Shaming ‘Student Voice’: Ambivalent Affects In An Ethnography Of A School Reform Process

Year: 2015

Author: Mayes, Eve

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Listening to school students’ voices is argued to honour previously ‘silenced’ voices and their knowledge, build bridges to understanding between students and teachers, and empower students. These rationales are built on liberal humanist conceptions of the human subject, agency, progress and power. Such processes of speaking and listening are correlated with positive emotions: confidence, engagement, trust, care, and respect. Simultaneously, student voice has also recently become enfolded within school effectiveness discourses that are also associated with particular emotions: anxiety, insecurity, demoralisation, frustration, and cynicism.
This paper explores the ambivalent affects circulating as high school students ‘had a voice’ in a school reform process at a low socioeconomic high school. During a participatory ethnography in the final year of the reform process, students and teachers gave accounts of past events associated with student voice. This paper connects three artefacts from these research intra-actions: “blocs of sensations” (Deleuze & Guattari, 1994/2009, p. 184) composed and composing ambivalent affects associated with shame. Juxtaposing and connecting these artefacts, I question whether student voice can generate shame through students’ subjectivication, and whether students’ voices can mobilise teacher shaming.
Working with the possibility that shame might be entwined with interest and desire (Probyn, 2004), and Deleuze and Guattari’s (1994/2009) discussion of the “‘composite’ feeling” of shame (p. 225), this paper complicates enthusiastic entreaties to ‘have a voice’, as well as pessimistic problematisations of voice work. I argue that speaking before others, rather than for or with others, shifts conceptions of ‘voice’ and responsibility in ‘student voice’, becoming a response-ability to the “zone of exchange” between bodies (Deleuze & Guattari, 1994/2009, p. 109). To speak before is to break with relations that judge and seek to remediate the Other’s (student or teacher) lack, but to instead attend to the conditions and processes of becoming. Bodies affect and are affected intra-actionally, enfolded, entangled and co-implicated in the constitution of shame in schools and in research.