Global trajectories: Power-geometries, cultural differences, and sociomateriality in school practices in two nations


Friend, Lesley M. 2020. Global trajectories: Power-geometries, cultural differences, and sociomateriality in school practices in two nations. Thesis
AuthorsFriend, Lesley M.
Qualification nameDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Globalisation is an all-encompassing and ubiquitous phenomenon—its consequential flows play an increasingly pervasive and profound role in most aspects of modern life in most societies across most of the world. Globalisation speeds up cultural transmission. Through vast and improved systems of transport and communication, an unprecedented migratory flow of people has increased the opportunities for different cultures to have more frequent interactions in local places like classrooms. Classrooms are now constituted by an ever-increasing array of cultural differences, as teachers and students move across once closed national boundaries to co-mingle with people unlike them. Teachers who stay in their home countries are no less affected as more and more of the world’s people migrate in response to displacement, opportunity and global markets. Other global flows, like educational policies and curricula, learning materials and ideas, accompany this people mobility into many classrooms across the world. This research is timely as much of the world in general, and education in particular, is uneasy about current global people flows that bring differences to local places like schools and classrooms. What goes on in classrooms, with respect to cultural differences, is the concern of this research. In the classrooms of the two geographically dispersed primary schools in Australia and United Arab Emirates, this research asks: How are cultural differences positioned in the lower primary classrooms in two different nations in the context of globalisation? This is explored through the following sub-questions, which are matched to the data sets: 1. In what ways do global flows of people and curriculum intersect with power-geometries in the social relations of each school and classroom? 2. What do teachers and school leaders say about how cultural differences are expressed and catered for in the schools and the classrooms? 3. How do cultural differences interplay with sociomateriality in book reading and learning centres in each classroom? Accordingly, this research studies teachers and students in two lower primary classrooms—one in Brisbane, Australia and the other in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates. The research has been deliberately configured to study a world where cultural differences are increasingly growing, experienced and sometimes problematic. The methodology for this work is based on critical ethnography, following Carspecken, applied to generate new understandings of how cultural differences influence the typical and routine actions of teachers and students as they interface with systems, with each other, as well as materials in their classrooms. Utilising a multidimensional approach to data analysis this study combines discourse and pragmatic horizon analysis to analyse an array of data representative of the everyday social actions of teachers and students in each school and classroom. The research framework is situated in Massey’s theory of place, Giddens’ structuration theory and Fenwick’s theory of sociomateriality enables an examination of the linkages between schools and the broader sociocultural and material worlds in which each is contextualised, as well as the social interaction within. How these linkages, as global flows, work to structure the nature of social relations in each classroom is the essence of this inquiry. The analysis generated four important findings about cultural differences in each classroom. The first illuminates that global flows, of people and curriculum, work as geometries of power to construct and contrive the social relationships in each school and classroom in ways that privilege some and marginalise others; the second, that the catering for and expression of cultural differences happens differently at each school—such differences manifest through powerful structuring dimensions of the social system to dominate, signify and legitimate some cultural practices over others. A third finding highlights that access, ease and familiarity with the material worlds of lower primary classrooms, where there is a reliance on a sociomateriality for learning, appears to be influenced by cultural differences. The thesis overall, and fourth finding, is that in each school and classroom—contextualised in geographical and culturally distinct environs—white western educational ideologies dominate and position the cultural differences of class members. The intended contribution of this research is to report on the ways that cultural differences—a consequence of global flows which bring an increasing cultural dynamism to the classrooms of this study—is positioned in the social action of teachers and students, as they go about their normal school day. A further contribution stems from the harnessing of seldom used, but in this case productive, social theories in educational research. There is limited application of the theories of place, following Massey, and Giddens’ structuration theory to investigate classroom social action with respect to globalisation. Its significance lies in the fact that there a paucity of research about cultural differences in primary classrooms, particularly with respect to its interplay with sociomateriality. Given the current world unrest that plagues our media and everyday lives with mixed messages about refugee boats, defensive and exclusionary walls, Islam, and white supremacy this research will have important stories to relate with respect to educating children for active, safe and informed participation in a future unsettled world.

Keywordsglobalisation; cultural differences; power-geometries; sociomateriality; structuration theory; critical ethnography; agency
PublisherACU Research Bank
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Research GroupInstitute for Learning Sciences and Teacher Education (ILSTE)
Publisher's version
Publication dates24 Jan 2020
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