Powerful actors – whether dictators, myths, quarks or educational policies – become powerful through making numerous connections with others, those that are successful in enlisting as allies. They are all assemblages of disparate things: bodies, texts, tools and desires held together through fragile ties that demand a great deal of work to maintain them. This understanding offers an important breakthrough, argues Harman, from the human-centric limitations of much political philosophy:
Latour’s metaphysics is utterly democratic. Atoms and quarks are real actors in the cosmos, but so are Fidel Castro, Houdini, and unicorns. We cannot declare a priori that some actors are more real than others; all we can say is that some are stronger than others. But this strength is never measured solely in the currency of human struggles for dominance, since animals, stars and brute subatomic matter are engaged in the struggle for reality no less than are Machiavellian cabals. What Latour opposes is simple reduction … (Harman 2007: 35)
When there is discussion of powerful actors in education, where centres of qualculation are ordered, then much of the focus is on the state, government and policy. Policy is a central concern for educational researchers, as policies at international, national, local and organizational levels are held to frame and contextualize the practices of education and training. Policy is often positioned as the originating source of practices and changes in practice in education, and therefore much is written about it. However, as Ball (2000) argues, the problem persists in discussions of educational policy that everyone assumes to know what it actually is, when in fact this is far from clear or consensual. Simplifying greatly, there are two key foci for discussion of educational policy. The first is to do with policy making itself, the processes and practices through which something we can name as educational policy comes to be and, with that, its nature and significance. The state and governing are central to such discussions, as are the multiple ideologies informing politics and policy. Indeed, much of the discussion within this strand of research is based upon ideology critique
of one sort or another. This attempts to identify and stabilize certain policies as having certain ideological assumptions and intents, in order to become hegemonic – the common sense of the moment. For instance, neoliberalism for the globalized knowledge economy has been a popular critique of much educational policy since the turn of the century. Here also, the role of international organizations such as the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and transnational alliances such as the European Union (EU) have become a focus of debate, as the nation state is increasingly entangled in the webs of globalizing processes. This questioning of the sense of the sovereign state as autonomous actor in recent times has led to an increasing focus on governing rather than government, on the practices of governing wherever they take place, and less focus on government and the state per se (Rose 1999). For some, this is taken itself to represent a depoliticization of the political rather than extending politics into multiple domains. While those engaged in ideology critique are attempting to tear away the veil of policy and uncover the ‘real’ interests being pursued, some ANT writers have sought to approach politics from an alternative framing. In particular, Latour (2005a: 19) has attempted to articulate a politics around matters of concern, which he contrasts with matters of fact.