Poverty and Schooling: Onto-Ethical-Epistemic Experiments

Year: 2017

Author: Singh, Parlo

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The papers in this symposium revisit the concerns that we have previously raised about theory work, and theory-method relations in the sociology of education (SoE), particularly research that focusses its attention on poverty and inequality. Specifically, we wonder whether the concepts and approaches to researching educational inequality offered by the SoE have 'run out of steam' (Latour, 2004). It seems to us that concepts such as field, capital, and habitus (Bourdieu); power/knowledge, discourse, subjectivity (Foucault); pedagogic governance, discourse and identities (Bernstein); hegemony, agency, resistance (Gramsci) have become entrenched ways of thinking about and doing research on educational inequality. So, to the extent that the problem of educational inequality becomes tied into descriptive theoretical exercises a bounded circular logic is generated. Data is collected on poverty and schooling and interpreted through the lens of theory. Through this process, data and theory become reified -fixed, static, lifeless. Theory as 'lens' brings into view an already disposed of world. It allows 'us' as researchers to escape the very exigencies we expect to create hope for. Theoretical ideas, in Bauman's (1999) words become 'zombie concepts'. Rich qualitative, ethnographic data on schooling is stripped of its vitality, suffocated under the heavy weight of theory.

In this symposium we question the 'scientific' forms/ norms of 'poverty watching' adopted in SoE modes of inquiry (Bigum, 2017). Does critique from afar, or what Donna Haraway (1991) describes as a 'god's eye view', disrupt inequality? What policy and practical knowledge interventions become thinkable and doable through such critiques? What are the performative effects of critical SoE?

The papers in this symposium draw on concepts from the sociology of education and a diversity of other disciplines (psychology, psychoanalytic theories, philosophy, feminist studies) to think differently about the interconnectedness of poverty, schooling and research work. Each of the papers examines the potential to spark connections between knowledge controversies and emergent publics (Whatmore & Landstr