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Instituting a new work order: A socio-technical analysis of the introduction of the ‘school management system’ in two Queensland schools

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posted on 2022-12-12, 00:06 authored by Lindy F Isdale

The introduction of a new computerised School Management System (SMS) into Queensland school offices in 1996 is linked to broad shifts in public sector workplace reform under the rhetoric of flexibility and efficiency through new information technologies. This study provides a socio-technical exploration of how the globalising interests of the capitalist state materialise as work practices through the institution of a new, computerised management system, with a focus on the 'engineering' work efforts of the female administration workers in specific school sites.

The study takes place during the initial phase of the introduction of SMS into two school offices in regional Queensland, taking advantage of the rare opportunity to see the innovation before it becomes normalised practice. The research was conducted first as policy analysis and then in two school offices with the researcher working as participant/observer during the initial phase-in of SMS. The data is presented as ten 'stories' which are analysed in three data chapters whose foci are state networks, the work of innovation and gendered work. Using the framework of Actor Network Theory (e.g.Callon 1986; Latour 1991; Law 1986,1997), it is possible to see the early policy phase of SMS as globalising networks of the state working to stabilise sociotechnical relations that promote initiatives for Information Management Systems in public sector administrations, including schools. By following the actors, the work of the government-led initiative at this early stage is visible as translations taking place through multiple 'nested networks' of the state including supra-national organisations, government policies, Prime Minister's speeches and school policy. Once SMS is introduced into school offices, the study shows how workers become enrolled in the state agenda for administrative work reform, enabling SMS to establish itself as an Obligatory Passage Point for school administrative work. The 'articulation' work of the female school office workers is seen as central to the success of SMS in schools as their work relationships with SMS produces 'well-drilled bodies' in the service of the state. A feminist post-structuralist analysis of the female SMS workers, as historically constituted, specifically sexed 'bodies', is then employed to take into account the politics of the gendered, embodied, cyborg worker and her role in the formation and normalisation of a 'new work order' in school administrations.

In this study, the new technology is made visible as socio-technical relations shaping work in ways that have to do with the exercise of power between the representative body/technology networks. The study's significance lies in the way it makes visible the processes of the politics of the state becoming embodied in SMS in local sites or networks of humans and computers, a cyborg entity whose relations are developed and maintained by the female administrative workers in schools. SMS is thus explained not as a neutral 'tool' to achieve state policy, nor as technologically determined; nor is a human-centric approach taken to explain the emergence of the specific forms of work at the local site. The 'new work order' in schools has emerged out of the socio-technical relations performed by specific body/technology networks of humans and machines in multiple local work sites. Through IT, globalising local networks employ women's working bodies to institute a new reform agenda for school administrative work that facilitates closer regulation and steerage from a distance.


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Central Queensland University

Place of Publication

Rockhampton, Queensland

Open Access

  • Yes

Era Eligible

  • No

Thesis Type

  • Doctoral Thesis

Thesis Format

  • By publication