19 SES 01, Paper Session
This paper examines ethnographic dilemmas when researching school environments with a majority of boys with working class background. Several researchers have highlighted the fact that this group is often presented as homogenous and labelled as underachieving and having an anti-school attitude. In this paper it is discussed how some methodological considerations might lead to a more nuanced representation of this group of boys. It follows on a body of work in the journal of Ethnography and Education of discussions of the complexity of researching processes of social reproduction. Brockmann (2011) for example, argues that studies that focus on social reproduction too often neglect the complexity of those processes. Also Russell (2013) discusses the complexities when working with young people and how the researcher is dependent on their personal dispositions and the roles those young people adapt. Both authors call for a methodological discussion of how to do ethnographic research that not (only) reproduce a given discourse but also gives a representation of the complexity of those processes. Also the paper at hand can be seen as a contribution to the discussion on methodological and theoretical issues in the mentioned (see also Delamont, 2009; Hammersley, 2006).
In Sweden when researching male dominated school contexts there is a strong tradition of following the work of Willis (1977): see for example the work of Hill (2001, 2007), Trondman (1999) and Högberg (2009, 2011) reconfirming an anti-school attitude culture such as ‘cool boy’s do not (do school) work’ or/and ‘having a laff’ as a way of resistance. However, there are good reasons to also question the reproduction of these stereotypes and how they may operate in relation to youth in education systems.
This paper takes as a starting point my own ethnographic study carried out the school year 2008/09, following a Scandinavian educational ethnographic tradition (see Beach, 2010). During this study I followed a class of boys attending to a vehicle programme, they generally came from a working class background, as in the referred studies above and described as having an anti-school attitude (see also Jackson, 2010; Keddie, 2007). Then, maybe not very surprisingly, some of the boys in the vehicle class that I followed might very well fit into an anti-school attitude description, but, as I have described elsewhere, most boys did not (Niemi & Rosvall, 2013; Rosvall, 2011, 2012). And all of the boys, both those that sometimes showed what could be described as an anti-school attitude and those who did not, when talked to individually, said that they wanted to achieve better in what is considered academic subjects such as Swedish language, English and maths. This result was quite surprising considering earlier research of working class boys which presenting them as ‘lads’ or ‘ladish’ producing and reproducing anti school cultures (see for Arnesen, Lahelma, & Öhrn, 2008 for an overview). To understand differences in results when researching similar context I decided to look deeper into some ethnographic work and their use of methods and this paper is the result of this examination.
The examination in this paper, has significant value for those who will do research on this particular group of boys, but also contributes to a general understanding of the complexity of doing ethnographic research and how to deal with the dilemmas of individual or group interviewing, when to enter the field and the use of theory when doing ethnographic research.
Arnesen, A.-L., Lahelma, E., & Öhrn, E. (2008). Travelling discourses on gender and education: The case of boys' underachievement. Nordisk pedagogik. Beach, D. (2010). Identifying and comparing Scandinavian ethnography: comparisons and influences. Ethnography and Education. Ball, S. (1980). Initial encounters in the classroom and the process of establishment. In P. Woods (Ed.), Pupil strategies London: Croom Helm Ltd. Berglund, I. (2009). Construction site as school - or school as construction site? A study of vocational education and training for workers within building and construction. Stockholm: Stockholms universitet. Bernstein, B. (2000). Pedagogy, symbolic control and identity. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Brockmann, M. (2011). Problematising short-term participant observation and multi-method ethnographic studies. Ethnography and Education. Delamont, S. (2009). The only honest thing: autoethnography, reflexivity and small crises in fieldwork. Ethnography and Education. Dolby, N., Dimitriadis, G., & Willis, P (2004). Learning to labour in new times. London/New York: RoutledgeFalmer. Hammersley, M. (2006). Ethnography: problems and prospects. Ethnography and Education. Hill, M. (2001). Om vikten av att få sig ett skratt Villkor och vägar för grundläggande yrkesutbildning. Några forskarperspektiv. Stockholm: SNS förlag. Högberg, R. (2011). Cheating as subversive and strategic resistance: vocational students' resistance and conformity towards academic subjects in a Swedish upper secondary school. Ethnography and Education. Niemi, A.-M., & Rosvall, P.-Å. (2013). Framing and classifying the theoretical and practical divide: how young men’s positions in vocational education are produced and reproduced. Journal of Vocational Education & Training. Rosvall, P.-Å. (2011). Pedagogic practice and influence in a Vehicle Programme class. In E. Öhrn, L. Lundahl & D. Beach (Eds.), Young people's influence and democratic education: Ethnographic studies in upper secondary schools. London: Tufnell Press. Russell, L. (2013). Researching marginalised young people. Ethnography and Education. Snow, D. A., Morrill, C., & Anderson, L. (2003). Elaborating Analytic Ethnography: Linking Fieldwork and Theory. Ethnography. Trondman, M. (2008). Bypass surgery: Rerouting theory to ethnographic study. In G. Walford (Ed.), How to do Educational Ethnography. London: The Tufnell press. Walford, G. (Ed.). (2008). How to do educational ethnography. London: Tufnell press. Whelen, J. (2008). On the margins of education, or two stories of arriving at school. Ethnography & Education. Willis, P., & Trondman, M. (2000). Manifesto for Ethnography. Ethnography. Wilson, W. J., & Chaddha, A. (2009). The role of theory in ethnographic research. Ethnography
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