Ethnographies of Educational and Cultural Conflicts: Strategies and Resolutions: Volume 9

Cover of Ethnographies of Educational and Cultural Conflicts: Strategies and Resolutions

Table of contents

(15 chapters)

Ethnography has become one of the major methods of researching educational settings. Its key strength is its emphasis on understanding the perceptions and cultures of the people and organisations studied. Through prolonged involvement with those who are being studied, the ethnographic researcher is able gradually to enter their world and gain an understanding of their lives.

Hillyard argues that Irving Goffman’s mixing of detailed study, an evocative writing style and interjection as social commentator can legitimately be defined as social science research because it highlights inequalities. His approach is seen not as a systematic model but as a appreciation of the rhetorical nature of ethnographic writing and argument, whilst maintaining a critical theoretical agenda. Debates over the legitimacy of partisan research and in particular critical ethnography are a feature of the last decade in education (Hammersley, 1992) and Irving Goffman, in particular, is held in high esteem for his work on inequalities which is why the debate at the Oxford 2002 conference was so pertinent.

The recent narrative, if not postmodern, turn within the tradition of ethnographic research has not eased difficult questions concerning how best inequalities can be researched by the social sciences. Whilst important additions have been made to traditional concerns with social class, race and gender, such as age (but not purely gerontology), disability and the rural/urban divide, epistemological questions remain over how theoretical and conceptual concerns about inequality also be met in field research.

There is a huge amount of social and educational research concerned with various kinds of inequality. Much of this research assumes that inequalities are a bad thing, even when it is solely concerned with providing information about the level and causes of inequalities of some particular kind.1 Sometimes, however, this use of crude egalitarianism spills over into presentation of what can be read as practical value judgements. Ambiguity between factual conclusion and practical evaluation is frequently exploited, or at least allowed to prevail. As a result, evaluations seem to be expressed, and/or prescriptions for action proposed, with the implication that they are justified by research evidence. Yet, on its own, research evidence can rarely provide a sufficient justification for value conclusions (see Foster et al., 2000; Hammersley, 2003a). While on some occasions research evidence may be treated as pointing directly to value conclusions, there are always value premisses involved, as well as factual ones, and these will often be open to reasonable doubt and disagreement.

Because access to new technologies is unequally distributed, there has been considerable discussion in Australia and elsewhere about the growing gap, the “digital divide,” between the information-rich and information-poor (Bolt & Crawford, 2000; Castells, 2001; Companie, 2001; Gordon, 2001; Haywood, 1998; Negroponte, 1996; Nixon, 2001). Most schools have incorporated computers and Internet access into classrooms, partly in response to concerns about the gap between technology “haves” and “have nots” (Facer et al., 2001). Such concerns have led to high-profile information technology policy initiatives in the USA (Lentz, 2000; US Department of Commerce, 1999), U.K. (Selwyn, 2000), Australia (Foster, 2000) and other nations. Many families have invested in computer systems at home in order to provide their children with access to the growing body of information available through technology. Similarly, in an attempt to “redress the balance between the information rich and poor” by providing “equal access to the World Wide Web” (Virtual Communities, 2002), the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), Virtual Communities (a computer/software distributor) and Primus (an Internet provider) in late 1999 formed an alliance to offer relatively inexpensive computer and Internet access to union members in order to make “technology affordable for all Australians” (Virtual Communities, 2002).

Educational statistics in Britain make depressing reading. Recent surveys show that 80% of children from professional families gain university degrees compared with 14% from working class homes:1 that black children are more likely to leave school with fewer academic qualifications even though they enter the system showing promise: that only a small minority of children from comprehensive schools2 gain places at Oxbridge although 90% of the population attend such schools: that a mere 4% of medical and dentistry students come from working class backgrounds etc. In spite of John Major’s3 optimistic insistence that Britain has become a classless society, it would appear that class differences in educational performance are not disappearing. On the contrary, a recent OECD4 survey, based on data gathered from 16,000 people born in 1958 and 1970 shows that the detrimental effects of inequality of opportunity are actually growing and that the opportunities gap between those from different social backgrounds is no better for those born in 1970 than it was for those born a generation earlier in 1958.

The theoretical framework guiding these studies draws from the work of Paulo Freire (1989) who argues that transformation in schools and in society is possible when teachers value and utilize the diverse cultural schema of every student. Our work is further informed by critiques of the deficit perspective that dominates many school settings (Bartolomé & Balderrama, 2001; Garcia, 2001) in the United States. According to this perspective, the documented lack of school success of many children of color, of many children whose first language is not English, and of poor children in general is attributed to deficits in the children themselves, their families, and cultures. Most often, parents are cited for not reading to their children, not emphasizing the importance of education, not disciplining their children, not speaking English to their children, and/or for their own “dysfunctions” which interfere with their children’s learning.

There has been a great deal of quantitative, survey research produced in the last thirty years which states that there is underachievement amongst ethnic minority children in English schools. This quantitative research reveals an increasingly complex picture of ethnic minority achievement and underachievement. Early work tended to simply demonstrate that ethnic minority children were underachieving in school (Little, 1972; Mabey, 1981; Mabey, 1986), this then shifted (as research became more sophisticated, gender and class were introduced as variables and pupils ceased to be simply categorised as black or white) to the identified achievement of some groups and the underachievement of others (e.g. Brent, 1994; Craft & Craft, 1983; DfES, 2003a, b; Drew & Gray, 1990; ILEA, 1990; Kysel, 1988; Sammons, 1995).

The research on Black underachievement is well documented. But the explanations posited as causes for this failure are problematic. They are reductive and fail to explain adequately the reasons for Black children’s underperformance. The wealth of research into Black underachievement is not matched by research into Black achievement, and explanations for this are equally flawed, as are policies designed to curtail underperformance. I argue in this paper that underachievement is the product of social and cultural forces, and success is dependent on all concerned in the educational development of the child, including the child, overcoming those forces and accommodating each other in order to provide the knowledge and skills necessary for success.

The current literature on the educational progress of immigrant students within the host system is encapsulated in the thesis that these students will face difficulties, and that these difficulties will more often than not lead to a failure to meet the demands of the system for the majority of the immigrant students. An apposite comment by Portes (1996), queried whether the children of immigrants would be able to work their way upwards into “…the middle-class mainstream” or whether they would be blocked in this ascent based on their migrant status, and become part of an “multiethnic underclass or join an expanded multiethnic underclass.” Súarez-Orozco and Súarez-Orozco (1995, 2000) completed this perception by uncovering the implicit viewpoint within which this query was nested. He foregrounded the domination of sensationalism and myth in discussions of the “natural process” of assimilation of minorities. Finally, current discussion on the issue of these so-called at-risk students centres on how they can be made successful at school.

Researchers have demonstrated that the individual and social identities of adolescents are constructed through interaction with other people as they move through various social sites: home, school, the community, and within the virtual social site created by media (Raissiquier, 1994; Weir, 1996; Willis, 2000).

It was a typical Wednesday in Room 4. Wednesday mornings meant time for Invitations. A time cherished and enjoyed by the intermediate students in Ruth’s elementary classroom. Invitations were a time for small groups of students to work together across disciplines on self-selected topics offered by the teacher but grown from student interests. On a weekly basis students signed up for Invitations – sometimes sticking with a topic for several weeks and sometimes attending to a new topic each week. Topics ranged anywhere from using technology, taking apart CD players to discover how they work, exploring media coverage of current events, debating social issues, dissecting plants, to making maps. Students then worked cooperatively in student-facilitated groups to use multiple ways of knowing, and available resources and materials to ask important questions, to investigate issues of significance, to pursue possibilities, and to inquire with others.

Over the twentieth century, there was a wide range of demographic changes in the family. Demographic shifts included a decline in the number of first marriages, and a rise in the divorce rate, the number of births outside marriage and the number of one parent families. Whilst ideologies (Eatwell, 1993; Seliger, 1976) of the family are many and varied, they tend to privilege the intact nuclear family as the natural, ideal and normal family form (Jagger & Wright, 1999) and as patriarchal, white and middle class. Other family structures, in contrast, can be seen as deviations from the norm. Such ideologies of the family are at odds with the changes in family structure outlined above. This tension between the ideal and the real can help stereotype children who live in families which deviate from the perceived norm of the intact nuclear family. This can disadvantage children who may be otherwise well-adjusted (Ferri, 1976; Mitchell, 1985).

Lawrence Angus is Professor is Head of the School of Education at the University of Ballarat. His most recent book (with Professor Terri Seddon of Monash University) is Reshaping Australian Education: Beyond Nostalgia. His publications include several books over 50 refereed book chapters and articles in academic journals. His particular research and teaching interests include education equity and policy.Eve Gregory is a Professor in the Department of Educational Studies at Goldsmiths’ College, University of London She joined the Department of Educational Studies in 1987, after having taught for nine years in schools and two years at Nene College, Northampton. During her years at Goldsmiths, she has co-ordinated language and literacy programmes for the BA Ed, taught across Early Years programmes and established student exchanges in France, Spain and Austria. Recent research has included studies on family literacy history, on siblings (both funded by the ESRC) and children’s home and school literacy practices (funded by the Leverhulme Trust).Kathleen Gwinner began her career in education as a high school art teacher in rural areas near Kansas City, Missouri and El Paso, Texas, and then in Houston’s urban schools. Travel and a continuing interest in art history prompted her to return to university for a Masters degree in European history, and she subsequently taught history and art history courses at private and public schools with a great variety of student populations. Her doctoral research was conducted at a specialized vocational school within the Houston metropolitan district where she was a teacher. She now teaches at a school for the gifted and talented where she is continuing her research on high achieving girls.Martyn Hammersley is Professor of Educational and Social Research, Faculty of Education and Language Studies, the Open University. His early work was in the sociology of education. Much of his more recent work has been concerned with the methodological issues surrounding social and educational research. He is currently investigating the representation of research findings in the mass media. He has written several books, including: (with Paul Atkinson) Ethnography: principles in practice (Routledge, 1995); The Dilemma of Qualitative Method (Routledge, 1989); Reading Ethnographic Research (Longman, 1998); What’s Wrong with Ethnography? (Routledge, 1992); The Politics of Social Research (Sage, 1995); (with Peter Foster and Roger Gomm) Constructing Educational Inequality (Falmer, 1996); Taking Sides in Social Research (Routledge, 1999); and Educational Research, Policymaking and Practice (Paul Chapman, 2002).Sam Hillyard is a lecturer in sociology at the Institute for the Study of Genetics, Biorisks and Society and a member of Nottingham’s Institute for Rural Research. Her research interests include ethnographic research and theorising; the Sociology of Education; the history of symbolic interactionism and the sociology of Erving Goffman. At Nottingham, she teaches rural sociology and recently finished a research project studying images of farming in children’s literature.Caroline Hudson is Basic Skills Advisor in the Home Office National Probation Directorate. Caroline has published on offending and education, evidence-based policy, and family structure (intact nuclear, reordered nuclear, single parent and care) and young people’s perceptions of family and schooling. Her principal research interest is issues related to social exclusion. Prior to working in the Home Office, Caroline was a researcher at Oxford University Department of Educational Studies and Oxford University Centre for Criminological Research. Before doing a Master’s and doctorate at Oxford University, Caroline was a secondary school English teacher for 12 years.Bob Jeffrey’s ethnographic research at The Open University has focussed on the effects of policy reform and managerialism on the creativity of primary teachers in England. Together with Peter Woods, he has identified their dilemmas and tensions, their creative responses, identity reconstructions, and changes in professional role. He has, together with Geoff Troman, and Dennis Beach, established an extensive European network of ethnographic research interests and his current research project involves ten European partners focussing on the student’s perspectives of their learning experiences with particular reference to their creativity. He has maintained a regular flow of articles concerned with ethnographic methodology.Susi Long is an Associate Professor in Early Childhood Education and Language and Literacy at the University of South Carolina in the U.S. Her research interests include language and literacy learning in marginalized populations and teacher education. In 1997, she received the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Promising Researcher Award for her ethnographic study of cross cultural learning in Iceland. She continues similar work in the United States with projects that include a study of professional development at the University of South Carolina’s Children’s Center, a six month study of Mexican American kindergartners, and a long-term study of new teachers during their first three years of teaching. Key publications can be found in the journals, Research in the Teaching of English; The Journal of Teacher Education; Reading, Language and Literacy; NCTE’s Primary Voices; and in an upcoming issue of the NCTE’s Language Arts. Her most recent work is coedited with Eve Gregory of Goldsmiths College and Dinah Volk of Cleveland State University. The volume, Many Pathways to Literacy (Routledge Falmer, 2004) is a collection of studies that illuminate mediators of language and literacy learning in the lives of young children across a range of cultural settings in the U.S. and in the U.K.Colton Paul worked as a primary school teacher for a number of years in the London Borough of Haringey and Tower Hamlets. He is now employed as a lecturer at Goldsmiths College educational department. Colton Paul is primarily concerned in his research with culture, identity and education, in particular the ways in which notions of race, power, and representation interact to influence cognitive development. his current area of research for his PhD thesis is focused on the effects of mythologies and power relations on the educational development of children of Caribbean heritage.Ilana Snyder is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Education, Monash University, Australia. Her research focuses on changes to literacy, pedagogical and cultural practices associated with the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs). Four books, Hypertext (Melbourne University Press & New York University Press, 1996), Page to Screen (Allen & Unwin and Routledge, 1997), Teachers and Technoliteracy (Allen & Unwin, 2000), co-authored with Colin Lankshear, and Silicon Literacies (Routledge, 2002) explore these changes. In collaboration with Simon Marginson and Tania Lewis, her current research includes a three-year Australian Research Council-funded project examining the use of ICTs in higher education in Australia. The focus is on innovation at the interface between pedagogical and organisational practices. She is also working on the application of Raymond William’s ideas about technology and cultural form to a study of the Internet.Ruth Silva teaches at the College of Education, University of North Texas having completed her doctorate in teacher education at the University of Houston. She has been a teacher and administrator in high schools in Australia and an administrator with the Department of Education (Independent and Catholic Schools) in Sydney. Her research focuses on the role of the classroom teacher as researcher, instructional supervision, and pre-service teacher education.Katie Van Sluys is a doctoral research student at Indiana University.Ilana Snyder is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Education, Monash University, Australia. Her research focuses on changes to literacy, pedagogical and cultural practices associated with the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs). Four books, Hypertext (Melbourne University Press & New York University Press, 1996), Page to Screen (Allen & Unwin and Routledge, 1997), Teachers and Technoliteracy (Allen & Unwin, 2000), co-authored with Colin Lankshear, and Silicon Literacies (Routledge, 2002) explore these changes. In collaboration with Simon Marginson and Tania Lewis, her current research includes a three-year Australian Research Council-funded project examining the use of ICTs in higher education in Australia. The focus is on innovation at the interface between pedagogical and organisational practices. She is also working on the application of Raymond William’s ideas about technology and cultural form to a study of the Internet.Wendy Sutherland-Smith is a lawyer turned teacher and an Associate- Lecturer in the Faculty of Business and Law at Deakin University. She has taught in secondary and tertiary institutions for the past fourteen years. Currently, she is teaching Corporations and Business Law to international students, whilst also undertaking doctoral studies in the Faculty of Education at Monash University in Australia. Her Ph.D is a cross-disciplinary investigation of notions of plagiarism, from perspectives of Legal and Literary theory. She is particularly interested in the Internet literacy practices of tertiary undergraduate ESL students. In her doctoral work, Sutherland-Smith is focuses on Bourdieu’s notions of symbolic violence, cultural capital, habitus and field. She applies these critically in analyses of international ESL students’ academic writing, both print-text and Web-text based, with respect to plagiarism and intellectual property. She has published articles in The Reading Teacher (2002), Prospect (2002), and TESOL Journal (2003) on her research of international students’ reading practices in paper-text compared to hyper-text environments. She has also published in the broader area of the nexus between linguistic and legal theory. Her email address is Volk is a Professor and Coordinator of the Early Childhood Program, Cleveland State University, Cleveland, Ohio, USA. She has taught young children in the U.S. and Latin America and her research interests include sibling and peer teaching and the language and literacy practices of young bilingual children and their families. Volk is co-editor, with Gregory and Long, of Many Pathways to Literacy: Young Children Learning with Siblings, Peers, Grandparents, and Communities (RoutledgeFalmer, 2004) and is co-author, with DeGaetano and Williams, of Kaleidoscope: A Multicultural Approach for the Primary School Classroom (Prentice Hall, 1998). Her articles have been published in Research in the Teaching of English, the Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, Reading: Language and Literacy, and the Early Childhood Research Quarterly.Geoffrey Walford is Professor of Education Policy and a Fellow of Green College at the University of Oxford. He was previously Senior Lecturer in Sociology and Education Policy at Aston Business School, Aston University, Birmingham. His recent books include: Affirming the Comprehensive Ideal (Falmer, 1997, edited with Richard Pring), Doing Research about Education (Falmer, 1998, Ed.). Durkheim and Modern Education (Routledge, 1998, edited with W S F Pickering), Policy and Politics in Education (Ashgate, 2000) Doing Qualitative Educational Research (Continuum, 2001) and British Private Schools: Research on policy and practice (Woburn Press, 2003, Ed.). His research foci are the relationships between central government policy and local processes of implementation, choice of schools, private schools, religiously-based schools and ethnographic research methodology. He is editor of the Oxford Review of Education and has recently completed a Spencer Foundation funded comparative project on faith-based schools in England and the Netherlands.Sue Walters completed her DPhil research in the Department of Educational Studies at Oxford University and is now a Research Fellow in the Faculty of Social Sciences, The Open University, Milton Keynes (researching Ethnicities and Contemporary Rural Identities). She was previously a Secondary School English teacher and an English as an Additional Language specialist and has academic degrees in Literature, Women’s Studies and Educational Research Methods. Her current research interests lie in issues concerning academic achievement and Bangladeshi pupils, ethnic minority and bilingual pupil’s experiences of schooling and ethnicities and identities.

Cover of Ethnographies of Educational and Cultural Conflicts: Strategies and Resolutions
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Studies in Educational Ethnography
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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