Education, Inequality, and Social Identity

By Lawrence Angus | Go to book overview

Introduction

This book is a collection of papers written by Australian ethnographers who are exploring issues of education and inequality in Australian society, and ways in which inequality can best be investigated and combatted. In individual chapters, authors reflect upon major studies or ongoing projects with which they are engaged. Chapters are not summaries of the larger studies or projects, but they do indicate their nature and flavour, and convey a sense of their thickness and richness. Each chapter has its own unity and argument, although major substantive, theoretical or empirical issues that have arisen from the large projects, or in the authors' reflection upon them, are addressed. In short, authors have generally reflected upon their theoretically-informed, methodologically interesting and substantial ethnographic projects in ways which throw light upon particular aspects of education and inequality.

Educational inequality has been a major focus of researchers in Australia and elsewhere for several decades. Mainly, the research has focused on the impact of poverty, social class, gender or ethnicity on the educational opportunities and outcomes of young people. In this book, class, gender and ethnicity are still regarded as crucial but the emphasis is upon lived experience, subjectivity and identity formation in the constructions of relationships which are characterized by or contribute to forms of inequality. In some chapters the experiences of young people who seem disadvantaged in Australian society are examined. Others focus on the production of attitudes and subjectivities that sustain unequal treatment. This general issue is examined particularly in relation to the construction of gender attitudes. Ways in which teachers encounter and grapple with issues of inequality, and experience the effects of inequality on themselves and their students, are also investigated in several chapters. A common theme in this last group of chapters is the question of 'what it means to be a teacher' in such circumstances.

The first two chapters deal in different ways with the experiences and identity constructions of young people. The opening chapter by Bruce Wilson and Johanna Wyn presents a reflective overview of an ongoing project in which a number of case studies have been undertaken in a longitudinal investigation of what the authors call 'social division'. This term is a shorthand for the interaction of class, gender and ethnic relations which lead to or sustain patterns of advantage and disadvantage. Within their relational approach, Wilson and Wyn's particular concern is with the impact of such interaction on educational outcomes and on young people's sense of 'livelihood'. This latter term encompasses the young people's attitudes towards and

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