Date of Submission



This study investigates how the discourses embedded in education policy and mediated through principal and teacher pedagogy work to shape upper-primary students’ understandings and experiences of responsibility for self and others. The study analyses findings from a poststructuralist educational ethnography undertaken in three case study sites from Catholic, Independent and State schooling sectors. These case study schools are located in a regional city in the Australian state of New South Wales. The study critically examines how every day, taken-for-granted, discursive practices of policy-makers, teachers and students work to construct ir/responsible subjectivities. Data was generated through observational field notes, semi-structured individual or focus-group interviews with principals, teachers and students, and document archiving. The study is situated in a policy context in which national, state and school-level policies shape definitions of responsibility applied in schooling contexts. The study explores how such definitions are mediated through pedagogies applied and rationalised by educators, and also considers how students negotiate often contradictory discourses of responsibility in order to understand and become ‘responsible’ subjects. The study highlights distinctions between pedagogies of control that normalise compliance and submission through practices of surveillance, punishment and reward; and pedagogies of agency and alterity that facilitate students’ understandings of ethical responsibility by offering opportunities for negotiation, encouragement, emotional labour and open dialogue. It is argued throughout the thesis that such negotiation is a complex and often impossible task as students are simultaneously expected to unquestionably conform to authority on the one hand and exercise their independence and ethical deliberation on the other. Furthermore, educators also face institutional pressures to shape their pedagogies in ways that encourage conformity and control over responsibility. The research explores themes proposed in the MCEETYA (now MCEECDYA) 2008 Melbourne declaration on educational goals for young Australians and contributes new knowledge about socio-cultural factors that enable and constrain primary school children's understandings and experiences of 'responsibility' and how this may impact on the achievement of national goals.


School of Education

Document Type


Access Rights

Open Access


313 pages

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Faculty of Education

Included in

Education Commons


Research Location