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Recently Completed Thesis

Emma Rowe, Monash University

Thesis title: Geo-identity, urban school choice and education campaigns for public schools

Awarding institution: Monash University

Award: Doctor of Philosophy

 

Supervisors: A/ Prof Mary Lou Rasmussen & Dr. Scott Bulfin 

Emma Rowe from Monash University has been awarded the "Outstanding Dissertation Award" by the American Educational Research Association, Qualitative Research SIG. The thesis was particularly recognised for its outstanding contribution to qualitative research and innovative methodology. This is a very exciting award, well done to Emma and the supervisors of this thesis - Associate Professor Mary Lou Rasmussen (main) and Dr. Scott Bulfin (associate), from Monash University. Emma is part of the Sociology of Education SIG

Abstract

Educational campaigning has received little attention in the literature. This study investigates long-term and organised urban campaigns that are collectively lobbying the Victorian State Government in Australia, for a new public high school to be constructed in their suburb. A public high school is also known as a state school, government school, or an ordinary comprehensive school. It receives the majority of its funding from the State and Federal Australian Government, and is generally regarded as ‘free’ education, in comparison to a private school. Whilst the campaigners frame their requests as for a ‘public school’, their primary appeal is for a local school in their community. This study questions how collective campaigning for a locale-specific public school is influenced by geography, class and identity.


In order to explore these campaigns, I draw on formative studies of middle-class school choice from an Australian and United Kingdom perspective (Campbell, Proctor, & Sherington, 2009; Reay, Crozier, & James, 2011). To think about the role of geography and space in these processes of choice, I look to apply Harvey’s (1973) theory of absolute, relational and relative space. I use Bourdieu (1999b) as a sociological lens that is attentive to “site effects” and it is through this lens that I think about class as a “collection of properties” (Bourdieu, 1984, p. 106), actualised via mechanisms of identity and representation (Hall, 1996; Rose, 1996a, 1996b).


This study redresses three distinct gaps in the literature: first, I focus attention on a contemporary middle-class choice strategy—that is, collective campaigning for a public school. Research within this field is significantly under-developed, despite this choice strategy being on the rise. Second, previous research argues that certain middle-class choosers regard the local public school as “inferior” in some way (Reay, et al., 2011, p. 111), merely acting as a “safety net” (Campbell, et al., 2009, p. 5) and connected to the working-class chooser (Reay & Ball,
1997). The campaigners are characteristic of the middle-class school chooser, but they are purposefully and strategically seeking out the local public school. Therefore, this study looks to build on work by Reay, et al. (2011) in thinking about “against-the-grain school choice”, specifically within the Australian context. Third, this study uses visual and graphic methods in order to examine the influence of geography in the education market (Taylor, 2001). I see the visualisation of space and schooling that I offer in this dissertation as a key theoretical contribution of this study.

I draw on a number of data sets, both qualitative and quantitative, to explore the research questions. I interviewed campaigners and attended campaign meetings as participant observer; I collected statistical data from fifteen different suburbs and schools, and conducted comparative analyses of each. These analyses are displayed by using visual graphs. This study uses maps created by a professional graphic designer and photographs by a professional photographer; I draw on publications by the campaigners themselves, such as surveys, reports and social media; but also, interviews with campaigners that are published in local or state newspapers. The multiple data sets enable an immersive and rich graphic ethnography.

This study contributes by building on understandings of how particular sociological cohorts of choosers are engaging with, and choosing, the urban public school in Australia. It is relevant for policy making, in that it comes at a time of increasing privatisation and a move toward independent public schools. This study identifies cohorts of choosers that are employing individual and collective political strategies to obtain a specific school, and it identifies this cohort via explicit class-based characteristics and their school choice behaviours. I look to use fresh theoretical and methodological approaches that emphasise space and geography, theorising geo-identity and the pseudo-private school.

 

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