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As a new team we want to rethink what sociology of education is about, what scholarship in it means, what its purpose and promises are. This is a point of taking stock of the discipline and its potential. We also want to outline our own standpoints and suggestions for TASA’s sociology of education group, and to start a conversation about where to from here.

 

On the other hand we have a large number of political challenges that means not only challenges to funding, but also challenges to the way education operates in Australia as well as overseas. A simple example is that though public discussions around budgets are conducted in a philosophical register about issues like social justice, equality and equity, there is something of a social attack on education as an institution, on the role of governments in funding and supporting education, which can be understood as potentially exacerbating inequalities in societies and between societies, or not caring if these inequalities persist or are exacerbated. These political debates have consequences, and matter in a number of ways that sociology relates, including to the social functions of education (through message systems or logics), the conflict between people in education and societies, in the emphasis of the discourses and practices of particular groups, in the narrowing down of imagined social futures and in the legitimating of power imbalances.

 

(See for example the differences between the Australian Government’s denial about the importance of governments in relation to equality and outcomes —

http://www.theage.com.au/national/treasurer-joe-hockeys-address-to-the-sydney-institute-20140612-zs5ok.html

in comparison to the OECD’s alarm about growing inequalities — http://www.oecd.org/social/soc/dividedwestandwhyinequalitykeepsrising.htm. The sociologist Thomas Picketty’s own diagnosis of these crises in Capital in the Twenty-First Century is even more sobering:

http://books.google.com.au/books?id=T8zuAgAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=the+new+capital&hl=en&sa=X&ei=McqnU7WnJsaHkQWMj4DwCQ&ved=0CEAQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q&f=false)

 

Sociology of education tends to be tied quite intimately to the effects of political things, and sociology can and should engage with some of these broader discussions about the role and function of education within societies, and in relation to particular claims that are made about the social contract that institutions of education should fulfil. From Marx onwards one of the most important roles that sociology has fulfilled is providing language, concepts, methods and theories to enable a description of the effects of political idealism on the lives of people and groups. This has not only been a means of fulfilling a sometimes questionable emancipatory aim, but also to acknowledge and describe the different social worlds (or versions of the social world) that we inhabit. Acknowledging means giving weight to these social worlds, and adding weight to the experiences of people in these worlds. And in the case of sociology, this means engaging with statistical reasoning, classes and categories.

 

However, we want the discussion about the sociology of education in TASA to be more than just reactionary to political changes and policy impacts. The broader point of sociology of education is to offer alternative diagnoses and challenges to idealised representations of education, to the material effects of these representations, and to the experiences and practices of education both within and outside of institutions. So where to from here?

ASP

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3 thoughts on “What’s the Point of Sociology of Education? Part 1: TASA Sociology of Education

  1. Teaching Sociology of Education in Teacher Education: Parlo Singh
    I want to pick up on Shaun’s notion of what sociology is about from the perspective of teaching sociology of education. Shaun suggests that sociology of education has provided a language/ tools to enable a description of the effects of political idealism on the lives of people and groups, and also a means of intervening, challenging, and disrupting these effects. So I want to think aloud about how we teach this discipline? And indeed whether we can actually agree on what is the discipline of sociology of education. Some time ago, the UK, Cambridge based sociologist of education Rob Moore drew a distinction between a sociology of education and a sociology for education. Moore, R. (1996). Back to the Future: the problem of change and the possibilities of advance in the sociology of education. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 17(2), 145-161. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0142569960170202

    My understanding of the distinction that Rob was making is that teacher education institutions have focussed on a sociology for education, that is, a sociology about describing and explaining difference and diversity in the student population. So the principles for designing and teaching a sociology for education curriculum often focus on single issues: gender, race, ethnicity, class, sexuality and so forth. The problem with this approach to teaching sociology for education is that there is little space in the teacher education curriculum to systematically develop concepts about the history and evolution of schooling systems, what remains constant over centuries, what changes, and the possibilities and limitations for schooling and education reform. The second problem is that the design of a sociology of education course in the foundation year of a teacher education program might deal with the topics of gender, race, ethnicity, social class, sexuality, and so forth – so that no one topic is covered in depth, nor is there a systemic development of concepts from one topic to another over the course of the subject. Moore suggests that a sociology of education should focus on the dynamics within education and schooling systems and the relations between these systems and other institutions (family, local community, work places and so forth).

    A number of colleagues in Australia have been writing about the teaching of sociology of education in Teacher Education institutions in recent years and this work has been published in the Journal of Sociology (see for example the articles by Robert Funnell and Catherine Doherty, Karen Dooley and Annette Woods).
    One point that Doherty et al., make is the way that the sociology of education is incorporated across the curriculum of teacher education, particularly literacy education curriculum, rather than taught as a foundation studies course.
    Doherty, C. et al., (2013) Teaching sociology within teacher education: Revisiting, realigning a re-embedding. Journal of Sociology, 49:515See: http://jos.sagepub.com/content/49/4/515

    An interesting point made by Funnell relates to the sociological gaze and methods for developing such a gaze in pre-service teacher education institutions.

    Funnell, R. (March, 19, 2014) Seeing like a sociologist: constructing a school system with in-service teachers. Journal of Sociology 1440783314522868, See
    http://jos.sagepub.com/content/early/2014/03/19/144078331452286

    These papers made me think about how sociology of education might be taught outside of teacher education institutions, say for example, in the humanities. How does the broader disciplinary context regulate the instructional discourse of sociology of education? The papers also made me think about progression of knowledge (concepts, skills) in teaching sociology of education – what is taught first, second etc. Who are the teachers of sociology of education? I know at least one institutional case of pedagogical collaborations between colleagues in the US and UK in teaching sociology of education material. How often does this take place in teacher education institutions in Australia or do differences in time zones impact on such types of pedagogical collaborations?

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    • It has taken me awhile, but I have been meaning to add to the conversation begun by Shaun and Parlo above. (My previous reply disappeared with a press of the wrong button, so here I go again…)

      My paid work, which at this time as an ECR is what I spend most of my time and energy on, involves teaching pre-servce teachers from all disciplinary backgrounds, interests and experiences, in a range of subjects that stem from sociological ways of viewing the world.

      Certainly I use and help students to understand that language and those tools, and to incorporate the notions of intervening, challenging and disrupting (as per Parlo’s point above) into their practice and belief systems.
      For example, ‘Teaching for Social Justice’ appeals to a percentage of my students who appreciate learning and responding in a critical and constructive way, rather than seeing their role as filling young minds with de-contextualised curriculum content. The who, the how, the why – can all be better understood through a sociological lens.

      I can see that my own practice has developed from a ‘sociology for…’, to a ‘sociology of…’ education (Moore, 1996), and this has only happened through a critical examination of the material I have (or haven’t) been handed to work with. I have been lucky enough to have collaborated in this with a number of other colleagues who can see the value in this critical re-thinking of accepted practices in teacher education (including my co-conveners).

      Parlo questions the accepted order of progression of knowledge in teaching sociology of education. This is a vexed question that requires being able to see a range of possibilities, so often constrained by lack of communication between decision makers (along with time, hierarchies etc) – who is most likely to be able to see the bigger picture, along with all the parts that make up the whole, and has the imagination to see things in a different way? Too often progressive ideas (from thousands of years of evidence and theory) are just not heard, or too difficult to change. In my former teaching life, time-tablers were the bane of productive change. There are also the issues of resistance – students, institutions, leadership and government – do we really want or need critical professional teaching practitioners with an interest in working towards social justice?

      I began this site because, as I’ve said, I find it hard to keep up with new or re-worked ideas about sociology of education, and I want to maintain links with, and opportunities to discuss and share possibilities with other adherents, whether in agreement or not, whether directly concerned with formalised fields of ‘education’, or loosely connected, as we all are. I feel that my (paid) work has shifted my thinking somewhat from that of a theoretically adventurous(?) PhD student, to now, not ‘really’ employed, I have to toe the line to some extent, and I have little or no time to develop my knowledge beyond what I can make directly relevant to my teaching. I worry that the ‘intellectual rigour’ drummed into me by my supervisor/s, has (necessarily) faded, and I find I do have to take the path more easily travelled, just to get by.

      To finish off, I have a few questions myself, and I’m curious about how others might respond.
      1. Does teaching ‘sociology’ informed units to pre-service teachers mean simplifying the content and expectations, in order to make it (a) accessible and/or (b) relevant to all members of the pre-service teaching cohort?
      2. Should Sociology of education be offered as an optional subject, or should it be a key part of the core structure of teaching courses?
      3. Is there still a battle-field between psychology and sociology perspectives in education? As a sociologically informed educator, what impact does this have on my teaching of (what are currently) core units in teacher education?

      I invite your responses and would love to have a conversation!

      Cheers, Annabelle Leve

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  2. Annabelle, I have been going down the path of socio-psychology some time now. It started when I read the book titled: Changing the Subject Edited by Henriques et al., when I was doing my PhD some time ago. http://www.amazon.com/Changing-subject-psychology-regulation-subjectivity/dp/0416345700
    And I have come back to this literature by way of the psychoanalytic theories to understand notions of subjectivity, resistance to knowledge, desire etc. Two of the books I have read recently on this topic include.
    Lapping, C. (2011). Psychoanalysis in Social Research. Shifting Theories and reframing concepts. London, New York: Routledge.
    Taubman, P. M. (2012). Disavowed Knowledge. Pyschoanalysis, Education and Teaching. New York: Routledge.

    cheers, Parlo Singh

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