UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

To know the place for the first time : reading and writing my workplace through Habermas Shapiro, Lorna Patricia


The genesis of this research initiative is situated in a very challenging and troubling period in my career as an associate dean in a public post-secondary educational institution - a time during which I led our first significant initiatives into costrecovery program delivery. This mission gave rise to contentious issues about our values as educators and about bureaucratic norms that were being challenged. The issues cried out for discourse and values based decision making about what and how we "ought" to be as an institution. Instead, too often, power differentials and bureaucratic imperatives played the central roles in decision-making processes about this new form of programming. Fundamental questions of goodness and justice were left unresolved and often even un-discussed. The events of my practice form the "object of study" in this research as I seek both an understanding of why the experience was thus and also how it might have been otherwise. Through the work of Jiirgen Habermas I explore the difficult problem of achieving social order, grounded in moral agency, in a world characterized by divergent values and perspectives. I discover hope and potential promise in his conceptually proceduralistic approach to the task of social coordination. Examining my experiences in light of Habermas' notions of social coordination, I find some possible explanations for these events and some concepts that offer hope for new approaches to governance and administration. There remain, however, very real and complicating barriers to the ideal posited by Habermas - barriers located in the complexities of human behaviour and interpersonal relationships. Seeking better ways of understanding those barriers and of responding to their impact, I turn to Hannah Arendt and Susan Bickford whose work provides insight into the personal and interpersonal dimensions of human action in creating just communities. Examining my practice experiences through their conceptualizations yields additional insights about what occurred and why, offers guidance about my own actions, and affords a new appreciation of my own complicity in the events as they transpired. The result is new ways of understanding power, discourse, and moral agency - and therefore of understanding my role in educational leadership.

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