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Gender, class, race, ethnicity and power in an elite girls’ state school

Holt, L. and Bowlby, S. (2019) Gender, class, race, ethnicity and power in an elite girls’ state school. Geoforum, 105. pp. 168-178. ISSN 0016-7185

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1016/j.geoforum.2019.05.020


Selective state grammar schools are the subject of sustained political debate surrounding issues of standards, education quality and social mobility, and yet they have received little academic scrutiny in geographies of education. Increasing numbers of young people are educated in selective settings in both the UK and globally. In this paper, we argue that some selective state schools are ‘elite’ spaces, whose alumni hold disproportionate power and sway. This paper examines the social geographies of girls in an elite grammar school in the Southeast of England, examining how classed and ethnic/racialized femininities are performed and enacted. The data are drawn from semi-structured photo-interviews and focus groups with 23 girls aged 13–14. The paper examines how the girls’ social geographies were forged by socio-psychic process of connection and differentiation. Class differences were abjected onto non-grammar school ‘others’, and poverty was viewed by some girls as a moral failing. The girls were avowedly open to ethnic, racial and religious diversity, which generated a cosmopolitan sensibility as a cultural resource. Nonetheless, subtle differences were reproduced through friendships, which along with being emotionally nurturing, were fraught and fractured in power. These differences can involve subtle hierarchical performances of ethnicity/region/race, which operated beyond the immediate conscious reflection of the girls at times, pointing to a ‘deeper domain’ (Philo and Parr, 2003) which can be a friction to allenging enduring relations of difference through the spatial contingency of encounter. Given the powerful positions these girls are likely to occupy in top professions, how they understand and perform class, gender, ethnicity/race and religion are crucial. This in-depth study has theoretical resonance to elite spaces beyond the specific context of the case-study school by illuminating processes through which specific and hierarchical subjectivities are forged in friendships and by identifying the ‘same’ and ‘other’.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Science > School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science > Department of Geography and Environmental Science
ID Code:85468


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