Young People’s Preferences for Social Interaction in Terms of Homophily and Inclusion: A Critical Analysis with Reference to Respect and Democratic Decision-making
Date: 3 February 2014
University of Exeter
PhD in Education
This thesis examines young people’s preferences for social interaction with others perceived to be similar and different, and school staff’s interpretations of the young people’s social behaviour. The issue is explored with reference to a tension between social inclusion, the principle of embracing difference, and homophily, the ...
This thesis examines young people’s preferences for social interaction with others perceived to be similar and different, and school staff’s interpretations of the young people’s social behaviour. The issue is explored with reference to a tension between social inclusion, the principle of embracing difference, and homophily, the sociological concept that similarity breeds connection. The idea of examining the two notions together was given by an analogy from aesthetics: as inclusion is understood as an ethical obligation to embrace difference, it may come into tension with people’s actual preferences for social interaction that can be represented by homophily. The project, influenced by personal construct psychology, focused on participants’ perceptions of similarity and difference. The tension was explored empirically using scenarios to conduct in depth semi-structured interviews with young people with Asperger syndrome, visual impairment and without disabilities, and school staff from mainstream and special settings. As the tension was expected to have an ethical dimension, the methods were influenced by research in moral psychology. According to the findings, homophily was consistent with the experiences of the participants in the study, and inclusion was considered to be an ethical obligation. The data also suggested that homophily and inclusion can come into a tension. This tension is evident in education, as students with disabilities or other differences might express a preference to be among similar others. School staff then would face the tension of respecting their preferences or enforcing inclusion, something that young people stressed would show lack of respect. As homophily can also conceal discrimination, the tension was not easily resolved. The matter is related to school policies about difference but, since it cannot be fully resolved by them, it can be related to a particular ethos that would recognise the role of open dialogue. Theoretically, the homophily/inclusion tension is one between individuality and commonality. It can challenge our understanding of what the ethical obligation to inclusion actually entails, and what treating the students respectfully should mean. Overall, it questions the justice of inclusion and opens a debate about participatory decision-making and democratic school management. The practical significance of the study can be located in the implications of the tension in the everyday school life. The particular approach to inclusion that the study suggests can be translated into appropriate training activities for the management of difference at school level. It can also inform school policies of inclusion and difference to acknowledge students’ preferences and tensions of values.
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