Professional projects and organizational pressures : Swedish teacher unions from an institutional prespective

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Professional projects and organizational pressures : Swedish teacher unions from an institutional prespective

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Publication Conference Paper, peer reviewed
Title Professional projects and organizational pressures : Swedish teacher unions from an institutional prespective
Author(s) Lilja, Peter
Date 2013
English abstract
The aim of this paper is to discuss the professionalization policies of Sweden's teachers' unions in relation to - and in the context of - national and international education policy reform initiatives. Drawing on the tradition of organizational institutionalism, the paper argues that the teachers' unions focus on strategies of professionalization may have as much to do with questions of legitimacy in the eyes of the public, as with any specific effort at transforming the practice of teaching in a 'professional' direction. International trends stressing the need for educational effectiveness as a key factor of national competitiveness has not only had great influence on the education policies of most nation states and the way education systems are managed, but also - on a larger scale - on the meaning of 'professional' work in general and its application to teachers and teaching. From having been a concept describing a kind of occupational value, arising from within certain occupational groups based on autonomy, discretion and collegiality centered in high-trust relationships with state officials and clients, professionalism has - in the world of today - been high jacked by managers wishing to use its seductive powers for the implementation of reforms based on opposing values. This kind of 'professionalism' is imposed from outside occupational groups and is centered on values such as transparency, effectiveness and accountability coupled with massive systems of external inspection. In this latter case, the high-trust relationship between professions, the state and clients is replaced by notions of risk and doubt leading to a transformed relationship between professionals, their clients and new kinds of managers in public service organizations transformed in a corporate direction. In Sweden, research into the ways that notions of teacher professionalism have been effected and developed in relation to the developments sketched above have primarily focused on one or more policy reforms at a macro-level of analysis, or on the experiences of individual teachers at the micro-level. However, Sweden’s teachers’ unions – the only organizations of teachers of any political significance – are interesting, in this respect, as facilitators of Swedish teachers’ professional projects, but also in their role as formal organizations within the context of the Swedish public sector. Starting from discussions of organizational isomorphism and its consequences within institutional theory the paper aims to focus on this meso-level in order to understand the way that organizational pressures (national as well as international) may affect the way that the unions construct such professional projects and shape their policies for the future development of the teaching profession in Sweden. Methodology, Methods, Research Instruments or Sources Used The paper builds upon a qualitative content analysis of a number of different policy text produced by the Swedish teachers' unions; visionary documents, referrals to public commission reports and debate articles, signed primarily by the union chairs, from a number of Swedish newspapers. As the aim of the study is to analyze and discuss the 'public' voice of the unions as formal organizations, the use of such official documents and texts have been found very useful. Conclusions, Expected Outcomes or Findings The preliminary findings show that the Swedish teachers' unions seems 'trapped' within a normative order emphasizing professionalization as the primary way of organizational development and legitimacy. In the case of Sweden, this is accomplished through mimetic processes whereby union policies, aimed at the improvement of teaching, are modeled upon the medical profession, regardless of the differences between the technologies and practices of the occupations. In this way, the professional rhetoric of the unions is decoupled from the practice of teaching in order to maximize the public legitimacy needed for improving the declining social status of Swedish teachers. References Ball, S.J. 2003. The Teacher’s Soul and the Terrors of Performativity. Journal of Education Policy 18, no 2: 215-228. DiMaggio, P.J. & W.W Powell. 1991. The Iron Cage Revisited: Institutional Isomorphism and Collective Rationality in Organization Fields. In The New Institutionalism in Organizational Analysis, eds. W.W. Powell & P. J. DiMaggio, 63-82. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Evetts, J. 2003. The Sociological Analysis of Professionalism. Occupational Change in the Modern World. International Sociology 18, no. 2: 395-415. Evetts, J. 2009. New Professionalism and New Public Management: Changes, Continuities and Consequences. Comparative Sociology 8, 247-266. Fournier, V. 1999. The Appeal to ‘Professionalism’ as a Disciplinary Mechanism. The Sociological Review, 280-307. Lindblad R.F. & S. Lindblad. 2009. The Politics of Professionalizing Talk on Teaching: Boundary Work and Reconfigurations of Teachers and Teaching. In Re-Reading Education Policies. A Handbook Studying the Policy Agenda of the 21st Century, eds. M. Simons, M. Olssen, M.A. Peters, 754-773. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers. Meyer, J.W. & B. Rowan. 1977. Institutionalized Organizations: Formal Structure as Myth and Ceremony. American Journal of Sociology 83, no. 2: 340-363. Scott, W.R. 2008. Lords of the Dance: Professionals as Institutional Agents. Organization Studies 29, no. 2:219-238. Svensson, L.G. 2010. Professions, Organizations, Collegiality and Accountability. In Sociology of Professions. Continental and Anglo-Saxon Traditions, eds. L.G. Svensson, J. Evetts, 145-166. Gothenburg: Daidalos.
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Publisher EERA
Language eng (iso)
Subject(s) Teacher professionalism
Teacher Unions
Education Policy
Educational Reforms
Humanities/Social Sciences
Research Subject Categories::SOCIAL SCIENCES
Note ECER 2013 - Creativity and Innovation in Educational Research, Istanbul, Turkey, 10-13 September, 2013.
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