Exploring the Limits of the Teacher Subject as a way to imagine a new school

In this post we would like to highlight the presentation done on 20 January 2017 at UCLU Chilean Society by Felipe Acuña (Social Anthropologist, MA in Educational Psychology by Universidad de Chile, and PhD student at the Institute of Education – UCL). The title of his presentation was “Exploring the Limits of the Teacher Subject as a way to imagine a new school. A Qualitative Study into the Subjectivity of Dissident and Organized Teachers in Chile”.

In this presentation, Felipe problematized two contradictory educational movements and their relation with the teacher subject. One movement has a global scope and the other is rooted in my home country, Chile. Following Sahlberg (2011), we can call the first one a Global Educational Reform Movement (GERM); a movement characterized by finance driven reforms and competitiveness-driven changes to the education systems around the world. One of the main focus of GERM is the governance of teachers as a specific and however highly relevant actor wherein these processes of reform can be enacted (Ball, 2003; Robertson, 2016).

The governance of teachers is produced in part by deploying a paradoxical discourse of both blame and derision and of centrality of teachers (Larsen, 2010) by which they are delineated as the main problem and ‘the most significant resource in schools’ (OECD, 2005); they are portrayed as the ‘front-line workers’ (OECD, 2014) ‘to ensure better education results’ (The World Bank, 2012). GERM is heavily influenced by a set of international actors such as OECD, the World Bank or some global educational firms. However, as Ong (2007) emphasizes, whatever is traveling through this global movement it is always interacting with situated political regimes and, therefore, producing an openness to unexpected outcomes.

The context of Chile is an interesting case where this interaction can be explored. After widespread student demonstrations in 2006 and 2011 –who railed against market-oriented structures and in favour of reinstating the view of education as a social right (Bellei & Cabalin, 2013)–, the centre-left government of Michelle Bachelet (2014-2018) won the elections with the promise of a major educational reform. Thus, another kind of movement –a social one– produced an opportunity to enact a different kind of educational reform process. One of the four fundamental changes proposed was improving teachers’ professionalism by means of a new Teaching Career Policy (TCP). However, a spontaneous movement of teacher that started to be called ‘the dissidents’ railed and strike against the new TCP in 2014/15. One of the leaders of these demonstrations argued that this was not their Career because it responds to a “business and productivity” logic.

The new TCP, despite having being triggered from a social movement critical towards the neoliberal rationale, is a new and subtle system of distribution and classification of teachers in five levels of performance. A system, as the sub-secretary of Education said, based on an OECD report that the Chilean Government request. The rationale of the new TCP, can be argued, is strongly consistent with GERM and that is one of the main criticisms that ‘dissident’ teachers have.

Different questions can be addressed from this problematisation. I am interested in the sustainability of the GERM rationale, even when the reform process is surrounded by an aura and a rhetoric of change and social rights. In particular, Felipe is conceptualising the new TCP as a policy based on systems of data-driven, direction-given assessment and accountability that operates mainly by acting upon the existing or possible actions of teachers in what Foucault (1982) calls a subjugation struggle. A struggle that takes place in the site of subjectivity (Ball, 2015) producing a bonsai subject (Rivas, 2005), this is a subject whose possible actions have been reduced to the minimal. Using the notion of limit-attitude (Foucault, 1997), I ask about the possibilities of dissident and organized teachers in Chile to struggle in the site of subjectivity by deploying an experimental and imaginative attitude towards their own limits. In other words, how does a teacher subject relates their dissident and organized self with their everyday school self?

With a focus on subjectivity and language, this is a form of qualitative research. The approach leading the methodological strategy is based on narratives (Phoenix, 2008; Day Sclater, 2003) and Felipe will conduct interviews with two groups of teachers: first, the founders, leaders, speakers or main intellectuals of six different dissident teachers’ organization as a way to contextualize their organizations. Second, the main group, with whom Felipe will research more carefully their limit-attitude. These teachers will have three characteristics: i) be currently working in a school, ii) be a member of a dissident teacher organization and iii) not be the founder, leader or main intellectual of the organization.  Felipe will analyse the data paying special attention to metaphors (Hass and Lakoff, 2009).


Ball, S. (2003). The teacher’s soul and the terrors of performativity. Journal of Education Policy, 18(2), 215–228. https://doi.org/10.1080/0268093022000043065

Ball, S. (2015). Subjectivity as a site of struggle: refusing neoliberalism? British Journal of Sociology of Education, 1–18. https://doi.org/10.1080/01425692.2015.1044072

Bellei, C., & Cabalin, C. (2013). Chilean Student Movements: Sustained Struggle to Transform a Market-oriented Educational System. Current Issues in Comparative Education, 15(2), 108 – 123. Retrieved from http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/articles/90496644/chilean-student-movements-sustained-struggle-transform-market-oriented-educational-system

Day Sclater, S. (2003). What is the subject? Narrative Inquiry, 13(2), 317–330. https://doi.org/10.1075/ni.13.2.05day

Foucault, M. (1982). The Subject and Power. Critical Inquiry, 8(4), 777–795. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/1343197?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

Foucault, M. (1997). What is Enlightenment? In P. Rabinow (Ed.), The essential works of Foucault 1954-1984. Volume I: Ethics: subjectivity and truth (pp. 303 – 319). New York: The New Press.

Haas, E., & Lakoff, G. (2009). Marcos, metáforas y política educativa. In M. Pini (Ed.), Discurso y Educación. Herramientas para el análisis crítico (1a ed., p. 418). San Martín: UNSAM EDITA.

Larsen, M. A. (2010). Troubling the Discourse of Teacher Centrality: A Comparative Perspective. Journal of Education Policy, 25(2), 207–231. Retrieved from http://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ883673

OECD. (2005). Teachers Matter: Attracting, developng and retaining effective teachers. Paris.

OECD (2014). TALIS 2013 Results: An international perspective on teaching and learning. Retrieved from http://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/education/talis-2013-results_9789264196261-en

Ong, A. (2007). Neoliberalism as a mobile technology. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 32(1), 3–8. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1475-5661.2007.00234.x

Phoenix, A. (2008). Analysing Narrative Contexts. In M. Andrews, C. Squire, & M. Tamboukou (Eds.), Doing Narrative Research (pp. 73 – 87). London: SAGE Publications. https://doi.org/http://dx.doi.org/10.4135/9780857024992

Rivas, J. (2005). Pedagogía de la dignidad de estar siendo. Entrevista con Hugo Zemelman y Estela Quintar. Revista Interamericana de Educación de Adultos, 27(1), 113 – 140.

Robertson, S. (2016). The Global Governance of Teachers’ Work. In K. Mundy, A. Green, B. Lingard, & A. Verger (Eds.), The Handbook of Global Education Policy (pp. 275–290). Chichester: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781118468005.ch15

Sahlberg, P. (2011). The Fourth Way of Finland. Journal of Educational Change, 12(2), 173–185. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10833-011-9157-y

The World Bank. (2012). What matters most in teacher policies? A framework for building a more effective teaching profession, 1–78. Retrieved from http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/2012/07/16750910/system-approach-better-education-results-saber-matters-most-teacher-policies-framework-building-more-effective-teaching-profession


How passengers behave at metro stations?

In this post, we would like to highlight two presentations on the topic of transport. On the 3 March 2017, Jiping Fang and Sebastian Seriani presented their research at the UCLU Chilean Society’s Academic Presentation Activity.

Jiping and Sebastian are both civil engineers and currently in their second and third year, respectively, of Ph.D. in Transport Studies at the Civil Environmental Geomatic Engineering (CEGE) in UCL.

The seminar started with the two presentations of Jiping and Sebastian, followed by 20 minutes of Q+A. At the ends of the seminar participants worked in groups to answer and discuss the question: Which factors you consider most important for choosing your boarding car/door? And why?

  • Presentation 1: Initial findings of passenger distribution on platform at metro station based on passengers’ choices for boarding cars (by Jiping Fang,  jiping.fang.15@ucl.ac.uk) 

    With an increasing number of passengers using the Tube (increased 33% since last 10 years), London Underground has to provide more capacity on its lines by operating higher frequency train services. It is planned that there will be 33% more capacity on the modernized Circle, District, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines.

    The most important element to affect the service reliability to run high frequency is passenger boarding and alighting time (BAT), especially the BAT of the critical car of a train caused by uneven passenger distribution on platform and train. Generally, passengers are more likely to get off the train from the same car they board. Therefore, passengers’ choices on boarding cars are the essential leading to uneven train loading. Only if having a better understanding on how passengers choosing their boarding cars can we propose targeted solutions for ensuring the schemed BAT and a reliable service of high frequency.

    Although there is strange passenger distribution appearing on the platform, it can be well explained when assuming all the passengers board on the cars that are closest to the exits at their destination stations.

    The initial findings are showed as followed: a) Minimizing the walking distance at destination station is a very important factor affecting passengers’ choice for boarding cars, especially for commuters at morning peak; b) Minimizing the walking distance and maximizing comfort (seeking seats) affect passengers choosing behaviors largely; c) With the number of boarder increasing, passenger distribution on train become even, which means the influence of interaction between passengers on board and on platform become larger; d) There can be large differences of passenger distribution between different trains.

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  • Presentation 2: Effect of platform edge doors and level access on passengers’ behaviour and interaction at metro stations (by Sebastian Seriani, sebastian.seriani.14@ucl.ac.uk)

    The platform train interface (PTI) is the space where most interactions occur between passengers boarding and alighting. This complex space presents different risks and hazards for passengers. Accidents can occur during boarding and alighting or simply at the platform edge even when there is no boarding or alighting.

    To reduce interaction problems, platform edge doors (PEDs) have been installed at various stations around the world. Currently, the London Underground (LU) network has PEDs in nine stations on the Jubilee Line. These elements work as sliding barriers between the train and the platform. Although PEDs are used mainly for safety and ventilation reasons, there is a common assumption that the presence of PEDs increases the boarding and alighting time (BAT) due to their limitations (e.g. different types of trains, stopping position location on the platform, curved platforms, vertical gaps).

    The general objective of this research is to study the effect of PEDs and level access on the behaviour and interaction of passengers boarding and alighting at metro stations.

    The hypothesis of this study is that PEDs can be used as door indicators, in which passengers are waiting beside the doors rather than in front of the doors, affecting the BAT, IT, formation of lanes, type of queues, density by layer and distance between passengers.

    The approached used was laboratory experiments based on observation at LU. Different experiments were prepared at the Pedestrian Accessibility Movement Environmental Laboratory (PAMELA), in which 120 participants were recruited and different scenarios of simulation were performed to represent the gaps, PEDs, etc. The software PETRACK was used to identify the location of passengers on the platform. For the observation, it was used Westminster and Green Park stations. Both stations are important interchange stations of the Jubilee Line. The main difference between them is that Westminster has PEDs, while Green Park does not. It was considered peak hour AM and PM, during 2 weeks of analysis.

    The results showed that there is no relevant impact of PEDs on the BAT, however these elements changed the behaviour of passengers on the platform by waiting beside the doors rather than in front (before the train arrives). Passengers were concentrated in the middle of the platform, following a Multinomial distribution.

    In addition, it was found that as the value of R (boarding/alighting) increased, the number of lanes for alighting at the doors decreased. The space used by each passenger alighting was represented as an asymmetrical ellipse, in which the longitudinal and lateral radii were affected by the collision avoidance of a person in front of him/her and by the interaction with other passengers alighting or waiting to board the train.

    As a summary of the results, it is proposed a classification of the level of interaction (LOI). According to the density by layer on the platform (before the doors opened), it is possible to know what is the distance between passengers, type of queue and formation of lanes. The LOI was classified into three categories: low, medium and high.

    Further research is needed to identify other ways to reduce interaction problems such as using crowd management measures (e.g. queue lanes or waiting areas) on the platform.

    Reference: if you would like to follow this research please see reference below.

    • De Ana Rodríguez, G., Seriani, S., Holloway, C. (2016). Impact of platform edge doors on passengers’ boarding and alighting time and platform behavior. Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board, 2540, 102-110.
    • Seriani, S., Fujiyama, T., Holloway, C. (2017). Exploring the pedestrian level of interaction on platform conflict areas at metro stations by real-scale laboratory experiments. Transportation Planning and Technology, 40(1), 100-118.