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The spatial practices of school administrative clerks: Making space for contributive justice

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Abstract

This article discusses the work practices of the much neglected phenomenon of the work of school administrative clerks in schools. Popular accounts of school administrative clerks portray them as subjectified – assigned roles with limited power and discretion – as subordinate and expected to be compliant, passive and deferent to the principal and senior teachers. Despite the vital role they play in schools, their neglect is characterised by their invisible, largely taken-for-granted roles in a school's everyday functioning. The main aim of this article is to make their everyday practices and contributions visible, to elevate them as indispensable, albeit discounted, role players in their schools, whose particular expressions of agency contribute qualitatively to a school's practices. Using the theoretical lens of 'space', and based on in-depth semi-structured interviews in the qualitative research tradition, the article discusses how selected school administrative clerks' production of space exceeds their assigned spatial limitations, i.e. they move beyond the expectations that their work contexts narrowly assign to them. They resist the contributive injustice visited upon them and through their agency they engage in spatial practices that counters this injustice. They carve out a productive niche for themselves at their schools through their daily practice. This niche, I will argue, embodies practices of 'care', 'sway' and 'surrogacy,' understood through a vigorous 'production of space'. Through these unique spatial practices they reflect their agency and their appropriation of existing spatial practices at their schools. Thus, they produce personalized meanings for their existing practice as well as generate novel lived spatial practices.
64
The spatial practices of school administrative clerks: making
space for contributive justice
ABDULLAH BAYAT
University of the Western Cape
This article discusses the work practices of the much neglected phenomenon of the work of school
administrative clerks in schools. Popular accounts of school administrative clerks portray them as
subjectied – assigned roles with limited power and discretion – as subordinate and expected to be
compliant, passive and deferent to the principal and senior teachers. Despite the vital role they play in
schools, their neglect is characterised by their invisible, largely taken-for-granted roles in a school’s
everyday functioning. This main aim of this article is to make their everyday practices and contributions
visible, to elevate them as indispensable, albeit discounted, role players in their schools, whose particular
expressions of agency contribute qualitatively to a school’s practices. Using the theoretical lens of ‘space’,
and based on in-depth semi-structured interviews in the qualitative research tradition, the article discusses
how selected school administrative clerks’ production of space exceeds their assigned spatial limitations,
i.e. they move beyond the expectations that their work contexts narrowly assign to them. They resist the
contributive injustice visited upon them and through their agency they engage in spatial practices that
counters this injustice. They carve out a productive niche for themselves at their schools through their
daily practice. This niche, I will argue, embodies practices of ‘care’, ‘sway’ and ‘surrogacy,’ understood
through a vigorous ‘production of space’. Through these unique spatial practices they reect their agency
and their appropriation of existing spatial practices at their schools. Thus, they produce personalized
meanings for their existing practice as well as generate novel lived spatial practices.
Key words: School administrative clerks, space, spatial practices, lived space, contributive justice
Introduction
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,
reexivity 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,
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Bayat — The spatial practices of school administrative clerks
2012). It is precisely this low esteem and lack of recognition attached to it as an occupation that conrms
that those who ll 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
rmly 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 specic kinds of students enmeshed in knowledge and power constructions. Fataar’s (2007)
spatial lens highlights the agency and reexivity of students from ‘other’ social spaces as they move to
middle-class social spaces and the bodily adjustments they make to t into these spaces. My article builds
on their perspectives of the constituent nature of space of everyday practice.
The data was collected from a qualitative research study of three administrative clerks in public
schools in the Western Cape. There was one male and two women participants. They are referred to as
P, M and F. The research included both semi-structured interviews with them as well as participative
observations at school. The data was analysed thematically through the spatial lenses discussed earlier.
There are other themes in the data but I focus on those yielded by the specic lens used in this paper.
I spent one school term observing the three administrative clerks at their schools, during which time I
interviewed them over several days. I also interviewed their principals as well as members of the teaching
staff. I spent several days at the schools making observations, taking eld notes and interviewing the
administrative clerks about their practices as they worked.
In the next section I advance my theoretical lens and thereafter use it to analyse the data collected on
the spatial practices of the three school administrative clerks. Three sets of spatial practices are identied
through which administrative clerks counter their experiences of contributive injustice and through it
contribute signicantly to the functioning of the school and the positive experiences of students, teachers
and the principal.
Theoretical considerations
Social justice is considered to be primarily about distributive justice – concerned with what people get. Of
late it has been complemented by cultural/identity recognition and political participation perspectives of
social justice (Fraser, 2008). A further development around the ideas and theories of social justice is the
contributive justice perspective. Contributive justice asks us to turn our attention away from what people
get to what people do. Focusing on what we do is based on the Aristotelian perspective that what we do has
as much an inuence on the quality of our lives as what we get. Thus, the contributive justice perspective
urges us to consider social justice as arising from the variety and quality of practices that workers are able
to engage in (Gomberg, 2007; Sayer, 2009).
Contributive justice is a normative framework which suggests that the unequal divisions of labour
within an organisation and within the economy subject workers to unequal opportunities for realising their
potential. This is an Aristotelian approach which emphasises the human development of dispositions and
abilities through work and practice.
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Perspectives in Education, Volume 30(4), December 2012
The type of work one does is directly related to the psychological and economic rewards that one
receives which, in turn, have an effect on our well-being (Sayer, 2011). Work is not only a source of
economic rewards but also of fulllment, whether through self-satisfaction or recognition by others. The
contributive justice argument is that the type of work that one does, affects what one can become, how
one views oneself and is viewed by others. It shapes the capabilities of the individual (Sayer, 2011). For
example, the administrative clerk develops her nancial management skills through doing the budget of her
school, feels a sense of accomplishment for doing a complex task and is lauded by the school management
team. If she is only restricted to capturing nancial data, her nancial management capabilities would be
limited, her sense of accomplishment would be less than in the previous example and this basic task would
not get her much recognition. Sayer (2009:1) citing Gomberg (2007) argues that:
as long as the more satisfying and complex kinds of work are concentrated into a subset of jobs, rather
than shared out among all jobs, then many workers will be denied the chance to have meaningful
work and the recognition and esteem that goes with it.
Contributive justice is where workers receive the types of work that enable them to develop their capabilities,
receive internal goods of satisfaction and external goods of recognition (Sayer, 2011). However, most
schools are organised with an unequal division of labour. This unequal division of labour situates the
administrative clerk in an occupation that is assigned routine and mundane tasks. They have fewer
opportunities for developing their capabilities, gaining satisfaction or receiving recognition. The argument
is that the unequal division of labour leads to inequality in the development of capabilities. Murphy (1993)
cited in Sayer (2011) mentions studies that those who do complex work see their capabilities improve over
time, whereas those who are subjected to routine work capabilities stagnate and deteriorate. However, I
propose that administrative clerks do not let the division of labour dictate their practices, but through their
agency, carve out practices that allow them to counter the contributive injustice of their occupation.
A focus on agency locates administrative clerks’ daily practice as practice oriented towards personal
action and meaning making. In foregrounding school administrative clerk’s agency, I do not deny that they
develop certain routine and habitual actions through role internalisation. However, within the everyday
complex interplay of people, situations and events, administrative clerks exercise creative expressions of
agency even if they are circumscribed and largely discounted. It is apparent that their exercise of agency
is coloured by context, relationships, culture and existing spatial practice, aspects of which the analysis
below sets out to capture. I am specically motivated by Archer’s position on agency which she views
as an outcome of reexive internal deliberations within oneself around a course of action in relation to
personal projects (Archer, 2007). These internal conversations and deliberations about personal projects
lay the foundation for the production of administrative clerks’ spatial practice.
I theorise space using Schmid (2008) and Zhang and Beyes’ (2011) reading of Lefebvre. The premise
is that human beings produce social space through their everyday spatial practices and they, in turn, are
shaped by it. This novel approach shifts the focus from material space to the practices that constitute or
produce social space. I forward the argument that administrative clerks exercise agency in their production
of space. They are not the only producers of space – certainly the principal and teachers as well as students
produce spatial practices – but my focus in this article is on the administrative clerks.
Lefebvre (1991) argues that social space is produced through three dialectically interconnected
processes. The spatial triad of ‘spatial practices,’ ‘representations of space’ and ‘spaces of representation,’
or, ‘perceived’ (production of material), ‘conceived’ (ideological-institutional) and ‘lived’ (symbolic-
experienced) space respectively. The triad corresponds to Lefebvre’s three-dimensional conceptualisation
of social reality: material social practice, language and thought, and the creative poetic act (Schmid, 2008).
Spatial practices are in reference to the material dimension of social activity and interaction. It is the
activities, networks, relations, interactions that are constitutive of all spaces. The empirical relationship
between the body and its physical environment is referred to as perceived space (Lefebvre, 1991:39).
Perceived space is concrete, tangible and recognised directly through the senses.
The representations of space, i.e. conceived space, emerge at the level of discourse and speech and
constitute conceptual frameworks of material spaces. These are the maps, plans and organisational charts
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Bayat — The spatial practices of school administrative clerks
and organograms that aim to structure or construct spaces (Schmid, 2008). This is the intellectual and
conceptual language or discourse of a particular space.
The lived space “dimension denotes the world as human beings experience it through the practice
of their everyday life” (Schmid, 2008:40). It describes what a particular space means to an individual.
Representational spaces or lived spaces overlay “physical space, making symbolic use of its objects”
(Lefebvre, 1991:39). This is the experiential dimension of space. However, it is important to note that
the three spaces are not separate realities but rather “features of a single – and ever-changing – reality”
(Lehtovuori, 2010:55).
Fiske’s (1988) conceptualisation of the ‘locale’ as the micro level of spatial practice, where those
in subordinate positions in society ‘produce’ their own meaning of images and events in everyday life,
exemplies the insertion of agency into the production of space. The locale is the space of agency and
‘little victories’ (Fiske, 1988). De Certeau (1984) sees space as the micro relations, where the subordinates
spatially appropriate their conceived spaces ascribing new meanings to spatial practices. “The work of
de Certeau … frames the everyday as the sphere of creativeness par excellence …” (Brownlie & Hewer,
2011:248). Thus, users or consumers of space do not passively enter spaces, but produce their own lived
space by negotiating, changing and ‘metaphorizing’ spaces, thereby producing singular concretions at the
same time that they are subjected to the framing of the conceived space.
The “production of space is an embodied process” (Zhang & Beyes, 2011:17). It is to be found in the
moment of bodily action. Thus, “bodies …‘produce’ or generate spaces” (McCormack, 2008:1823). What
the body does in a particular material space is what the space becomes in that moment. It is what we pay
attention to when we research space (Zhang & Beyes, 2011). There is a generative relationship between
space and the bodily movement therein (McCormack, 2008). So my focus on the production of space is on
bodily movement, i.e. spatial practice as embodied action.
The spatial practices of administrative clerks are dialectically produced. The ofce space is
conceived by educational authorities as a space of routine and mundane activities. The administrative
clerks reproduce the objectives of the designers of the conceived space and employ their agency and
tactics to construct their personalised spatial practices with their attendant lived space experience. Their
spatial practices are everyday practices inuenced by what is expected of them as well as what they intend
to accomplish through their practices. This can lead to spatial practices that have one physical form for
the principal, school management team (SMT), school governing body (SGB) or educational authorities
but multiple meanings for the administrative clerks themselves. Social space is thus a spatial production
fuelled by both structure and agency, domination and appropriation, and power and resistance (Lefebvre,
1991). The production of the spatial practices of administrative clerks is simultaneously fuelled by their
conceived, perceived and lived space.
My premise is that administrative clerks’ agency gives rise to their creative poetic spatial practice:
a new spatial practice, a new meaning for an existing spatial practice or a modication of an old spatial
practice. Through these novel spatial practices and lived space moments, administrative clerks counter the
contributive injustice of the unequal division of labour.
In the next section, I briey introduce the three administrative clerks and their school contexts.
Thereafter, I identify and discuss three major sets of their spatial practice: spatial practices of care,
spatial practices of sway, and spatial practices of surrogacy. These spatial practices reect their agency in
countering the contributive injustice of their occupational role.
Introducing the spatial practitioners
In this section, I introduce the three administrative clerks and their schools. This provides us with the
contextual backdrop to make sense of their spatial practices.
M has worked at Y primary school (YPS) since 1999. She started off in the position of personal assistant
to the principal and became the school secretary/administrative clerk when the senior administrative clerk
retired in 2004. She grew up in the area and attended the school as a child. She has a matric certicate and
worked in secretarial and administrative positions for more than ten years before she joined the school.
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Perspectives in Education, Volume 30(4), December 2012
She is currently the only administrative clerk at YPS. She has a close relationship with the principal, Mr
K. He is a disciplinarian who runs the school with a rm hand. M is a member of the SGB and acts as both
secretary and treasurer to the SGB. She actively participates in its meetings. She is not part of the SMT.
P was part of the community committee that initiated and urged the educational authorities to
establish a primary school in the area. Subsequently, he worked at the school soon after the school was
established in 2001. He is the more senior of the two administrative clerks at the school. He has a friendly
relationship with the principal and with most of the teachers. He is currently a member of the SMT. He
was previously a member of the SGB and served in the capacity of nancial ofcer which he still occupies
even though he has resigned from the SGB. The principal depends on him to do many of his administrative
and managerial tasks. P has an honours degree in social development and is currently doing his masters’
degree in public administration at a local university.
F has been an administrative clerk since 1997. She has been at her current school since 2002. She is
one of two administrative clerks at the school. She serves on the SGB and had previously served on the
SMT. F handles the school nances. She has a somewhat turbulent relationship with some of the teachers.
F has completed an adult basic education and training diploma course and has been teaching adults. She is
currently registered for an undergraduate degree in education at a distance learning university. During the
course of the research study the incumbent principal resigned and an acting principal was appointed and
thus F’s spatial practice became even more important and pivotal. The acting principal relies extensively
on her experience and knowledge to manage the school. They have a congenial but not close relationship.
The three administrative clerks have many years of experience working in three primary schools that
impose different constraints upon their spatial practices. They have served and continue to serve on the
SMTs and SGBs of their schools. I contend that it is their many years of experience, as well as the varied
types of work they are engaged in, which has given rise to their spatial practices that will be discussed in
the next section.
Towards contributive justice: the spatial practice of three school
administrative clerks
The contributive justice thesis emphasises that the work we do affects the extent to which we are able
to realise and develop our capacities and gain internal and external goods. In the following section I
demonstrate how administrative clerks engage in spatial practices that are instances of agency within a
circumscribed role. These spatial practices counter the contributive injustice of the administrative clerks’
role and occupation. Spatial practices are the locale of agency and tactics of appropriation. These spatial
practices are not only benecial to the administrative clerks’ development, but are integral and essential
for the running of the school.
Their spatial practices are simultaneously an outcome of their conceived, perceived and lived space.
The conceived space refers to the discourses and designs of the educational authorities of what should
occur in the school ofce space. At school, the space designed for the administrative clerk is the school
reception, ofce or administration block. This conceived space forms part of a broader conceptualisation
of schools as spaces where the principal does all the strategic planning and thinking and the administrative
clerks simply execute all the routine tasks. It is the space where the administrative clerks work is conceived
as routine non-essential, non-pedagogic or involving non-strategic tasks. Yet, as I show below, this study
has found that their hub is vital as a space of thought, creativity and strategy.
Perceived space refers to the immediate bodily feedback of enacting spatial practices. It refers to those
bodily sensations that accompany three spatial practices of the administrative clerks, i.e. their everyday
perceptions of the school space. An example of this is their routine response to a student requesting their
help. In the spatial practices highlighted below, I provide examples of students’ and teachers’ routine
perceptions of the administrative clerks’ spatial practices.
Lived space is the affect and personal meaning making – the meaning ascribed to the spatial practice. It
refers to the affective dimension of their spatial practice. In the next section their affective experiences are
described as important to their spatial practices.
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Bayat — The spatial practices of school administrative clerks
I highlight three sets of spatial practices. These spatial practices of care, sway and surrogacy are
particular spatial practices that demonstrate how administrative clerks’ agency in the form of spatial
practices dialectically interacts with the conceived space which gives rise to particular lived spaces. It
shows how the agency inspired moments of spatial practices operate side by side with the subordination of
the administrative clerks. These practices demonstrate instances of spatial practices that counter, but are
also intertwined, with the hegemonic conceived space.
Spatial practices of care
‘Spatial practices of care’ refer to the practices of administrative clerks where they interact with students,
teachers or the principal, with care and affection in their spatial domains. Students regularly come to M
when they feel ill and she responds by undertaking a range of practices that reect her care. This is akin
to Hochschild’s (1983) emotional labour. She asks them to sit on the couch in the reception foyer and
attends to them when able. She touches their foreheads to check their temperatures. If she decides that
they are ill she informs the teacher and then, depending on the severity of the illness, informs the parents.
Sometimes after some attention, students feel better and return to class without further intervention. M’s
emotional work is embodied. This means that she responds to students’ cries for help with motherly
postures and expressions.
P has assisted a number of novice teachers and helped them with their assignments. He reads their
assignments and gives them feedback. He even assisted a teacher in preparing lessons related to budgeting
and accounting. He also assisted teachers with word processing and using the computer lab. His caring
for the students extends to him prodding and urging the principal to do more to improve the quality of
teaching at the school, which sometimes leads to a fractious relationship with the principal. He expressed
that he felt he had let down the school when he resigned from the SGB.
He is always ready to go the extra mile because he cares about the students. The school is facing a
great deal of social problems and he is currently participating in the School as a Sign of Node Care and
Support (SNOCS) initiative. He says that students are being abused sexually, emotionally, physically and
verbally. SNOCS aims to identify these students and help them. He is involved in several community
projects that aim to uplift the community around and within the school.
F also engages in practices of care. Commenting on an interaction where she had played a signicant
role in the decision taken, she describes her lived space experience: “Yes, at the end of the day you also
feel good because you were helping someone else and not just that you doing the job. And you doing
it because it’s your passion and it is your work”. F cares about the students and receives them warmly
when they come to pay their school fees. She is welcoming if they request any assistance and sees herself
as contributing to their development. She says: “I like working with the learners and [when] one or
two or some learners come visit that was at the school and nished with high school and … tell you that
they achieved so much in life, you feel … you were a part of their education, you feel so good”. She also
provides the SGB chairperson with food and spent many afternoons making the SGB chairperson feel
comfortable in her new position.
Poor students receive food and money from M. In one incident she bought a pair of shoes for a needy
student. She provides support for the teachers, giving information about educational authority-related
matters such as issues regarding salaries or how to access the web-based Integrated School Administration
and Management System. All of these practices go beyond her job description.
Pedagogic support
A subset of their practices of care is their pedagogic support for students. When students come to M’s
ofce complaining about other students, M tries to teach them to be fair and kind towards one another. She
models good behaviour to them. When students are hungry or she knows that their parents are in need, she
provides money or food and assigns the hungry students to receive food from the school kitchen.
M’s school is a bilingual school that has many foreign language speakers. The policy of the school
states that foreign students must not be placed in bilingual English and Afrikaans classes. When she
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Perspectives in Education, Volume 30(4), December 2012
encountered a foreign learner who had been placed in a bilingual class, she immediately brought the matter
to the attention of the head of department (HOD), who moved the learner to the English class.
P’s pedagogic concern extends to leading and coaching students outside of the school curriculum
and formal structures about being aware of their bodies and themselves. He acts as a life skills mentor.
His involvement in such activities is based on his personal project of wanting to make a difference in his
community. This is what drives him in many of his spatial practices.
F regularly assists students with their projects especially where they need information from the
Internet. She would search and download information for them even consulting with their teachers to
ascertain what information they needed.
M, F and P produce these spatial practices of care because they perceive the “school as a home away
from home”. Although their principals consider their spatial practices as contributing toward a better
functioning school, for them, these spatial practices make them feel better about themselves and who
they are or want to be. This means that they derive internal goods of satisfaction from embodying spatial
practices of care. In producing a caring social space they are appropriating the ofce space and using
their agency to transform it through their bodily action into spaces of care, hope and potential. They are
poaching conceived spaces with their tactical spatial practice. Through their spatial practices of care, these
three administrative clerks simultaneously embody their workspaces as spaces of care and work.
Spatial practices of sway
‘Practices of sway’ are practices where the administrative clerks manoeuvre themselves into positions
where their everyday practices allow them to transform moments of their spatial practice into moments of
inuence. These spatial practices are deliberate manoeuvres by the three administrative clerks to inuence
decisions at school. It includes coaxing, lobbying and negotiating.
F lobbied and was inuential with a previous principal who allowed her to be part the SMT meetings.
He needed her insight and support as he was new to the school. Via his support she attended and inuenced
the school management. She remarks about the inuence she used to have: “… the … senior teacher comes
in – ‘nee juffrou, ek gaan nou eers my regterhand vra’ [no teacher, I am rst going to ask my right hand].
Then he will call me in: Mrs F, what do you think of the idea? What should we do now?” This previous
principal acknowledged that she used her position on the SMT to inuence decisions that improved the
effectiveness of the management of the school.
Once he left, she lost much of her direct inuence on the SMT, yet she continued to inuence
the school management in more subtle ways. For instance, F proposed that Mr P, a retired educational
authority ofcial who had been the Institutional Management and Governance (IMG) manager assigned to
the school, attend the recruitment and selection meetings to ensure that the school followed the educational
authorities’ policies and procedures.
F not only briefs the SGB chairperson before SGB meetings on the correct policies and procedures,
but also on what she can expect from the principal and teachers. She acts as an ‘unofcial’ adviser to the
chairperson. She has inuence in the SGB meetings since she is responsible for school nance, which
includes drawing up the budget. She also inuences the SGB by proposing how the funds should be spent.
She is very forthright in the meetings having developed her condence over her many years of experience.
F’s spatial practices of inuence and sway were evident when she tactically manoeuvred herself
to appropriate the school ofce spaces (SGB and SMT meetings) as spheres of inuence for herself.
These opportunities for self-development, satisfaction and recognition have increased especially with the
appointment of the acting principal who now relies upon her for direction and guidance.
M also embodies practices of sway. She has made herself indispensable to the principal and teachers
through the spatial practice of doing some of their administrative and even personal tasks. This seems to
be a tactic that all the school administrative clerks embody. They are prepared to do extra tasks, whether
through subtle coercion or through commitment, which gives them room to negotiate inuence within
their social spaces.
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Bayat — The spatial practices of school administrative clerks
M describes her inuence on decision making in the school saying: “Mr K [the principal] won’t have
me in the school management team meetings but he … discuss(es) what was discussed at the meeting
or ask(s) me, ‘have you got money for this’ or ‘what do you think of this’… so I play a huge part in the
decision making”.
M’s school is a fee-paying school. According to the South African Schools Act 1996 (SASA), parents
can apply for a full or partial exemption from school fees. M’s ofcial task is to record all the applications
and present them to the SGB. However, her practice goes beyond this expectation. She has developed
techniques and tactics to gather information about parents who apply for the fee exemption, noting among
other things the quality of their clothing and the cars that they drive. During the fee exemption application
process studies the bodily practices of the parent applicants when they deliver their fee exemption
documents as well as observing their children’s attire to ascertain their nancial status. She then produces
a comprehensive summary of what that family or individual should receive in terms of a fee exemption.
Once she has gathered all the relevant documents, as prescribed by the SASA, she presents her data along
with her interpretation and recommendation regarding an exemption based on her visual analysis of the
bodily movements of parents, students and the spaces they occupy.
P has been inuential both on the SGB and the SMT. He requested to be on the SMT even though
this is conceived as the teachers’ and principal’s space. He says: “I asked ... to be part of the SMT and
the intention was that being an administrative clerk is not challenging for me and it doesn’t give me any
opportunity, maybe to give my views on the way the school is being run.” Once on the SMT, he inuenced
the principal’s decision to adopt a standard agenda for the SMT meeting. On the SGB, he worked tirelessly
to inform the parent governors about correct policy and procedure. Whenever they would decide something
that was contrary to the education authorities’ policies, he would explain why that decision was incorrect.
For example, with the appointment of a second deputy principal, the SGB wanted to appoint a junior
teacher, even though there was a more senior teacher who was qualied for the post. He intervened and
explained to them that this was not correct procedure. He exerted his inuence and experience on the SGB
to ensure that the new post selection was done correctly. However, because he felt that the principal was
commandeering the SGB, he stepped down from the SGB.
F was on the SMT and is currently on the SGB. She remarked that teachers and even the principal did
not follow the local educational authorities’ policies and procedures. The school had experienced money
going missing and many procedures were being ignored. She said that she constantly had to ght the
tendency by staff to do their own thing, especially if it was contrary to the educational authorities’ policies.
She says she would reproach them: “… you don’t come with you[r] knoeiery [cheating and corruption] and
then I must go and explain to the [education] department this and that. I am not going to do that and I am
not going to allow it. When I see, I see right through you. Don’t come with an agenda and I say it just like
that in the meeting”. This shows the extent of her inuence.
M acts as a sensitive conduit between the principal and the teachers, where she selectively
communicates the information that she informally acquires, to the principal. Sometimes she omits
information that she knows will upset the conservative principal in order to keep the organisational climate
favourable. F passes on important ‘insider information to the new SGB chairperson not only to socialise,
but also to alert her to vested interests in school decisions. But F also does it so that she may have
inuence with the SGB chairperson. P’s son attends the school, so he cares about the school’s success.
He constantly passes on information to the principal in the hope that the principal will consider some of
these suggestions (for instance, doing something about the poor annual national assessment scores of the
school’s students). When P was a member of the SGB he made it his duty to inform parents of what was
happening in the school, at a day-to-day level, so that they could make ‘better’, more informed decisions.
All three administrative clerks have been given or have taken responsibility for nancial matters at
the school. Through their ‘control’ of the purse strings, they inuence nancial decisions. Whenever the
principal wants to access petty cash, he has to go via the administrative clerk. Teachers know that they
will have to go via the administrative clerk if they want to solicit petty cash for purchases or local travel
related to the school.
72
Perspectives in Education, Volume 30(4), December 2012
These spatial practices of sway reveal the tactics they employ to increase their participation in decision
making. It demonstrates how they have extended the range of their tasks in order to develop their
capabilities and gain internal and external goods. From the above, we note that the administrative clerks
engage in a multitude of spatial practices despite the limited tasks assigned to their occupational role and,
in so doing, counter the contributive injustice of their ghetto occupation.
Practices of surrogacy
‘Practices of surrogacy’ refer to those practices where the administrative clerks act as a substitute for the
principal or the management of the school. These spatial practices include making management-related
decisions when the principal is absent as well as making important management-related decisions while
the principal is present at school.
When the principal is physically absent, all three school administrative clerks are able to reproduce
the spatial practices required. This also applies to when the principal does not do his job. For example,
P will gather and compile the documents that the educational authorities require and make sure they
are correct and submit them to the correct recipient. When the principal is absent, M and F support the
deputies and HODs, if the latter are not familiar with the task at hand. F is an important surrogate for the
acting principal when she is faced with something with which she does not have experience. All of the
school administrative clerks know the requirements of the educational authorities and their principals well
enough to be able to act on their behalf.
Whenever the administrative clerk is absent from the school, the principal and even the teachers
complain when they return. One of the teachers commented: “If [the administrative clerk were to]
leave now I think we will be lost …” This is because so many of their tasks cannot be done without
information or insight from the administrative clerk. Their spatial practices have become integral to the
work of the other stakeholders at school. When P was absent from the school for a few days due to study
leave, he came back to school and found that the requisite forms for the submission of the nancial subsidy
application for Grade R, that had been due while he was on leave, had not been submitted. Even though
this task is the responsibility of the principal, he waited for the administrative clerk to do it. The reason
he did not do it was because P had exercised his agency and done many of the principal’s work in the past
and now the principal had become reliant on him.
P does the nances even though he is not ofcially the nancial ofcer. He also assists in the computer
laboratory as the Local Area Network administrator, helps with the school policy documentation, helps
administer the school feeding scheme and assists with fundraising. All these activities are not part of his
contracted work description but derive from the fact that the principal or the responsible person is not
doing his or her job.
At the SGB meetings, P endeavoured to inform parents about their rights and responsibilities as
well as the policies and procedures of the educational authorities. He acted as their facilitator. This is the
responsibility of the principal and the educational authorities but he stepped in. He transformed the SGB
meeting space to include a pedagogic space. The IMG manager responsible for P’s school says that P is
practically “running the school”.
F does the management-related tasks that are necessary at the school, even though these tasks are not
part of her remit, taking on some of the responsibilities of the acting principal. Because the school does
not have sufcient students to qualify for a deputy principal, she does some of what would have been the
deputy principal’s work. This arises out of her need to extend her capabilities but is chiey a response to
the urgency and immediacy of the situation at school. This sense of immediacy of problems that crop up
at school is what honed the spatial practices of surrogacy of the administrative clerks. In the aftermath
of funds going missing from the school premises, F insisted that nobody else be allowed to deal with
nance matters at school other than her. Despite grumbling from some of the teachers, she was given this
responsibility and most of them are satised with her nancial management.
F’s spatial practices extend outside the school sphere. She is the coordinator of the school’s fundraising
efforts. She has coordinated the high tea fundraiser of the school for the past few years. She raised about
73
Bayat — The spatial practices of school administrative clerks
R25 000, which is the biggest fundraising contribution on the budget. She visited donors to collect donated
goods and to drop off letters of thanks. This takes place both during school hours and in her personal time.
Because principals have to see to many different responsibilities, the administrative clerks sometimes
full the managerial school requirements and the on-the-ground activities of the school. In doing all of these
management-related tasks, the administrative clerks’ spatial practices counter the inherent contributive
injustice of their occupational role. These spatial practices complement their existing capabilities as well
as help them to develop new capabilities. This self-development affords them respect and recognition from
their peers.
Main conclusions
I used the normative framework of contributive justice to analyse the spatial practices of administrative
clerks in public schools in the Western Cape. I found that even though administrative clerks were thought
of as non-teachers and non-managers their spatial practices included pedagogic and managerial practices.
Even though administrative clerks suffered contributive injustice through the unequal division
of labour of their occupational role, which relegated them to doing mundane and routine tasks, they
countered this injustice and engaged in complex practices that led to self-development, self-satisfaction
and recognition by those around them. This article conrms that administrative clerks are producers of,
as much as they are positioned by their school space. As producers of their social spaces, I argue that they
counter the unequal division of labour which denies them opportunities for self-development, satisfaction
and recognition. In producing their personal, yet social spaces, they reect their reexively arrived at
personal projects. They do not resist the contributive injustice inherent in their occupational role merely
to counter managerial control, they resist to achieve self-development and to gain internal rewards of
satisfaction and external rewards of recognition by their peers.
Through their spatial practices of care, sway and surrogacy the school administrative clerks countered
the contributive injustice – by using their spatial practices to generate new spatial relationships with the
teachers, students and principals. This led to their deep participation in the school and substantial benets
for the functioning of the school. Their novel spatial practices can be seen as personal projects that they
want to see come to fruition at school as well as reactions to the spatial practices of the principal, teachers
or the educational authorities representatives.
Administrative clerks, as they go along every day, change their spatial practices, invent new ones,
and appropriate existing spatial practices. As they do that, they deploy their agency toward an imagined
space – a space of possibility. Through their creative acts of bringing about new practices in the midst of
existing spatial practice, they have appropriated and transformed their spaces of work into spaces of care,
and in doing so they have transformed their spaces of subordination into potential spaces of participation.
Administrative clerks’ occupational role provides them with lowly tasks which limit their ability
for self-development. Yet, this investigation into their spatial practice shows them to be active agents,
i.e. active readers, interpreters, articulators of space while simultaneously still having to reproduce the
demands of their conceived space. This research demonstrates that administrative clerks, even as they
occupy marginalised positions, engage in spatial practices that increase their capabilities, recognition and
participation. It demonstrates that the lived spaces of administrative clerks are lled with little victories.
One of the most important ndings is that the administrative clerks’ spatial practices, with tangible effects,
are precisely successful because it is unrecognised and remains invisible. If it becomes visible, it may be
shut down and troubled by the authorities. I view their spaces as spaces of enablement, operating in the
shadows.
Administrative clerks are placed in particular spaces and are expected to enact particular spatial
practices. Yet, they have agency (however circumscribed) and embody subjective understandings of
their spatial practices amidst institutional expectations. In this study M, F and P creatively embody
spatial practices that reect citizenship behaviour, kindness and care while, at the same time, being very
competent at the work that they are required to do. In doing so, they counter the contributive injustice of
their occupational role and make space for contributive justice in their schools.
74
Perspectives in Education, Volume 30(4), December 2012
Acknowledgement
The author wishes to thank the National Research Foundation (Thuthuka) for providing funding for the research.
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... tasks encountered beyond formal job descriptions) entailed in their work". In South Africa published work on school administrative clerks is sparse (see De Witt, 1990; Van der Linde, 1998;Naicker, Combrinck & Bayat, 2011;Bayat, 2012). This written work does not explicitly address questions of their agency and identity, except for two articles by Bayat and Fataar that reference their professional agency and practices in their workspaces (2018b) and their ethical contributions to their schools (2018a). ...
... School secretaries are generally given little recognition outside of their schools (Wolcott, 1973), their job descriptions are vague (Mann, 1980), they are generally poorly paid (Rimer, 1984;Crawford, 1995), and they feel like second class citizens in their schools (Jackson, 1989). Nevertheless, Kidwell (2004) found that the school secretaries in his sample were satisfied with their jobs despite its subordinate status; Ediger (2001) emphasised the contribution of the school secretary to positive public relations; Casanova (1991), Nystrom (2002), and Logue (2014) highlighted some of the additional tasks undertaken by the school office managers ;Casanova, (1991) as well as Bayat, Naicker and Combrinck (2015) found that they were key to the successful running of their schools, while Bayat (2012) and Bayat and Fataar (2018a and b) have highlighted administrative clerks' agency. In 2008, the Western Cape Education Department funded a training programme for school administrative clerks because they recognised the ongoing and potential contribution of school administrative clerks to their schools (Naicker, Combrinck & Bayat, 2011). ...
... tasks encountered beyond formal job descriptions) entailed in their work". In South Africa published work on school administrative clerks is sparse (see De Witt, 1990;Van der Linde, 1998;Naicker, Combrinck & Bayat, 2011;Bayat, 2012). This written work does not explicitly address questions of their agency and identity, except for two articles by Bayat and Fataar that reference their professional agency and practices in their workspaces (2018b) and their ethical contributions to their schools (2018a). ...
... School secretaries are generally given little recognition outside of their schools (Wolcott, 1973), their job descriptions are vague (Mann, 1980), they are generally poorly paid (Rimer, 1984;Crawford, 1995), and they feel like second class citizens in their schools (Jackson, 1989). Nevertheless, Kidwell (2004) found that the school secretaries in his sample were satisfied with their jobs despite its subordinate status; Ediger (2001) emphasised the contribution of the school secretary to positive public relations; Casanova (1991), Nystrom (2002), and Logue (2014) highlighted some of the additional tasks undertaken by the school office managers ;Casanova, (1991) as well as Bayat, Naicker and Combrinck (2015) found that they were key to the successful running of their schools, while Bayat (2012) and Bayat and Fataar (2018a and b) have highlighted administrative clerks' agency. In 2008, the Western Cape Education Department funded a training programme for school administrative clerks because they recognised the ongoing and potential contribution of school administrative clerks to their schools (Naicker, Combrinck & Bayat, 2011). ...
... Studies of the activities and the roles of administrative clerks in schools (Casanova 1991; Van Der Linde 1998; Thomson et al. 2007; Conley et al. 2010; Naicker et al. 2011),highereducation institutions (Szekeres 2004; Mcinnis 1998; Whitchurch and London 2004) and businesses (Fearfull 1996; Fearfull et al. 2008; Truss 1993) found that they are regarded as marginal and invisible even though their contributions are essential for the smooth running of their workplaces. However, there have been studies highlighting the agency and spatial practices of school administrative clerks (Bayat 2012 ). In addition, in a study of the impact of school business managers' performance on incoming principals, Woods et al. (2012) found that school business managers were crucial in enabling these new principles to take on their positions of principalship. ...
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