19 SES 10 A, Young People, Voice and Resistance in Schools
This paper is the result of research that took place in an underperforming school in the south of England. The school is located on a deprived estate and takes its pupils from an area in the bottom quintile with regard to deprivation indicators and regularly features at the bottom of local league tables. Recently converted to academy status (an academy in the UK is a state funded school which is independent from local authority control) the school is in the process of being rebuilt. The school in question is seen as abject by the broader community and features a large number of disruptive and disaffected students.
The questions that the paper focusses on are: What “kind of person” do resistant pupils want to be recognised as and become? How do they develop an identity of non-participation? Is there a lack of connection with their future or are they practising an expected future?
In order to investigate these questions the paper draws on the work of Foucault (1979, 1982, 2003) who suggested that in order to understand how power relations work it is necessary to investigate resistance rather than trying to understand power from the perspective of its own rationality. This approach is useful since students in school do not resist specific institutions or groups, but specific instances of power personified by those that they come into immediate contact with on a day to day basis. To understand the field in which these power relations operate, the paper also incorporates concepts of space and place developed by Doreen Massey (2005) and Tim Ingold (2008) whereby space is a product of interrelations permanently under construction as opposed to simply a surface and place becomes a product of these intersections.
This paper builds on the work of Paul Willis (1977), finding a modern equivalent of the ‘lads’ in ‘Learning to Labour’ and their scepticism towards formal qualifications and the sacrifices requires to gain them. Ball, Macrae & Maguire (1999) highlight the importance of imagined futures in understanding the behaviour of older secondary school children. These imagined futures enable children to interpret the risks and opportunities available to them in the light of their backgrounds and their own identities (Lawy, 2002). Considering these imagined futures enables us to understand the relevance or otherwise of the activities that are offered to children in school. Lauren Berlant’s (2011) work on cruel optimism also helps to understand what happens when students realise that the opportunities on offer at school may not enable them to achieve their aspirations.
Although the research took place in a specific British school, it remains relevant to a wider European audience due to the expansion of Neo-liberal education policies across Europe through strategies such as the Lisbon Agenda (Turner & Yolcu, 2014) and the entrenching of disadvantage in schools similar to the one in question.
Ball, S. J., Macrae, S. & Maguire, M. (1999). Young lives, diverse choices and imagined futures in an education and training market. International Journal of Inclusive Education. 3(3), 195-224. Berlant, L. (2011). Cruel Optimism. London: Duke University Press. Foucault, M. (1979). Discipline and Punish. London: Penguin. Foucault, M. (1982). The subject and power. Critical Inquiry. 8(4), 777-795. Foucault, M. (2003). Society Must be Defended. London: Penguin. Ingold, T. (2008). Binding against boundaries: Entanglements of life in an open world. Environment and Planning A. 40, 1796-1810. Lawy, R. (2002). Risky stories: Youth identities, learning and everyday risk. Journal of Youth Studies. 5(4), 407-423. Lee, J. & Ingold, T. (2006). Fieldwork on foot: Perceiving, routing, socializing, in Coleman, S. & Collins, P. (Eds) Locating the Field: Space, Place and Context in Anthropology. Oxford: Berg. Massey, D. (2005). For Space. London: SAGE. Pink, S. (2009). Doing Sensory Ethnography. London: SAGE. Turner, D. A. & Yolcu, H. (2014). Neo-liberal Educational Reforms: A Critical Analysis. London: Routledge. Willis, P. (1977). Leaning to Labour: How Working class Kids Get Working Class Jobs. Surrey: Ashgate.
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