by Larry Sackney and Coral Mitchell
Purpose and Context
• The article seeks to explore alternatives to
modernist structures of educational
institutions with a focus on the application
of postmodern theory to leadership.
• The paper is philosophical in nature.
• It gives a summary of the inadequacies of
modernist thought regarding organizations and
reasons why postmodern thought should be
embraced. Several important philosophers and
thinkers are discussed.
• The article ﬁnishes with a discussion of the
application of postmodern tenets to an
• The Modernist movement (19th and 20th
centuries) focused on rationality and the
idea that the world can be explained in
terms of universal metanarratives. (Great
stories and discourses)
• Organizations created in this era follow
modernist patterns of rational structure.
• Organizations have a hierarchical structure.
• Leaders make rational decisions to move
organizations forward based on evidence.
• Any rational person would come to the
same conclusions based on the same
Application of Modernism to
• Structuralism and positivism dominate
• Educational institutions focus on
organization, accountability, structure,
systemization and control.
Problems with Modern
Thought in Educational Settings
• there is an erosion of meaning as content is
compromised to ﬁt the positivist and
structuralist outlook of educational
• Life isn’t made meaningful through a search
for order and predictability.
• The modern perspective was partially the
result of the industrial age, which focussed
on efﬁciency, order and predictability; we
are now in a post-industrial age where
information and communication dominate.
Therefore, new methods of understanding
relationships between individuals and
groups are needed.
• “Rejection of objective truth and of
foundational, transcendent principles.” (887)
• Generalizations are dependent on the
language used to describe them.
• Generalizations exclude other compelling
interpretations of meaning.
• Postmodern Reality: Every event is centred
in a certain place and is the result of many
other events and circumstances. Thus, there
are no universals.
• Unity and wholeness come from
recognizing and embracing difference.
Postmodernism in Organizational Theory
• Rejection of industrial-based, hierarchical
systems of the organization of power.
• Organizations must be viewed relationally
as opposed to hierarchically. People in
organizations are seen as actors in a web of
social interactions and discourses. Meaning
comes from context and activity.
Postmodern Deﬁnition of Organization
• Organizations are a “set of context-speciﬁc
cultural narratives that are constituted in
and by reﬂective and reﬂexive analyses and
conversations, both explicit and implicit, of
those working in an organization.” (895)
Practicalities of the Approach
• There needs to be a focus on the
community instead of the individual.
Communities are the places where
common values are created to achieve
• Power is relational and is created within
the discourses of the community. Power
cannot be taken or given as it is a relational
concept. Power is tied to knowledge.
• CAVEAT: Postmodernist organizational
theories are not always positive. Because
power is centred in discourse and the
dissemination of knowledge, it can serve to
give voice to or to silence other voices
such as those of women and minority
• Leadership is dispersed throughout an
• There is a communication aspect to
decision making that incorporates
collaboration, empowerment, participation,
critical reﬂection, dialogue and discourse.
• In the end, leadership is concerned with the
analysis of organizational relationships.
Thus, all texts within the organization must
be understood within their context and
must be understood to have a different
impact on individuals based on the context
in which the text is received.
• There is more reﬂection in educational
• Schools consist of a “community of
• Teachers become key actors in establishing
the culture of the school. It is not top-
• Trust amongst the actors in an educational
setting becomes paramount. People need to
trust each other to build a positive
• People in a school setting need to engage in
critical reﬂection and dialogue to build
meaning in the community. This reﬂection
needs to occur in a psychologically safe
setting to encourage the discussion of the
undiscussables. (staff sensitivities, student
• Decision making moves from the prinicipal’s
ofﬁce to those affected by the decision.
Decentralization of power is necessary.
• Conﬂict that arises suggests the need to
deconstruct the familiar to create something
more suitable to the current context.
• There is a continual process of construction,
deconstruction and reconstruction.
• There must be a focus on building the
interpersonal capacity of the school.
Most Interesting Points
There’s lots in here, but here are the things I found the
Interesting Point #1
• The application of post-modern thought to
education would result in the system
embracing more perspectives, as there
would be no central, universals standards.
All relationships would be based on
context and discourse in the organizational
Interesting Point #2
• Euro-centred, male dominated ways of
thinking have dominated school systems
largely because the people in power
(European males) in modernist, hierarchical
systems make decisions that will result in
continued dominance. Thus, schools
becomes socialization tools to maintain the
Interesting Point #3
• Consistency in discipline in school settings
makes no sense from a postmodern
perspective. All decisions must be made in
context and in response to situational
discourse and relational power.
Strengths of the Article
• The article provides a very comprehensive
explanation of modernism and
postmodernism. Most of the major
thinkers/philosophers in these areas are
• There is some practical discussion of the
application of postmodernist thought to
actual school settings.
Weaknesses of the
• The sections explaining postmodernism and
modernism make up the bulk of the article. As I
am already familiar with most of this theory, I
would have appreciated more discussion of
actual application. Thus, there needed to be
more balance in the article.
• While there are some discussion of practical
applications, how to implement these theories
in real settings should have been discussed in
• Real-life examples and anecdotes would
have been an interesting addition to the
discussion in the article.
• Structural change must happen in schools
in order to address the diversity of needs
• Power must be devolved in schools in
order to recognize and take advantage of
the relational properties of power in the
• Trust and feelings of psychological safety
must be encouraged in schools in order to
promote discussion and reﬂection.
• Communication and discourse must be
seen as the most important aspects of the
community. (even over course content)
Relationship to other
• This articles builds on the work of other
post-modern thinkers. It takes much of this
philosophy and applies it to a school