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date: 01 December 2022

Analyzing Everyday Life at School Through Lenses of Feminist Ethnographylocked

Analyzing Everyday Life at School Through Lenses of Feminist Ethnographylocked

  • Elina Lahelma, Elina LahelmaUniversity of Helsinki, Department of Education
  • Tarja TolonenTarja TolonenUniversity of Helsinki, Department of Sociology
  •  and Sirpa LappalainenSirpa LappalainenUniversity of Eastern Finland, Department of Social Sciences

Summary

Feminist ethnography in education has in so-called Western countries developed in the late 1900s into a research approach with its own identifiable characteristics. Starting points are in feminist theorizations that draw from perspectives of different marginal groups, raised in the context of cultural radicalization of the 1960s and 1970s. In Finland, feminist ethnography took the first steps in the 1990s and achieved a stable position in educational research in the early 2000s. This emerging research has provided possibilities for subtle analysis in educational institutions on gendered, spatial and embodied practices, which have impact on intersectional inequalities.

A theoretical and methodological invention developed by the first Finnish feminist ethnographers in the 1990s is differentiation between the official, informal, and physical layers of the school. Teaching and learning, the curriculum, pedagogy, and formal hierarchies belong to the official layer. Interaction among teachers and students, including informal hierarchies and youth cultures, takes place in the informal layer. The physical school refers to temporality, spatiality, and embodiment. These layers are intertwined in the everyday life of the school; the distinctions between them are analytical. This differentiation is one illustration of nuanced ways to conduct analysis of gendered, classed, and racialized processes and practices in schools.

This analytical tool was elaborated in the large ethnographic project, Citizenship, Difference and Marginality in Schools—With Special Reference to Gender (1993–1998). The project was conducted in schools in Finland, collaborating with a similar project in the United Kingdom. The collective project was conceptualized in comparative reflections on contemporary educational politics and policies in both countries and included cross-cultural ethnographic analysis. The layers were used as tools in constructing the theoretical-methodological layout of the project and in focusing the ethnographic gaze in the field, as well as in analysis, interpretation, and writing. Using the layers of the school as an analytic tool passed on to later studies and have further been developed in novel ways, demonstrating the usefulness of collaborative feminist work in national and international networks.

Subjects

  • Education, Cultures, and Ethnicities
  • Research and Assessment Methods
  • Education and Society
  • Education, Gender, and Sexualities

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