Participation on the margins: young people’s citizenship experiences in schools
AffiliationMelbourne Graduate School of Education
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusOpen Access
© 2017 Dr. Babak Dadvand
This research project is an interdisciplinary study that draws upon on-going discussions and emerging scholarship in the fields of Citizenships Studies, Education and Sociology of Youth to offer a renewed perspective on how young people experience citizenship through their everyday social encounters in schools and classrooms. More specifically, this study looks into young people’s everyday school practices to: a) offer a situated account of how those who face various sources of marginalization experience participatory citizenship, and b) examine the factors, both in the students’ backgrounds and within the social geography of the school, that contribute to such experiences. The research is an ethnographic study with 12 students who attended an alternative education program in a metropolitan school located in a low socio-economic status suburb of Melbourne, Victoria. Findings from the data gathered over eight months from participant observation, focus group discussions and semi-structured interviews with the students, some of their teachers and the school principal highlighted a set of factors behind young people’s political experiences on the margins of the mainstream school. These factors include: school belonging, inclusion, relationality, recognition of difference, student voice and school discipline. Drawing on the students’ narratives and experiences, I argue that rather than offering a level playing field in which all young people have the opportunity to participate, the social geographies of schools emerging under neoliberal policy reforms tend to differentiate among students on the basis of how well they can satisfy the needs and requirements of the institution in terms of performance and benchmarking. What follows from this process of differentiation, which revolves around the normative definition of ‘good student’ as a self-reliant and high performing individual learner, is the construction of ‘the other’ who lacks the dispositions of the socially sanctioned ‘norm’, and is, therefore, positioned and treated differently in the social field of schools and classrooms. I conclude my thesis by calling for a conceptually comprehensive understanding of youth citizenship that takes into account the complex interactions and overlapping relationships among the elements that constitute youth politics. Within such a conception, all the factors that impact on the political geographies of young people such as belonging, inclusion, relationality, recognition of difference, voice and discipline stand in continuous and dynamic interaction with each other. As I further argue, to create a truly democratic education that is inclusive of all students regardless of their needs and social backgrounds, we should bring issues of social justice centre-stage in our debates about civics and citizenship education.
Keywordsbelonging; citizenship; education policy; inclusion; marginalization; participation; relationality; schools; social disadvantage; voice; youth sociology
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