Further Education, Leadership and Ethical action: thinking with Hannah Arendt

Dennis, Carol Azumah; Springbett, Octavia and Walker, Lizzie (2019). Further Education, Leadership and Ethical action: thinking with Hannah Arendt. Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 47(2) pp. 189–205.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1741143217725324


In this paper, we work with the philosophy of Hannah Arendt to explore ethics and leadership in further education (FE), focusing on how leaders define the ethical compromises implied by austerity. Using questionnaires, interviews and observations we developed 10 case studies. It is not our intention to elaborate upon ethical leadership as a construct. Instead, we are concerned with how leaders in FE frame the challenges they face. Three narrative strands were identified in our data. Inspired by Arendt’s (1958) political anthropology, we used her distinction between labour, work and action as a conceptual frame to ground the storied accounts. We conceptualised ethical labour and ethical work as two pervasive but nonetheless constraining modes of ethical deliberation. A third construct, ethical action enabled us to envision a more expansive mode of ethical reasoning. Our conclusion suggests a way out of what we view as the ethical impoverishment of FE. A more secure ethical future for FE colleges is possible when leaders engage in expansive modes of ethical deliberation, ones that appreciate ‘plurality and natality’ (Arendt, 1958): what we have in common and what makes each of us unique. In such spaces staff, students and interested others make meaning of their work together, developing shared commitments to educational flourishing.

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