Critical Ethnographies of Schooling

Convenors: Fulvia Antonelli (University of Bologna) & Marco Romito (University of Milano)

Challenging the assumption that schools are the major mechanism for the development of a democratic and egalitarian society, critical research interrogate the nature of the relationship between formal education and the dominant cultural and social order.

Ethnographic method played and play a crucial role in engaging a critical dialogue with macro theories of schooling. On the one hand, ethnographies provide vivid description of how social order is able to reproduce itself within the subjectivities, needs and experiences of teachers, educators, students. On the other hand, being particularly interested to the subjectivities of subalterns groups and cultures, ethnographic method offer the opportunity to highlight that the dynamics of reproduction take place within a cultural terrain marked by resistance, contestation and struggles; points of departure for a radical pedagogy aimed to produce social changes.

Today school life is increasingly characterized by tensions, open and tacit conflicts. Austerity regimes and the political hegemony of neoliberal ideologies pose complex challenges to public school needing to face old contradictions and new epochal phenomena: globalization, international migrations, the urban (and school) segregation processes following cities restructuring around the globe, the new emphasis on standardized evaluation aimed at inter and intra-national comparisons, the accelerated path of technological innovations, the devaluation of teachers’ profession, the deep changes of labor markets, the challenges to the meaning of doing school and of being at school today. School players, students, families, attempt to find innovative practices to face these phenomena as well as new ambivalent strategies to protect the school order or to challenge it.

This session welcomes ethnographic contributions critically exploring the processes of formal education through fieldwork carried out within schools or through studies analyzing the production and implementation of public policies (at local, national or super-national level) within this field. Researches reflecting on ideologies, habitus, generational and social class cultures, organizational practices, professional identities, power and hierarchical relationship that foster or limit school drop-out, participatory processes, social emancipation and democracy are particularly encouraged.

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