An ethnography exploring how hegemony and power mediate agency and structure among a group of 6th year Irish girls in a middle-class Post-Primary school
Doran Hamilton, Miriam
MetadataShow full item record
This is an ethnographic study of a culture-sharing group of 6th year girls. Facing the high stakes Leaving Certificate examinations while on the cusp of adulthood, this study contributes to the agency-structure debate from a feminist perspective. It is widely acknowledged that schools are sites of social and cultural reproduction with hegemony evident in visible and invisible ways. This ethnography describes how a group of girls navigate this territory in school. It explores the effects of the personal, group and institutional habitus which mediate the girls’ everyday interactions. The girls’ peer interactions and contextual experiences serve as an explanatory framework which references how power is shared, wielded and resisted among the myriad of relationships within the school. The school life of the girls is consequently explored at an individual and group level. Reflexivity and ethics are at the core of this ethnography conducted over one year in the field from September 2012 to September 2013. The research design is framed as a feminist reflexive ethnography and bound as a case study. Methods and analysis follow ethnographic techniques. The data gathered includes prolonged observation, ethnographic group and focus group interviews as well as in-depth one to one interviews. Data analysis is through grounded theory methods. This thesis defends the position of the teacher-researcher whilst acknowledging that the potential of the teacher-researcher is punctuated by dilemmas requiring careful consideration. This responsibility is enabled by an ethics of care and trust which is combined with a professional espoused and enacted code of ethics. The role of the key informant, critical friends and confirming voice of the girls are triangulated to challenge researcher bias or assumption and to assist with interpretation and understanding of the data. This study finds that social class continues to impact educational experience in significant ways, from personal to social to academic experience. The working class girls resisted the dominant discourses and were alienated from their peers and from elements of their own education. The middle class majority are the symbolic oppressors and are also the oppressed, as they collude in a conformity which impacts their own adolescent experience. Conscious agentive conformity is identified as ‘doxic’. These girls’ stories unveil how their agency is both enabled and sometimes constrained by the institution, peer-group and their own personal habitus. Therefore, contributions to the agency-structure debate through an examination of hegemony and social class illuminate further the positionality of the ‘girl’ in school and the school as a relatively powerless agent. The unveiling of these personal and collective lived experiences is enabled through the methodological approach which facilitates a shift from teacher to researcher. This study makes a contribution to the insider-outsider debate. It highlights the transition from teacher to researcher and asserts that this is a challenging but worthwhile shift, for the transformational and epistemological opportunities it can provide.
KeywordsSocial class and educational experience
Hegamony among students