08 SES 02, Critical Perspectives on Wellbeing and Health Education
Young people from low socioeconomic communities in New Zealand (like elsewhere) are reportedly more likely to have health problems (Jackson et al., 2007). They are consequently targeted in health campaigns (e.g Ministry of Health, 2014), especially if they identify as Māori (indigenous) or as Pacific Island (migrant communities from the Pacific) (Statistics NZ et al., 2011; Oakley Brown et al. 2006). In this sense, policy initiatives in New Zealand, as elsewhere, tend to elide social class and ethnicity, and assume a homogenous conception of low socioeconomic communities with respect to health. Health interventions, in turn, tend to be located narrowly according to ethnicity and to reinforce cultural stereotypes, while ignoring both the complex and differentiated nature of communities and social class. Curiously, youth from low socioeconomic communities in New Zealand choose to take health education as a senior high school subject in disproportionate numbers (Education Counts 2012); they also tend to perceive themselves as ‘healthy’ across a range of indicators (Clark et al., 2013). It is not clear how such school-based learning enables young people to engage with a diversity of views about health, or how this articulates with the knowledge they gain from family, peers, social media and health websites. Indeed, there is little international evidence exploring youth perspectives on how the dedicated study of health at school impacts their lives.
This paper reports on one aspect of a larger study that explores the question: how is health experienced, conceptualised, lived and learned by youth in different ways across and between socioeconomic and cultural contexts?
We draw on two key theoretical concepts in this paper: Michelle Fine’s (1994) notion of ‘working the hyphen’ and Homi Bhabha’s (1994) ideas about ambivalence. We explain each in brief below.
Michelle Fine (1994) suggests that researchers might ‘work the hyphen’ between self and other in order to ‘interrupt Othering’ in qualitative research. She notes that many, “researchers have spoken ‘of’ and ‘for’ Others while occluding ourselves and our own investments, burying the contradictions that percolate at the self-other hyphen” (70). In this century, we can see new forms of Othering emerge while old notions of class, race, gender and sexuality tenaciously persist, in both recognisable and altered states. In this project, the in-between space of the hyphen allows us to explore the either-or, the both-and, the but-also of the various research decisions we make.
Like many other nation states, New Zealand is still grappling with the ongoing effects of its colonial history(s). While discourses have morphed over time, social inequalities continue to reflect colonial power relations. Bhabha (1994) argues that colonial histories articulate as shifting and mimetic relations of power; these are difficult to challenge because they are expressed, not in definitive identities, but in the spaces between identity positions. Schools are certainly contemporary sites of on-going relations of colonial power (Smith, 1999). Thiong’o (2005) argues that decolonising requires people to imagine a world where indigenous bodies, health and humanity are not dependent on the bodies, health and humanity of others (see also Hokowhitu, 2013). It is debatable whether contemporary schools, haunted as they are by their colonial histories, can ever be decolonised sites. Bhabha (1994) reminds us, however, that power relations exist in micro interactions and the in-between spaces of subjectivities. He suggests that these in-between spaces provide chances to contest—to split—colonial power. In this project, we are inspired by Bhabha’s work to reflect on how, even in micro ways, we can be aware of, and contest, colonial power through our research methodology. Central to this is our intention to challenge discourses about young people’s health.
Critical ethnography is the overarching methodology for this study. We resonate with Madison’s (2012) definition of critical ethnography as a process of going “beneath surface appearances” and unsettling both “neutrality and taken-for-granted assumptions by bringing to light underlying and obscure operations of power and control” (5). Thomas (1993) insists that critical ethnography does not stand in opposition to conventional ethnography but is, rather, explicit about its political purpose. A critical approach reflects our theoretical commitments to humanising research, and attending to relations of power in education at the intersection of gender sexuality, culture, ethnicity, social class and place. Critical ethnography also allows (requires) us to spend enough time in the field to connect with people and to gain deep understandings. Lather (2007) suggests that critical ethnography and post-structural theories can work together to produce a kind of (post) critical ethnography. She argues that researchers employing such an approach will embrace “the performance of practices of not-knowing” (7) by being slow to make claims and adopting ambiguity and uncertainty. Within the wider critical ethnographic methodology (see also Fitzpatrick and May forthcoming), we have a range of methods, including: observing and participating in health education classes, research discussions (Fitzpatrick 2013), attending and participating in student-led groups, individual and group interviews, and arts-based methods. In each of the four schools in this project we have spent 3–5 days per week for between 20 and 30 weeks.
This work is still in progress but we argue that using an ambivalent approach to research with youth in schools allows us to be open to nuance, and colonial power relations, and thus increases levels of reflexivity in the study. This is important when working with diverse youth in schools and seeking to understand their views and experiences of health at the intersection of cultures and socioeconomic status. The insights gained from this methodological approach allow deep insights into the health-related experiences of the youth in this study and have implications for health education in schools.
Bhabha, H. 1994. The location of culture. London and New York: Routledge. Clark, T. C., T. Fleming, P. Bullen, S. Denny, S. Crengle, B. Dyson, S. Fortune, et al. 2013. Youth’12 Overview: The Health and Wellbeing of New Zealand Secondary School Students in 2012. Auckland: University of Auckland. Education Counts. 2012. NCEA Subject Results 2004–2011. Wellington: Education Counts. Fine, M. 1994. "Working the Hyphens: Reinventing Self and Other in Qualitative Research." In Tensions in Ethnographic Research, edited by N. K. Denzin and Y. S. Lincoln, 70–82. Sage: Thousand Oaks, CA. Fitzpatrick, K. 2013. Critical Pedagogy, Physical Education and Urban Schooling. New York: Peter Lang. Fitzpatrick, K., and S. May. Forthcoming. Doing Critical Ethnography in Education: Social Justice, Ethics, and Equity in Educational Research. New York: Routledge. Hokowhitu, B. 2013. "If You are Not Healthy, Then What are You? Healthism, Colonial Disease and Body Logic." In Health Education: Critical Perspectives, edited by K. Fitzpatrick and R. Tinning, 31–47. London: Routledge. Jackson, Craig E., C. Han, and N. S. Committee. 2007. Monitoring the Health of New Zealand Children and Young People: Indicator Handbook. Auckland: Paediatric Society of New Zealand, New Zealand Child and Youth Epidemiology Service. Lather, P. 2007. Getting Lost: Feminist Efforts Toward a Double(d) Science. Ithaca: SUNY Press. Madison, D. S. 2012. Critical Ethnography: Method, Ethics, and Performance. 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks: Sage. Ministry of Health. 2014. Youth Health Care in Secondary Schools: A Framework. Wellington: Ministry of Health. Oakley Brown, M., J. E. Wells, K. M. Scott, and Ministry of Health. 2006. Te Rau Hinengaro: The New Zealand Mental Health Survey. Wellington: Ministry of Health. Smith, L. T. 1999. Decolonising Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. London: Zed Books. Statistics New Zealand and Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs. 2011. Health and Pacific Peoples in New Zealand. Wellington: Statistics New Zealand and Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs. Thiong’o, T. W. 2005. Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature. London: James Currey. Thomas, J. 1993. Doing Critical Ethnography. Newbury Park: Sage.
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