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Unsettling the Gap

Race, Politics and Indigenous Education


Sophie Rudolph

Unsettling the Gap: Race, Politics and Indigenous Education examines pressing issues of inequality in education. The notion of gap—and the need to close it—is used widely in public and policy debates to name the nature and scope of disadvantage. In the competitive world of education, gaps have become associated with students who are seen to be "falling behind," "failing" or "dropping out." A global deficit discourse is, therefore, mobilised and normalised. But this discourse has a history and is deeply political. Unsettling the Gap examines this history and how it is politically activated through an analysis of the "Australian Closing the Gap in Indigenous Disadvantage" policy. In this policy discourse the notion of gap serves as a complex and multiple signifier, attached to individuals, communities and to national history.

In unravelling these diverse modalities of gap, the text illuminates the types of ruling binaries that tend to direct dynamics of power and knowledge in a settler colonial context. This reveals not only the features of the crisis of "Indigenous educational disadvantage" that the policy seeks to address, but the undercurrents of a different type of crisis, namely the authority of the settler colonial state. By unsettling the normalised functions of gap discourse the book urges critical reflections on the problem of settler colonial authority and how it constrains the possibilities of Indigenous educational justice.

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Chapter 6. Gauging the Gap: Converging Discourses of Measurement and Rank


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Converging Discourses of Measurement and Rank

Image 6.1. Brook Andrew, Australian, born 1970, Vox: Beyond Tasmania, 2013, wood, cardboard, paper, books, colour slides, glass slides, 8 mm film, glass, stone, plastic, bone, gelatine, silver photographs, metal, feather. National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Yvonne Pettengell Bequest, 2014 (2014.58). © Brook Andrew/Copyright Agency, 2018. Courtesy the artist and National Gallery of Victoria. ← 113 | 114 →



Issues of measurement and rank in education have been heavily debated in recent decades. These debates have centred around globalised policies of standardised curriculum development, standardised testing regimes, school and student comparison and league tables (for example, Berliner 2011, Milner 2013, Macedo 2013, Lingard & Sellar 2013, Thompson 2014, Angus 2015, Gorur & Wu 2015, Perryman et al. 2018). Within this literature, the policy culture of measurement is often aligned with the conceptual and analytic framework of neoliberalism. In the case of Australia, however, I argue that historical forces of colonisation converge with those of neoliberalism to produce a reliance on measurement and rank as markers of success and that these are heavily tied to ideas of racial hierarchy and civilisation.

The ‘policy as numbers’ approach to educational governance has been closely examined by Australian educational researcher Bob Lingard (see Lingard 2010, 2011). He acknowledges that numbers have ‘long been significant technologies of governance’ (Lingard 2011, 359), however, he suggests the current ‘governance turn’ and...

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