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Seminar Series - To be seen and to learn, without being seen to learn: A study of underachievement and identity-negotiation among privileged young men in upper-secondary school

Date: 13 March 2013 Time: 12.30 - 2.00 p.m.

Venue: B.89 County South

Anne-Sofie Nyström, Ph.D.

Lecturer in Sociology, Dept. of Sociology, Uppsala University, Sweden

To be seen and to learn, without being seen to learn: A study of underachievement and identity-negotiation among privileged young men in upper-secondary school

In the last decade stratification within educational results has, in Sweden as in other countries, been framed as a matter of boys' and young men's under-achievement. The question of whether this is a problem, and if so, for whom and how to change the structure, has been discussed in research and educational policy. The aim of my work is to contribute to these debates, and to enhance knowledge of young people's gendered and classed identity processes by analyzing how achievement and engagement were negotiated and given meaning in relation to young men. Previous research has primarily explored identity processes among "risk categories" or subordinated students. My objective was to analyze how masculinity was accomplished via peer-group interactions within a rarely problematized category, through examining how upper middle-class young men identify themselves and are ascribed identities by others.

The study's design was inspired by ethnographic methodology and combined participant observation, semi-structured individual and group interviews and a background questionnaire. Identities, social categorizations (especially gender and class) and dominance-relations were thus analyzed from an actor-oriented perspective. The research participants were young men and women, age 15-16, in two school classes. The field work was conducted in natural science and vehicle programme contexts; educational settings with connotations to masculinity but significantly different in terms of class. The study enrolled a total of fifty-six students, but focus is upon the fifteen young men among the natural science students. High achievement and under-achievement, high social and cognitive ability, and group loyalty are main themes in the study. Identity claims were analyzed in relation to the practices through which they were negotiated, e.g. self-hindrance. Similar to other research, the results emphasize the relationship between masculinity and "effortless achievement". The concept "under-achievement" is developed as an analytical tool, by distinguishing between five dimensions.

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Organising departments and research centres: Centre for Social Justice and Wellbeing in Education, Educational Research

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