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‘Off The Model’: resistant spaces, school disaffection and ‘aspiration’ in a former coal-mining community

Bright, N. Geoffrey (2011) ‘Off The Model’: resistant spaces, school disaffection and ‘aspiration’ in a former coal-mining community. Children's Geographies, 9 (1). 63 -78. ISSN 1473-3277

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Abstract

Discussions of ‘aspiration’ influencing contemporary education policy and practice are framed almost exclusively in terms of individual – or, at most, familial – ambitions towards economic prosperity. The failure to achieve ‘social mobility’ in British society is often posed as being due to the ‘low aspirations’ of working class children, particularly in formerly heavily industrialised areas. In a classic case of ‘blaming the victim’ the social exclusion that undoubtedly exists in such areas is blamed on those who suffer it. Things would be different, the argument goes, if only people aspired to ‘get on’. This paper looks at material from an intergenerational ethnographic study of some former coal-mining communities in the north of England which are often popularly characterised as insular and lacking in ambition. In contrast to this stereotype, however, the data suggests that working class teenagers growing up in the impoverished and abandoned geography of Victorian colliery model villages, rather than suffering a failure of aspiration, often angrily and powerfully aspire – but for something contrary to the dominant model. Reviewing the ethnographic data in the light of a sociological and historical literature that attests to the exceptional nature of coal-mining communities, I suggest that such exceptionality impacts on young people's dispositions towards the educational project as a whole through a complex process of cultural transmission. A historically and locally situated notion of counter aspiration – that I call, here, resistant aspiration – is evident. I propose, in conclusion, that an acknowledgement of such resistant aspiration might help understand the widespread ‘school disaffection’ of working class youngsters not only in these former coal-mining communities but also in other post-industrial settings – nationally and internationally – that are similarly characterised by contested histories.

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