Derridian philosophy of leadership education

February 9, 2007

Here’s an idea for a book chapter on the philosophy of leadership education:deconstructing the text of leadership

This chapter addresses a lack the author perceives to exist of literature on the subject of the philosophy of leadership education. Given the four key themes emerging from the Studying Leadership conference as they relate to the attempts to offer new theoretical and practical constructions of leadership development, this chapter suggests there are, as a consequence of these attempts, two urgent requirements for clarification that can be met by recourse to philosophy. Firstly, to submit several concepts germane to the debate – “universality,” “particularity,” “theory,” “practice,” “application” – to rigorous philosophic examination. Secondly, to introduce and frame both the debate about leadership development and the examination of key concepts outlined above within a philosophical viewpoint that has the reputation for dismantling orthodoxies. The intention here is to mobilize theoreticians and practitioners to challenge hitherto accepted and unquestioned canons of thought, via the destabilizing philosophy of the French poststructuralist philosopher Jacques Derrida, thereby opening the way towards more promising breakthrough constructions within leadership development than those garnered by more traditional “analytic” philosophical discourses.

Many questions remain unasked of the key concepts central to normative conceptions of leadership development and this chapter will ease readers into asking, or at least considering, such questions. These aporia relate to concepts which include identity; agency; the homogeneity of the consumers of leadership development, whether hegemonic or minority; the politics of supply and demand; the unteachability of leadership; and the tricky concept of referentiality. Traditional conceptions of leadership development rely, at the very least, on a degree of unquestioned “referentiality” (a term borrowed from Saussarian semiotics, denoting that to which “leadership” refers) that sees the need for this tradition to interpret various texts and events according to a wider “context” (whether described as “psychological,” “organisational,” “social,” or “cultural”) to which these phenomena remain unbreakably tied. This unquestioned referentiality accords the traditional and normative conceptions of leadership development a basic level of coherence. It is this coherence that this chapter will unsettle (though not overturn, as Derrida is keen to stipulate), with an introduction to the dispersive discourse of deconstruction. For instance, applying Derridian thinking to theories and practices of leadership development results in a useful troubling of the trust that consumers put in the “critico-theoretical” agency regarding leadership promoted by institutions such as business schools, and the other educative apparatuses within the cultural circuits of capitalism.

After all, shouldn’t educational research around leadership development call for not only a “different mode of writing about leadership but also for a work of transformation on the rhetoric, the staging, and the particular discursive procedures” (Derrida: Punctuations, 1980), which highly determined historically, dominate traditional leadership development discourse?


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