33 SES 04, Migration, Ethnic-minority Girls and Education
This article explores how young ethnic-minority girls involve social networks and everyday learning to position themselves as learners in the transition between lower and upper secondary school. Furthermore, the article explores how the girls experience future possibilities represented by education. Of interest is how they use resources, funds of knowledge, in negotiating their everyday lives. This paper is based on a recent larger ethnography study in a suburban area in Oslo, Norway, focusing on how multiethnic students shape their identity as learners within educational trajectories, as well as based on their construction of future possibilities. I use the concepts of funds of knowledge and gendered positional identities to study how educational choices are individually and collectively formed in these girls’ everyday figured worlds. The research question is:
How do young girls understand themselves as learners and perform gendered positional identities when shaping educational trajectories?
The data will be analysed by drawing on analysed biographical case narratives to illustrate common central themes across the cases like learners’ positional identities, tensions and everyday learning and funds of knowledge and gendered educational trajectories. This is to demonstrate how cultural factors relevant to everyday learning emerged in particular contexts.
The different future expectations regarding gendered positional identities in educational transitions are a complex web of formal and informal influences like funds of knowledge, resources beyond school. Indeed, the minority students experience different trajectories and changes in their social gendered positional identities as learners when entering upper secondary school, which have implications for their educational trajectories and future orientations. The article concludes that gendered positional identities and choices about the future made in educational transitions are connected. Identity texts are one tool that can be used to include personal experiences from the students’ life worlds and funds of knowledge network in the subjects in school – it can help students to make decisions about future educational trajectories.
Positional identities are understood as dynamic entities that are part of social interactions between people within different contexts. Therefore, the formation of the individuals and their understanding of themselves and their position as learners can take place through social interaction. People might also have different positionings across social contexts. Holland et al. (1998) argue that individuals inhabit many incoherent self-understandings and changeable identities, positional or figured, embedded in specific social contexts called ‘figured worlds’. These worlds are ‘socially produced, culturally constituted activities’ (40–41) where people come to produce (perform) new self-understandings (identities) both conceptually (cognitively) and materially/procedurally. Furthermore, identity is not bound by prescribed categories such as gender or ethnicity; it is negotiated and socially produced in situ. Positioning refers to the positions ‘offered’ to people in different figured worlds, e.g., being a ‘quiet’ student in the figured world of school. Positioning is an analytically separable counterpart to figuration; when positioned, people engage less in self-making, instead focusing on accepting, rejecting or negotiating the provided identities (Urrieta 2007a).
The concept of funds of knowledge will be used to describe the interplay of how the individual understands her own position and uses cultural resources available in social interaction as a response to the current position. Funds of knowledge can explain how everyday learning in social networks provides cultural practices that can be used to solve tensions, creating learning identities and positionings, as well as decisions on future trajectories that open or close future possibilities. Indeed, funds of knowledge as being possessed by the living networked resources emerging through action and on which a community bases its practices. Within families’ funds of knowledge are reciprocal networks of cultural know-how that are created to solve everyday challenges.
The ethnographic data were collected using participant observation over a two-year period in a multiethnic suburb in Oslo, Norway as part of a large-scale ethnographic study (The Learning Lives’ project led by Professor Ola Erstad, Department of Education University of Oslo,). The study builds on data collected by following twenty (ten boys and ten girls) young people across multiple settings. This community has a large percentage of families with immigrant backgrounds. The data was analysed by creating theme bases biographical case narratives form rich dataset. The focus is on young girls born in Norway to immigrant parents, since they can be defined as being in a position where they might experience challenges stemming from educational trajectories across everyday activities, family life and school. Such issues represent a growing field of research, both in the Norwegian context and internationally. Yet, the dominant educational research focus is not on the students themselves and the importance of listening to their voices, but rather on classroom activities and quantitative measures of performance.
The different gendered, ethnic, religious expectations the girls experienced in their family and social networks led to a desire to understand themselves. They sought knowledge to understand their own lives leading to interest that played an important role in their future orientation. Should the girls pursue arranged or other forms of marriage, or postpone marriage – and how to fit education into this? The importance of stereotypical narratives, on a societal and familial level was important for the girls’ development of their learning trajectories. The experience of being positioned as a ‘not free Muslim’ or ‘oppressed Hindu’, or ‘Norwegian and equal’ or the fear of being perceived as ‘not free’ by others was important. On a personal level, the girls searched for knowledge to deal with these expectations. In cases where the teacher acknowledged a student's identity, school motivation had a positive influence. I see a potential for the school to initiate, understand and participate in a discussion that addresses the complex gendered and religious expectations, family figured worlds and future orientations that ethnic-minority students may experience in their everyday lives. Identity texts are one tool that can be used to include personal experiences and meta-reflection from the students’ life worlds in the subjects. For example, a girls’ engagement in religion and equality could. However, the use of identity texts in a multi-ethnic classroom may entail many different situations that teachers must be able to handle. Here, ethics can help the teachers consider their own practices, handle ethical dilemmas and show sensitivity to students’ identities. The students can then contribute to a school community that affirms their identities and sociocultural legacies in an inclusive way, which may result in supporting and creating confident gendered future trajectories.
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