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Mapping controversial issues among Swedish principals
Umeå University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Political Science. Umeå University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Centre for Principal Development.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-4636-1886
Umeå University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Centre for Principal Development. Umeå University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Political Science.ORCID iD: 0000-0001-6240-587x
Umeå University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Centre for Principal Development. Umeå University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Political Science.ORCID iD: 0000-0003-3006-1720
Umeå University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Political Science. Umeå University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Centre for Principal Development.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-9897-7850
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2023 (English)Conference paper, Oral presentation only (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

Controversial issues (CI) are a recurring part of everyday life in schools’, inside and outside the classroom. How principals understand and manage these issues are therefore an interesting topic of inquiry. In this paper we set out to examine, from the theoretical standpoint of agency, principals understanding of what a CI is and how they can and cannot be managed. CI has been a recurring topic in the educational literature for the last four decades (Hand & Levinson 2012; Anders & Shudak 2016) and in a globalised world characterized by polarisation and mediatisation the need for schools to handle CI has potentially become increasingly salient (Larsson & Lindström 2020). However, what is perceived as a controversial issue differs between contexts and can change rapidly. In order to analyse how principals manage CI we build on Emirbayer and Miche’s (1998, p. 953) conceptualisation of agency. They argue that agency should be seen as ‘temporally embedded process of social engagement’ informed by and directed towards the past, future, and present.

The primary focus in the literature concerning CI is teachers and teaching situations. This paper takes another point of departure focusing on principals’ and how they understand and manage CI. Even though CI are present outside formal teaching situations at the school, research on principals’ understandings and management of CI are scarce or lacking. In addition, international educational policy discussions have underscored the importance that principals manage and develop strategies in relation to CI. The aim of this paper is to explore how principals understand and manage CI.

To be able to investigate how principals understand and manage CI a definition, sensitive to principals’ practice, must be put forward. Since this is lacking in the literature the first step is to provide a conceptualization of CI, based on the ongoing scientific debate, but from a principal’s perspective. The empirical part is made up of interviews with 29 principals in the Swedish education system, who are asked about what CI they are confronted with and how they manage these issues.

The analysis was conducted in two steps. First, the CI articulated by the principals were thematically organized to provide an overview of what CI are prevalent. Second, the principals’ description of how they managed CI was analysed through the lens of Emirbayer and Misches (1998) depiction of agency. Preliminary results show that themes concerning segregation, racism, hbtqi and religion are recurring. In addition, how principals relate to and understand their past, future, and present with regards to the CI at hand have consequences for how they manage the CI.

Anders, P. & Shudak, N. (2016) Criteria for Controversy: A Theoretic Approach. Thresholds in Education, 39(1), 20–30.

Emirbayer, M. & Mische, A. (1998) What is agency? American journal of Sociology, 103, 962-1023.

Hand, M. & Levinson, R. (2012) Discussing controversial issues in the classroom. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 44(6), 614-629.

Larsson, A. & Lindström, N. (2020) Controversial societal issues in education: Explorations of moral, critical and didactical implications. Acta Didactica Norden, 14(4), 1-6.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2023.
National Category
Educational Sciences
Research subject
educational leadership
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-216768OAI: oai:DiVA.org:umu-216768DiVA, id: diva2:1812375
Conference
NERA Conference 2023; Digitalization and Technologies in Education – Opportunities and Challenges, Oslo, Norway, March 15-17, 2023
Available from: 2023-11-15 Created: 2023-11-15 Last updated: 2024-07-02Bibliographically approved

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Larsson, MagnusAhlström, BjörnRantala, AnnaLeo, UlfPoromaa Isling, Pär

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CiteExportLink to record
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