19 SES 07, Making Inequality: Ontologies of research into pedagogy in high poverty contexts
When told I was moving to Glasgow, my dentist quoted the British sitcom Porridge: ‘I thought I was working class until I went to Glasgow.’ Though written in mid-1970s, this joke remains active characterising a community from a distance, to sustain a reputation for stark disadvantage forty years later. Despite urban renewal and civic rebranding, that stigma sticks. In the same way that categories of gender or race precipitate realities for the coded, the reputation of places travels before them creating presumptions that inform interactions, or avoidance thereof. In this paper, I use this quip to reflect on firstly, how researchers contribute to the reification of inequality, and secondly, how inequality is a relational term that warrants enquiry on both sides of the equation. I conclude by comparing these complex emergent and relational ontologies to the flat world of league tables and international comparisons, asking how such ‘knowing’ acts on places from a distance. This joke forces me to think about how my own research in schools servicing disadvantaged communities takes stigmatised reputations as a point of departure and sampling heuristic. In turn my ethnographic work re-animates such reputations by producing accounts that can potentially become ‘causally efficacious’. I borrow this phrase from Bhaskar’s (1998) critical realist philosophy of social science. This philosophy embraces a layered ontology, including both the intransitive dimension of the material world, and the transitive dimension of discursive and normative forces, to explore the interaction of forces and actualities in an open system (Stones, 1996). Similarly Archer’s (2007) reflexive sociology talks of actor’s ‘fallible readings’ that inform personal projects. I’m interested in how reputations circulated in educational research, league tables and jokes, offer fallible readings that nevertheless become causally efficacious. Secondly, inequality emerges between advantage and disadvantage. Studies of relational inequality too easily slip into studies of the poor, as opposed to the co-constitutive relation between the haves and havenots. This means asking questions about magnet schools and niche programs sucking talent, energy and capitals out of others. It means we research selectivity, white flight and middle class drift as processes producing inequality. Bhaskar’s attention to absence (Shipway, 2010) as an emergent outcome, and absenting to understand change, might build explanations beyond what is present in stigmatised sites.
Archer, M. (2007). Making our way through the world: Human reflexivity and social mobility. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Bhaskar, R. (1998). Philosophy and scientific realism. In M. Archer, R. Bhaskar, A. Collier, T. Lawson & A. Norrie (Eds.), Critical realism: essential readings (pp. 16-47). London: Routledge. Shipway, B. (2010). A critical realist perspective of education. London: Routledge. Stones, R. (1996). Sociological reasoning: Towards a past-modern sociology. Houndmills, UK: Macmillan Press.
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