Ravaioli, Paola (2008) Le famiglie dei ceti popolari di fronte alla scuola. Etnografia di un incontro tra culture. [Tesi di dottorato]
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This works presents the findings of a qualitative research conducted in contemporary Italy on the schooling experience of working-class families with a low educational and cultural capital.
The research was carried out on a sample of twenty-five families of children attending the third year of primary school in eight urban working-class neighbourhoods located in Bologna and its province. Ethnographic interviews conducted in the family home are the main research data (other data were collected in schools mainly for the purpose of selecting the final sample of families: school documents, interviews with the teachers of all the classes which took part in the research study, a survey by questionnaire administered to all the classes' families).
The general analytical perspective of this work is a classical anthropological one: an analysis of a cross-cultural encounter. Or, as it is also defined in the text, an analysis of the relationships between different knowledges on the same child-rearing and educational topics. Between, on the one hand, the legitimate representations, practices and values of the school; and, on the other hand, the lay knowledge of the working-class families' symbolic world. The analysis deals with what happens when these two knowledges come into contact with one another, and in particular with how the families incorporate the legitimate cultural traits in their own child-rearing and educational symbolic universe.
This work originated from a theoretical research interest in cultural sociology: the problem of how to analyse working-class culture and its relationships with legitimate culture in society. Two interpretative frames have traditionally dominated the history of sociological analysis of working-class - or popular - culture: relativism and legitimism. Relativism is the analytical perspective of cultural resistance (contestation, refusal) analysis and assumes that popular culture symbolism is autonomous from legitimate symbolism. Legitimism assumes, on the contrary, popular cultures symbolic heteronomy: that is, according to cultural legitimacy theory, working-class people share dominant culture's legitimacy scale (or hierarchy of cultural preferences). From this perspective, working-class culture's deviances from legitimate culture are to be interpreted as the result of a more or less reflexive adaptation to material living conditions which prevent working-class people from acting accordingly to dominant cultural preferences.
This works asserts the necessity for merging the two perspectives in one interpretative frame (a «third way») by analytically thinking popular culture as ambivalent, that is as symbolically autonomous and heteronomous at the same time. It asserts that a first, although partial, step towards the construction of this interpretative frame may be the analytical perspective adopted in the study presented here: focusing on the unintentional meaning transformations - also defined «heterodox» interpretations in the work - which legitimate culture's symbolic elements undergo when they are decontextualized from their own symbolic system of origin and incorporated into working-class culture's symbolic universe.
Child-rearing and educational values, representations and practices constitute a particularly suitable empirical object for the adoption of this analytical perspective. In this life domain, in fact, the encounter between working-class culture's members and legitimate culture is a forced encounter: as they cannot avoid the cultural encounter, working-class culture's members are forced to come to terms with legitimate symbolic elements which don't belong to their own cultural world.
During the last twenty years the field of cultural explanations of educational inequalities has progressed towards this very same interpretative and ethnographic approach to the relationship between working-class and education in terms of a «cross-cultural encounter». This progression has represented a sharp subjectivistic turn in this research domain. In the sociology of education as in neighbouring disciplines like social and developmental psychology, in fact, for at least the first four decades (from Forties to Seventies) the cultural analysis of the relationship between working-class and education has been dominated by an objectivistic analytical perspective. And in particular by an objectivist perspective which appeared to be founded upon a never questioned assumption of cultural distance between the two symbolic worlds. This cultural distance was explained alternatively by means of a relativistic or a legitimistic interpretative frame: that is, in terms of an original cultural otherness (as in the Parsonian classical research field on «achievement values» or in the culture of poverty theory); or in terms of an interiorization of the low statistical probability of academic success for working-class people (as in Bourdieu's Reproduction Theory).
During the Eighties, social sciences as a whole underwent a general paradigm shift with the (re)discovery of action and actor theories along with interpretative and ethnographic analytical approaches, and the research field on the relationship between class cultures and educational inequalities was itself involved in this general renewal. As a result of this, the problem of cultural differences between the world of working-class families and the educational world began to be viewed somewhat differently than as a mere problem of objective measurement of a distance. In particular, the question of cultural distance ceased to be treated as a starting and unquestioned assumption of the analysis and rather became its (possible) point of arrival and real object of investigation. The analytical attention shifted sensibly from the different socialization models in themselves to the forms and reciprocal effects of their encounter. What is even more important, the adoption of an interpretative perspective put actor's interpretation of his own experience - the subjective sense of action - at the centre of analysis.
In the present work this analytical perspective is applied to the study of the encounter between, on the one hand, the educational ethos of working-class elementary school pupils' parents and, on the other hand, the principles and assumptions of modern elementary school's active pedagogy - the so called autonomy pedagogy, or implicit pedagogy, or pedagogy of play. The exploration of this «cross-cultural encounter» is focused in particular on two symbolic areas. The first one deals with conceptions of child's nature and development (child's job) and conceptions of parenthood (the job of parenting a child). The second one deals with conceptions of school learning (pupil's job) and conceptions of parent's role in school learning (the job of parenting a primary school pupil). In both cases, the object of investigation is the objective and subjective relationship between, on the one hand, interviewed parents' «heterodox» conceptions and, on the other hand, pedagogically legitimate educational conceptions expressed in the active pedagogy's key notion of child's moral, emotional and intellectual autonomy.
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