Academic journal article Perspectives in Education

The Spatial Practices of School Administrative Clerks: Making Space for Contributive Justice

Academic journal article Perspectives in Education

The Spatial Practices of School Administrative Clerks: Making Space for Contributive Justice

Article excerpt


The article aims to contribute to our analysis of social justice by suggesting that we broaden our focus on social justice to include issues of contributive justice. It highlights how those who are denied contributive justice do not simply lie down and accept their fate but that they actively counter the contributive injustice visited upon them. Contributive injustice is where workers' opportunities for self-development, gaining self-esteem and recognition by others is thwarted by the unequal division of labour that assigns them simple, mindless, and routine tasks (Gomberg, 2007; Sayer, 2009, 2011). I agree with the assertion by the proponents of contributive justice that the unequal division of labour leads to the curtailing of opportunities for self-development for those who are denied complex work (Sayer, 2011). However, I posit that administrative clerks do not passively accept this inequality of opportunity but through their agency, reflexivity and tactics, carve out spatial practices of self-development and, in the process, gain self-esteem and recognition at school level.

Literature on the practice of school administrative clerks in South Africa is sparse (Van der Linde, 1998; Naicker, Combrinck & Bayat, 2011). These clerks suffer inequalities of opportunity because of the division of labour which relegates them to a role that offers low remuneration, little recognition and limited participation. Studies of the roles of administrative clerks in schools (Casanova, 1991; Van Der Linde, 1998; Thomson, Ellison, Byrom & Bulman, 2007; Conley, Gould & Levine, 2010; Naicker, Combrinck & Bayat, 2011), higher education institutions (Szekeres, 2004; Mcinnis, 2006; Whitchurch & London, 2004) and businesses (Fearfull, 1996, 2005; Truss, 1993) found that they are regarded as marginal and invisible even though their contributions are essential for the smooth running of their workplaces. Secretarial work is regarded as a ghetto occupation (Truss, 1993; Truss, Alfes, Shantz & Rosewarne, 2012). It is precisely this low esteem and lack of recognition attached to it as an occupation that confirms that those who fill these roles are subjected to contributive injustice.

This article sheds light on school administrative clerks' spatial practices within the exigencies of their everyday professional contexts. It highlights their noteworthy contributions to the on-going functioning of the school, especially the surreptitious and sometimes very concrete impact on the lives of students, teachers, the principal, parent governors and auxiliary staff. In authoring their spatial practices they counter and subtly resist the marginalisation and contributive injustice of their occupation. The article reveals their largely invisible spatial practices and unacknowledged contributions to the daily operation of their schools in which they engage to counter contributive injustice.

Since the recent emphasis on 'space' in social studies (Harvey, 1989; Lefebvre, 1991; Soja, 1989) and education in South Africa (see Jacklin, 2004; Fataar, 2007, 2009; Dixon, 2007), researchers contend that we cannot ignore that human behaviour and space are interrelated and overlap. The theory of the production of social space argues that space is not empty or devoid of formative power. It opposes those arguments that consider space to be a container in which events occur and takes a perspective that space is firmly intertwined with social events. Space is thus regarded as constitutive of social relations.

Jacklin (2004) draws our attention to the constituent nature of spatial practices in the pedagogical routines of teachers and students in classroom contexts. Dixon (2007) argues that there is a relationship between classroom order and spatial organisation and that social space is used to manage, regulate and produce specific kinds of students enmeshed in knowledge and power constructions. Fataar's (2007) spatial lens highlights the agency and reflexivity of students from 'other' social spaces as they move to middle-class social spaces and the bodily adjustments they make to fit into these spaces. …

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