Dialectical theory building: Juxtaposing theory with students voices in the non-completion of schooling

Year: 1998

Author: Smyth, John

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper examines how the research team has operated to interrogate the lives, experiences and aspirations of youth who have 'dropped out' (been 'eased out' ?) of school. We move between the voiced narratives of youth lives as they made decisions about leaving school before completing the post-compulsory years, and the "macro-structures, relationships and communities" (Fine & Weis, 1998) that operate on those lives. Our research represents a struggle with "dislocated transitions" (Freeland, 1991) of youth as told through their accounts, and the bigger picture of the forces producing the "moral panic" (Cohen, 1982) and "demonization of youth" (Giroux, 1996), in the first place. Our argument is that by 'naming the practices' (Fine, 1992), we are able to enter into a critical conversation with the social and economic arrangements whereby schooling works for some groups, while actively excluding others -- as reflected in the inability of some to complete post-compulsory schooling. The kind of naive and disabling vision expressed in youth policies fails to adequately interrogate the category of 'dropping out', and we show how an oppositional and critical reading is necessary for a more layered and complex theory of non-completion.