An introduction to Statement Archaeology


How do things become possible? How do certain policies and their associated practices become possible? What about ideas? How do certain ideas become possible at particular times? What are the circumstances that allow a particular idea to become adopted as a widespread practice, or even as an official policy at a particular moment?

Take Religious Education (hereafter RE), for example. In the English education system, RE is exceptional both legally and socially, as well as culturally and politically. The subject occupies a unique position because of its religious, cultural, and political importance. It has a cultural significance that is distinct from other curriculum subjects. It taps into the nation’s self-understanding of religion and spirituality, and thereby links to developing discourses of race, ethnicity, and national identity. It engages with deep questions in relation to private and public morality and with key social issues such as poverty, crime and punishment, reproductive rights, and human sexuality'. The subject introduces school students to contentious topics, engages with questions of who we arc—and who we might be—as individuals and as communities, and considers what beliefs and values should be promoted within the school environment. The subject has been consistently' contentious. It has been at the centre of considerable debate and, at times, controversy, contributing to—and being shaped by—wider philosophical and ideological debates about the nature and purpose of publically funded education.

Yet, in a globalized and pluralistic world, the inclusion of RE in schools has been, and remains, a contested and controversial issue.1 This is symptomatic of a tension, seen both nationally and internationally, of balancing a ‘strong secularist trend towards the exclusion of religion from the public sphere’ and the inclusion of religion in systems of education.2 Questions over whether religion is an appropriate subject for the school curriculum have long been debated, and the issue is controversial and vexed.3 In some countries, such as the USA and France, RE is prohibited from the curriculum of state-funded schools altogether, although this has not been without debate.4 Suzanne Rosenblith and Scott Priestman, for example, suggests that Religion should be included on the curriculum of schools in the US, in part ‘given the concerted attention our public schools have paid to multiculturalism during the past several decades, it is quite striking that the rhetoric and ideology of tolerance and respect have not, to a significant degree, extended to religion’.5 In other countries, including in a number in Europe, RE has remained a core element of the school curriculum. Whilst in some settings where RE is included, it pervades the ‘whole educational process and through it the transmission of religious beliefs and values’, in others, it describes those ‘subjects or elements of the curriculum that are concerned with religion’.6 In England, it was the provision of RE of this second type that became a legal requirement in state-maintained schools in 1944; by law, it still has to be provided for each pupil in every state-maintained school (except those who are withdrawn by their parents).7

But how did this become possible? This may seem an odd question to ask, but—as this chapter will show—it is an important question. Since its inception as an area of study, Elistory has often been focused on contributing to contemporary discussions and debates that are orientated towards the future. Thucydides, arguably the first ‘historian’, records the Peloponnesian wars between Athens and Sparta (431-404 BCE) not to provide ‘an essay which is to win the applause of the moment’ but in order that lessons from the past might be learnt, affecting not just the present but also the future.8 This motivation for historical enquiry has not changed over the intervening centuries; you might have heard it said that Winston Churchill asserted that ‘Those who tail to learn from history arc doomed to repeat it’ (although actually the statement seems to originate with George Santayana in The Life of Reason, 1905 ).9 By shifting the focus of our historical enquiries towards ‘How did x become possible?’ we can expand our understandings of the present.

Unearthing the patterns of development and transmission of ideas and the ideological commitments that underpin and lay behind them exposes the changes that created the circumstances in which these ideas became thinkable, and those which constrain us now. Focusing on ‘how did x became possible?’ allows us to map the terrain, highlighting the routes by which certain ideas have travelled thus far, and allowing us to consider the options available for our next steps. This might prevent ‘avoidable errors, not least in the re-invention of the wheel (a potentially flawed wheel) by educational reformers ignorant of the fate of previous similar schemes’.10 In short, it is only by understanding how we got to where we are that we can plot our route forwards; we need to be aware of the routes that are open to us and those that are not. So by what means might we try to answer questions about how things became possible?

Statement Archaeology, the method described and exemplified in this book, offers a method by which ‘how did x become possible?’ questions can be explored. It is an innovative method with foundations in post-structural theory and approaches to historical analysis. The approach detects key moments of discontinuity; including points of differentiation at which new practices become distinct from prevailing practices. It exposes the changes in constraints on thinking that allow certain ideas to be taken up and become ‘legitimate’

An introduction to Statement Archaeology 3 where formerly they had been perhaps unthinkable or where they had been thinkable but proscribed, unidentified, unacknowledged, and/or branded unacceptable. Through detailed, forensic examination of the circumstances of production and the originality and the repetition/non-repetition of specific statements, the approach enables the researcher to deeply interrogate the processes by which ideas become taken up. Amongst other things, this method opens up new pathways of policy analysis, facilitating the examination of policy directions and strategies of implementation.

To best comprehend Statement Archaeology, we start from the point of considering what archaeologists do as they examine the artefacts remaining from the past. Once they have started their excavations, they carefully research and study the origins of, and relationships between, the various articles that they find. Is the item naturally occurring or has it been manufactured, or produced, in some way? If so, who might have been involved in its production? When? For what reason? What purpose(s) might the item have served? Archaeologists and their teams attempt to ascertain whether the items they find arc novel or original (that is, not seen before in that time period); perhaps the item represents a common or frequently occurring type of object. Maybe some of the items they discover are different—to some extent—from other objects that have been found. What is the extent, and nature, of those differences? Why, how, and when might they have come about? Why might change have been initiated? What circumstances of possibility' might have changed, or technological advance made, that allowed a change to have taken place at that particular time and/or place? What is known about the ‘original’ or antecedent item from which the new one appears to have developed? How does this knowledge inform understandings of what the object is; where it has come from; what it was produced for; and by whom? Likewise, archaeologists might consider how the artefact influences those items that come later. For what later adaptations is this item the starting point? Is this the point at which a differentiation can be made? Is it a point of relative beginning? Further, archaeologists consider artefacts of different sorts, found in the same strata; for example, they might find bones, pottery, building materials, and weapons at the same depth. They then attempt to understand how these different items relate to each other and fit together to tell a story.

In the same way as the archaeologist does this with objects, Statement Archaeology does this with particular statements that relate to policies and their associated practices.

The historiography of specific curriculum areas and many educational policy developments more widely tend to overlook the complexity and messiness of policy development.11 Whilst we know that practices which inform and become officially sanctioned as policies do not always arise from ‘official’ policy makers, the historiography frequently overlooks this, often suggesting that policy processes somehow unfold in neat, stepwise, stages.12 Such simplifications are perhaps constructed on the basis of certain assumptions about policy development, whereby certain macro-level materials

(such as high-profile speeches by legislators or ground-breaking publications) arc given prominence.

Statement Archaeology, by focusing on ‘artefacts’ at a more micro-level, enables a departure from an impressionistic form of historical account towards a more forensic, meticulous engagement with detail. The attentiveness to changes in constraints on what is thinkable, what is legitimate and/or what is considered ‘normal’ means that any claims that might be made about causation, correlation, and coincidence; about influence and affect and/or about processes of change and continuity are based on a rigorous—some might say ‘scientific’—analysis of material. The method therefore allows us to follow and be attentive to the consequences of the complexities and messincss of the processes of policy development. In doing so, we can move beyond the sometimes over-simplified conceptions of how policies are derived and taken up, facilitating the development of more sophisticated understandings. Moreover, where ‘unofficial’ routes of policy development have been followed, and hitherto hidden or marginalized policy-shapers have been at work, Statement Archaeology has the capability to expose them, and bring those agents and their actions into plain view.

In summary then, Statement Archaeology makes it possible to navigate the complexity' and messiness of policy development, enabling a deep interrogation of policy developments, revealing hidden policy actors, underlying ideological agendas, and opaque policy processes. Ultimately, Statement Archaeology' offers to provide a firm basis for all who seek to answer the question ‘How did this particular practice become possible at that particular moment?’

The next section of this chapter will familiarize the reader with Statement Archaeology', providing some initial theoretical underpinnings and setting out in detail the practical steps that are involved in its use, with a particular focus on an explanation of the processes by which key statements for exploration—or ‘starting points’—are identified. The chapter will then explain some necessary contextual material regarding English RE, describing its unique position in the curriculum of English state-maintained schools and its cultural and social importance. It will also situate some of these issues within a wider international context. In discussion with recent national reports, this section will show that, subject to ongoing discussions as to whether it should remain compulsory in schools, questions over who should determine the content of the RE curriculum persist. Further, whilst RE has been a compulsory subject within the English school curriculum since 1944, there has been a reluctance by successive governments to enforce this, or to change the legal framework within which RE sits. Finally, the scope and structure of the remainder of the book will be described, providing a brief summary of the content of each of the other chapters.

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