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Resistance toward the performativity discourse among upper-secondary Swedish pupils and consequences on achievement goals; a study of mixed design

Conference contribution
Authors Anna-Carin Jonsson
Dennis Beach
Published in ECER 2016 Dublin, Network: Policy Studies and Politics of Education, ID: 25
Publication year 2016
Published at Department of Education and Special Education
Language en
Keywords performativity, achievement goals, hegemony, mixed design
Subject categories Pedagogy, Educational Sciences


Dumont, Istance & Benavides (2010) described a new self-regulative learner who has responded to the new global performativity discourse by developing 21st century metacognitive skills and abilities to monitor, evaluate and optimise the acquisition and use of knowledge. The well adaptive self-regulative learner should 1) develop metacognitive skill, 2) monitor, evaluate and optimise the acquisition and use of knowledge, 3) regulate their emotions and motivations during the learner process, 4) manage study time well and 5) set higher specific and personal goals and be able to monitor them. The super-regulated human might be something to strive for within neoliberal marketization hegemonies, however there is also other perspective such as how pupils actually experience this type of discourse; we here refer to the performativity discourse (Ball; 2003; 2012). An important perspective that is often ignored when assessing the effects of performativity is how pupils actually experience the performativity discourse. Do they all have a passion for excellence and is it this passion that drives them to constantly try to improve and look good in order to make a success of themselves? This is not a problem only for the Swedish upper-secondary school; this is highly problematic also in an international context (Olsson, Petersson & Krejsel, 2015). The performativity discourse are defined by Ball (2003) in terms of a new performative worker, that are a successful self-regulating enterpriser, with a passion for excellence that constantly tries to improve and to do better and at the same time also tries to look good instead of solving real problems, this in order to make a success of themselves. Beach and Dovemark (2009; 2011) showed that the performativity discourse generated alienation among pupils where the external pressure to learn or coercion estranged the pupils from learning itself. There research concerned mostly vocational pupils. However, it is a question how pupils from upper-middleclass are tackling this discourse, more specifically, if they conform to the performativity discourse or if they also use strategies of resistance (Jonsson & Beach, 2013; 2015). This is our first question. We have examined this by considering how some academically successful students on university preparatory programmes in the Swedish upper-secondary school are actually responding to the performativity discourse. Using a mixed methods design we have inquired into if and how they conform to the discourse or if they show ambivalence or resistance. Our second question concerns if there exists relations between the different ways of handle the performativity discourse in relation to achievement goal theory, which deals with pupils’ engagement in learning processes. Achievement goal theory (Middleton & Midgley, 1997; Pintrich, 2000) is developed on the recognition of the relations of performances to mastery goals (that correspond to the will to improve), performance-approach goals (that correspond to the desire to demonstrate ability and outperform others), and performance-avoidance goals (that correspond to that correspond to the will to not be seen as outperformed by others). We have used the theory, and quantitative measurements traditionally used in this research, to examine the dominant market hypothesis about how students that conform to the performativity discourse will show higher performance approach and avoidance goals compared to others. This is our second question. Methodology, Methods, Research Instruments or Sources Used 150 female and 73 male pupils (age 18 years old) participated from the same upper-middle class Swedish upper-secondary school. The pupils were at the end of a university preparatory program, which in the Swedish school means in grade three. They were first asked to use 10 descriptive attributes to describe a typical pupil on their programme and first after this, responded to quantitative statements from the PALS test for measuring achievement goals (Midgley et al. 2000). Of the 223 pupils 186 responded to the question of describing a typical student by using 10 descriptive attributes for each. The attributes were to be written down on one side of a paper and the pupils were free to choose their own words or sentences. The pupils were gathered in the classroom with a researcher and an assistant present in order to monitor the procedure and help if any questions arose. The pupils were asked not to talk to each other and to solve the task individually. It is important to note that we overtly asked about a typical pupil on a university preparation program. Some questions arose concerning this in the classrooms. Some of the common questions were: Do you want me to describe the stereotype? We responded positively: Yes, this is what we want but that the choice was to use a more common expression as “the typical pupils on a university preparation program”. The Pattern of Adaptive Learning Scale (PALS; Midgley et al., 1996, 2000) has been developed and refined in the investigation from the perspective of goals orientation theory in order to examine how learning environments may influence student motivation and behaviour. We have used one of the five scales: the student assessment scale of personal achievement goal orientation. The measurement contains items related to mastery goals, performance approach goals, and performance avoidance goals. An example of an item measuring performance approach goal orientation is “It is important to me that other students in my class think I am good at my class work”. We used a 10 point scale where 1 = Strongly disagree and 10 = Strongly agree. The students were informed in accordance with research ethical principles concerning human and social sciences research that they had the right not to participate and that their answers would be treated confidentially, so as to protect individual identities (SFS, 2003: 460). Some students chose not to respond. Conclusions, Expected Outcomes or Findings 116 pupils (of 186) providing a conformist view toward performance goals through attributes such as hard working, high-performance, ambitious, competitive, motivated, active, committed, interested. The other 70 pupils were ambivalent in that way they both reported a conformist view of the performativity discourse as well as resistance toward it. Attributes describing feeling stressed and being introvert, easily controlled, obedient, boring and not daring to criticize. The subcategories have been divided in anxiety, obedience and aggressiveness toward the performativity discourse. However, these subcategories are not explored in the following quantitative analyse. The two broad qualitative categories (the conformist respectively the ambivalent) were combined with the quantitative data. Using a one-way ANOVA no differences were found related to mastery goals, However, there was a significant effect on performance approach goals F(1, 179) = 4.80, p < 0.03. Ambivalent pupils (M=5.39) reported higher performance approach goals compared to the conformist (M=4.75) and a close to significant effect was shown for the performance avoidance goals in the same direction. This is against the mainstream hypothesis. According to our analysis upper-secondary pupils on university preparatory programmes do not uniformly conform to the performativity discourse and it is not the conformist students but those feeling distressed by the performativity discourse that report the highest performance approach goals. Students with high performance approach goals are those that feel uncomfortable with the competitive context. High performance goals do not mean that students prefer or agree with a culture of performativity and competition. Erlandson and Beach (2014) have reported similar results concerning beliefs about intelligence among upper-secondary pupils. Laclau and Mouffe (1985/2008) argue that focus should shift from the traditional class analyses to the fight between hegemonies. Our results concerning the performativity discourse can be explained from their theoretical framework. References Ball, S. J. (2003). The teacher's soul and the terrors of performativity. Journal of Education Policy, 18(2), 215-228. Ball, S. J. (2012). Performativity, commodification and commitment: An I-Spy guide to the neoliberal university. British Journal of Edcuational Studies, 60(1), 17-28. Beach, D & Dovemark, M. (2009). Making right choices: An ethnographic investigation of creativity and performativity in Swedish schools. Oxford Review of Education, 35(6), 689–704. Beach, D. & Dovemark, M. (2011).Twelve years of upper-secondary education in Sweden: The beginnings of a neo-liberal policy hegemony? Educational Review, 63(#), 313–327. Dumont, H., Istance, D., & Benavides, F. (2010). Analysing and designing learning environments for the 21 century. I H. Dumont, D. Istance & F. Benavides (red.). The nature of learning. Using research to inspire practice. Paris: OECD publishing. Erlandson, P., & Beach, D. (2014). Ironising with intelligence. British Journal of Sociology of Education, Volym 35 (4), Sidor 598-614. Jonsson, A-.C., & Beach, D. (2015) Institutional Discrimination: Stereotypes and social reproduction of “class” in the Swedish upper-secondary school. Social Psychology of Education, 8(1), DOI 10.1007/s11218-014-9279-1 Jonsson, A-.C., & Beach, D. (2013). A problem of democracy. Stereotypical notions of intelligence and identity in college preparatory academic programmes in the Swedish upper secondary school. Nordic Studies in Education, 32, 49-61. Laclau, E. & Mouffe, C. (1985/2008). Hegemonin och den socialistiska strategin. Keuro: Glänta/Vertigo Middleton, M., & Midgley, C. (1997). Avoiding the demonstration of lack of ability: An under-explored aspect of goal theory. Journal of Educational Psychology, 89, 710-718. Midgley, C., Maehr, M.L., Hruda, L.Z., Anderman, E., Anderman, L., Freeman, K.E. et al. (2000). Manual for the Patterns of Adaptive Learning Scales (PALS). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan. Olsson, U., Petersson, K., & Krejsler, J. B. (2015). Elevcentrering som nutidshistoriskt problem. I S. Lindblad and L. Lundahl (red) Utbildning, makt och politik. Lund: Studentlitteratur. Pintrich, P.R. (2000). Multiple goals, multiple pathways: The role of goal orientation in learning and achievement. Journal of Educational Psychology, 92, 544-555.

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