Negotiating Difference: Steiner Education as an Alternative Tradition within the Australian Education Landscape

Bak, Geert ORCID: 0000-0002-8462-7438 (2021) Negotiating Difference: Steiner Education as an Alternative Tradition within the Australian Education Landscape. PhD thesis, Victoria University.


Steiner education, also known as Waldorf education, has represented a form of education “against the grain” in the Australian education landscape since its introduction as a practice in Sydney in 1957. Now with sixty schools or programs nationally, and an accredited Australian Steiner Curriculum Framework, Steiner education has shown that educational roots can be sunk into a different educational soil and can prosper. Contributing to the history of education in Australia, as well as to the contemporary understanding of educational alternatives in the Australian context, this study examines the localised development of Steiner education between the years spanning approximately 1970-2010, predominantly in Victoria. Three periods are covered, comprising a founding school phase (1970s), a second-generation Steiner school phase (1980s) and a publicly funded Steiner “streams” phase (approx. 1990 – 2010). Interviews with forty Steiner educators are drawn on, in addition to documentary sources such as school newsletters and newspaper articles, to examine the creation of six Steiner schools or programs. The thesis by publication comprises five papers – four already published and one under review – and an exegesis. Three of the papers are historical, one explores the ethical and methodological considerations stemming from the insider-outsider positioning of the researcher, and one examines the place of Steiner education in the contemporary education landscape in Australia. The orientations of each paper draw on different elements of the methodology, including: practice theory, Gee’s D/d discourse analysis, oral history, biographical sociology, and auto-ethnography. The basis of Steiner education in an epistemology of movement, representing a foundational interest in dynamic performative discourse and concepts, in contrast to representational, static ones, represents a further red thread throughout this study. The exegesis places these papers in a broader context of debates on education and Steiner education more broadly, pulling together some of the literature and the methodological orientation as a whole. The focus for this study is firstly on the local circumstances of the creation of the schools and programs being examined, from the perspective primarily of Steiner educators involved, and secondly on the evolving external socio-political and bureaucratic contexts for these initiatives. The significance of this study lies in how it shows that while policies such as ‘choice’ may afford important opportunities for the creation of new Steiner schools and programs, they also constrain the conceptualisation of Steiner education. Secondly, it demonstrates that neoliberal approaches to education has narrowed conceptions of epistemological diversity within schooling, contributing to a glossing over of philosophical alternatives in contemporary scholarship on alternative education. Thirdly, the value of examining alternative education to highlight ideological and philosophical tensions and fault lines is shown, particularly in relation to the challenges of philosophical educational change. And finally, the case is made that contemplative inquiry, as well as philosophical and theoretical developments emphasising dynamic concepts of enactment and performance, such as socio-materialism, present helpful new framings for the notion of applied inner- life activity as recognised within Steiner education.

Additional Information

This thesis includes articles in the appendix for which access is restricted due to copyright. Where possible details of access to these papers has been inserted in the thesis, replacing the articles themselves.

Item type Thesis (PhD thesis)
Subjects Historical > FOR Classification > 1303 Specialist Studies in Education
Historical > FOR Classification > 2202 History and Philosophy of Specific Fields
Current > Division/Research > Institute for Sustainable Industries and Liveable Cities
Keywords Steiner education; Waldorf education; history; education; Victoria; Australia; biographical sociology; thesis by publication
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