Collective Identity and Oppositional Culture

I have edited this post because I think differently enough about the topic concerned that I don’t think it is useful to keep my opinions from that point in my thinking public. I didn’t change the post until now because I didn’t want to feel as if I was hiding my mistakes. Now I realise that’s a pretty self-centred way of looking at things. What is important is the messages that are out there in the world. The conversations that changed my thinking happened mostly in private spaces, but if you are interested, or want to see the original post, just get in touch.

I still think collective identity is something we need to keep a close eye on. Oppositional culture is different. In conversations in other spaces about this post, I wrote as an explanation of why I’d changed my mind about the concept: “An identity formed in opposition to oppression is defense, not liberation. By seeking to understand it, we are looking to the oppressed to understand oppression. Interrogating the oppressed, not the oppressor”.

What I have left of the original post is a possible way forward, courtesy of Henry Giroux and Patrick Finn:

Transforming intellectuals… are self-consciously critical of inequities in our society. They see the schools as sites of struggle between competing groups in our society. They see the schools as sites of struggle between competing groups that have distinct histories, contexts and cultures. They see their mission as helping students “develop a deep faith in struggle to overcome injustices and change themselves.” They aim to help their students become critical agents by providing conditions where students can speak, write, and assert their own histories, voices, and learning experiences. They view their students not as individuals, but as collective actors within culture, class, racial, historical, and gender settings and with particular problems, hopes and dreams, They try to help these collective actors become agents of civic courage—that is, to help them acquire the knowledge and courage that will make despair unconvincing and hope practical. (Finn, 1999 p.156)

What do you think?

Finn, P. (1999) Literacy with an Attitude: Educating Working Class Children in their Own Self-Interest. Albany, State University of New York Press.


3 thoughts on “Collective Identity and Oppositional Culture

  1. Hi Ellie – I was sent a link to this blog by a colleague, who noticed that our interests overlap (I am a doctoral student in sociology and educational theory). Another very interesting piece of work, which slightly predates the studies you cite, is that of the anthropologist Shirley Brice Heath. She lived with working class communities for almost a decade, and wrote very engagingly about how their values, practices and beliefs are not recognised, valued or acknowledged in schools, as academic communities are essentially tools and manifestations of the ‘dominant’ white, English-speaking middle-classes. All of this, I think, links quite neatly with the theories of Bourdieu (social reproduction, and all of that). She published a book in 1983:

    Ways with Words: Language, Life and Work in Communities and Classrooms (Cambridge Paperback Library)

    If you don’t know it, I really recommend it.
    All the best

    • Hi Lee,
      This is brilliant thank you. Patrick Finn talks about this study in Literacy with an Attitude, but I never thought to look it up. I will have to get my hands on a copy. Class is where I started to think about this, because the theory really reflected what I experienced in my teaching, so I’m really interested in the ideas from that perspective too. Do you know if there is anyone using these ideas now? I’d love to hear about your work. Could you post a link?

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