Voices of the Unheard: Home-school collaboration between Somali diaspora parents and teachers in Danish public schools

Research output: Book/ReportPh.D. thesisResearch

6 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

This thesis is a case study of four Somali diaspora families and their collaboration relationship with teachers in Danish public schools. Each family had a child in the third grade at the beginning of the project. The children went to two different schools in an urban setting in a large Danish town. They were in two different classes at both schools, i.e. four classes in total. The families were followed for 18 months. Formal interviews were conducted with mothers and teachers, parent-teacher conferences were recorded, participant observations were conducted in classrooms and playgrounds, afterschool programs, homes, and in the teachers’ room. This design allowed for many informal conversations with the children as well as with the adults in teachers’ rooms and in the living rooms and kitchens of the homes. These conversations were written as field notes.
The overall argument of the thesis is that Somali diaspora parents (and with special focus on mothers as these where the parents who took most responsibility in the four cases of this research) have difficulty expressing their opinions as there are structural, historical and social dynamics that create conditions in which their voices are silenced, or at least restricted significantly, resulting in marginalizing consequences. The focus in each article is on here-and-now interactional dynamics but in order to understand these constitutive negotiations, it is argued that the analysis must be situated in a description of the constituted conditions of the practice, which are historically, politically and socially produced. The analysis must therefore interchangeably take into account the constituted conditions and the constitutive negotiations.
Article 1 is entitled “Working Together in a Deficit Logic: Home-School Partnerships with Somali Diaspora Parents”. Drawing on the concept of interpretive repertoires from Wetherell and Potter (1992) the article argues that teachers and principals label the parenting practices of Somali diaspora parents as ‘wrong’ or ‘inadequate’ with regard to both raising their children and supporting them academically. The article shows that this ‘deficit logic’ which teachers and principals draw on has consequences for their practices in the classroom and in interactions with the parents. The professionals oscillate between on the one hand compensating for the deficiencies they perceive and on the other hand attempting to transmit their expert knowledge to these parents enabling them to improve their parenting practices at home. This approach is a genuine attempt to solve the problems that these teachers are dealing with but it builds on a hegemonic understanding of ‘good’ parenting practices and thereby undermines the efforts of these Somali diaspora parents.
Article 2 is entitled “Understanding Silence: An Investigation of the Processes of Silencing in Parent-Teacher Conferences with Somali Diaspora Parents in Danish Public Schools”. The article argues that ‘culture’ is used as the dominant explanation for why immigrant and refugee parents are comparably quiet (or silent) in parent-teacher conferences. Both research literature and common societal understanding attributes this relative silence to an authoritarian subservience culture, where these parents are understood as coming from a culture where the teacher is perceived as an authority that one cannot disagree with or contradict, hence resulting in relative silence in parent-teacher conferences. Instead the article argues that there are certain societal dynamics and structural arrangements that position teachers as experts who know what is important to say and do, whilst parents are positioned as teacher-assistants. Furthermore it is argued that teachers draw on certain interactional strategies that ensure these positions are maintained. As the ‘teacher-assistant’, parents do not have the legitimate possibility to participate in a way that allows them to express opinions that are challenging or contradictory to the teachers view. The understanding of culture as a stable structure that persons are situated within in a top-down manner is thus challenged, arguing that dynamic here-and-now interactions unfolding in a specific practice result in persons becoming, rather than being, silent.
Article 3 (A struggle for equitable partnerships: Somali diaspora mothers’ acts of positioning in the practice of home-school partnerships in Danish public schools) examines the ways in which the Somali diaspora mothers actively participate in the practice of home-school collaboration. Based on Article 1 and Article 2 it is argued that these parents are positioned (and position themselves) as teacher-assistants but at the same time they are positioned as persons who are not able to live up to their responsibility as such assistants. The article argues that these mothers are aware of the position they hold in society and actively attempt to position themselves as responsible and engaged parents who are both willing and capable of an equitable partnership. At the same time these mothers struggle with narratives of unfair treatment of both themselves and their children and desire to advocate their children’s position in school in order to ensure a positive educational outcome. But the possibility of dialogue is not available to them and they silence both themselves and their children in order to maintain a position as equitable partner. It is thus argued that these mothers actively navigate in their historically, structurally and socially produced conditions but despite their efforts they do not have the possibility of expressing their opinion to the teachers in an equitable fashion and are thus drawn into a position of passive complacency.
Article 4 (A Question of Access: Metaphors of the Field) investigates ‘metaphors of the field’ that are found in the research literature. Investigating these metaphors allows us to create a sense of how the field (or context) is understood by the researcher and which strategies and reflections are important to undertake during the research process. The three narratives described in the article are; field as landscape, field as labyrinth and field as (re)productive participation. When the field is perceived as a landscape which the researcher can gain access to and subsequently wander about, all that is necessary for access is a ‘visa’ or a ‘gatekeeper’ that can open the gate to the landscape. But in the actual research process it proved not possible to “wander about”. Instead the metaphor of labyrinth seemed appropriate as there was a continual process of negotiating access with many gatekeepers instead of just one. However, these metaphors reify the notion of ‘field’ and the article argues that it is not a place that one can get into. Instead the notion of ‘context’ is introduced rather that ‘field’ as through social practice theory the concept of ‘context’ stresses the relational aspect of the social world which is comprised of people living their lives entangle in one another through concrete participation. It is argued that persons participate from different positions which hold certain possibilities of participation. Additionally it is argued that participation is based on negotiations. For instance, if one holds the position of ‘Danish researcher looking at our engagement’ one has different possibilities of participating than if one holds the position of ‘Danish researcher who is interested in understanding our perspective’. Access thus becomes a constant re-negotiation of positions and consequently the researcher understands the world from a certain position. It is further argued that this process of access through negotiations teaches the researcher about what is salient in the particular field; which negotiations are necessary and important guide our process of making sense of the field by shedding light on which ways of participating are legitimate, which concerns, interests and purposes drive certain ways of participating. The process of negotiations of access is therefore as much a part of developing an understanding of the social world as more formalized research practices such as participant observations and interviewing.
The thesis thereby concludes that in order to make sense of how and why persons do as they do, it is important to investigate the here-and-now constitutive negotiations within the socially, politically and historically constituted conditions for these negotiations. Additionally, it is important to recognize that people live their lives across contexts, and their participation in one specific context must be understood as a part of a larger life, i.e. what is done in one particular context means something for participation in other contexts. Furthermore, it is necessary to take into account the materiality of a given context as well as the embodied participation of persons in addition to the linguistic negotiations. The thesis thus argues for an approach that recognizes the deep complexity of the practice and of lived lives.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages201
Publication statusPublished - 2014

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