH1: p2)

In addition to the discourse of an outcomes-based approach to education, academics also suggest that the new role involves a shift towards what Bernstein calls 'invisible pedagogies': student-centred, small-group learning where the academic is decentred into the role of facilitator: "From the sage on the stage, to the guy on the side", as some respondents put it. Further, courses in some departments have moved from a discipline-based structure to a problem-based structure. But my informants note considerable problems with their attempts to assume this new role.

While some academics are able to articulate an 'outcomes' discourse, they also acknowledge that they quickly came up against conditions which limited opportunities for entirely custom-designed curricula. Apart from some cases where new modules were designed from scratch, academic staff drew on existing courses as the basis for their participation in a number of programmes. The key issue of limited resourcing, and the need for disciplinary courses to serve several programmes at once so as to maintain enrolment levels, set limits on the customization of curricula:

People might say, "Okay we should do this or that in terms of a specific module", and we would say, "Well, you can't really do that because you already are in programme elsewhere, for which your particular module was found to be coherent with the outcome of that programme. You can't just unilaterally change that now, because then you are disrupting the fabric of that programme." ... I think the moment you narrow the focus down to specifics, then you get a problem with coherence in specific programme packages. It is a lot easier to keep things rather broad, rather vague, and then it seems coherent. (AH1: pp.2, 9)

It is also clear that in the context of this undergraduate programme that disciplinary insulations have remained strong, and that no interdisciplinary integration is attempted at any point. Indeed they even note how the shift towards problem-based curricula in one department limited that department's capacity to offer modules across faculty boundaries, where such pedagogic shifts have not been made:

We are working with a problem-driven approach ... we have a third-year module on water in the environment. The guys [in the Science Faculty] would say "We want you to produce us a module in Bio-Geography". Bio-Geography is a sub-discipline that is not problem-driven, it is discipline-specific. It deals with a specific disciplinary field, but it is not a specific problem. We have basically made this disciplinary adjustment, and that works in this [Arts] Faculty, but we can't take that same thing and just package it across the border. They want something else from us, and we have either got to produce that specific module separately - and that runs contrary to the white paper-driven principles, where we were told we have got decide what it is that you are, you have got to decide your specialisation, stuff like that. So we really can't serve two masters at this stage. (AH1: p. 8)

Significantly, informants note that while disciplinary insulations have remained strong in the development of this vocationally oriented undergraduate programme, they indicate by contrast an instance where an interdisciplinary programme in Ecology at postgraduate level has grown out of an intellectual convergence involving some of the same departments. In this case, the intellectual logic of the project provided a credible, authoritative basis for cross-border collaboration. This fact, that some disciplinary integration is achieved when driven by internal intellectual criteria, but not when driven by external market-driven vocational criteria, suggests the relative strength of these two forms of authority in commanding the allegiance of academics. But it also reflects the desire of academics to preserve the undergraduate taproot of discipline-based training which provides a pool of potential postgraduates (and thus serves the reproduction of the discipline), and which forms the necessary disciplinary basis for postgraduate approaches to interdisciplinarity.

This issue of authority, and the organizational base for decision-making, is identified by many respondents as a fraught issue. Given that multi-disciplinary 'programmes' are the new organizational base for curriculum delivery, what should be the relationship between the old (but still exstant) departmental organizational base and the new? In the quote below, an academic wrestles (unsuccessfully) with the problem:

I don't think the departments can really proceed effectively in the new system as they are at the moment. I think you have just to get rid of the idea of a department. From a managerial perspective, which is the business we are in, you can do it either way. You can retain the department as a unit of organization, or you can just rub them out and replace them with ... programmes. The point is that somewhere, somehow, you have to recognize disciplinary boundaries still. These programmes, as I interpret them, are not designed to really replace separate disciplines. It is a question of integrating them at a certain level, and below that level you will continue to have these disciplinary groups. ... That's a tension that exists, and I know it is a difficult one to deal with. As long as the department is still seen as a structure with hard boundaries, it is bound to create turf battles, especially with programme convenors who see opportunities ... that may threaten the autonomy of the departments. I personally am not in favour of retaining the structure of the department or the head of a department as it is now, in such a new system, because I think it just creates more problems than it will solve. But it is a difficult one with an inherent tension in it. I don't think there's an easy way to resolve that. (AH11: p. 8)

This tension between these two organizational forms, and their potentially conflicting interests and forms of authority, remains unresolved for multi-disciplinary programmes. It seems that the integrated practices of the "therapeutic" position have found effect in only limited ways, in terms of the negotiation of space in new programme structures. There is little evidence that programmatization has resulted in a continuity of integrated practices in intellectual or pedagogic collaboration, or in sustained organizational forms. Once structural inclusion has been effected, the disciplinary identities and practices are again the dominant ones. Whilst some academics are able to identify the characteristics of a new 'therapeutic' form of academic identity, it seems clear that this is not a widely-developed position, and many structural constraints (particularly resourcing, and the strong 'gravity' of existing discipline-based structures) inhibit opportunities for this identity to grow over time. The logic of disciplinary forms of organization thus remain as the most established and compelling social bases for identity, practice and solidarity.

 

The Case of UniB

In the account above of the development of this programme at UniA, we glimpse the key themes of this paper, but these themes canbe seen in more nuanced detail in the data arising from the counterpart programme at UniB. This may be because the process of programmatization at UniB seems to have been a much more contested and problematic one. While in both contexts, we have seen academics respond negatively to the policy, resentful at their loss of autonomy, at the challenge to well-established roles and identities, and at the escalation of their administrative loads, these were features of the UniA context mostly at the start of the programmatization process, and by early 2000, these resentments seem to have been replaced by a general acceptance, even enthusiasm in some quarters, for the new arrangements. At UniB, by contrast, protests, challenges and conflict have been much more persistent, and some of the programme constructs have been much more unstable as a consequence. In several instances, when I interviewed informants, the programme structures under discussion no longer followed that laid down in the Faculty Handbook for that year. Indeed, soon after my main round of data-gathering, a major review of programmes in this Faculty proposed significant changes to currciulum structures, reversing much of the programmatization process.

At the time of data-gathering, the programme in Development Studies and Social Transformation (DSST) was a multi-disciplinary structure, composed mainly of contributions from the four departments of Sociology, Social Anthropology, Environmental and Geographical Studies (EGS), and Political Studies. The structure of the programme is complex (reflecting the many compromises embedded within it): students are required to complete four compulsory DSST 'core' courses, and these can then be combined with studies in any one of the four participating disciplines. On the face of it, it would seem that a programme in development studies in this context would provide an ideal basis for interdisciplinary collaboration, and thus for the emergence of therapeutic identities. Individual academics in all four departments have a history of interest in development, and the field of development studies - although broad - should be a compelling one in South Africa's post-apartheid context.

But the history of the four 'core' courses reveals the difficulties inherent in weakening disciplinary insulations. The original proposals for this programme envisioned that the core would be truly interdisciplinary, involving collaborative input from all participating disciplines. However this ambition foundered on the twin rocks of a shortage of resources and epistemological differences. The resource problem came from the fact that few of the participating academic staff had the time to involve themselves personally in the development of the core; they were simply too stretched trying to maintain existing commitments. The epistemological problem was reflected when none of these would permit academics from the one department (Sociology) - who did seem to have the staffing capacity - to represent the intellectual field of development studies, concerned that other disciplinary claims to the field may be compromised or occluded. The accounts from various respondents suggest that the social dynamic characterizing the negotiations between these participants focused not on how the different disciplinary positions would contribute to an integrated approach (what Bernstein calls "similar-to relations", or the basis for uniting difference in an organic solidarity), but instead focused on the epistemological differences in the respective approaches to development (an emphasis on "different-from relations" which anchors individuals in the mechanical solidarities of their home base). One account of the conversation is as follows:

Okay, so instead of having a [single] carefully constructed notion of Development Theory, there was a very different notion of a discipline, which says instead - EGS has got a course called Cities of the South but embedded in it, it has a whole lot of Human Geography theory about where cities come from and so on. [Politics] has got a course in Development Management which has its own set of theories. Anthropology has got another one. Sociology has got something called Introduction to Development Theory. And they all said "These things all enjoy equal status" and then there was a very interesting argument about a discipline which said "In other disciplines we don't treat theory in the same kind of way as you do". Okay? ... We have to accept the notion that we treat theory in different kinds of ways - [for example] what's distinctive about Anthropology, you know, is the methodological approach. So you know, meeting the other disciplines threw up all sorts of hellava interesting meta-theoretical things, and [one colleague] came through and said "There's no reason why theory is necessarily the core." Right, so all of a sudden we had a multi-disciplinary core. (BH15a: pp8-9 )

The compromise was to include an existing course from each of the four participating disciplines, to make up the 'core', but as in the UniA case, these courses would be serving several programmes simultaneously:

We had a situation where people were saying "We are not going to offer anything new, we are just going to take our existing courses and shove them in ... and we'll pretend that they fit together", but they didn't. There was no way that they were designed together. In fact, we had quite a strong argument from people here who were saying "We don't have time to make them fit together. We refuse to have meetings, or even to circulate our course outlines to each other to see what each of us is doing". There was that level of recalcitrance and disillusionment, and I think with the whole process of the programmes anyway.(BH15b: p. 5)

A further structural factor which helped to emphasise disciplinary identities rather than integrated positions was the university requirement that all course codes should be departmental ones, with the result that student enrolments in those courses would be credited to a single department, rather than shared across contributing departments. In a context where programmatization was widely suspected to be a stalking horse for retrenchments, academics were concerned to maintain or strengthen student numbers in their courses. One respondent from a small department comments on his involvement in another programme where the grouping of contributing disciplines is based on neither an intellectual convergence nor a projected field of practice; instead:

It is an arrangement of convenience to make sure that majors survive. It was a means of having a relationship with two other disciplines which were going to attract [large student numbers]. ... We know if we put ourselves alongside both of those two, they won't be threatened, they don't care if they lose a few students to us [when they choose their majors]. (BH11: pp. 9, 16)

This respondent notes that this latter 'marriage of convenience', characterised by no coherence or co-ordination across disciplines in any form, is an entirely amicable arrangement. By contrast, the DSST programme, which is referenced to an existing field of practice, and which has potential intellectual commonalities across disciplines, is fraught with tension and mistrust. It seems that the reason that the explicit 'marriage of convenience' model works is that neither resources nor trust need be an issue: all participants continue as before, within their established disciplinary positions. The reason DSST has difficulties is that the high cost of forging integration immediately thrusts issues of resourcing, trust and identity to the fore, in a context where such transitions have not been provided for.

A key factor supporting (or frustrating) attempts at such transitions is that of authority, which in this context takes at least two related forms: discursive and organizational. At the level of discourse, I've noted above how academics in disciplinary and (I would argue) therapeutic positions are more inclined to respond to intellectual projects than those driven by the market. However, a major feature distinguishing a disciplinary position from a therapeutic one is the degree of credibility commanded by pedagogic discourses. While a disciplinary position requires that the structure of a curriculum be determined by the discursive structures of the discipline itself, the therapeutic position would argue that the recontextualisation of disciplinary knowledge into a curriculum should be guided also by pedagogic considerations. One respondent, arguing (in a context where only mainstream Economics is on offer, with high entry requirements and high failure rates) that Economics can be made accessible to any motivated university student, expresses her faith in pedagogic method as follows:

I think what appalled me was the inability of someone in this university to say that we can make people who are not numerate, numerate and this is how we can do it. If you want that to happen in your programme, this is the time you have to give to it, this is the staff you will need. ... If you say that they must be able to read graphs and they must be able to do ratios and stuff like this, this is what needs to be in place. (BH18: p.11)

This argument rests on the assumption (identified by Bernstein as the 'competence' model) that all learners have an equal capacity for acquisition, and that pedagogy can compensate for difference and disadvantage. The contrasting assumption of the disciplinary position (the 'performance' model in Bernstein's terms) inclines to the elitist "sink-or-swim" orientation, and thus discounts pedagogic arguments. The implications of the therapeutic position on pedagogy is the 'new collegial' team structure of relationships, where disciplinary knowledge and pedagogy come together in a form of collegial peer review. In the extract below, a respondent describes the process as she has experienced it elsewhere, and regrets its absence in the DSST context:

Sitting down and saying we are teaching things together. This is a programme we are teaching - can we go on a bosberaad [retreat] and sit down and say: What it is we are doing? Textbooks, integration, what are the issues and how are they being looked at? It has to happen every year actually. It is consensus, in a sense. We used to sit down every year and say - this is what we are doing in the first year, second year and third year and postgraduate. The questions that arose - where are these questions picked up again and where are they amplified? What gets dropped? ... To say this is what we are reading, these are the new books. And we would spend two to three days doing it. And we would then require after that, that people bring the essay questions for their courses, their topics and those would then be thrashed through. ... The interesting thing is that I don't have this here because I do it all by myself now - I don't have anybody to share this with. So, in that sense, I am not kept on my toes - I am only as good as my best students are. ... I dread to know when I am going to get the first DSST people - I may get them in the next semester - and I won't know what they have learned. (BH 18: pp.19-20)

It seems the DSST programme development process started out in collegial form, and was driven by a triumvirate of colleagues from three different disciplines. But when a ruling came from the university administration that a single programme convenor be identified, it fell to one of the three, at that time also the head of a department, to lead the programme. Here the tension (noted in the UniA case above) between the roles and interests of programme convenor and department head became evident: "He couldn't change hats fast enough" (BH11). Various accounts suggest that the individual came under fire from his colleagues in the programme, as well as his colleagues in his department, as he sought to cater to these conflicting interests, and to give expression to his own personal intellectual bent. As he attempted to travel from a disciplinary position to a therapeutic one, he became caught in an organizational no-man's land. On the one hand he was accused of betraying the interests of the discipline - he was committing "academic exterminism" (BH19) or he was colluding in the production of "Kentucky Fried Knowledge, standardized, nugget-sized pieces expertly designed to meet the demands of the market" (BH20) - and on the other hand, as we've seen above, he found no 'new collegial' community as a stable collective social base on which to forge a programme-based alternative.

 

Conclusion

What might be the conditions for a sustained transition to a new identity position? It is worth turning to Durkheim and reviewing some of his comments about the transitions from mechanical to organic forms of solidarity to enable more complex divisions of labour. He argues that although organic forms of organization arise from the segmental, and that attempts might be made to reconcile the two forms of organization,

there is an antagonism which necessarily ends in a break. ... [The division of labour] can only grow by freeing itself from the framework that encloses it. ... The substance of social life must enter into entirely new combinations in order to organise itself upon completely different foundations. (cited in Giddens, 1972: p.144)

This suggests that the basis of solidarity in the two organizational forms of the disciplinary department and the programme need to be understood as quite distinct, and requiring substantially different assumptions and relationships to maintain the cohesion in each case. To travel from the one context to the next would require of an individual to either 1) permanently relinquish one frame of reference for another, or 2) to be content to hold two contrary frames of reference simultaneously, and to invoke these separately as the context requires. Durkheim further outlines the conditions under which a new organic frame of reference is established. Time and space is required for the development between individuals of a common understanding and purpose, what he calls "moral density":

But this moral relationship can only produce its effect if the real distance between individuals has itself diminished in some way. Moral density cannot grow unless material density grows at the same time, and the latter can be used to measure the former. (1972: p.151)

In other words, developing what Bernstein calls 'ideological consensus' amongst a group depends on the communicative opportunities available for this purpose, and these need to be frequent enough to constitute a community of practice. Crucially, consensus is unlikely to be achieved in a context of competition for resources. As resources shrink, so conflict between individuals becomes more intense. "Similar occupations are as competitive as they are alike" (Durkheim, cited in Giddens, 1972: p.154).

Bernstein similarly suggests conditions for the successful establishment of an integrated-type curriculum: staff participating in such an arrangement "are part of a strong social network (or it must be strong if the transmission is to work) which should be concerned with the integration of difference. And this is no easy activity" (Bernstein 1996: 25, emphasis in original). He stipulates four conditions of social organisation necessary for an integrated-type model to succeed, and it worth quoting these in some detail.

  1. There must be consensus about the integrating idea and it must be very explicit.... It may be that integrated codes will only work when there is a high level of ideological consensus among the staff. We have already seen that, in comparison with collection, integrated codes call for greater homogeneity in pedagogy and evaluation, and therefore reduce differences between teachers in the form of transmission and assessment of knowledge.... Where such ideologies are not shared, the consequences will become visible and threaten the whole at every point.

  2. The nature of the linkage between the integrating idea and the knowledge to be co-ordinated must be coherently spelled out.... The development of such a co-ordinating framework will be the process of socialisation of the teachers into the code....

  3. A committee system of staff may have to be set up to create a sensitive feed-back system and which will provide a further agency of socialisation of the code....

  4. One of the major difficulties that inhere in an integrated code arises over what is to be assessed and the form of the assessment.... Of greatest importance, very clear criteria of evaluation must be worked out.... (Bernstein 1975b: 84 and 107-8; emphases in the original)

In short, for an integrated-type model to establish itself, the conditions have to be created in which a community of academics united in a common project, can come to agreement on what is to count as valid knowledge, why, and how it is to be recognised in the context of that programme: in other words, to arrive at a social epistemology of curriculum which provides the basis for continuing collective practice over time, and for a stable and sustainable academic identity.

We have here two examples of policy-driven attempts to create more-or-less integrated models of curriculum, which index the distinct, if diverse, field of development studies. In neither case does an interdisciplinary model ensue; instead strongly insulated multi-disciplinary models are the result. Seen through an identity-based frame of reference, it is clear that, despite the policy injunctions, disciplinary identitites remain resilient social and normative positions for practice and solidarity. Although therapeutic positions are articulated by several respondents, these are not realised in any sustained way in these cases. There is little or no evidence here of market positions in the discourse of these academics, although this is a feature of the increasingly managerialist practices of the institutional administrations. The authors and implementers of curriculum policy thus need to consider more carefully the collective social bases (and their costs) that are required to sustain the delivery of particular curriculum models.

 

Notes

1. Whilst the account I have given here of the policy draws from national level policy discourses, and while the study referred to in this paper looks at how institutions have responded to the policy environment, it is clear that there is no one-way linear pattern of "policy -> response" at work here. South Africa's policies are themselves reponses to wider global discourses, and (as I have shown in a prior paper) at least one of the institutions under study had embarked on a process of programmatization before the national policy was published (Moore 2000).

 

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This document was added to the Education-line database on 16 July 2001