Manual Inside Schools: Ethnography in Schools

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Originally the approach aimed for the possibility of constructing valid universal knowledge, but this claim has been problematized by perspectives such as critical theory, feminism, post-structuralism and postmodernism, that have point out of the challenges related to the failure to recognize issues of power, values, gender, class and race, as well as the points derived from the understanding of science as a social construction and the critiques to the traditional ideas of validity , reliability and generalizability Brewer, ; Denzin; Lincoln, ; Hammersley, I argue that ethnographic accounts are valid, but not because they can reach a universal objective truth, but because they have a distinctive purpose in studying the everyday life through a systematic perspective.

Ethnographic accounts present the possibility of the co-construction of knowledge by the different actors, although this is only achievable if the researcher is able to open opportunities for exploring diverse accounts of reality. Ethnographic accounts can also help to develop grounded theoretical understandings that can be put into dialogue in different settings.

In the case of school convivencia a thick , rich and multiple understanding is needed, because the concept itself demands a complex understanding; an understanding that recognizes not the neutral and objective nature of the explanations constructed, but, rather, acknowledges and analytically explores its groundedness and its social construction.

In the next and final section of this paper, I will reflect on how the ideas presented both in the notion of convivencia and in the description of the ethnographic method relate to an ongoing research project. I will describe some of the decisions the researcher must make while linking theory and methodology in the study of school convivencia. The following section presents two tensions that occurred during the fieldwork process in a specific research project that explored school convivencia.

Through these challenges I will show that the links between theory, methodology and the researcher position should be considered and problematized, and I will illustrate the ways in which they are embedded in the decisions ethnographic researchers make in the everyday practices of research. These decisions actively shape the research and the possible analytic final constructions and must be explicitly recognized by the researcher immersed in ethnographic processes.

Account Options

The research to be discussed here comes from a PhD project studying the relationships between Mexican public primary schools and their local communities, and to analyse the implications of such relationships for school convivencia. These schools were chosen because they are located in vulnerable areas of these cities which present problems related to poverty and social exclusion, as well as their associated issues of malnourishment and social violence especially small-scale drug dealing and gang related activities.

Both cities also have presented an increase in armed and drug related violence.

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Other criteria were the school size, around students with two groups per grade 1 st -6 th , and the type and shift of the school: they both were general primaries, one had a morning shift, and one an afternoon one 5. The fieldwork was carried out in two stages, the first of which took place from January to April , during which time I carried out participant observation of varied school activities, particularly classes, meetings, recess, and arrival and departure from the school. I also undertook four semi-structured interviews. The second stage of research ran from September to January during which time I continued with the participant observation and undertook thirty eight semi-structured interviews across the two schools.

The actors involved were mainly students, principals, teachers, parents and grandparents, although other actors related to the school were sometimes talked to as well, such as the women that sold food in the school, substitute teachers and people working in the shops around the schools. In the following sections I will turn to discuss two of the tensions that had to be dealt with during both stages of fieldwork. Such incidents were registered during recess by the teachers in one of the schools, and by the students themselves in the other school.

In this second school, a weekly rotating group of students in the role of anti-bullying guardians wrote the name of the classmates they perceived to be misbehaving or harassing other students. The notion of convivencia had an instrumental function to aid the improvement and preservation of the school order and was considered important because if convivencia is improved, the undisciplined behaviour will be less Teacher 2, school 1, 30 January Convivencia was also considered important to the schools to comply with the educational policy.

Since school violence is seen in the policy mainly as a behavioral problem of the students that should be addressed, the educational policy in many of the Mexican states has generally taken a restrictive, punitive approach to address the issue Rivera, , by focusing on the development of procedures and guidelines to impose sanctions to the students individual behavior. In that sense, schools and policy views are aligned and both set in a restrictive approach to convivencia. Taking a different stance, my own position understands and problematizes the school, and hence the violence within it, as situated or nested in a specific community.

I argued that analysing the relationship between the communities and the school is key to understand how the educational institutions deal and interact with the contextual characteristics. This helps to see in detail the real possibilities schools have or do not have for promoting inclusive, democratic and pacific convivencia. The research was oriented towards the comprehensive perspective Padilla, Although since the beginning of the research I explicitly recognized my own position as one aiming for the development of pacific, inclusive and democratic approaches to convivencia , the project did not set as a starting point an ideal of how school convivencia should be, but I intended to adopt an analytical perspective Evans et al.

The challenge was, then, on how to maintain an analytical perspective that faced the different orientations and understanding of school convivencia. In the case of this research I had to consider, on the one hand, not if the accounts the participants were sharing were valid - they certainly were - but if it was enough to explain the positions of teachers, principals, students and parents in their understanding of school convivencia and point out why these views do not constitute a democratic, inclusive and pacific perspective on convivencia.

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On the other hand, I had to recognize that my perspective as a researcher expressed in fieldnotes, interview questions, and dialogues carried out in the field, among other things, was in fact another voice present in the setting: a voice that was responsible for building a narrative to explain how a fabric of convivencia was constructed in schools, and therefore, it was impossible and unethical to ignore. I chose, then, to make the dialogue between the two perspectives explicit. I deepened my understanding of what the actors associated as school convivencia , but at the same time, I integrated data on other areas that the participants did not explicitly relate to the management of convivencia , but were pointed out from my theoretical analysis and personal perspective.

I hence included elements such as peer collaboration among the students, formative ways of dealing with conflicts, the construction of trust or mistrust among actors, the role of responsibility or blame in school conflicts, as well as negotiations of the meanings of appropriate relationships in the school and with the families. The second tension found during fieldwork relates to delineating what school convivencia is for analytical purposes and how can it be seen in the field, without losing the complexity that the concept from a comprehensive perspective, as proposed by Padilla , demands.

For several reasons, school convivencia is a tricky concept to work with during qualitative research. I will point to two aspects that presented challenges during the research on school and community relationships and their implications for school convivencia. The first one is that the comprehensive approach situates the notion of convivencia as interrelated with other academic fields like democratic and citizenship education, moral education and peace education.

The notion of school convivencia is nurtured by those fields and it gives back a concrete setting where ideas such as inclusion, participation, conflict resolution, socio-emotional development, etc. The link between convivencia and the above mentioned fields make convivencia a dynamic concept that can connect with different ideas and interventions that emerge from such areas, but at the same time the limits between perspectives are blurred, making it hard to point out where the boundaries of the concept are.

The second aspect is that convivencia emerges from and happens in the everyday life of schools. The notion focuses on the little things that comprise the relationships in the school and that are lived every day by the school actors. Greetings, rules, fights, agreements, tone of voice, management decisions, physical spaces, modes of participations, etc. By being aware of this complexity in the field, the question of what is or what is not school convivencia becomes harder to answer, and so does creating boundaries during the analysis.

As a researcher, it can feel as if every interaction is relevant to understand convivencia , because one is aware of the intricacy of the relationships and the fluidity of social negotiations. The interrelation to other fields and the focus on relationships on the everyday life makes convivencia a multifaceted concept. The question I constantly faced was how to deal with a complex understanding of convivencia while constructing and analysis data. Previous work have attempted to maintain a wide understanding of convivencia , but focus on specific elements to explore it an analyse it; in such works, levels of convivencia are set up, specific practices that improve convivencia are chosen or indicators to measure convivencia developed i.

This seems to be a valid way of approaching convivencia , because it takes a comprehensive perspective that recognize the multiplicity of interrelationships that shape it, developing from this understanding focus of research, dimensions or indicators. I call this possibility of oversimplifying the reality a fragmentation risk , and it became a continuous concern while choosing foci of observation and analysis.

The challenge was how to explore specific practices without deterring the engagement with the notion of the tapestry of social relations that form school convivencia. In other words, I was faced with the question of how to analyse everyday actions without separating them from their context, without somehow positioning them as variables to be dealt with. Ethnography as a method proved to be a way of dealing with this complexity. The continuous presence in the field allowed me to follow sets of interactions for several days in context, to ask the actors about their different views while things were happening and after they had happened, and observe some of the implications of these sets of interactions for the rest of the school.

For example, in the anti-bullying guardians programme referred above I could have only analysed what the aims of the programme were, how it was implemented, the people involved, and their views on its relevance and implications for the aggressive behaviour they were reporting. I found out, for example, that there was a common practice of the older male students from 6 th and 5 th grade of harassing the younger students. The programme did not change the practices, and the students did not feel the aggression was less frequent, but when the harassed students were guardians they felt protected by their role, not only because they could accuse the older students, but because the written report was a way of having the attention of the teacher, if the student wanted it, and therefore, of having power over the older students.

What matter most for students, and their parents as well, was the possibility of reporting the aggression, more than the expectation of solving the problem, teachers dealing with the issue, or of consequences for the aggressive students. Continuously reflecting about the relationships and its implications also allowed me to ask what represented a programme like this in this particular school, in this particular context, were, for example, aggressive physical behaviour is common in the life of many of the students and their families. I could also explore what it meant for those teachers to deal with perceived aggressive behaviour in such way, and how it connects to a general construction of the convivencia in school.

The ongoing analysis process that ethnography entails allowed me therefore to be aware of the fragmentation risk itself and actively reflect on the type of data I was constructing, the type of voices I was hearing and how these shaped the convivencia in the everyday praxis. I must acknowledge that the data collection-analysis duo occurred during fieldwork was not an easy process and I had to make decisions that reduced the multiplicity in order to grasp and construct explanations, defining, for example, specific areas of convivencia to analyse, but the process ethnography proposes while the researcher is in the field allowed me to gain insights into the complexity of the relations that happened in the fluid everyday life.

These tensions served to illustrate the link between theoretical and methodological components, and the need to address the complexity of such ties during fieldwork. They also show how an in-depth, continuous, systematic and analytic presence in the field, such as the one proposed by ethnography might be a way of dealing with this tensions. The challenge of understanding and working with convivencia in school is to not lose sight of its complexity to really stand from comprehensive perspectives that can allow for the re-shaping of meaningful relationships that can construct models of pacific, inclusive and democratic convivencia.

It is analysing how multi-layered actions in context shape convivencia and how understanding and intervening in school convivencia should be approached in such complexity, rejecting instrumental linear positions based on managing school violence. For example in the illustration given of the anti-bullying programme, an ethnographic approach allowed me to question not just the actions of carrying out the programme itself, but what the programme meant for those particular actors and the implications for school convivencia.

My Shopping Bag

The academic field of school convivencia needs a more grounded and analytic research to develop a better understanding of how convivencia is experienced in the everyday of schools, looking and how the actors understand it, what makes it problematic and what social and cultural resources come into play in the different relationships that form it. Ethnography, as I have argued, can provide an important and productive approach to its study.

More systematic grounded studies can help us see how school convivencia is actually shaped by the actors and with such understanding develop more comprehensive educational policies that go beyond the controlling of the behaviour of the students to ensure the fulfilment of the right to education in the everyday of the teachers, parents and students 6.

Convivencia y Conflictos en los Centros Educativos. Programa Nacional de Convivencia Escolar. Access in: 8 Apr. Handbook of Ethnography. London: SAGE, Buckingham: Open University Press, Revista de Paz y Conflictos, Granada, v. La Escuela y la Des Igualdad. Making Sense of Qualitative Data. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, Convivencia, Disciplina y Violencia en las Escuelas: Desarrollo Socioafectivo y Convivencia Escolar.

La Convivencia Escolar desde la Voz de los Alumnos. Violence, Peace and Peace Research. Journal of Peace Research, London, v. Three Approaches to Peace: peacekeeping, peacemaking, and peacebuidling. Peace, War, and Defence: essays in peace research: volume II. Copenhagen: Christian Ejlers, Peace by Peaceful Means: peace and conflict, development and civilization.

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Barcelona: Grao, Human Rights within Education: assessing the justifications. Cambridge Journal of Education, Cambridge, v. Education as a Human Right. London: Bloomsbury Publishing, Madrid: Noveduc Libros, Will Gibson and Dr. Tristan McCowan. Her main research explores the relationships between Mexican schools situated in vulnerable areas and their local communities, focusing on the implications for school convivencia.

She has published in Mexico and internationally in the areas of education and social relationships, inclusion and exclusion processes, and convivencia. E-mail: cristinaperalesf gmail. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License. Services on Demand Journal. Abstract: Convivencia is a Spanish concept that addresses the ways of living together, living with others. Introduction School convivencia addresses ways of living together and living with others that happens in school, focussing on the quality of interpersonal relationships among the school actors.

Notion of School Convivencia Convivencia can be understood as the engaged and meaningful coexistence relationships between humans. Why some working class children succeed at school. Grima, Charles. Towards a critical sociology of education.

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