19 SES 03 A, SPACE: Ethnographic doings and researchers' positionality
This methodological paper draws on the experience of conducting a year-long ethnography with school children aged between 14 and 16 and considers the importance of becoming disoriented and reacquiring an orientation shared with the children in order to effectively understand how they occupy and use space to their own ends.
A great deal of social theory has prioritised time and history over space and geography (Harvey, 1989) despite spatial configurations being equally as important as the temporal (Giddens, 1984). Farmer (2004) suggests that without an analysis that is both historically deep and geographically broad we may only see the residue of meaning; only looking to the past misses the living webs of power in which people are enmeshed. People experience their lives within tangible situations and it is this experience, not abstract and remote processes, that informs behaviour (Piven & Cloward, 1979). This raises the question, how are we to engage with school children in research in a manner that enables us to vicariously experience their day to day geography and think more clearly about the way in which children experience school?
Research in education has been occupied with issues of space and place for some time (Gulson & Symes, 2007). However, Sara Delamont (2014) identifies that the study of movement has been neglected by researchers in schools whereas, since Urry’s (2007) seminal work on mobilities, it has become commonplace in other areas of sociology and ethnography. This is despite the fact that learning and teaching is frequently focussed on moving and not moving in prescribed and proscribed ways (Delamont, 2014). Delamont has also often written about the need to fight familiarity when carrying out research in schools, both in the sense of developing research questions which focus on familiar aspects of the setting (Delamont, 2010) and drawing insights from what may seem to the observer to be uneventful lessons (Delamont, 2017). This paper argues that, not only is the motion of children through school valuable to study in its own right, engaging with this motion is a key means by which adult ethnographers can fight familiarity within a school setting.
In order to consider how movement through school can be used to fight familiarity the paper draws on concepts of space and place developed by the philosopher Edward Casey (1996) and the geographer Doreen Massey (2005) whereby space is a product of interrelations permanently under construction as opposed to simply a surface and place becomes a product of these intersections within the wider power geometry of space. Building on this, the work of anthropologist Tim Ingold (2008) is used to emphasise the importance of walking to the creation of place. Movement and emotion are intimately linked together, producing preferences for certain kinds of motion (Thrift, 2001) and the disruption of familiarity and continuity through changes in place can lead to disorientation (Fullilove, 1996). If an researcher who is familiar with school environments from an adult perspective wishes to fight this familiarity to better understand the experience of children in school, this paper argues that the most effective method of doing this is by becoming disorientated by moving through school with the participants in their research.
With the expansion of Neo-liberal education policies across Europe through strategies such as the Lisbon Agenda resulting in responsibility for the management of schools being removed from democratic bodies and the entrenching of disadvantage in certain schools (Turner & Yolcu, 2014) it is more important than ever to consider the lived experience of the school children that attend school every day.
By considering emplacement as the relationship between the mind, body and the environment, this paper considers how walking with students between lessons, at lunch and break time, during pre-arranged interviews as well as during times when participants are avoiding lessons, forces the researcher to become lost and disorientated and therefore forced to engage with the endogenous reflexivity (May, 2000) of the participants in order to acquire a shared orientation. Movement is key in the creation of place (Lee & Ingold, 2006) and the routes, rhythm and pace of walks around school allow a researcher to participate in the student’s place making activities, as well as allowing participants to take a researcher to specific places that they wish to discuss and permit that researcher to examine how they interact with different places. The manner in which participants move during lesson time is likely to be in contrast with how they move around the school between lessons and during break times and this contrast is fundamental to their experience of different places. This paper discusses how observation and interviews, the methods of ‘classical’ ethnography, can be used within a methodological approach that prioritises movement. It also considers how visual methods can expand on an understanding of place developed through movement.
The approach outlined in this paper enables an ethnographer in school, familiar with the environment they are researching from a perspective very different to that of their participants, to become lost and disorientated and subsequently reacquire an orientation intersubjectively experienced with those participants. The starting point of this approach is that of endogenous reflexivity, whereby belonging, an understanding of the means by which the world is subjectively and intersubjectively experienced, and positioning, the location of a subject from a relational viewpoint, are grasped concurrently. Through disorientation an ethnographer can disrupt a proportion of their prereflexive understanding of the world of school and more effectively engage with the place that pupils experience.
Casey, E. (1996). How to get from space to place in a fairly short stretch of time, in Feld, S. & Basso, K. (Eds.), Senses of Place. Santa Fe: School of American Research Press. Delamont, S. (2014). Key Themes in the Ethnography of Education: Achievements and Agendas. London: SAGE. Delamont S. (2017) Classroom Cultures and the Ethnographic Experience. In: Maclean R. (eds) Life in Schools and Classrooms: Past, Present and Future. Singapore: Springer. Delamont, S., Atkinson, P. & Pugsley, L. (2010). The concept smacks of magic: Fighting familiarity today. Teaching and Teacher Education, 26(1), 3-10. Farmer, P. (2004). An anthropology of structural violence. Current Anthropology. 45(3), 305-325. Fullilove, M. (1996). Psychiatric implications of displacement: Contributions from the psychology of place. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 153(12). 1516-1523. Giddens, A. (1984). The Constitution of Society: Outline of the Theory of Structuration. Cambridge: Polity Press. Gulson, K. N. & Symes, C. (2007). Knowing one’s place: Space, theory, education. Critical Studies in Education. 48(1), 97-110. Harvey, D. (1989). The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change. Oxford: Blackwell. Ingold, T. (2008). Binding against boundaries: Entanglements of life in an open world. Environment and Planning A. 40, 1796-1810. 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. Piven, F. F. & Cloward, R. A. (1979). Poor Peoples Movements: Why They Succeed, How They Fail. New York: Vintage. Thrift, N. (2001), still life in nearly present time: the object of nature, in Macnaughten, P. & Urry, J. (Eds) Bodies of Nature. London: SAGE. Turner, D. A. & Yolcu, H. (2014). Neo-liberal Educational Reforms: A Critical Analysis. London: Routledge. Urry, J. (2007). Mobilities. Cambridge: Polity.
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