Producing and managing continuous change in an educational context: Liminal affective technologies and leadership

Bjergkilde, Dorethe and Stenner, Paul (2021). Producing and managing continuous change in an educational context: Liminal affective technologies and leadership. Subjectivity, 14(1) pp. 53–72.



Currently, municipal schools in Denmark face reforms and political demands for organizational change (EVA, 2015). The perception is now commonly held that it is necessary to radically rethink the entire set up of the institutional school towards a more flexible, adaptable and co-operative organization (Irgens & Jensen, 2008). This paper explores an empirical case, where a school is implementing a device called ‘flexible timetables’ in an attempt to depart from former fixed structures and private teaching practices. By combining process thought and liminality theory, the paper offers a theoretical framework for understanding some of the dynamics and unintended consequences of this transformation process. In so doing the paper calls attention to some important limits to the vision of flexibility and openness that informs this program of organisational change and subjectivity. Flexible timetables are conceptualized as a liminal affective technology (Stenner & Moreno-Gabriel, 2013), designed to disrupt structures supporting former institutional practices, and to engender circumstances that are describable in terms of liminal experience. We use the concept of liminal affectivity to describe the collective atmosphere of ambivalence and volatility that is summoned through the intervention. We also draw attention to certain unexpected side effects, as when the participants experience themselves both paralysed by the ensuing paradoxes, and captured in dynamics of polarisation (Greco & Stenner, 2017). The paper proposes the concept liminal affective leadership wherein the use of the technology is framed as a continuously sensitive balancing of the volatile liminal affectivity that it induces.

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