Chris Haywood and Máirtín Mac an Ghaill
Sociologists of education have long established how educational research is highly influenced by the social and political context in which it is produced (Waller, 1967; Raab, 1994). As a result, the research design, the resources made available and the conclusions reached are circumscribed by such a context. This chapter focuses upon a closely connected issue. It concerns the impact of new theories that educational researchers are beginning to draw upon to explain social processes of schooling. The paper explores the methodological implications of these new approaches, in examining the production of sex/gender identities within school contexts. We place ourselves within the conditions of rapid social and cultural change in the mid-1990s, arguing that it is useful when carrying out research, to hold onto a range of earlier and recently developed theoretical frameworks.
The Making of Men (Mac an Ghaill, 1994) consisted of a research project that was carried out over a period of five years in a mixed sex secondary school, Parnell Comprehensive. The book presents the findings of a three-year ethnographic study between 1990 and 1992, with much of the material coming from a cohort, of male and female students, who were Year 11 students during the 1990-91 school year. There is also an earlier study of gay students' schooling experiences, some of whom attended Parnell School. Detailed notes were taken and written up each evening. In order to build up student case-histories, they were interviewed individually and in groups. In addition, they kept diaries and they helped to construct questionnaires that they also completed. Participant observation was the core methodology of The Making of Men, in exploring the interplay of schooling, sexuality and masculinity. Much of the material was collected from observation, informal discussions and recorded semi-structured interviews with the students and their teachers. Presenting a paper on Willis' (1977) work Learning to Labour, Finn (1979) explains that the choice of qualitative methods used in the research was determined by the nature of the interest in the 'cultural'. He claims that:
The techniques used were particularly suited to record this level and have a sensitivity to subjective meanings and values as well as an ability to represent and interpret symbolic articulations, practices and forms of cultural production.