Widening Participation As Behaviour Management: An Ethnography of Student Equity Outreach in One Low SES School

Monday, 11 July 2016: 09:00
Location: Hörsaal 6C P (Neues Institutsgebäude (NIG))
Oral Presentation
David PEACOCK, University of Queensland, Australia
This paper seeks to illuminate the complex social relations entangling 'widening participation' activities within contemporary Australian higher education. Using ethnographic and interview data constructed for a doctoral study of student equity staff outreach into schools in low SES areas, I narrate and interpret McIlwraith university's ‘Rock and Water’ workshops with Years 8 and 9 students in one school. As well as providing ‘rich and thick’ (Denzin, 1989) descriptions of a contemporary Australian widening participation practice, the analysis traces the way the subjects of widening participation policy and activity, namely the students within schools whose ‘aspirations’ are presumed to be low, are objectified, evaluated, and accounted for via federal government's reporting requirements and policy mandates. The ethnography and informant interviews raise concerns over the role that the discourses of ‘aspiration’ and ‘disengagement’ play in the construction and governance of students and schools from low SES areas, and the way that widening participation policy is textually-mediated (Dorothy Smith) by university and school policies and practices, usually without opportunities for meaningful input and feedback from the students involved. In this school in a low SES area, there is a conflation of widening participation outreach activity and behaviour management strategies. Although the university outreach staff act skilfully and with concern for the students in the program, their work remains tangential to the work required to disrupt educational trajectories constructed by social class and gender relations and rurality.