An anthropological exploration of identity and social interaction in a multi-ethnic classroom

BARLEY, Ruth (2013). An anthropological exploration of identity and social interaction in a multi-ethnic classroom. Doctoral, Sheffield Hallam University.

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Drawing on research findings from an ethnography conducted with young children (exploring notions of difference, identity and patterns of interaction, this study uncovers how four and five year-olds conceptualise and operationalise identity in a multi-ethnic Early Years classroom in the North of England. Situated in a particular local context, the study provides an indepth insight into the experiences of a diverse group of children from North and Sub-Saharan African countries who have come together in a single school setting. I show how these children are influenced by social structures such as those pertaining to racism, gender inequality, Islamaphobia, ‘the war on terror’ and events in the Arab Spring. This original focus fills a gap in the literature which has predominantly focused on children from South Asian families currently living in the UK. Revealing how identities unfold over time, the research shows that children’s everyday social interactions are enabled and constrained by these wider structural discourses as they (re)negotiate their identities against this complex backdrop. Dynamic local and global politics, the arrival of new classmates, changes in family structures and Koranic school attendance all influence children’s everyday sense of self and are reflected in the development of peer relationships at school. Over the course of the 2010-11 academic year, I spent a day a week with Sunnyside’s reception class. Adhering to participatory principles that are intrinsic to both ethnography and childhood studies (Cheney 2011), children were involved in developing the focus of the study, the design of research tools, and later on in data collection and analysis. Research methods focused on children in order to gain their perspectives on their social world(s). However, informal conversations with practitioners and family members were also used in order to clarify particular themes arising in the study. Observations, conversations with children and research activities allowed 'snap-shots' to be taken, capturing particular moments or experiences that were then collaboratively analysed with children. When constructing the written ethnography these 'snap-shots' were drawn together into a 'photo gallery', allowing individuals’ narratives to be told and a deep understanding of their experiences to be illuminated. Throughout, ethnography’s distinct focus on culture, process of seeking to uncover emic perspectives, and narrative output (Wolcott 1999) were employed. Developing a theoretical framework that understands identity as performative, situated and dialectical, this thesis discusses the dual roles of structural discourses and social agency within the context of identity (re)negotiation. Framing identity within a ‘strong structuration’ framework that seeks to understand ontology-in-situ, this thesis uncovers how young children understand notions of self and others. It explores how wider social discourses of discrimination and hierarchies of difference play a part in how young children understand ethnic, religious and gender difference. The way in which children conceptualise and operationalise difference relates to the duality of structure, the intersectionality between different aspects of identity and the links that children make between macro and micro social contexts. The thesis unearths how young children explore their own and their peers’ identities amongst themselves before raising questions for how policy and practice can best support children in this aspect of their social development.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Research Institute, Centre or Group: Sheffield Hallam Doctoral Theses
Depositing User: Helen Garner
Date Deposited: 16 May 2013 14:43
Last Modified: 19 Aug 2015 14:03

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