Discipline and punish—a story of power: How an eastern child hybridises to survive in a western education setting

Year: 2018

Author: Friend, Lesley

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Many classrooms across the world are characterised by increasing teacher and student cultural diversity—a result of the recent global phenomenon of unprecedented and dynamic flows of people and education. Using the theories of structuration (Giddens) and cultural hybridity (Bhabha), this study examines how one student from the east deals with the material and social constructions of a prep classroom in Dubai—a classroom that is structured as western in its application of rules and regulations, and child-centered teaching practices and classroom materials. Its focus is how the child, who is culturally marked in this western learning environment, negotiates the classroom social and material aspects to survive—a survival that is marked by cultural hybridity.
The aim of this research is to investigate how power is negotiated in a prep classroom where membership is constituted as culturally diverse. Its significance lies in the reality that many classrooms, including those in Australia, struggle to acknowledge and honour the cultural difference of others as part of official teaching and learning. In these increasingly culturally diverse classrooms such diversity is often treated as a superficial addendum to the day to day running of the classroom.
The research focus, then, is how cultural difference interplays with the sociomateriality of the classroom. The research design utilises a multifaceted and multimodal approach to interrogate a variety of data—field notes, interviews, images, symbols and interactions—to understand how power is distributed, negotiated and fought over in this prep classroom in an international school in Dubai. Told through an ethnography, complete with narrative and images, it will examine how structured social action interplays with the materiality of the classroom. Such examination will use discourse analysis coupled with a multimodal transactional analysis to uncover how power shifts and settles in a struggle for survival.
The findings of this study have implications for the work of teachers in increasingly globalised and a diversely peopled classrooms. In some, cultural difference is neutralised and not catered for, rather children must conform to foreign cultural norms. The study’s findings highlight that, although many classes are populated with a diversity of nations, this diversity is shaped through social and material action to become less so. Marginalising the cultural significance of others in the process of education is unhelpful in the pursuit of a global world that is characterised by intercultural understanding, tolerance and respect.