European Educational Research Journal
ISSN 1474-9041


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Volume 3 Number 3 2004

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CONTENTS [click on author's name for abstract and full text]

 

Theme Ethnography of Education in a European Educational Researcher Perspective
Guest Editors: DENNIS BEACH, FRANCESCA GOBBO, BOB JEFFREY, GERI SMYTH & GEOFF TROMAN, The ECER Ethnography Network Coordinators
Introduction, pages 534‑538
Karen Borgnakke. Ethnographic Studies and Analysis of a Recurrent Theme: learning by doing, pages 539‑565
Sofia Marques da Silva. Doubts and Intrigues in Ethnographic Research, pages 566‑582
Ciaran Sugrue. Revisiting Teaching Archetypes: identifying dominant shaping influences on student teachers’ identities, pages 583‑602
Chris Kearney. Inventing Mythologies: the construction of complex cross-cultural identities, pages 603‑625
Francesca Gobbo. Cultural Intersections: the life story of a Roma cultural mediator, pages 626‑641
Sirpa Lappalainen. They Say it’s a Cultural Matter: gender and ethnicity at preschool, pages 642‑656
Marianne Dovemark. Pupil Responsibility in the Context of School Changes in Sweden: market constraints on state policies for a creative education, pages 657‑672
Dennis Beach & Marie Carlson. Adult Education Goes to Market: an ethnographic case study of the restructuring and reculturing of adult education, pages 673‑691

REPORT
Antonia Candela, Elsie Rockwell & César Coll. What in the World Happens in Classrooms? Qualitative Classroom Research, pages 692‑713

REVIEW ESSAY
Gitsa Kontogiannopoulou-Polydorides. Theorizing and Practicing Research Approaches, pages 714‑728 VIEW FULL TEXT




Introduction

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A sympathetic methodology assists the process of international research across different cultures, and ethnography provides such a methodology with its emphasis on re-presenting authentic lived realities. Although ethnography focuses on situated realities, the complexities they record resonate with differing cultures that recognise similar multifaceted existences within their own social structures and relationships. Common human experiences of people as they negotiate social structures, power relations and interactive encounters are easily compared and interpreted through ethnographic methodology.

Education ethnographers are interested in many things, ranging from how understandings are formed in instruction to how meanings are negotiated between interlocutors in education arenas, how ‘new’ roles and relationships are developed in education institutions and how a curriculum or policy is formulated and implemented. When researching these issues these ethnographers follow the minute-by-minute, day-to-day social life of individuals as they interact together and develop understandings and meanings by engaging in joint action and responding to each other as they adapt to situations and encounter and resolve problems that arise through their circumstances. Ethnographers produce storied versions of these events. These stories reveal, interpret and represent the everyday encounters, and ethnographers then extract, develop and set these stories into theoretical constructs and contexts in order to help analyse such things as the impact of politics and policies on social practices and processes or how school deviancy is socially constructed. This special issue includes several articles that attempt to demonstrate the usefulness of ethnographic research in these respects by showing examples of ethnographic research from different European countries and education settings. These settings include the pre-school, primary and secondary schools and institutions of higher and adult education, and the ethnographic accounts are developed from critical, textual or material ethnographic perspectives.

The articles cover a broad range of substantive interests, and the theories represented and used are manifold, varying from post-structuralist and post-colonialist, to interactionist, Marxist and feminist, and they address processes of cultural induction, labelling, identity formation, differentiation and polarisation, curriculum modification and friendship formation. However, although multifacted in these senses, the articles all share one thing in common; they have involved long and sustained researcher immersion in the field in order to cover extensive processes and produce ‘thick description’. Thick descriptions are empirically grounded in rich ethnographic data and their relations of production reflect the criteria suggested by the EERA ethnography section as appropriate for ethnographic work. These criteria are summarised as follows:

1. Ethnography should take place over an extended period of time to allow a fuller range of empirical situations to be observed and analysed and to allow for the emergence of contradictory behaviours and perspectives. (Time in the field, alongside time for analysis and interpretation, allows continuous reflections concerning the complexity of human contexts.)

2. Ethnographers should give consideration to relations between the appropriate cultural, political and social levels of the research site and pay attention to the individual’s and group’s/community’s agency at the research site.

3. Ethnographies should include and discuss theoretical perspectives in order to: ‘sensitise’ field research and analysis; provide an opportunity to use the ethnographic research to interrogate theory; and develop new theory.

However, the suitability of ethnography for inter-national research could be questioned due to the fact that ethnography is a situationally based methodology. An example of how this problem was addressed is contained in the Creative Learning and Student Perspectives (CLASP) research project funded by the European Commission in its Socrates programme to the value of €549,000 (http://opencreativity.open.ac.uk). It used ethnography as a common text for a research project in which each partner retained their cultural web of significance (Geertz, 1973) within a loosely coupled (Weick, 1989) relationship. Discussions were held at four European meetings over a year, and over email, concerning the extent to which partners were applying the criteria of ethnography. Partners were asked to provide empirical evidence for assertions and to deepen their analyses by gaining the perspectives of all the relevant people at the research site in order to move beyond initial description and to identify broader characterisations so that a richer analysis of creative learning could be developed in each partner’s project. The inter-national cultures maintained ownership of new knowledge and at the same time offered the project the possibility of drawing upon these autonomous analyses to provide some tentative common characteristics of creative learning. This was the solution for a methodology that values the situational base of each research focus in which educational history, traditions, culture and educational policy are central to any analysis.

Another of the strengths of ethnography is its use of rich and detailed empirical materials to illustrate how a methodological and theoretical argument can be substantiated by ethnographic data. This is demonstrated in the present selection of articles by both Karen Borgnakke and Sofia Marques’s texts. Based on ethnographic field studies in learning processes, Borgnakke analyses a case of project work seen from the learners’ perspective and demonstrates how the learners are ‘doing learning by doing’. At a theoretical level Borgnakke’s analysis shows how the present learning discourse is a late modern variation of the conflict between the progressive ‘learning by doing’ and the traditional ‘learning by being taught’. However, at an empirical level, the analysis also shows how the learners learn by doing, not only through the particular alternative project framework but in other senses as well. For instance, students provide practical confirmation of the statement ‘one learns by doing’, but they also confirm the conflict between different ‘doings’ in different contexts. The learners’ strategies and reflections shift from getting new knowledge in the traditional learning context to getting new practical skills and competences through the practical context, and they highlight a double confirmation and an empirical challenge for both ethnography and discourse analysis. As Borgnakke argues, these kinds of reflection are essential when the main focus is on the impact of the politics and policies of education and learning, for addressing difference in school and adult education.

In a similar vein to Borgnakke, but also in this instance in order to pose difficult and challenging questions to ethnographic researchers, Marques uses empirical data to explore the methodological issue of how ethnographers justify and account for the role they themselves play as the research instrument and uses her research into relations in single gendered groups in educational contexts to do this. Marques suggests how differently each of the gendered groups developed their identities and how relations and perspectives are adjusted as the contexts alter. She uses this as a model to raise questions about how ethnographers need to constantly review their analyses and results.

A second value of good ethnographies is that they research local contexts in terms of broader categories such as culture or identity. This applies in the present collection in Sugrue’s article, which contrasts the dominant characteristics of ‘Irish Ireland’ with the contemporary images of Irish popular fiction and sociological commentary and identitifes and interrogates the lay theories of contemporary student teachers and the manner in which they manifest both continuity and change when contrasted with teaching archetypes. Kearney’s article also discusses issues of culture and identity, this time amongst those who come from diverse cultural and/or linguistic heritages in an education system that has become increasingly anglocentric, narrow and prescriptive. Similar considerations are manifest in Sirpa Lappalainen’s article. Lappalainen explores how national and gender identities are constructed in interactions in pre-schools where nationality is a silent backdrop to the rhetoric of multiculturalism and where there is a prevalent strength of ethnocentricity. Ethnicity, gender, religious and social class are categories of difference that can be explored, negotiated or challenged in everyday lives of school, but as global issues they cannot be avoided. An example is in the article by Gobbo that describes the researcher’s meeting and work with a young Roma woman who works as a cultural mediator in the local gypsy campsites and uses her ethnic and cultural capital to help identify and solve people’s problems and needs in conjunction with civil servants and who defies both the stereotypes and expectations of Roma women from the Kaggé (non-gypsy groups in mainstream society) and conventional Roma criticisms of her life choices. This exemplifies the capacity of ethnography to show how agency and social constraint co-exist.

The article by Dovemark also exemplifies this relationship. Sweden’s new school curriculula all emphasise personal flexibility, creativity and responsibility for learning and they suggest new understandings of quality in learning, where individual responsibility and freedom of choice are meant to help produce creative, motivated, alert, inquiring, self-governing and flexible learners. Dovemark describes how these curriculum ideas relate to changes in the relationships between the state, professional agencies and market interests in education and she discusses these new developments and their effects from the perspective of different students in school based on her ethnographic studies. She demonstrates that whilst many of the rituals that previously indoctrinated individuals into dominant ideologies and submissive behaviour in school have been replaced by outwardly self-monitored activities and self-determined learning, many things remain the same. Students are still graded, separated and characterised by teachers in terms of being weak or superior products and students still adopt these labels in their self-understanding, such that the curricula that are meant to stimulate creativity and inclusiveness actually dampen the creativity and positive involvement of many students. Dovemark also shows how the capacity to act as self-regulated learners is easier for middle-class students and she suggests that, in an era of restructuring, inequalities are maintained and not challenged in mainstream schools. Differences in relation to ethnicity, class, gender and special needs are still maintained and repeated in teachers’ talk and classroom interaction, as well as in the informal relations of young people.

Beach & Carlson’s article describes with the full force that ethnography can employ with its narrative descriptions and use of original data how wholesale reforms can affect professional lives. They examine some of the effects of the restructuring of adult education in Goteborg that came into full force in 2002 and that had consequences for all the then adult education suppliers there, but in particular one of them, Studium AB, a company created and owned by the Göteborg Metropolitan Council that had been established in order to safeguard the provision of a public interest. Studium AB had been the largest provider of adult education in the region before restructuring but lost its mandate in the tendering processes with outcomes that suggest that the new neo-liberal market and quasi-market solutions in education institutions are not of equal value to everyone.

Collectively, the articles suggested for this special issue demonstrate that there are many perspectives that could be considered in the process of policy change, innovation or in the day-to-day processes of educational life, and that ethnography with its attempts to encompass as many perspectives as possible plays an important role in identifying the complexities of life. In particular it is a methodology that can be used in different cultural contexts and has the potential, therefore, to increase pan-European research relations and an even greater potential to be the basis for international joint projects.

References

Geertz, C. (1973) Thick Description: towards an interpretative theory of culture, in C. Geertz (Ed.) The Interpretation of Cultures: selected essays by Clifford Geertz. New York: Basic Books.
Weick, K.E. (1989) Education Systems as Loosely Coupled Systems, in T. Bush (Ed.) Managing Education: theory and practice. Milton Keynes: Open University Press.

 

Ethnographic Studies and Analysis of a Recurrent Theme: learning by doing

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The present learning discourse and terms such as ‘learning in practice’, ‘situated learning’, ‘project and problem based learning’ are like variations on a recurrent theme: learning by doing – the striking maxims of progressivism. The newest reforms confirm that the maxim is still alive as a standpoint with consequences for institutional and educational development. The article follows the tracks by analysing significant variations, project work and practice learning, firstly by analysing the practical variations seen from an organisational perspective, and secondly, by analysing a case of business-practice oriented project work seen from the learner’s perspective. The analysis shows how the teachers and learners in practice are doing learning. The analyses also show how the learners in action and in words provide the practical confirmation: one learns by doing.

 

Doubts and Intrigues in Ethnographic Research

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This article acknowledges some moments of intrigue aroused during the execution of an ethnographic investigation at a high school, in Oporto, Portugal with young boys and girls. The making of this investigation aroused our reflection towards what we consider to be some intrigues and towards the Social and Human Sciences themselves, epistemologically and methodologically speaking. How do we place ourselves in an investigation? How can we define our own intentions in the bosom of the familiar-strangeness relationship as far as the context is concerned? How can we analytically and ontologically deal with intrusion? When are we given permission by the reality we want to know? How shall we define the fidelities and infidelities in our interpretations and questionings? How do we define ourselves and define the others in the moments of mutual expiation? What amount of care do we take when organising the texts’ or narratives? What do we kill and build in the images produced in those texts? What lucid referents may we establish to the understanding of others’ experiences? These are some of our doubts and intrigues.

 

Revisiting Teaching Archetypes: identifying dominant shaping influences on student teacher’s identities

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The primary aim of this article is to identify and interrogate the lay theories of contemporary student teachers and to indicate and illustrate the manner in which these ‘theories’ manifest both continuity and change when contrasted with teaching archetypes and previously articulated lay theories of student teachers in the setting. It is in five parts. First, a theoretical lens of teaching archetypes and lay theories is provided. Second, a succinct account of the changing educational and policy context is provided. Third, data generation and analysis are described. Fourth, emergent cultural themes are critically analysed. Fifth, some tentative implications are drawn for initial teacher education and further research.

 

Inventing Mythologies: the construction of complex cross-cultural identities

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There is a tendency in academic literature concerning children from diverse social and linguistic background to concentrate on failure within the school system. It is only in recent years that this is beginning to change. In this article the author argues that if we are to motivate children towards success we need to have a clear picture of the kinds of cultural and linguistic understandings they are bringing into schools. Central to this is how they perceive themselves in terms of identity. Much has been written about this area. However, little of it has been empirical or systematic and that which is empirical has been from a positivistic viewpoint. In this article the author describes a non-positivistic analysis of the life stories of several academically successful people and analyses them systematically to demonstrate how they now ‘story’ their identities.

 

Cultural Intersections: the life story of a Roma cultural mediator

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The article presents the life story of a young Roma cultural mediator who narrates (1) her life and professional decisions, still rather uncommon among young Roma women, and (2) the impact of her education and work experiences and achievements on her self perception. The narratives, from which the life story emerges, express the young Roma’s efforts to interweave two different cultural perspectives; furthermore they emphasize how cultural diversity can be a way to be and to relate to others. The life story is told as a personal project negotiated between the Roma and the Gagé cultural heritages; the cultural constraints within and without cultural boundaries are highlighted, while character traits and imagination are presented as the main turning points in the young woman’s life.

 

They Say it’s a Cultural Matter: gender and ethnicity at preschool

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This article is part of an ethnographic study in two preschool classes, which aims to explore issues of nationality, ethnicity, gender, and citizenship. It explores firstly, the ways in which nationality, ethnicity and gender are discussed and negotiated by preschool girls at the age of six and how they become positioned in national space and secondly, how gendered citizenship is constructed in the educational practices of the preschool. The article draws on field notes and interviews with children, teachers, and parents. The theoretical starting points have been the sociological theorisations of childhood, poststructuralist feminist research and postcolonial theorisations. The article specifically looks at the interpretational resources, which girls have in their subject formation, and explores how preschool as an educational institution deals with ethnicity and gender.

 

Pupil Responsibility in the Context of School Changes in Sweden: market constraints on state policies for a creative education

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Sweden’s present school curricula emphasise personal flexibility, creativity, responsibility for learning and suggest new understandings of quality in learning, where individual freedom of choice is meant to help produce creative, motivated, alert, inquiring, self-governing and flexible users and developers of knowledge. These curriculum changes relate to similar changes in the relationships between the state, professional agencies and market interests in education planning and delivery. In this article I discuss these new developments and their effects from the perspective of different students in school. The article is based on ethnographic studies and student interviews that suggest that whilst rituals that previously indoctrinated individuals into submissive behaviour in school, through the mechanical memorisation of other’s facts, have been replaced by outwardly self-monitored activities and self-determined learning, some things remain the same. Students are still graded, separated and characterised by teachers in terms of being weak or superior products and students adopt these labels in their self-understanding. Furthermore, the curriculum that is meant to stimulate creativity and inclusiveness dampens creativity and positive involvement for many students.

 

Adult Education Goes to Market: an ethnographic case study of the restructuring and reculturing of adult education

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The restructuring of adult education in Göteborg was first initiated experimentally with respect only to SFI education (an education in beginning Swedish for ethnic minorities living in Sweden). This was done on the basis of decisions in the Göteborg Municipal Council in 1999. But restructuring came into full force for all municipal adult education in the Göteborg municipality later in 2002, after the completion of the National Adult Education Initiative (AEI). The restructuring processes followed guidelines for franchise in the public sector as per the 1992 Purchasing Act and had consequences for all education suppliers, but in particular one of them, Studium AB. This was a company created and owned by the Göteborg Metropolitan Council that had been established in order to safeguard the provision of the municipally owned adult education public service previously known as Komvux. This ‘humanist’ form of comprehensive adult education has a strong history in Sweden, within the provision of adult education on a ‘folk-home’ basis. Studium AB had been the single largest provider of adult education in Göteborg up until the franchise but lost its mandate in the tendering processes. Although it concentrates mainly on ‘talk-data’ the present article has been developed from an ongoing ethnographic case study of the effects of restructuring in Göteborg.

 

What in the World Happens in Classrooms? Qualitative Classroom Research

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This report synthesizes the discussion that took place in a Conference on Qualitative Classroom Research (‘What in the world happens in classrooms?’ ), organized by the authors and held in Oaxtepec, México in May 2002. The primary aim was to visualize possible interconnections among the various disciplines represented by the 35 scholars who were present. We faced the initial difficulty of defining what ‘classrooms’ are, have been, or will become. This led to a discussion of the various links between classrooms and their social contexts, which posed the problem of working on various spatial and temporal scales. The topic of learning was a constant preoccupation, as we considered that researchers still lack tools to connect specific teaching practices with student outcomes over time, and simultaneously to account for learning in other, non-classroom, spaces. Although qualitative classroom research has shown convincing results on the nature of verbal interaction, a current horizon is the integration on non-verbal modes of representation and communication, in ways that make sense to both researchers and participants. Finally, the knowledge of cultural and historical, global and local, (dis)continuities, provides a new angle for viewing classroom practices, but also entails methodological and conceptual challenges.

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