Servizio Comunitario di Informazione in materia di Ricerca e Sviluppo - CORDIS

Periodic Report Summary 1 - RIEBHE (Race, identity, exclusion and belonging in higher education: Personal narratives and classroom discourse)

The central objective of this project is to understand how the concepts of ‘race’ and ‘racialization’ are constituted in classroom talk (discourse) and personal stories (narratives) in the university sphere, using Norway as a case example. This involves understanding how classroom talk differs in lecture vs. discussion situations, and how the professor positions her or himself in relation to this classroom talk. Furthermore, we are interested in exploring the implications of race and racialization discourse on experiences of inclusion, exclusion, identity and belonging through the personal narratives of members of the academic community. Finally, the study will generate a ‘conversation’ between the university classroom race and racialization discourse and the personal narratives of racialized academic community members, in order to explore the workings of ideology, agency and resistance.

Since the inception of the project, in February 2013, we have collected and started to analyze classroom discourse data from four undergraduate-level university courses at two universities in Norway. Forty percent of classroom time for each course has been audio recorded and transcribed. Data from one of the courses was the foundation of a student master thesis, completed in 2014. Analyses across all four courses is ongoing. Findings from the master thesis and early findings from analysis looking across the four courses suggest that Norway – including Norwegian university classrooms – is a “white space” and that whiteness as a key element of ethnic Norwegianness is central in defining Norwegian identity. Furthermore, it seems that academic discourse on race, which is anchored in academic disciplinary communities of practice that transcend national boundaries, tends to draw from interpretive repertoires that are in stark contrast to everyday discourse on race in Norway. For example, at least some academic discourses build on interpretive repertoires such as ‘whiteness is a social category that can be named,’ ‘whiteness is produced by social processes,’ and ‘whiteness is historically and socially constructed.’ In contrast, everyday discourses on race in Norway build on interpretive repertoires such as ‘racism lies in the individual (vs. institutions or systems),’ ‘nationality is linked to race and Norwegianness means white,’ and so on. However, as instructors attempt to bridge students’ everyday understandings with more sophisticated academic understandings of the course topic, academic and everyday discourses on race get muddled and contradict each other. In our early analysis we have found that the Norwegian everyday discourse on race may undermine academic discourses, creating pedagogical dilemmas.

For the study exploring personal narratives, we have thus far interviewed 16 students, administrative staff and academic staff across the same two universities. All of the interview participants are racialized people in the Norwegian context; that is, they would not be considered white ethnic Norwegians, although that definition is shifting, contextual, and difficult to pin down. The interviews consist of narratives in which participants relate moments in their lives, particularly in the context of the university, where they felt “different” because of their skin color, facial features, or perhaps language or religion. We will continue collecting data for this study over the next few months, and then begin analysis of the personal narratives.

This project addresses a gap in the literature by investigating discourse about race and racialization in (1) Norway as a case, a late-comer to ‘multiculturalism’ in Europe, and (2) not just education, but in higher education, where young adults develop further the democratic capacities and ideological positions that they will carry with them into their future actions as citizens and workers. With the current migrant ‘crisis’ in Europe occurring concomitantly with a rise in right-wing political parties and anti-immigrant public sentiment in many European countries, this project is timely. It will contribute to an understanding of how the racialized ‘Other’ is constructed through discourse within the societal institution that is tasked with being a beacon of knowledge and enlightened civil discourse: the university. It will also allow us to understand what kinds of discursive constructions about race and racialization young adults studying at university will carry with them into broader society.

The researcher has been joined in the project by a colleague in the Department of Education at the University of Bergen, and has had opportunities to present work in progress and related workshops to a variety of academic audiences (including academic staff and administrative staff).

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Life Sciences