Constructing Places of Resistance and Non-Participatory Identities in a Secondary School Undergoing Radical Change
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
This thesis is an ethnography that took place in an ‘underperforming’ school in the South of England. The school is located on a deprived estate, taking its pupils from an area in the bottom quintile with regard to deprivation indicators, and regularly features at the bottom of local league tables. Recently converted to academy status, the school was in the process of being rebuilt. The school in question is seen as abject by the broader community and features a large number of disruptive and disaffected students. The overarching research questions that this study focuses on are: What kind of person do resistant pupils want to be recognised as and what kind of place do they want school to be? Within this, the thesis examines how students develop an identity of non-participation as well as how they act in order to make their voice heard and affect the nature of the place they are in. In order to investigate these questions the paper draws on the work of Foucault (1979, 1982, 2003) who suggested that in order to understand how power relations work it is necessary to investigate resistance rather than trying to understand power from the perspective of its own rationality. This approach is useful since students in school do not resist specific institutions or groups, but specific instances of power personified by those that they come into immediate contact with on a day to day basis. It also mobilises concepts of space and place developed by Doreen Massey (2005) and Tim Ingold (2008) 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. This is particularly relevant to the context of a failing school, seen as abject by the surrounding community and struggling to maintain any improvement. The concept of voice as defined by Nick Couldry (2010) and the students’ belief that they lack control over their lives in school is also key in terms of understanding the motivations for their resistance. The thesis argues that the fact that the school is gradually being demolished and rebuilt is seen as a threat as well as an opportunity by the participants. Since the school was intimately bound up with their identity, the changes made were an assault on their identity. However, the cracks opened up by the construction work offered them opportunities to carve out places for themselves. The participants suggest that the lip service paid to student voice by the school is a key issue in causing students’ resistant behaviour. The students in the study find that their agency is denied by the school and this, coupled with their desire to be seen as adults with legitimate opinions about their schooling, results in their resistant behaviour.
PhD in Education