Rural place and education. Values, changes and metrocentric criticism

Year: 2018

Author: Öhrn, Elisabet, Beach, Dennis, Johansson, Monica, Rönnlund, Maria, Per-Åke, Rosvall

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This presentation draws together themes from a study of six Swedish rural areas and their schools (‘Rural youth. Education, place and participation’, funded by The Swedish Research Council 2014-2017). In order to highlight variety and plurality, and to apply a relational understanding on what constitutes a place, the sample included both sparsely populated areas and small (de-)industrialised areas which varied with respect to size, geographical location, labour history etc. In each of these communities we carried out a compressed mode of ethnography (Jeffrey & Troman, 2004) in one school class, grade 8 or 9, at the local school for five weeks. Altogether 340 hours of classroom observation were conducted, focusing on representations in curriculum and interactions of the local place (its material conditions, relations, values), its relations to other places, as well as young people’s inclusion, agency and conflicts in school. We also conducted field conversations during or adjacent to the observations and formal interviews with 136 students. These observations, conversations and interviews have typically been supplemented by observations in the neighbourhood and some document analyses.
The project draws theoretically on material spatial geography (e.g. Massey, 1994), and the centrality of studying different rural contexts in relation to each-other and in relation to present urban norms (Farrugia, 2014). To understand processes and experiences of participation we have had the ambition to recognize both the place itself – its’ local social relations, its’ labour market etc  - and the relationships that extend the particular place (Massey, 1994). Key themes from the analyses include youth images of places, strategies to maintain relations to place, metrocentric criticism, school presentation of place, school values, various silences found in teaching, and school and cultural processes and change (including the special challenges and options of migration, as in a recent influx of refugees from Syria). Social divisions, such as gender and class (including the various understandings of social background in rural/urban settings) are also considered. 
Jeffrey, B. & Troman, G. (2004). Time for ethnography. British Journal of Educational Research, 30(4), 535-548.
Farrugia, D. (2014). Towards a spatialised youth sociology: the rural and the urban in times of change. Journal of Youth Studies, 17(3), 293-307.
Massey, D. (1994). Space, place and gender. Cambridge: Polity Press.