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Discourses We Live By

Hazel R. Wright
Marianne Høyen

IV. Discourses we work around: managing constraining circumstances

IV. Discourses we work around: managing constraining circumstances

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Photo by Tom Perkins, CC-BY 4.0

1 Chapters in this section address situations that the individuals cannot change but can — or have to — find ways of dealing with if they are to have agency in life or in work. These chapters explore how groups and individuals engage with the constraints and (with differing degrees of success) strive to ‘outwit’ constraining discourses, to achieve outcomes other than those commonly anticipated, or make the discourses work in their interests. There are chapters from Scandinavia: one from a Danish perspective, considering the difficulties faced when an individual is released from prison; another focusing on dilemmas within the upper secondary school in Sweden. A chapter from Colombia offers little-heard views on the progress towards inclusion in the university system; and a chapter from Poland gives a glimpse of local resistance to those in power, as adult educators strive to empower adult students to understand how to find the underlying meanings in policies and texts they wish to challenge.

2In ‘A Danish Prisoner Narrative: The Tension from a Multifaceted Identity During Re-Entry to Society’ (Ch13), Charlotte Mathiassen carries out narrative research with a male offender moving from prison via a halfway house to independent living, after serving a sentence for murder. This is a nuanced narrative that focuses on much more than the offence, and the reader becomes aware that the man at the centre of the study has to deal with multiple and complex issues. On the one hand, he must face the social stigma of imprisonment and his dependence on social workers due to the disruption of home, work and family patterns that otherwise might have provided support; on the other, he has also to work around the problems stemming from an underlying mental health condition. Even small decisions, like whether or not to enrol on an educational course, represent a challenge.

3Following a period of political upheaval in Colombia, a country from which the Eurocentric listener seldom hears authentic ‘voices’, Miguel González González examines the dilemmas that beset diversity/ homogeneity and inclusionary/exclusionary policies and practices. In this chapter, ‘Inclusion and Exclusion in Colombian Education, Captured Through Life Stories’ (Ch14), he uses interviews with academics to reveal the barriers to change within education, showing, too, how new and positively intended policies often impose standard approaches that unintentionally reduce diversity, building even greater obstacles for staff and students to work around.

4Next, in ‘Navigating Grades and Learning in the Swedish Upper Secondary School Where Neoliberal Values Prevail’ (Ch15), Patric Wallin examines students’ cultural behaviour and their everyday routines during practical exercises in chemistry laboratories. He seeks to better understand how they interact and communicate and their attitudes to asking teachers for help when they need it. Swedish students believe that to do so might affect their final grades and consequently their chances to progress to university, because their teachers, who also assess them, could deem them needy. Consequently, they deny themselves the support from which they might benefit, a paradox that teachers and students need ways to address. There is a further paradox in that they turn instead to their peers, contradicting the view that neoliberal societies normatively foster individualism.

5In the final chapter of this section (Ch16), ‘Adult Education as a Means to Enable Polish Citizens to Question Media Coverage of Political Messages’, Marta Zientek draws attention to the processes that underpin the formation of a national identity. Poland is undergoing a period of instability and unrest, its people unable to challenge political groups effectively as they lack a platform from which to confront rhetoric. Marta is helping adult students to find ways to engage discursively and to work around the political messages that hold the country in thrall, through a course in communication. Here we get a glimpse of a project still unfolding in turbulent times.

6Altogether we have four very different explorations of why and how the individual and the group can withstand, manage, even work around, regimes and policies that they find challenging. The researchers are all working in contexts where the situation is volatile, although the extent and impact of this varies considerably. The projects are at different stages of advancement — Marta’s is still developing as she writes about it; Miguel’s is completed and he is already poised to see what happens next; Charlotte’s current research intervention is complete but not the ex-offender’s adjustments; in Sweden, Patric is anticipating further educational reform.

7Individually, the chapters connect with others in the book. Charlotte’s prisoner’s tale is partly mirrored in Linda Cooper’s account of British ex-offenders (Ch23) but also resonates with issues in Khum Raj Pathak’s work on punishment discourses (Ch9); Miguel González González’s chapter connects to those with an educational theme but, thematically, with the explorations of diversity in section five (Chs17–20), as well as Laura Mazzoli Smith’s chapter that relates to both diversity and higher education (Ch25); Laura’s work resonates with Patrick Wallin’s chapter, too; Marta’s chapter can be read alongside that of Linden West and Alan Bainbridge (Ch3), which also deals with difficult political and cultural situations, although her context and disciplinary background are very different.

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