Countering testimonial injustice : the spatial practices of school administrative clerks

Bayat, Abdullah ; Fataar, Aslam (2018)

CITATION: Bayat, A. & Fataar, A. 2018. Countering testimonial injustice : the spatial practices of school administrative clerks. Journal of Education, 73:39-54, doi:10.17159/2520-9868/i73a03.

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This article discusses the phenomenon of how people’s voices or opinions are taken up in relation to their professional status. We focus on administrative clerks in school contexts, people who occupy a professional category that is regarded as one of voicelessness and therefore easily ignored. Their low occupational role and status mean that their testimonies are deemed less credible than the testimonies of school principals and teachers. We refer to this situation as a form of ‘testimonial injustice’ that is visited daily on these clerks. This article illustrates how selected administrative clerks go about exercising their agency in the light of their experiences of such testimonial injustice and go on to establish a range of spatial practices that confer on them a credible professional status. Methodologically, this article is based on a qualitative study of three administrative clerks in selected South African public schools undertaken over a 12-week period, followed up by further interviews and site observations. Combining the theoretical constructs ‘testimonial injustice’ and ‘rhetorical space’, we argue that the administrative clerks we studied engendered transformed rhetorical spaces – which are negotiated social spaces – that allowed for their voices and opinions to challenge the testimonial injustice they experience. We suggest that these rhetorical spaces are achieved by them through their continuous and active presence in their work environments. They engender rhetorical spaces in which their voices are deemed legitimate by forming close relationships with others in their work environments, enhancing their professional capacity by furthering their educational qualifications, and the successful accomplishment of additional role tasks. Our main argument is that these clerks, despite occupying a marginalised occupational status and suffering testimonial injustice, are able to exercise their reflexive agency to improve their credibility and thereby resist the testimonial injustice visited upon them. This article contributes to nascent scholarship on school administrative clerks’ contributions to their professional environments at their schools. We argue that their contribution is undergirded by spatial practices that can partly be understood as a type of resistance to their negative status and position at their respective schools. We suggest that while they are discursively projected as peripheral figures in their school environments, they nonetheless make valuable, yet under-valued, contributions to the functioning of their school.

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