Figuring out peer group hierarchies in secondary school

Austin, R. (2014) Figuring out peer group hierarchies in secondary school. Ed.D. thesis, University of Sheffield.

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This thesis considers children’s engagement in peer group hierarchies in transition to secondary school. Nineteen children in Year six in schools in South East England participated in the study, six of whom were revisited in Year seven, in secondary school. Data were gathered through loosely structured interviews and drawings, then analysed through contrasting lenses to consider the children’s identity work from different perspectives.

In-group/out-group behaviours in line with social identity theory (Tajfel & Turner, 1986) were seen to establish and reinforce hierarchical interactions between groups of children in school contexts particularly in relation to perceptions of attractiveness, academic ability and popularity or reputation. The school context seemed to contribute to the formation of the power hierarchies enacted by the children. Some children navigated the complex social interactions within their peer groups so they could position themselves uncontroversially in the middle of the hierarchical structure. Other children either adopted or were ascribed roles which they enacted apparently uncritically.

The work also considers the role of media stereotypes of secondary school peer groups. The children in this research drew on stereotypical identities in their talk about children and schools in general terms but adapted and refined these when talking about particular schools or individuals.

Finally the work considers how or if the children maintained a coherent sense of self in the transition between schools. The children’s talk demonstrated how they used talk about past selves to account for sameness and change. They reinforced those aspects of self which they felt were representative of what they were ‘like’. Where their beliefs or behaviours had changed they used narratives such as those of ‘growing up’ to account for perceived changes in their identity performances.
As a contribution to theory about identity, the thesis develops the mathematical concept of fractals, which form chaotic yet coherent systems consisting of recursive self-similarities. The notion of ‘fractal identity’ provides a means by which identity can be understood as a complex patterning of being which consists of ‘self similarities’ which contribute to an overall coherent, yet inchoate, ‘whole’.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: L Education > LB Theory and practice of education > LB1501 Primary Education
L Education > LB Theory and practice of education > LB1603 Secondary Education. High schools
Divisions: Faculty of Education > School of Teacher Education and Development
Depositing User: Mrs Rebecca Austin
Date Deposited: 11 Jun 2015 13:18
Last Modified: 22 Sep 2016 18:21

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Last edited: 29/06/2016 12:23:00