Negotiating legitimacy : reflections as a social act : reflection processes of primary school teachers on rituals and ritualisations
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This thesis presents the findings of a study on the reflection processes on rituals/ritualisations in German and Irish primary schools. The main idea that comes out of this research is that the concepts of reflection as used currently in educational science do not do justice to the essentially social character of reflection processes. The text presented here holds new insights even for readers with a great knowledge in the field of institutional education. In it aspects are brought together that have not yet been considered in this way in educational science, both in Ireland and internationally. The focus of attention lies on reflection processes of teachers in which they engage with such practices in schools that are understood to be rituals or ritualisations. The theorems put forward in the thesis are grounded in an extensive literature review, but first and foremost in the analysis of empirical material gathered in the professional field. In an Irish context the perspective of looking at educational practice in terms of ritual is a novelty. No contribution has been made so far to the relevant debates from within Irish educational science. My presentation at the annual conference of ESAI in Cork 2012 (Hamm 2012a) was a first step to raise awareness of the potential of ritual analysis. This thesis then has to be seen as another crucial step for Irish educational science in that it provides an overview of the range of possible approaches for ritual analysis to be used in investigating the field of professional education. The complex of rituals in school provides the platform to enter into the topic. Internationally school practice has been discussed in terms of ritual by a number of authors in the past. There is a comprehensive overview presented in the thesis about the respective contributions, thus allowing the reader to gain a substantial understanding of the discussions of rituals in school in educational science to date. I open an avenue for widening the scope of these discussions by transferring the suggestion of Catherine Bell to consider ritual practice in terms of ritualisation into the realm of institutional education. As for reflective practice in the field of education there is in fact a large amount of literature available. A lot of this material is yet rather repetitive and in a specific way it is actually detached from the concrete experience of professional educators. The character of reflection as a social act is not adequately addressed in the popular concepts of reflection as will be shown in an overview on such concepts. By systematically taking into account in my thesis the character of reflection as a social act I am going to demonstrate how this leads to the identification of professional reflection processes of teachers as negotiations of defining, articulating and shaping reality. Such a view comprises a decisive shift. It significantly widens the knowledge base in relation to the analysis of reflective practices that is available in scholarship and in applied science of education alike. I am employing this innovative concept extensively in the sections dealing with the concrete results of the research on which my thesis is based. This research was conducted as a comparative study of three different school types: Irish national schools, German mainstream schools and German free alternative schools. The rationale for choosing those three school types as well as the choice of methods is explained in the text below. As a result of the research I found that national discourses have an impact on the understanding and use of the term ritual. For the three school types I could identify different ritual cultures, representing rather coherent normative systems in the case of Irish primary schools and free alternative schools, but more contradictory norms, value systems and beliefs in the case of German mainstream schools. I found that teachers in free alternative schools spend significantly more time in formal reflection settings than their colleagues in the other school types. I relate this scenario to the background of varying decision making structures, and varying educational concepts, in the three school types. In their professional context, teachers engage in reflection processes almost exclusively amongst themselves. In just one single strand of free alternative schools teachers were found to also engage with children in these processes. Critical reflection on rituals in school, which is understood as externalising and investigating power relations and uncovering hegemonic assumptions, is found to be largely absent from the current practice of teachers, this despite the connection of rituals to social order, norms and value systems. By stringently applying the idea of reflection as a social act this absence is contextualised. Teachers' engagement, or non-engagement as the case may be, in critical reflection is explained by the anchoring of reflection processes in the material reality of institutional practice in which a strategy of 'making allies' seems indispensible. The documentation of a memory-work seminar conducted as part of this study shows that memorywork can be used to effectively arrive at critical reflection on rituals in school. Memory-work is a method of collective inquiry that was developed by feminist researchers in the 1980's. In an Irish context it has not featured yet. I have highlighted the scope of memory-work as a research method in my presentation at the conference on “New Agendas in Social Movement Studies” in Maynooth in 2011. The report on the processes within two memory-work groups which is included in this thesis extends this contribution by supplying expansive coverage of the application of the method in a group reflecting on rituals in school. The critical dialogue that resulted from the various presentations of parts of my work at the conferences in Maynooth, Cork, but also in Berlin (Hamm 2011c) and Freiburg (Hamm 2012b) was an instrumental element in my research process. Extending my search for contributions on the topics beyond the published material proved similarly helpful. Discussions with authors of literature on ritual analysis of school (Franz Wellendorf, Hauke Pieper), and with Frigga Haug, Frauke Schwarting, Dirk Mescher on the complex of memory work added to the overall quality of my thesis. What is provided here are new and challenging perspectives and arguments for educational science and practice. As a result the proposals put forward in this thesis pave a way out of a certain speechlessness in relation to the complex of professional reflection processes of teachers. Before the main body of my thesis, I am going to sketch the context from which the topic was originally derived. An overview on the content of the chapters will provide a map to enable the reader to access the thesis in an assured manner.
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