27 SES 06 A JS, Gender and Classroom Practice
Joint Paper Session NW 33 and NW 27
In our paper, we focus on two questions which play an important role in ethnographic research on doing differences in the classroom:
(1) How can we observe practices of doing differences in the classroom without reificating differences?
(2) How can we better understand, why – for what purpose or function – differences occur in classroom practices among students and among students and teachers?
These questions arise against the background of our ethnographical research in the classroom: we observed the production of differences in personalised learning groups of classes 7 to 9. In the international debate on personalisation, we see an underrepresentation of this research question (e.g. Dumont/Istance/Benavides 2010). In our data, we have observed doing-gender (West/Zimmerman 1987) as one of the dominant lines of difference, but it often occurs with other markers of difference, as well (Idel/Rabenstein/Ricken 2017; Sturm 2011). Among these, we found differentiations in terms of normative orientations that apply to maturity as a question of development and age of students, to race as a question of membership and status, to ethno-national origin/social milieus as well as to desired school behaviour in terms of a differentiation according to standards of merit/achievement (manners, work habits, and involvement). Due to our observations, gender seems to be both relevant and irrelevant for the formation of (under)privileged positions in the classroom. Thus, against the background of the theory of differentiations as a contingent doing and undoing of differences (Hirschauer 2014), we wonder whether there might be an over-estimation of the gender question in the classroom in current research and pedagogical debates.
In this paper, firstly we want to present a framework for theory-building and methodological approaches in educational research on practices of doing differences, thereby taking a perspective that focuses on gender as one among other differences. In this perspective, it is possible to avoid the risk of reificating gender differences through research. Secondly, we would like to highlight our findings of an ethnographic observation of the practices of differentiation among students regarding processes of doing and undoing differences (Rabenstein/Steinwand accepted; Rabenstein/Reh/Ricken/Idel 2013). In this empirical research, we focus on ‘un/doing differences’ among students in personalised instruction, but the proposed framework is meant to be inspiring for theory-building and methodological approaches in empirical research on ‚un/doing differences’ in general.
Contrary to the pedagogical-didactic discussion that is interested in how personalised instruction can adequately respond to the perceived heterogeneity of students, we take a different perspective: From an ethnographic perspective, we do not understand differences as definable characteristics of individuals, but as differentiations generated in social practices. Therefore, our theoretical understanding of difference, on the one hand, is based on theories about practices and recognition (Schatzki 2002, Ricken/Reh 2014). With this understanding of doing-difference, on the other hand, we rely on gender theories as well (Butler 1990; 2004). Thus, concerning gender, we rely on a deconstructive perspective and understand gender as socially constructed. Furthermore, our view also goes beyond an intersectional perspective that raises questions about a cross-over in terms of difference categories (e.g. gender, race, class) that are (more or less) determined in advance (Hirschauer 2014). We assume that along with those normative orientations that are intact and which are implemented in practices, evaluative and judgemental distinctions between artefacts or people are constantly being made. Considering the function of school to distinguish students by their performance, especially those differences play a key role that highlight these performance differences. Insofar, we also examine the order of differences in the classroom as being a system of performance.
Our findings rely on observations of a two-year ethnographic study in age-mixed learning groups (grade 7 to 9) in a new comprehensive school with personalised instruction, which is located in a German city. Practices of personalised instruction were analysed conducting video-based participatory observation. We recorded around 25 hours of video material and around 8 hours of interview material. The evaluation procedure is described in detail in Rabenstein/Steinwand (2016). Our focus lay on two groups of practices. Firstly, practices were observed in which the social order of personalised instruction originates (practices of organizing work, coordination of learning activities, the production of a territorial order, etc.). Secondly, we could observe practices of how personalised tasks are being worked on. For the proposed contribution, we focus on the first group of practices among students. Within this group, we focus, for example, on practices of regulation of addressability, delegation of help and initiating work ability. The analysis of the video data was conducted on the basis of a sequential process which is particularly suitable for the reconstruction of the constitution of the subject. In the ethnographic research on the emergence of difference, problems of reification are continually being discussed (Idel/Rabenstein/Ricken 2017): We do not only find the problem that differentiations are inevitably incorporated into each observation (Ricken/Balzer 2007, Fritzsche/Tervooren 2012). The main problem in research is that by formulating a question, specific differences are already being created, e.g. the difference between girls and boys. This difference will then be considered relevant to the field, so that it will not be discovered through observation, but ‘merely’ recognized again. Thus for our study, we have developed a reflexive relation to the observation of difference (Idel/Rabenstein/Ricken 2017). We ask for practices of doing and undoing differences. We suggest detecting, in the course of several interpretation rounds, further differences based on those differences familiar (e.g. gender) to the observers. In the proposed presentation, the efficiency of this approach will be demonstrated in particular with help of chosen scenes in which conflicts and thus deviations from standards and routines are observed.
With our paper, we hope to contribute to gender research by gaining a better understanding of how gender differences interact with other differences found in the fieldwork. Through the ethnographic perspective on personalising instruction, on the one hand, it is possible to discover differences between students concerning specific capacities, such as independent and autonomous working, being more or less informed about the ongoing process of work/needed material, being more or less helpful for others and being more or less conscious about the own work process. On the other hand, these differences work together with other sorts of differences, such as maturity and age as well as race or gender-specific differences. With our findings, we can demonstrate how discriminations between students are legitimized through referring to these school standards. Additionally, with the attention to practices of undoing differences, we can describe strategies of justification and normalisation as well as processes of making everybody to forget about the discriminations that have just occurred. In our findings, gender is often one of the most important differences and, when found as a relevant difference, it is always intertwined with other differences. Examples of gendered practices are practices of regulating the order of working-places. Here, gender is connected to ethnicity, age and strength of the body. Another example is the entanglement of gender with age and sympathy in practices of help. Finally, we are able to describe the formation of privileged positions in the classroom more precisely. All in all, in our paper we could create new knowledge about the interplay and connections of several differentiations in personalised instruction and the strategies of making them relevant or not in the social order.
Butler, Judith (1990): Gender Trouble. Feminism and the subversion of identity. New York: Routledge.
Butler, Judith (2004): Undoing Gender. New York: Routledge.
Dumont, Hanna/Istance, David/Benavides, Francisco (eds.) (2010): The Nature of Learning. Using Research to Inspire Practice. OECD. Accessed on February 13th 2017:
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