Fenwick English (2006) argues that advancing scholarship in educational administration requires criticism of it, philosophically, empirically and logically, suggesting that we do not search for core pillars but the contested grounds on which educational leadership is defined moment-to-moment. As a domain of inquiry, educational administration has a rich history of epistemological and ontological debate. From the work of Andrew Halpin and Daniel Griffiths in the 1950-1960s in what is known as the Theory Movement, through to Thomas Barr Greenfield’s critique of logical empiricism in the 1970s, the emergence of Richard Bates’ Critical Theory of educational administration in the 1980s, and Colin Evers and Gabriele Lakomski’s naturalistic coherentism in the 1990-2000s, debates about the ways of knowing, doing and being in the social world have been central to advancing scholarship. However, in the most recent decade, at least since the publication of Evers and Lakomski’s work, questions of the epistemological and ontological preliminaries of research have become somewhat marginalised. This is not to suggest that such discussions are not taking place, but rather that they have been sporadic and piecemeal. This is further embodied in the context of various traditions of educational administration research (e.g. critical, humanistic, instrumental, scientific) rarely, if ever, engaging with one another.

Given the relative absence of epistemological and ontological debate in contemporary educational administration thought and analysis, Izhar Oplatka (2010) argues that it is timely to once again engage with such matters. This book explicitly establishes the importance of the interplay of theory and methodology in the scholarship of educational leadership, management and administration. Fusing multiple analytical frames, I outline and defend a particular ‘scientific’ view of scholarship before using that perspective to criticise existing administrative theories and develop a distinctive alternative, one that I label a relational programme in educational administration. This is not to be confused with just another adjectival approach to leadership, management and administration scholarship. The argument that I am building is for a relational approach to scholarship in educational administration and the rationale for this is grounded in a recasting of administrative labour in the contemporary social condition.

The intellectual heritage of my relational project is eclectic, drawing heavily on French social theory such as the work of sociologists Pierre Bourdieu (critical) and Luc Boltanski (pragmatic), management scholars such as Peter Dachler, Dian Marie Hoskings, and Mary Uhl-Bien, but also critical management studies, political science, policy analysis, organisation studies, and given my own disciplinary location, recognised educational administration thinkers such as Richard Bates, Colin Evers and Gabriele Lakomski, Thomas Greenfield and contemporaries such as Helen Gunter, Pat Thomson, John Smyth and Fenwick English.

Centrally, in bringing critical pluralism to scholarship I engage with what I see as the key theoretical problem of the legitimation of the social world and its empirical manifestation in the organisation of schooling. I mobilise the label ‘scientific’ in the Francophone (or even continental European) sense, that which adheres to rigorous inquiry through the explicit interrogating of a large scale theoretical problem embedded within an empirical problem, as opposed to the more conservative Anglophone tradition – primarily that of North America – which privileges the exhibitionism of method and analysis. In doing so, this book delivers an elaborated, and coherent, discussion from the fragmented discourses of contemporary educational leadership, management and administration thought and analysis to sketch an alternate research programme. Importantly, this book is not a critique of the field – something that is already too frequent enough. Rather, it is devoted to sketching an alternate research programme for advancing scholarship. Specifically, I aim to:

– To break new ground methodologically for the ‘scientific’ study of educational leadership, management and administration.

In working to this aim, this book is arguably the most ambitious book since Evers and Lakomski’s three book series: Knowing educational administration (1991), Exploring educational administration (1996), and Doing educational administration (2000). Importantly, I interpret this aim widely and my discussion is based on the following guiding questions:

– What are the large scale theoretical, and empirical, problems on which educational administration is based?; and

– How can we study them?

These questions, I believe, are vital as the domain of educational administration faces increasing questions of its relevance and status within education, and as education itself faces increasing challenges from both within, and beyond. The arguments put forth in this book clearly stem from my intellectual pedigree in critical social theory – that which is frequently assigned the label of ‘sociology’ or ‘organisation studies’ more so than educational leadership, management and administration.

However, in order to engage with the aim and guiding questions of the programme, I am not going to apply or map the intellectual terrain of educational administration using a critical social theory lens, as this is not desirable or helpful for my purposes, as such an approach would leave the existing theorisation of educational administration intact. Rather, what I offer is a theoretical intervention that enables one to see educational administration in new ways. Such an approach settles many of the popular assumptions of contemporary educational leadership, management and administration thought and enables a new understanding of the relationship between schooling, policy and broader socioeconomic conditions.


The canonical literature of educational administration, as is so often the case, comes from a bygone era. Classic administration works, such as Frederick Winslow Talyor’s (1911) The principles of scientific management, Chester Barnard’s (1968) Functions of the executive, and Herbert Simon’s (1976) Administrative behavior, were written at a time of industrial expansion and in the case of the latter two, shifting post-war socio-political conditions. Influential educational administration texts such as those written by Andrew Halpin (1966), Daniel Griffiths (1959a, 1959b, 1965, 1985, 1988), Thomas Greenfield (see Greenfield & Ribbins, 1993), Christopher Hodgkinson (1978, 1996), Richard Bates (1980a, 1980b, 1983), William Foster (1986), and Colin Evers and Gabriele Lakomski (1991, 1996, 2000), were also written in a different time and space. This is not to suggest that ontological and epistemological arguments are bracketed to a particular historical period, rather I argue that if we are to advance scholarship in educational leadership, management and administration we need to recognise that the research object has shifted over time and by virtue, our ways of knowing said object must change to.

The challenge for educational leadership, management and administration scholarship as engaged with in this book aligns with three markers: first, the changing image of what is essentially a modern institution, the school, in contemporary (post-modern?) times; second, the critique of ‘science’, or what will become clear, logical empiricism, from scholars, primarily from the critical school; and finally, the contemporary, although arguably enduring tensions of administration polarising individualism and collectivism and agency and structure. The relational research programme, as proposed in this book aims to reformulate the image of school administration by seeking to get beyond the tensions just mentioned. What in particular is the narrow attribution of ‘science’ with logical empiricism and Theory Movement inspired scholarship. Although notions of science in educational administration have been critiqued by: the humanists (e.g. Greenfield, Hodgkinson) for privileging the objective and failing to account for the subjective; the emancipatory critical theorists (e.g. Bates) for being an instrument of control; and the critical sociologist (e.g. Gunter) for its apolitical approach, this querying of science however is primarily on the basis of the limited mobilisation of science in educational administration and its relations with the social. The binaries of objectivity and subjectivity, as with individualism and collectivism, and agency and structure, are hardly productive theoretical spaces. Therefore, as with Evers and Lakomski’s research programme, I accept the various criticism of empiricist epistemology raised by the scope of alternate perspectives, but argue that they do not seriously affect the value of science as a scholarly endeavour.

I seek to pursue, and even increase, anchorage in a rigorous empirical science, which seems to me to represent a fundamental contribution of the work developed in the framework of this relational programme, by offering theoretically rich descriptions of the activities of actors in particular administrative situations. To this end, it seems unproductive to engage in a power explanation whose mechanical utilization risks crushing the narrative prior to any data being generated. To be brief, my move therefore consists in re-orienting from a critical sociological lens to the search for a description which attests to the unstable character of administration. This is not to suggest an abandonment of the project of the critical, however, through attention to close up descriptions of disruptions in production, one is better placed to craft accounts that can productively theorise educational administration in ways that can inform our understanding of how schools are constructed and exist in the social. The programme is inherently pragmatic, exploiting the resources supplied by current intellectual threads in history, philosophy, sociology, geography, literature, psychology, often taking different paths but focused on in situ activities in schools. Coming together in this way, by its very nature involves compromise, and the union is one that is eternally fragile. This approach to knowledge production mirrors the knowledge dynamic in which its object is embedded and embodies. In doing so, it moves beyond the mapping of directives and influences to an explicit interrogation of the messiness of the social. Such a move is incompatible with modernistic accounts which present educational leadership, management and administration as a coherent and focused body of work (field), marked with a past, present and future (English, 2002). Theoretically, this enables us to break down the hierarchal world view that dominates much of the discourses of administration, management and leadership, that which reduces asymmetries in the social to single measures (e.g. class, gender) or binaries (dominate – dominated), to a relational way of thinking.

This move plays out in both the relations that the researcher has with the research object and also in the empirical. The intimate relationship between the researcher and the research object is magnified in educational leadership, management and administration (and arguably other domains within the professions) given that most, if not all, academics working in the area have previously held administrative positions in organisations and have a long association with such institutions, therefore heightening the embedded and embodied nature of their engagement. In the empirical, while the theme of colonisation has been replaced by globalisation in broader discourses, I argue that the image of the school, and by virtue, school administration, has for the most part not moved beyond the image of a colonised social group of educators working at some distance from the centre of education governance embedded within the state bureaucracies. This is despite policy moves focused on empowering schools and their communities.

Foregrounded in this argument is the role of ontology and epistemology. Core to my argument is that the centralist mindset of education research – even that which explicitly speaks back to it – limits our way of conceptualising the school and by virtue, theorising educational leadership, management and administration. I argue that there is a need to move beyond the linearity of rational action and consciousness. As is frequently witnessed when a centralist mindset is mobilised, and especially so when an emancipatory account is put forth that in the process of building its argument further embeds the centralist agenda, it is difficult to move beyond a somewhat deterministic narrative being constructed. In the case of educational leadership, management and administration, this more often than not translates into seeing the school as the local face of a state agenda. The mobilisation of labels such as neo-liberalism, managerialism, and new public management, are too broad a brush stroke to sustain meaningful advances in knowledge anymore. Far too much is gathered in the sweep of the labels and the usage has diffused to such an extent that it is rarely productive in the space. The agenda of the relational research programme that I am advancing in this book has a chance to move beyond this limitation. I investigate how the production of knowledge about the legitimacy, effectiveness, efficiency, and morality of administration connects with the practices of administration. In doing so, questions are raised regarding the extent to which ‘new’ forms of administration – leadership, participatory, distributed, and so on – are generative or thwarting of new knowledge. Such a move is not surprising given that for the most part scholars, at least those who take such matters seriously, are looking for an alternate ontology as the Newtonian/Cartesian universe inhabited by self-interested, atomistic individuals – that which fits nicely with managerialist accounts of administration – does not logically fit prescriptions for collaborative practice nor the image of the school as a nebulas unit. A relational focus enables scholarship to move beyond internal tensions and external pressures by opening up the school and engaging with the dynamic relations that it both holds with other social institutions and those which constantly redefine its very existence. As a means of highlighting the key features of my argument, below I list five central features of the relational programme explored in this book:

– The centrality of ‘administration’ in the social world creates an ontological complicity in researchers that makes it difficult to epistemologically break from our spontaneous understanding of the social world;

– Rigorous ‘scientific’ scholarship would therefore call into question the very foundations on which the contemporarily popular discourses of ‘leadership’ ‘management’ and ‘administration’ in education are constructed;

– The contemporary social condition cannot be separated from the ongoing, and inexhaustible, recasting of administrative labour;

– Studying educational administration ‘relationally’ enables the overcoming of the contemporary, and arguably enduring, tensions of individualism and collectivism, and structure and agency; and

– In doing so, there is a productive – rather than merely critical – space to theorise educational administration.

In light of this, the primary point of departure I make with mainstream educational leadership, management and administration scholarship is my attention to matters of epistemology and ontology, or knowledge production. However, rather than locate this work in a philosophy of science space, I explicitly bring this into discussion with contemporary discourses of educational leadership, management and administration. This move enables the argument to speak across intellectual (e.g. education, management, organisational studies) and socio-geographic boundaries through the provision of a theoretical argument that is not confined to any one empirical problem, space or time. Adopting this analytical strategy enables an interdisciplinary approach to scholarship while also fusing multiple lenses for the specific intent of opening new lines of inquiry and renewal in a field of knowledge production – educational leadership, management and administration – under question for its scholarly value within the academy.


Despite relationship-orientated perspectives being around since the earliest forms of scholarship on leadership, management and administration, the term ‘relational’ leadership is surprisingly new (Uhl-Bien, 2006). James Hunt and George Dodge (2000) consider relational perspectives, and the approaches within them, to be at the forefront of emerging leadership scholarship. In the time since Hunt and Dodge’s claim, relational approaches have solidified a place in the intellectual space of broader leadership scholarship (Dinh et al., 2014). The significance of a relational approach is often argued for as a means of generating scholarship that has more relevance to the world of practice (Bradbury & Litchenstein, 2000). Key thinkers in this space include Peter Dachler and colleagues, Dian Marie Hoskings, and Mary Ulh-Bien.

There are two major schools in the broader relational scholarship: entity; and relational. Although both ‘entity’ and ‘relational’ approaches view leadership as a social process, what they mean by process, particularly with respect to their ontology and epistemology, is quite different (Uhl-Bien, 2006). An entity perspective is consistent with an epistemology of an objective truth and a Cartesian dogma of a clear separation between mind and nature (Bradbury & Litchenstein 2000). Relationship-based leadership from this perspective is focused on individuals and their perceptions, intentions, behaviours, personalities, expectations, and evaluations relative to their relationships with others. In contrast, a relational perspective views knowledge as socially constructed and socially distributed, not as mind stuff constructed or accumulated and stored by individuals. As Dachler and Hoskings (1995) argue, ‘[t]hat which is understood as real is differently constructed in different relational and historical/cultural settings’ (p. 4). The distinction between the entity and relational schools of thought are important. Consistent with my argument through this entire book, the identification of work within a relational space does not suggest a homogenous approach.

Helen Gunter (2010) argues that there is an emerging, or arguably re-emerging, sociological stream of scholarship in educational leadership, management and administration. The relational research programme that I am building and defending in this book fits within this sociological tradition of educational leadership, management and administration scholarship. I am of course not the only individual playing in this space. David Giles and colleagues in the Flinders’ Leadership And Management in Education (FLAME) research group (Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia) are building an agenda around ‘relational’ leadership (see Giles, Bell, Halsey, & Palmer, 2012). The point of departure, or ‘distinction’ to think with Bourdieu, in my work is both empirical and theoretical. Whereas Giles and colleagues seek to operationalise a ‘relational’ approach, adding yet another adjectival leadership, and in doing so, aligning with an entity approach, I am not seeking to map an intellectual terrain using existing theories adopted from elsewhere yet alone operationalise them. Rather, my argument is built upon what I see as the demise of theoretical advancements in educational leadership, management and administration. As a domain of scholarly inquiry, there is a proliferation of adjectives that exist beyond the need for any concrete referent and a denouncement of the heroic individual through ‘new’ organisational forms, yet the celebration of the individual ‘turnaround’ leader at unprecedented levels. The volume of critique regarding the impact of the expansion of the manageralist project has never been greater yet the aspirational tone of narratives of individual and/or collective autonomy has never received wider popular appeal. The relational approach I am advancing seeks not to map the existing terrain but to recast it. My intellectual project – an ongoing and generative one – is to recast educational administrative labour and the relations between the researcher and the researched.

While this is undoubtedly a theoretical monograph, something that is unpopular in the literatures of educational leadership, management and administration, it is not a theory. The theoretical and methodological frame I build is largely based on the work of others. Importantly, I have sought to mobilise multiple analytical frames in my analysis of educational administration. For the most part, I have sought to explicitly name the frameworks from within which I construct various claims, but in some parts this is more subtle.

Although it is difficult to accurately pinpoint the genesis of an intellectual project, this book is grounded in a Bourdieusian inspired scholarship, particularly the methodological perspective first sketched out in a text written by Pierre Bourdieu, Jean-Claude Chamboredon and Jean-Claude Passeron (1991[1968]) entitled The craft of sociology: epistemological preliminaries (le métier de sociologue). However, my use of Bourdieusian theorising is neither with utmost loyalty or reverence. Bourdieu never explicitly wrote about educational administration, but most importantly, as James Ladwig (1996) argues, built within the very French, Durkheimian sociological tradition, Bourdieu’s theoretical and methodological stance begins from the epistemological presumption that (in Poincare’s words) ‘facts do not speak’.

The result being that for Bourdieu, ‘scientific’ knowledge does not come into being through deduction or induction rather through social construction. He believes that social science is not about reality, nor is it about how reality is experienced, instead social science must focus on how reality is constructed in a dialectic between objects and subjects. As I will touch on elsewhere throughout this book, Bourdieu’s belief in science is not the science of mainstream Anglophone employment, that which is mostly tied to logical empiricism and displaying an ‘exhibitionism of data and procedures’ rather he believes ‘one would be better advised to display the conditions of construction and analysis of these data (Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1992[1992], p. 65). Bourdieu’s view of science, or more specifically scientific inquiry, sees it as an act of distinction from ordinary language and the under-problematised view of the social world as it is.

As I have argued previously, research in educational leadership, management and administration – or anywhere for that matter – is a political activity (Eacott, 2013). Therefore, what I have sought is to ground my work in a methodological tradition that explicitly pays attention to the relations between the researcher and the researched – the epistemological preliminaries of scholarship – as much as it does the relations between the empirical foci of research. It is the contention of this book that the relational approach I am building and defending offers important resources for engaging with both of these levels.

The type of analysis made possible by this relational approach offers a means of crafting theoretically charged descriptions illuminating the situated nature of administration and illuminating the embodied and embedded location of the educational leadership, management and administration scholar. Struggles for legitimacy are at the core of institutional labour, whether that is the principal working in a school or an academic in a university. These tensions are performative in that they only exist in practice and cannot be solely reduced to the structural arrangements of the empirical. The contested terrain that is the struggle for legitimacy is inexhaustible and as such, is a forever unfinished project. The binds that hold a group, organisation, institution and so on together are therefore problematic, active and by virtue of these qualities, fragile. However, as Les Back (2009) argues, what makes sociology interesting is engaging in the task of the interpretation of meaning that inevitably must be left open. He contends that the slippages, the insights, as well as the blindness, are what make it valuable and where the incomplete record is nonetheless compelling. These features though are not necessarily consistent across all research traditions.

Working from the above, this book contains a theoretical intervention demonstrating how a relational approach can be used to theorise educational leadership, management and administration. My appropriation of multiple analytical frames is guided by my singular (theoretical and empirical) task of trying to describe what I see happening in the scholarship of educational leadership, management and administration.

This multi-analytic approach recasts the image of the school, the administration of schooling, and its relationship with a range of other social institutions and bodies. The move I make is beyond that of merely mapping the various relations that schooling has to external bodies (not to mention the arrays of internal dynamics at play). Here I want to explicitly state two differences between my argument and that of mainstream educational leadership, management and administration discourses. First, for me, the contemporary focus of ‘leadership’ is an epistemic, and not empirical, research object; and second, the school, as a unit of analysis, is now located in a floating territory no longer defined by the downward linearity of state policy and/or ties to the ‘local’. Following the former, from this point on I am going to adopt the label ‘educational administration’. I am well aware that this is unpopular and for many seen as an historical label (as is ‘educational management’), but I do it for two reasons: i) I believe it to be too cumbersome to continually mobilise the rather lengthy ‘educational leadership, management and administration’ label, therefore having a very pragmatic goal of increasing readability; and ii) conceptually, as I build my argument I believe it will become clear that ‘educational administration’ enables a broader perspective for interrogating the theoretical problem and opening new directions for scholarship.

In presenting this work, I argue that the developments, dynamics, and ruptures inherent within the relational research programme have a significance that lies well beyond the boundaries of educational administration, beyond its immediate parents (education and public administration), and into the larger family of studies of society (sociology). This is partly because theory travels better across boundaries, especially geographic but also cultural boundaries, than empirical research (Miller, 2011). Importantly, this means that while the examples I use throughout the book are primarily Australian, this is much more than an Australian story.