Fuller K (2014) Gender Identity and Educational Leadership, London: Bloomsbury

Cost: £75.00 hardback

ISBN: 978144116607490100 

In her exploration of Gender. Identity and Educational Leadership, Kay Fuller discusses ‘how head teachers’ social identities – particularly pertaining to gender, social class and ethnicity – influence their leadership of diverse populations of pupils and staff.’[1] The book makes a very welcome contribution to intersecting fields of educational leadership and management, gender and diversity theory. In her rationale Fuller is keen to highlight the importance of clear – sighted analysis of these intersections, locating her research in a ‘conceptual framework that incorporates gender theory and feminist and values led critical leadership theory’. The conceptual framework is multi layered and challenging, as Fuller ‘draws on post – structural gender theory’ and ‘rejects essentialist notions of gender’ to reconceptualise ideas of feminist leadership. Fuller draws particularly closely on notions of ‘gender as a complex and fluid performance that challenges the notion of embodied gender or sex’ aligning her work with Francis (2010) who has ‘retheorized Bakhtin’s linguistic and literary concepts of monoglossia and heteroglossia’. (Fuller: 2013: 2-3)

The discussion is rooted in the author’s decade long research into female leadership in the schools sector which comprised three stages. Findings from the third stage (2010 onwards) are reported here with semi structured interviews with 18 secondary school headteachers producing a series of transcripts which were coded to ‘identify headteacher’s discourse of difference in relation to themselves, the staff and pupils’ and subsequently ‘recoded specifically with regard to gender, social class and ethnicity’. These conceptual categories have then been used to form the narrative shape of this book. It is interesting to note the particularly authentic qualities of the authorial voice as Fuller both sets out the significant impact of education on her own social mobility and provides a set of recommendations for the reader which sound a significant note of advocacy.

In the main body of the text (chapters 4-6)  Fuller uses Bourdieu’s ‘thinking tools’ to explore women’s achievement of headship, as well as the ‘values on which they based their headship’. Specifically, Fuller uses the concepts of ‘habitus,’ ‘field’, ‘forms of capital’, ‘misrecognition’ and ‘symbolic violence’ (13-14) to interrogate the relationship between value- led statements about professional identities and the lived reality of workplace relationships. Throughout this section of the book this leads the author to differentiate between gender, ethnicity or class ‘aware’ headteachers and their apparently ‘unaware’ colleagues. At times this creates rather a strained relationship with the reader as Bourdieu’s theory is pushed to its conceptual limits. Consider this example:

Class aware headteachers were also more likely to value the social capital of collaborative working with other local schools. They sought flattened hierarchical structures and described leadership team working more than class unaware headteachers in the main….Class unaware headteachers have not been without power; they might be less conscious of using it. (138)

Nevertheless, there is evidence of creativity in the concept of headteacherly habitus to describe the relationship between the personal value set which underpins the professional identity of an educational leader. The chapter on diversity offers a particularly illuminating discussion of leadership discourse influenced by ‘ethnic inequalities in the fields of family, education and the workplace’. Commenting on ‘misrecognition’ of unequal relations in schools Fuller adopts an activist tone:

To construct difference only as uniqueness and engage in a discourse that prioritizes the individual misrecognizes the racism widespread in broader structures of society. To see individuals and families as wholly agential is to misrecognise the impact of societal and institutional racism. Misrecognition is not confined to White headteachers. Few headteachers constructed a white world; none acknowledged their whiteness. (167)

To an extent, Fuller appears so determined to present a self consciously libertarian narrative that the accounts of headteacher’s struggles to navigate the complex interplay between social and professional worlds are submerged in the theory of recognition and habitus. There is however, a desire to acknowledge the dangers of ‘making assumptions and generalizations about the needs and motivations of apparently homogenous groups’ as well as a commitment to demonstrating the ‘continuity and change that occurred as they crossed and recrossed social and professional fields of family and the workplace’ (172). Significantly, the professionals who appear to have most impressed the author are those who demonstrate faith, emotional intelligence or ‘wisdom centred leadership’, which, it could be argued are amongst the simplest and yet most powerful characteristics of effective leadership. Headteachers who suffer from most misrecognition are, it is suggested, those who may have had less lived experience of powerlessness or misrepresentation.

Where the voice of the author is most resonant, this book makes an important contribution to both the field of management and leadership and the methodology of narrative recount.

Emma Brown, Associate Tutor, Institute of Education, UK
Email: emma@thefinalbow.co.uk

[1] Quote taken from book cover