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Identities in Transition: theorising race and multicultural success in school contexts in Britain



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Stanford, Jacqueline June 


The field of race and schooling has now turned its focus on success. This study seeks to further that project by answering the following questions:

I. What is the state of contemporary blackness? 2. How is race hand led in successful sc hool contexts?

The study, therefore , begins with a review of the literature of the history of race and school ing in Britain. This develops a critical reading of the shift from a focus on investigating general school failure to investigating success. I, then, review the literature on the experiences and identity of black students who are academically successful and the literature on the ways in which teachers work successfully, that is harmoniously, with black children. I expand my exploration of black students' identity by drawing upon and combining Moscovici's theory of social representations, along with Kristeva's theory of the abject and abjection and Lacan's Mirror Stage to explore and theorise contemporary blackness. These theorists also inform my analysis of the narratives of teachers at the empirical part of the study.

The study is an interpretive one in which I develop a methodology that allows me to use a Lacanian post-structuralist approach to the analysis of data. This approach to analysis provided the means whereby I could look behind the narratives of my research participants to unarticulated meanings in developing an understanding of their realities. Therefore, while my findings are grounded in what they said, the report does not seek to re-present or reproduce what they said. The impetus in this report, rather, is on theorising what they said.

Data analysis is based on unstructured interviews with four academically successful black students discussing blackness. Nineteen teachers, sixteen white and three black, who taught in two multicultural, co-educational secondary schools with a reputation for harmonious teacher-student relations also participated in unstructured interviews , sharing their experiences of their work in the schools. The teachers were also observed in classes and supplementary information was obtained from documents produced and held in each school. The schools were selected on the basis of outsider-reports, from Ofsted, parent networks and the local community each school served, attesting to the schools' reputation for creating and sustaining harmonious relations between a predominantly white staff and a predominantly black and Asian student population.

The study underscores the finding that teachers are racially positioned within multicultural school contexts, that they are aware of this positioning and of its impact on them as professionals. Race complicates their professional role as teachers, with the potential to introduce uncertainty about fulfilling their responsibilities. Perhaps of more significance to them, race also has the potential to mount a challenge on their personal identities as good people, that is, as people who are not racist or do not perpetrate racist practices. The evidence in this study suggests that race poses a challenge on teachers' identities as competent professionals and as good people.

Consequently, there is an impetus for teachers to discount race as a factor within their contexts. Where issues of race are resistant to this general strategy, teachers anchor their responses to race within established - and non-racial - discourses and techniques; they do not respond to issues of race as issues of race. In this way, teachers recover their identity as competent professionals. They are seen to be less successful at developing a strategy for recovering their identities as good people. The study indicates that unresolved tensions around whiteness persist and serve to undermine what teachers recover of their professional identities.

The study points to the new ways in which race is being played out in society; both black students and black and white teachers are seen seeking different framing to discuss the ways in which they imagine themselves as racial. The study, therefore, finds that there is a pressing need to develop the language used for discussing issues of race such that contemporary discourses take account of the development in contemporary racial identities and realities.





race, ethnicity and education, Black students and white teachers


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
Digitisation of this thesis was sponsored by Arcadia Fund, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin