A sociological exploration of social mixing: young people's friendships in urban schools

Hollingworth, Sumi (2014) A sociological exploration of social mixing: young people's friendships in urban schools. Doctoral thesis, London Metropolitan University.


This thesis begins with the question of whether socially and ethnically mixed schooling leads to mixed friendships. Located within a policy agenda promoting community cohesion and the benefits of mixed communities, this thesis examines the urban school as a key site of social mix, critically exploring mixing amongst urban youth. Challenging policy rhetoric's static concept of mixing and cohesion, a key contribution of this thesis is to explore mixing as a social process, attending to social class and gender as well as race in shaping young people's evolving friendship-making. Drawing on small-scale, discursively informed, interview-based, research with 16-19 year aids in two socially and ethnically mixed London schools, this thesis aims to examine the patterns of young people's friendships. This thesis investigates the socia-spatial, institutional and discursive processes which lead to differentiation, stratification or mixing in these friendships. The overarching contribution of this thesis is to understand friendship-making as a classed process. I argue that social mixing is a form of social capital/resource accumulation, a process in which some classed, raced and gendered bodies have more exchange value than others. To begin, I show how different demographics of schools constrain and enable the discursive production of the school as space for social mixing, and moreover how this is intimately connected to academic inclusivity or exclusivity. I then show how urban school-based subcultures are implicated in the production, maintenance and regulation of gendered, classed and racialised identities, which constrains the possibilities for mixing. Exploring the located, micro-politics of social mixing in urban schools - of those who mix across borders and boundaries of class and race- I show how certain favoured learner identities allow the acceptable minority ethnic Other more easily into privileged White middle class friendship groups in the school, while Black working class students are more constrained in sustaining White middle class friendships and hence, the promise of social mobility. Finally, through analysis of the 'misfits' -students who are outside of subculture in the school- I argue that, while a space of exclusion, this is a space of non-normative productions of race, gender and social class and is the hidden space where there is potential for 'real' mixing to take place. Here, I propose that, in this transgressive space of mixing, use-value comes to the fore, and has potential for the production of an alternative kind of self.

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