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Bridges to the Future: The Contributions of Qualitative Research to the Sociology of Education

Author(s): Carolyn Riehl


Source: Sociology of Education, Vol. 74, Extra Issue: Current of Thought: Sociology of Education
at the Dawn of the 21st Century (2001), pp. 115-134
Published by: American Sociological Association
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2673257
Accessed: 19-08-2015 14:36 UTC
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Bridges to the Future:


The Contributionsof Qualitative
Research to the
Sociology of Education
Carolyn Riehl
ofNorthCarolinaat Greensboro
University
Thisarticleconsiders
how qualitative
conductedfroman interpretive
research,
hasenhancedknowledge
offoursubstantive
topicsinthesociology
perspective,
ofeducation:
and identity
educational
socialization
inequality,
school
formation,
and educational
organization,
policy.Ineach area,qualitative
studieshavegeneratedcontextualized,
new
process-sensitive
knowledgeand have introduced
voices,perspectives,
and themesintotraditional
understanding.
Thisresearch
mayenablethesociology
ofeducationto meetfouradditional
challenges:
genof schoolsas organizations;
eratingtheoretically
richexaminations
addressing
issuesofculture
and education;
developing
broadersocialanalysesofschooling
and incorporating
andsociety;
on learning
as situated,
perspectives
sociocultural
intothe studyof schoolsas contextsforteachingand learning.
Two
activity
aspectsofthequalitative
research
tradition
poseparticular
dilemmas
andopportunities
forsociology
ofeducation.
qualitative
research
brings
thesociology
First,
ofeducation
closerto theworldsofpolicyand practice,
whichmaymuteitscriticalvoice.Second,sincethesociology
ofeducationhasbeeninformed
byqualitativeresearchconductedfrominterdisciplinary
vantage points and by
researchers
whodo notidentify
themselves
as sociologists,
theboundaries
ofthe
fieldarepermeable
andfluid.
ualitativeresearchin the sociology of education has expanded
greatlyin recentyears,as ithas in
most areas of the social sciences. In this
review,I considerhow qualitativeresearch,
conducted froman interpretive
perspective,has enhanced knowledgeof substantivetopicswithinthe sociologyof education as it has been pursuedin the United
States.I also suggestways in whichqualitativeresearchmay help lead the fieldin
new directions.

Most social sciences claim jurisdiction


overa moreor lesswell-defined
set of theoretical,empirical,and/or practicalconcerns.In some disciplines,thisjurisdiction
is definedas much in termsof methodas
of substance-forexample,anthropology,
which has been closely identifiedwith
ethnography, and economics, which
claims mathematicalmodelingas its primarymethodology.The sociologyof education lackstightidentification
witha single methodology;nonetheless,there has

Sociology of Education Extra Issue 2001: 115-134

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115

116

Riehl

betweenthe own terms.Such researchcan be, and has


usuallybeen a close relationship
kindsof questions asked by sociologistsof been, used to addressthe kindsof questions
and realistepistemologies.
education,the kindsof methodologicaltools raisedby positivist
available,and the tools actuallyused (Metz For example, on occasion, qualitative
seek causal explanationsforsocial
ofthe sociol- researchers
2000). In thissense,the history
withthe his- phenomenathatare validand reliableacross
ogy of educationis intertwined
toryof researchmethods.The currentera is timeand space and thatholdtogetherin logno exception;thus,it is not unreasonableto ical systemsof concepts, assumptions,and
(B. R Cohen 1989). Maintaining
assume that recentdevelopmentsin qualita- propositions
of the researcheris especially
tive researchmay have importantinfluences the objectivity
importantin this tradition,to preventbias
on the sociologyof education.
I wrotethisarticlefromthe perspective
ofa from creeping into the research process.
to generate"findscholarwho has engaged in bothquantitative Whetherused inductively
and qualitativeresearchand who is situated ings"thatare incorporatedintothe formulabothwithinand outsidethefield.Trainedas a tionof theoreticalconceptsand assertionsor
academ- deductivelyto demonstratethe validityof
sociologistofeducation,myprimary
ic appointmentshave been in educational theoreticalgeneralizationsin local instances,
administration
programsin schoolsof educa- qualitativeresearchmethodshave produced
that "the
tion.I am not unique in thisregard;a lookat manystudiesthat have illustrated
and
traditions
linger
positivist
postpositivist
the "about the contributors"section of
over
the
qualitative
like
long
shadows
almostanybookorjournalinthesociologyof
educationrevealsnotonlythatsociologistsof research project" (Denzin and Lincoln
education are workingin diversecontexts, 2000:9). This is an expansiveperspectiveon
themselvespri- qualitativeresearch.
butthatpersonswho identify
perspective
situatesqualpoliticalscientists, A morerestrictive
marilyas anthropologists,
curriculumtheorists,or membersof other itativeresearchwithinmore explicitlyinterincludingsocialinteractionacademic disciplinesare connected to the pretivetraditions,
hermeneutics,
postsociologyof educationenough to be active ism,ethnomethodology,
feminist
critical
theory,
studies,
modernism,
to the field.This loose assemcontributors
tradiblage of personshelps to create permeable and culturalstudies.These interpretive
from
an
of
tions
draw
methodologies
array
boundariesin thefield,and thoseboundaries
methods
have become even more fluid with the thatincorporatenot onlyparticular
for
collection
and
of
empirical
the
analysis
increasein qualitativeresearch.Whetherthis
is a good thingforknowledgeproductionin materials, but particular philosophical
the sociologyof education,forthe improve- approachesto the natureof knowledgeand
mentof educationand schooling,or forthe the roleof personsintheworld,the natureof
remainsto be seen; the researchenterprise,and the role of the
futureofthesubdiscipline
researcher.They veer away fromthe deterthatit is happeningis incontrovertible.
of positivismand its
minismand objectivity
variantsand are more focused on probing
and interpreting
cases of lived experience
WHAT IS QUALITATIVE
than on making generalizable assertions.
about the
RESEARCH?
Theyare also more self-conscious
researcher'srole in cocreating,observing,
Defined most broadly,qualitativeresearch interpreting,
and representingthe natural
draws a large net around any researchthat world. There is more awareness of the
uses methods of gatheringobservational, "hermeneuticcircle"in whichthe researcher
communicative(natural discourse or inter- seeks others' interpretations
of theirworlds
view), or documentary (artifactual)data and experiencesbutthenoverlaysthem,to a
derived from natural settings. Qualitative greateror lesserdegree,withheror his own
As Geertz(1 973:9) observed,
researchersanalyzetheirdata in nonmathe- interpretations.
maticalways to understandthe worldon its "What we call our data are reallyour own

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Bridgesto theFuture

117

constructions
of otherpeople's constructions forms, is its interdisciplinarynature.
of what they and theircompatriotsare up Qualitative researcherstend not to hold
to."
themselvesto a prioritheoreticalor analytic
Althoughvarious interpretive
frameworks perspectivesin seeking to understandthe
maydiffer
in theirepistemological,
ontologi- phenomena they study. This statement
cal, and methodologicalpremises,theyshare implies,for our presentpurposes,that not
in commonthe core beliefthatinterpretationonly do sociologists of education range
ofsocial lifeis valued highlyand valued more beyondtheirown disciplineand subdiscipline
than explanationand prediction.They all in doing interpretive
research,butthatscholassertthatreality
is at leastpartlysociallycon- arswho do not considerthemselvesprimarily
structedby people who are livingit. The sociologistsalso wander into and across the
meanings held by actors regardingtheir territory
of sociology.As a result,it is not
actions,whetherlatentor explicit,are prima- ofteneasyto determinewhatthesociologyof
ry.The researcher's
own interpretive
is educationis or who sociologistsof education
activity
always present,albeit bracketedand prob- are (Metz 2000). As thisbroadeningconverlematized.Evenmore,therecan be no fixed, sation develops, as the questionersand the
universallaws in the social sciences because perspectives
in partthroughqualitamultiply,
such generalizationsare fatallyunstable as tive research,the sociologyof educationhas
humanactorsadjusttheirown interpretationsthe opportunityto be-or runs the riskof
of their lived experience, and thus their being-transformed.
actions, in lightof the interpretations
presented by social science-a
"double
hermeneutic"that suggests that meaningmakinghuman beings are not unaware of CONTRIBUTIONS OF
othersmakingmeaningaboutthem(Giddens QUALITATIVERESEARCH
1984).
In all formsof qualitativeresearchthat I now turnto a discussionof some ways in
focus on developinginterpretations
of lived which qualitative research,especially that
interpretive,
experience,the methodsof data collection, which is most self-consciously
analysis,and reportingare intendedto help both withinand outsidethe sociologicaltrathe sociologyofeducauncoverand interpret
meaning.Althoughit dition,has influenced
has remained relativelyconstant regarding tion.Thisdiscussionis organizedaroundfour
themes:
this core purpose, interpretivequalitative overlappingsubstantive
researchhas undergonea rapidevolutionin * studies of inequalityand the differential
effectsofschoolingon students'academic
the pastseveraldecades, characterized
byferachievementand theirplace in the social
ment over issues, such as the politicsand
order,
ethicsoffieldresearch;different
methodsfor
gatheringempiricalmaterials;the relative * schoolingand the developmentof persons
(socializationto societal norms, values,
privileging
ofinformants'
own meaningstrucand rolesand identity
formation),
tures versus the interpretations
offeredby
and
researchers; power dynamics between * how schoolsfunctionas organizations,
researchers
and the researched;the represen- * policyissuesin education.
tationof researchin writtenand otherforms;
and the uses to whichresearchis put,includ- Research on Educational
social practice. Inequality
ing its role in transformative
These are powerfultensions,and they have
expanded the field such that different
dis- Sociologicalresearchon educationalinequalexaminedthe waysin which
course communities within qualitative ityhas primarily
researchdo not alwaysrecognizeone anoth- social background, including social class,
er.
and gender, is linkedto the
race-ethnicity,
One key featureof qualitativeresearch, distribution
of educationaland social opporespeciallyin its newerand more interpretivetunitiesand outcomes.A secondaryfocushas

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118

Riehl

Familieshaveotherformsofcapitalinaddibeen on the distribution


of opportunitiesin
schools, particularly
in termsof curriculum tion to language, includingstrategicknowltrackingand abilitygrouping.This research edge of schooling,materialresources,social
traditionhas long been dominatedby quan- networks,power, and time. A key finding
titativestudies that have documented the fromqualitativeresearchis thatthe formsof
influenceof social structureon inequality,a capitalavailableto familiesmustbe activated
core sociological concern. It has, however, in ways that are valued by schools to influbeen criticizedfor treatingthe school as a ence children'seducationalexperiencesand
"black box" (Karabeland Halsey1977) and outcomes. This is one of the lessons of
forreducingcomplexeducationaland social Lareau's(1989) well-known
studyofhow parprocesses to simple measurable variables. ents deploy class-linkedculturaland social
Qualitativeresearchhas helped to answer capitalon behalfoftheirchildren'sschooling.
these criticisms
by attemptingto illuminate Lareaufoundthat middle-classparentswere
the mechanismsthat produce educational able to use financialresources,knowledge
inequality,
particularly
thosethatemergeover about schooling,and interpersonal
skillsto
time and turn on the sociallyconstructed customize theirchildren'seducation, while
meaningof events.Studiesof familycapital working-classparents had more difficulty
and of trackingand abilitygrouping are generating productive interactions with
prominent
examples.
schools.
More recentwork has furtherdeveloped
FamilyCapital Addressingthe question of the conditionsunder which culturalcapital
how families'social advantagesare transmit- can be activated.For example, Lareau and
ted to theirchildrenthroughthe educational Horvat's(1999) studyof parents,educators,
process, researchershave drawn from the and communitymembersin a small,ethnitheories of Bourdieu (1977a, 1977b) and callydiversetown foundthatthe whiteparColeman(1988) on culturaland socialcapital entswere moreable to develop the kindsof
to explore how parents and studentsuse trusting,
cooperative,and deferential
familyformsof capital to further
theireducational school relationships
thatthe educatorshoped
goals and how schools respond.Interpretivefor.Whenthe blackparentsvoiced theirconstudiesfroma varietyof perspectiveshave cerns about their children'streatmentin
these comyieldedseveralkeyinsightsabout the nature school,the educatorsinterpreted
of familycapitaland how it is used that had municationsnegatively,and their distress
not previously
been apparent.
resultedin "momentsof exclusion." Social
Forexample,it is now clearthat language class had a mediating effect, however,
skillsarean important
cultural
resourceforchil- because the middle-classblack parentswere
dren, a fact long recognizedabroad (e.g., more likelythan the low-incomeblack parBernstein1979) but rarelyattended to in entsto influencetheirchildren'sschool expeAmerican sociology of
education. riences by interveningin ways that the
studiesof children's
use of spo- schoolsdefinedas helpful,such as requesting
Sociolinguistic
ken and writtenlanguage (e.g., Ball 1995, regularmeetingsor monitoringtheir chil1996; Cazden 1988; Heath1983) haveshown dren'shomeworkcarefully.
how social-class positions are reproduced
These sociologicallyinclined interpretive
throughthewaysinwhichchildren's
language studiesemphasize disjuncturesbetween the
patternsare valued or devalued by schools. formsof capitalvalued byschoolsas theyare
Parents'languageskillsalso can be an impor- typicallyconstitutedand those available to
tantresource,
as Brantlinger,
and parents and students from low-income,
Majd-Jabbari,
Guskin(1996) showed in theirstudyof the racial-ethnic
minority
groups.Theyhave been
rhetorical
strategies
used bywhite,middle-class supplementedbyresearchbyanthropologists
mothers
to formrationales
forwhytheysought who have been criticalof schools' devaluing
schoolsfortheirchil- of the resources and actions of cultural
segregatedand stratified
which these researchersposition
dren,evenwhiletheyadvocateda liberalsetof minorities,
beliefsabout educationalopportunity
forall.
more positively
withinthe culturalpractices

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Brid es to theFuture

119

of minoritygroups. For example, Delgado- ferentialplacementof studentsinto ability


Gaitan(1994) describedhow a Latinofamily groups and curriculumtracks, were first
used consejos,or "nurturingadvice," as a explored empiricallyin qualitativeresearch
means of empowermentto help theirchil- (e.g., Hollingshead1949), but over the past
drennavigatethe dividebetweentheirhome several decades, most research that has
and schoolcultures.Inconversations,
the par- examinedsocial differences
in the allocation
entsexhibitedtheirsupportfortheirchildren, of individualsto curricular
positionsand the
expressedtheirvalues about schooling,and consequences of placementfor subsequent
helped their children develop successful educationalopportunities
and achievements
approaches to the situationsthey encoun- has relied on quantitativemethodologies.
tered in school. They did not alter their These studies have not, however,revealed
actionsto create more congruencebetween just how students'statusoriginsare translathome and school, but insteadused consejos ed into curriculumplacements.Qualitative
as an effective
culturalpracticeto assistand studies have added considerably to our
supporttheirchildren.Valdes (1996) docu- understandingof the processes by which
menteda comparableprocessamong other individualsare allocated to curricularposiimmigrantMexican families,and Delgado- tions and what these positions mean for
Gaitan (1992) elaborated on the cultural futureachievements.Withonlya few excepresourcesavailableto MexicanAmericanchil- tions,theyhave been pursuedsquarelywithin the domainof the sociologyof education.
drenin theirhomes.
An early line of research showed how
Moll et al. (1992) studiedLatino
Similarly,
families'"fundsofknowledge,"the historical- teachers'and counselors'assessmentsof stuassociatlyaccumulatedand culturally
developedbod- dents,ofteninfluencedbyattributes
ies of knowledgeand skillsthe familieshad ed withsocial class, influencestudents'curthat contributedto their functioningand riculumplacementsthrough"gatekeeping"
well-being.They found that the networks mechanisms(e.g., Cicoureland Kitsuse1963;
1975; Rosenbaum1976).
throughwhich funds of household knowl- Eder1981; Erickson
edge developed were flexible,active, and In thisvein,Oakes and Guiton(1 995) found
multidimensional.
Exchanges of knowledge that decisionsabout curricular
and
offerings
were reciprocal,creatingmutualobligations students'assignmentsto tracksand courses
and trustingrelationships,
and the children were based, in part,on educators'assumpwere activeparticipants.
Moll et al. observed tionsabout abilityand motivation
thatlinked
thatproblemsensued in schools because the race and social characteristics
withparticular
children'sclassroomstended to be isolated expectationsforstudents'achievement.
fromthese communityresourcesand learnQualitativestudies have also shown that
curriculum
a rational
ing practices.
placementis notentirely
Inaddition,qualitativeresearchon cultural- processthatis designedeitherformeritocratly responsiveteaching,especiallythe teach- ic sortingon the basis of students'abilities
ing practicesof AfricanAmericanteachers and educationalneeds (Parsons1959) or for
(e.g., Foster1995; Ladson-Billings
1992) chal- social class reproduction(Bowles and Gintis
lenges the notionthat schools and teachers 1976), but instead is often an imperfect
and
are invariantin theirpreferencefor certain responseto organizational,
institutional,
formsof familycapital. These studies have even personalexigencies.Forexample,Finley
shown that when teachersexplicitlyhonor (1984) foundthathighschool Englishteachon the basis
and incorporateintothe schoolthe language ers createdtrackdifferentiations
styles,interactionpatterns,knowledge,and of theirown needs and aspirationsand then
otherformsof culturalcapitalof racial-ethnic competed forhigh-status
students.Through
minoritychildren,the children's learning this process,both the teachersand the students became tracked.Useem (1 992) interincreases.
viewedadministrators
in a largeset of school
and foundthatstudents'placements
Tracking-Ability
Grouping Within-school districts
stratification
processes,generatedby the dif- in middle school mathematicsclasses were

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Riehl

influencedby administrators'idiosyncratic classschoolwere "caricatures"


oftheschool's
classes,whereas
beliefsabout coursetakingas wellas byorga- regular,college preparatory
nizationalfactors,such as school size and in the working-classschool, they were
"hyperbolicversions"of the school's regiclassvacancies.
DeLany(1991; cf.Garetand DeLany1988) mentedand disciplinedregularclasses.Taken
documented how scheduling decisions in together,this extensivebody of qualitative
fourhighschoolswere made on the basis of researchon trackinghas helpedto illuminate
resourceconstraints,
state and local regula- and clarifythe "black box" of assignment
by rendering
tions, and limited information-processingprocessesin schools-ironically,
capabilitiesinstead of strictlyon students' themwithmore complexitythan is possible
studies.
characteristics
and curricularneeds. Riehl, in quantitative
Pallas,and Natriello(1999) used case studies
of four high schools to explore how the Research on Socialization
schedulingprocess was fraughtwith such Processes and IdentityFormation
inefficiencies
and inaccuraciesthat students
time Questions of the productionof students'
sufferedfromthe loss of instructional
while their course placement errorswere achievementare relatedto a second set of
being corrected,quite apartfromthe effects school "effects"-socializationand identity
of being in one course levelversusanother. formation.
Socializationrefers
to thestudents'
and Meihls(1 986) studied acquisitionof the norms,values,and rolesof
Mehan,Hertweck,
the processby whichelementary
school stu- society,and identityformationrefersto the
dents were referredfor special education. developmentof a sense of self,includingthe
Theyfoundthatthe designationof a student self situatedwithinbroadersocial contexts.
as "educationallyhandicapped" depended Earlytheoreticaland empiricalworkin sociolheavilyon organizational,fiscal,and legal ogy and the sociology of education paid
constraintsthat were not even associated much attentionto socializationissues, and
with the student. These constraintswere most of the empiricalworkwas qualitative,
embedded in the routineways in which oftenembedded in studies of communities
teachersmade referrals,
conducteddiagnos- (e.g., Dreeben 1968; Hollingshead 1949;
tictesting,and made committeedecisionsfor Lyndand Lynd1929; Meyer 1970). Recent
placement.In effect,by creatinga category qualitativestudieshave extendedthese conforthe "educationallyhandicapped,"schools tributions
by developingaccountsof schools
were requiredto create differences
that prepare stuamong as mediatinginstitutions
studentsand to treatthemdifferently.
dentsforlifein the widersocial environment
Qualitativecase studies have also shown of adulthood.
that the meaning of a particulartrack or
For example, in GrowingUp American,
group placementis sociallyconstructedand Peshkin(1978), an educationalanthropolocontextual.In Page's (1991) studyof lower- gist, described how schools in the small
track classroomsin two high schools, the Midwesterntown he called Mansfieldsocialmeaningforstudents(and teachers)of being ized studentsto remainin the community.
in one trackor anotherdepended heavilyon The localisticorientationof teachers who
thecurriculum
knowledgethatwas presented workedin Mansfieldbecause theypreferred
in the track.In some settings,regularclasses small-townlife,a plethoraof extracurricular
presented "high-status" knowledge and activitiesthatengaged adultsas well as chilclasses were not necessarilystig- dren,and local normsforappropriatelevels
lower-track
matizing,while in othersettingstheywere. of academic achievement all created an
Page observed that an importantaspect of ethos,consistentthroughoutthe school and
was not so much community,in which students' aspirations
curriculumdifferentiation
how lower-track
classes were different
from and accomplishments
were circumscribed.
in God's Choice,Peshkin(1986)
regularclasses,but how theyweresimultane- Similarly,
and similar.She concluded described the socialization of students
ously different
that the lower-track
classes in the middle- throughthe organizationofwhat he came to

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Bridgesto theFuture

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believewas a "benigntotalinstitution,"
built the dominantmiddle-classachievementideon the perceivedtruthof Christianfunda- ology in theirschool (a game thattheywere
mentalism but also, like Mansfield High likelyto lose), but ironically,
this resistance
oriSchool, capitalizing on the resonance keptthem bound to theirworking-class
between the school and students' home gins.The two groupsofyouthsthatMacLeod
worlds. In contrast,in Places of Memory, studied perceived differentpossibilitiesfor
Peshkin(1997) describedthe ambivalenceof theirfuture,but in doing so, both had to
studentsin a New Mexicopueblovillagewho reckon with their mediocre academic
were educated in an off-reservation
boarding achievement.The black "Brothers"came to
school, which providedappealing employ- believethattheycouldachievein school and
blamed themselves
mentand economicpossibilities,
butalso tore in laterlifeand therefore
the studentsaway fromtheirhome culture. for their poor performancein school. The
The studentsrespondedto thisdilemmawith white "Hallway Hangers" rejected the
persistent feelings of malaise and low achievementideologyoftheirschoolas unfair
and developed othersources
achievement,which,in turn,keptthemcon- and illegitimate
ofself-esteem,
buttheirbravadodid not prosignedto theirnativecommunities.
Earlystudies of socializationadopted a tectthemcompletelyfromfeelingsof shame
largelyfunctionalist
perspective
thatwas con- and failure.
sistentwith the accommodatingstructural- Otherstudieshavealso shownhow difficult
cast of much Americansocial it is formarginalizedstudentslikethe "lads"
functionalist
War11eras. and "HallwayHangers"to sustaina critical
theoryofthe pre-and post-World
However, as American society became consciousnessabout educationand achieveincreasinglydiverse,socializationprocesses ment.Fine(1991) describedhighschool stucame to be seen as less naturaland benign, dents and formerstudents,most of whom
forthe developmentof were culturalminorities,
who had attendeda
and theirimplications
was made to
were raised.As schoolwhereconsiderableeffort
group and individualidentity
the followingdescriptionsindicate,interpre- rendertheirexperiencesand even theirprestive researchhas drawnattentionto conflict ence invisibleand to silence theirvoices of
and opposition.She foundthatdropoutslosttheir
and contestationin controloveridentity
socializationand has explored how schools criticaledge and developed "immobilizing
are implicatedin these processes.
regrets"(p. 103) as theystruggledafterleaving school. R. B. Stevenson and Ellsworth
AchievementIdentityand Socialization In (1993:266) also found that dropouts
school, students learn important lessons "reclaimed for themselves the blame for
aboutwhattheymayachieveand wherethey dropping out," so they could recall their
are likelyto fitintothe largersocial structure school experiences positivelydespite their
of adult life;theydevelop achievementiden- postschool failures.Consistentwith these
titiesby fashioninginterpretations
of these studies, O'Connor (1999) found that the
lessons that are meaningful to them. high-achieving
AfricanAmericanstudentsin
Qualitative research has illuminatedhow herstudywere articulateabout the structural
on achievementthat race, social
challengingthismeaningmakingcan be for constraints
studentswho do not succeed in school and class,and genderpresented.In contrast,the
how much it reliesboth on structural
con- low-achievingstudentstended to minimize
straintsimposed on studentsand on stu- the impact of these social identities;they
dents' own choices and actions. Willis's citedhardworkand desireas moreimportant
male stu- explanationsfor students'achievementand
(1 977) studyofwhiteworking-class
dentsin Englandand MacLeod's(1987) study the lackof effort
and willas explanationsfor
of whiteand blackmales in Americaare two poor performance.
accountsof how stuprominentinterpretive
Socialization
dents develop a sense of themselvesin light Gender Identity and
in school. Willis's"lads" Qualitativestudieshave also providedinsights
of theirperformance
claimed an identitythatwas oppositionalto into how schools and schoolingshape the

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122

Riehl

gender identitiesthat childrenand youths tyand socialization.A numberof workshave


develop. Thorne's (1993) and Lensmire's delved intothe actualexperiencesof cultural
(1994) booksshowedhow routineactivities
in minorities,
resisting
tendenciesto essentialize
and probingthe actions and
elementary schools-recess on the play- race-ethnicity
groundand writing
workshops,
respectively- reactionsthatconstructracialidentity.
can reinforce
genderstereotypes
and gender
One lineof qualitativeresearchin thisarea
inequalitiesthatare importedfromchildren's has illuminated
how schoolsand school learnlivesoutsideschool. Peer relationshave also ing provide(or failto provide)a contextin
been shown to be importantat the elemen- whichstudentscan develop a racialidentity.
taryand secondarylevelsas studentsstriveto J.Cohen (1993) showed thatforsome workbe popular by behaving in gender-stereo- ing-classAfricanAmericanstudents in an
typed ways. Adler,Kless,and Adler (1992) urban high school, explicitlearningabout
foundthatin elementary
school,boysformed theirculturalhistoriesprovidedcrucialfountheirgenderidentity
and became popularby dations for identitydevelopment,but this
internalizing
the male ethos of physicality,kindof learningdid not take place in school.
autonomy,
and "coolness,"whilegirlsbecame Her observationwas reinforcedby Epstein
popularon the basis of attributes
associated (1 997), who exploredthesourcesofhistorical
withsocial class,includingthe abilityto pur- knowledge for European American and
chase things,thequalityand styleofclothing, African
Americanstudentsand foundthatfew
and wheretheylived.
of the AfricanAmericanstudentsconsidered
Atthe middleschoollevel,Eder,Evans,and the information
theygained fromteachersin
Parker's(1995) study showed how adoles- schools to be trustworthy
accounts of their
cents' language-gossip, sexual harassment, culturalheritage.
insults,and teasing-is used to reproduce
Whilesome qualitativestudieshave docugender roles and occasionallyto challenge mentedthe lackof attentionto culturalidenthem. Valli's(1986) ethnographyof a high tityin schools,othershave exploredtheways
school cooperativeeducation programindi- inwhichschoolscan imposeproblematicculon students.Forexample,S. J.
cated that female students acquired, and turalidentities
sometimesresisted,genderideologiesof the Lee (1996) studiedfourAsianAmericanstuofficeworkeras sex object and as wifeand dent groups in a highschool: Korean-identimotherthroughsuchfactorsas the program's fied, Asian-identified
(a pan-Asiangroup),
attentionto students'personalappearance; New Waver(primarily
refugeesfromworkingavailablevisualrepresentations
ofofficework- class and poor families),and AsianAmericanstudents.Each grouphad a distincers; students'own experienceson job place- identified
formsof address tive self-definition
and different
ments;the use of different
experiences
for male and female workers; and the in the school. Lee concludedthatthe "model
teacher'semphasison her own identityas a minority" stereotype that is frequently
mother,even thoughshe professeda strong imposed on all studentsof Asian descent,
feministorientation.These gender-socializa- regardlessof their subgroup identities,is
forseveralreasons.Itdirectspeople's
tionpatternspersistintohighereducationas harmful
is
well, where, for example, female students' behaviorinwaysthatcan be discriminatory,
claims
attentionis divertedfromacademic strivings used to suppresspotentially
justifiable
to the marketforromance.This is the mes- ofinequalityamongAsianstudents,and erassage of Holland and Eisenhart's (1 990) es the experiencesof those Asian students
Educated in Romance,which locates peer who cannot or do not achieve highlevelsof
groupsas the sourceof a cultureof romance academic success.
have begun to use
thatvalues women morefortheirattractive- Interpretive
researchers
nessto men thanfortheircareerpotential.
a language-constitutive
perspectiveto examine the institutional
contextswithinwhich
identitiesare formed.
Racial-Ethnic Identity and Socialization students'racial-ethnic
discoursQualitative researchershave also applied Lopez (1 999) studiedfourdifferent
close interpretive
lensesto studyracialidenti- es in the livesofthreemigrantboys:thoseof

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Bridgesto theFuture

123

as
student, classmate, family member, and ers and discussedhow theircharacteristics
friend.Using the notionof discourseas an occupational settings sometimes were at
"identity
kit"oftalkand behaviorthatsignals odds with the educational purposes of
one's membershipin a particulardiscourse schooling.Thirtyyears later,Bidwell(1 965)
analysisofthe school
community,Lopez found withineach dis- presentedan influential
coursecommunity
a persistent
ignoranceand as a formalorganizationand reintroduced
devaluingof the otherdiscourses.It was not manyofWaller'sideas,includingthetroubled
surprising
that the boys encounteredmany relationshipbetween the organization of
natureof
problemstryingto negotiateamong these teachingas workand the intrinsic
competing discourses, with clear conse- teachingand learning.Recently,researchin
quences fortheirsense of selfand theiredu- thisdomain has examinedthe waysin which
schools are shiftingfrom being organized
cationaltrajectories.
studieshave also shown around routine, bureaucratized forms of
Finally,
interpretive
the interaction
betweenracial-ethnic
identity teachingto teachingas a complexand colleracial gial task.
and achievementidentity,
particularly
Qualitativeresearch has illuminatedthe
and ethnic minoritystudents'motivesand
teachconditionsthatfacilitate
behaviorsregardingtheir academic perfor- organizational
mance. Fordham (1 996) found that the ing as a professionalactivity,specifically
Americanstudentsthatare exploringstructures,processes,and norms
actionsof African
schoolsas professional
as evidenceof lazinessor thathelpto constitute
typically
interpreted
for
the
teachers
and identifying
communities
a lackofintelligence
could be viewedas politcommubarriers
that
can
restrict
professional
icalactsofresistance
groundedinthe maintenanceofa blackidentity
thatavoidsthewhite nity (e.g., Little 1982; Louis et al.1995;
"other."This more sophisticatedaccount of McLaughlin, Talbert, and Bascia 1990;
1998). Forexample,Little(1982)
identity
construction
extendsthe well-known Westheimer
"burdenofactingwhite"argumentshe devel- described how shared normsof collegiality
in schools encouraged
oped withOgbu (Fordhamand Ogbu 1986). and experimentation
Fordham (1993) also explored the links teachersto take risksand learnto teach difIn a follow-upstudy,Little(1990)
between gender, racial-ethnicidentity,and ferently.
was unlikely
achievement,
notingthatsome blackfemales showed thatgenuinecollegiality
werethe mostsuccessfulstudentsat "Capital to occur in schools unlessteacherswere able
teachingrolesand
High,"but also the leastvisible,because they to pursueinterdependent
tasks.
Louis
and
her
associates
(1995) drew
were"passing"forsomeonetheywerenotby
on
of
to
describe the
case
studies
schools
thedominantculturalimageofthe
mimicking
social
and
resources
as trustand
human
(such
white Americanfemale and ultimatelythe
and the
and
facilitative
leadership)
respect
whitemale.
conditions(likeadequate commustructural
and
nicationstructures,physicalproximity,
Researchon How SchoolsWork
schoolautonomy)thatsupportteachers'proInterestin featuresof the school as a social fessionalism.In contrast,Siskinand Little's
organizationwas evidentwhen the sociology (1995) collectionof studies of high school
of educationemergedas a distinctsubdisci- subjectdepartmentsexploredthe barriers
to
pline, and researchactivityin this area has professionalismimposed by departments
continuedto thrive.In thisoverview,I focus functioning
thatfosas separatecommunities
ofqualitativeresearchto ter fragmentedversionsof learningthrough
on the contributions
justtwo aspectsofthiswork:theorganization balkanization
and the exerciseof power.
relaand characterof teachingand authority
In the midstofthisattentionto the organitionsin schools.
zationalconditionsofteaching,therehas also
been an increasein interpretive
researchon
The Organization and Character of the natureof teachingand the meaningsit
Teaching Waller's (1932) early treatise holds for teachers themselves,a topic to
have been relatively
slowto
describedschoolsas workcontextsforteach- whichresearchers

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124

Riehl

turn (Van Galen and Eaker1995). Analytic A thirdexampleof interpretive


researchon
perspectiveson the moral dimensions of the nature of teaching is Weiler's(1 988)
teaching helped to initiatethis enterprise study,whichexploredhow women teachers
(e.g., Noddings1992), but ethnographiesof and administrators
in two urban secondary
teachinghave constituted
the bulkofthisline schools attemptedto enact their commitifnot always
of inquiry.Interpretive
(in principle,
qualitativeresearch mentsto feminism
has been particularly
valuablein demonstrat- in name) and critical pedagogy. Weiler
ing how teachers'social originsand personal observedthattheseteachersand administracommitments
shape theirorientations
toward tors entered teaching through circuitous
teachingand theirexperiencesas teachers. routesthatwere laced withgenderedexpecOne example is Casey's (1 993) narrative tationsand structural
limitations
on theirlife
study of teaching. Casey drew on the choices,as well as opportunities
to develop a
hermeneutictheoriesof MikhailBakhtinto criticalsocial consciousness.They sought to
inwaysthatchallenged
develop group biographiesof three sets of teach and administer
forces
teachersshe interviewed:religiousCatholic dominantideologies and institutional
women (nuns), Jewishwomen, and African in theirschools. This work was not always
Americanwomen.She foundthateach group easy because the women encounteredresisofwomenshareda dominantdiscourseabout tance when theirvalues conflictedwith the
teaching.The nunsexpressedan "existential culturalvalues of studentsand theirfamilies,
discourse"in whichthemesof freedomand thoseofotherteachers,orthoseofthe broadof schooling.Weiler
responsibility,
laced with a strong religious er institutional
structures
perspective,grounded their teaching for concluded that studyingfeministteachers
social change. The Jewish
women articulated bringsinto high reliefthe complexitiesof
a "pragmaticdiscourse"about the need for gender,racial,and class dynamicsin schools;
activiststo be ingeniousand adaptive,and shows how schoolsmirror
the tensionsofthe
the African
Americanwomen used a "signify- wider society;and demonstratesthe fragile
of promotingtranstheirawarenessof but enduringpossibility
ing discourse,"reflecting
instieducationin state-sponsored
double consciousness,or the "oblique inter- formative
sectionof black and white meaningswithin tutions.
These interpretive
studiesof how teachers
black narrative"(p. 112). For Casey, these
are of interest
narratives
threedistinctive
strate- constructcareersand identities
represented
gies forenactingthe roleofteacher.
sociologicallybecause they have potential
Lubeck(1985) also exploredthe influences implicationsfor the social organizationof
of teachers' culturalbackgroundson their teaching.Theyprovidea bridgebetweencurteaching by comparing the child-rearing riculumtheoristsand teachereducatorswho
oftwosetsofwomen:blackwomen are concernedwithteachingitselfand sociolstrategies
teachersat a working-class
Head Startcenter ogists who investigatethe organizationof
and whitewomen teachersin a middle-class teaching.Ideally,the organizationalcontext
a deep understandpreschool.Lubeckobservedpatternsofteach- ofteachingshouldreflect
ing that were consistentwith the teachers' ing and appreciationof what teachingcan
culturalbackgroundsand personal circum- and should be, especiallyin the mindsof its
stances. On the one hand, the Head Start practitioners.
situteachers,who all livedinextendedfamily
ations,workedcloselytogetherand reinforced Order and Authorityin Schools Another
the collectivevalues of the African
American fundamentalissue regardinghow schools
is the problemoforder
culture.On the otherhand,the whiteteach- workas organizations
tendedto and authority.
ers,who all livedin nuclearfamilies,
Sociologicallymindedtheorists
workalone withthe childrenand to encour- and researchershave largelyignoredbehavand ioraland managerialapproachesto discipline
age in them the values of individualism
Lubeckconcludedthata dis- and controland have insteadtriedto underself-expression.
was operat- standthedeepersourcesoforderand authortinctformofculturaltransmission
ingthroughbothsetsofteachers.
ityin schooling.Some have focused on the

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Bridgesto theFuture

125

essentiallycoercivenatureof the school,fol- principalsplaced a premiumon behavioral


lowing Goffman's(1961) explicationof a control,the teacherswere more likelyto try
"total institution."
Othershave developed a to control their students by controlling
structuralperspectiveon the problem of knowledge.In contrast,when the principals
order.Forexample,D. L. Stevenson's(1 991) minimizedtheirconcernforstrictbehavioral
studyof a firstgrade class in a low-income controlofthestudents,theteacherswerefree
community
foundthatdeviantstudentswere to create livelyclassroomenvironments
with
a //collective resource" in the classroom open access to knowledgeforthe students.
McNeil's studyexpanded on connections
because theyenabled the teacherto articulate, throughwords as well as rewardsand betweenlearningand behavioralcontrolthat
sanctions,expected behaviorsand desired were firstarticulatedby Metz (1 978) in her
performance.
Hence,deviantstudentshelped ethnographyof two recentlydesegregated
the boundariesof acceptable behavior juniorhighschools.Metz,likeMcNeil,found
clarify
forall the students.
that students' behavior was heavily influStillother theoristsand researchershave enced bythe attitudesand practicesoffaculin termsof the tymembersregardingthe goals of both acaexploredorderand authority
value orientations
ofschoolsas communities, demic learningand order.Heranalyticframein which relationalnormsand patternshelp work reflectsa complex perspectiveon the
to maintaincohesionand order.These ideas divergentorganizationalimperatives(espewere developed conceptuallyby Brykand ciallytechnologyand structure)
thatrelateto
Driscoll(1988) and by V. E. Lee, Bryk,and the pursuitoflearninggoals and controlgoals
Smith(1993). In thisvein,Zane (1994) stud- in schools. Resistingoversimplification,
Metz
ied fourPhiladelphiahighschools thatwere neverthelessconcluded that in the school
involvedin restructuring
and foundthattheir where the teachersadopted a more consis"fetish"about disciplinereceded into the tently"incorporative"
teaching style,mainin a
backgroundas theschoolsbecame morerela- tainingmorecontroloverthe curriculum
approach,thestudentswere
tionallyorientedand more democratic.The subject-centered
natureofdisciplineshifted
fromthecontrolof compliant but uncommittedlearners,and
individualstudentsto a focus on the lifeof theirbehavior,both in the classroomsand in
was similarstudents'mindsand on betterrelations.The the generalschool environment,
facultyobserved a decrease in disciplinary lycompliant.In contrast,in the schoolwhere
problemsas a resultof the students'higher teacherfactionsopenlydisagreedabout the
betterrelationships
betweenstu- use ofan incorporative
self-esteem,
teachingstyleversusa
dentsand teachers,and studentstakingown- learner-centered,
"developmental"style,the
students'behaviorin the classroomsand corershipof controlling
thingsthemselves.
The most prominent and enduring ridorswas moreunruly,
butthestudentswere
and order more activelyengaged. The teachersreportapproachto the studyof authority
in schools,however,examinesthe embedded ed to Metz thatthe principals
were crucialto
natureof controlideologiesand mechanisms the characterof the schools. In the former
in schools, particularlythe connections school,the principalsoughtorderand safety,
between behavioralcontroland the control usinga "benignbutfirm"hand withthe stuof students'learning.This approach charac- dents and even co-opting the teachers'
terizes McNeil's (1988) influential
study of potentialformischief
bycreatingcommittees
social studiesteachingin fourhigh schools. and assigningwork that would divertthe
McNeil found that the teachersmaintained teachers' creative energies. In the latter
orderlyclassroomspartlythroughtheircon- school,the principalrespondedto the teachtrol over the knowledgeto which the stu- ers' divergentviews by delegatingdecisions
more autonomythroughout
dentshad access. By using"defensiveteach- and permitting
ing" strategies,such as omission,simplifica- the school.
the teachers preThese connectionsbetween learningand
tion, and fragmentation,
servedtheirauthority
and keptthe students authorityare also evidentin Oyler's(1996)
in line. She discoveredthatwhen the school ethnographyof a first-grade
classroom in

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126

Riehl

were able to advance corChicago. Oylerarguedthatpositiveauthority school partnership


whileotheractorswere
relationsin the classroom,in this instance porateself-interests,
intoeducapower-sharing social relationships,were able to resistcorporateincursions
a con- tionand advance broaderpublicpolicygoals.
essentialforsupportingand facilitating
Other qualitativestudies have examined
structivist
approachto literacy.
with
how policyactorsfunctionin interaction
other
individuals.
For
examjust
a
system,
not
Research on Educational Policy
ple, Wells's (2000) comparison of charter
The sociologyof educationhas made impor- schools in England and the United States
to educationalpolicysince examinedthe impactof context,specifically
tantcontributions
at leastthe publicationofthe Colemanreport the absence or presenceof neoliberalpolitical
(Colemanet al. 1966). Much ofthisworkhas traditions,on the formationof educational
been instrumental,
usinga technicalrational- policy.In thisstudy,as well as in an earlier
ityto examinewhetherand how variouspol- study(Wells et al. 1999), Wells interpreted
and educationalpracticescan the actionsof actorsaccordingto the beliefs
icy initiatives
enableschoolsto achieveparticular
ends.The they held and observed how their beliefs
of interpretive
qualitative influencedthe developmentof macropolicy
key contributions
research,however,lie in examininghow the structures,
which, in turn,influencedlocal
targetsofeducationalpoliciesactuallyexperi- educationalagencies.
ence these policies, who actually benefits Wells'sstudiesand those of otherqualitafrom various policies, and how policies tive researchers have demonstrated the
serve-or failto serve-multipleinstitutional importanceof the discursiveformationof
educationalpolicy.Thatis,theyhave illustrator social ends.
Educationalpolicies are craftedglobally ed how the developmentand implementaand enacted locally.Interpretive
researchhas tion of policy is dependent on languagebeen extremely
helpfulin producingdescrip- embedded constructionsof meaning that
tionsof local contextsthatcan hinderor sub- influenceunderstandingand action. This
vert the implementationof policies. For body of work has linked individualpolicy
example,Lareauand Shumar's(1 996) ethno- makers'beliefsand actions,throughdiscurgraphic study of children from different sive framingsof meaning,withthe constitunormsand strucand socioeconomicbackgrounds tion of wider institutional
racial-ethnic
thateducationalpoliciesregarding tures. For example, Rhoades (1987) used
illustrated
may not support interviewsand analyses of documents to
parent-schoolrelationships
reform
unlesstheytakeintoaccountdifferen- examinehow educationalbeliefsand convicconditionsthatcontialsocial resourcesand unequal power rela- tionsand the structural
vert
into
group
ideologies framed
them
backtionshipsamong parentsfromdifferent
reformers'
overhaul
secondaryeduefforts
to
Wells
and
Oakes's
996)
(1
grounds.Similarly,
Davies's (1 999)
showed how elite cation in Britain.Similarly,
studyof detrackingreform
parentscould use a varietyof strategiesto studyofthe discourseprocessesframingmuland religiousgoals in Canadianedudif- ticultural
curricular
pressureschools to reinstitute
This is importantevidencethat cational policy documented how shiftsin
ferentiation.
class-linkedmicropolitical
maneuveringcan framesof meaningmade policychange posundermineboth top-down and bottom-up sible.
The capacity of
systemicreforminitiatives.
researchto examinemicropolitics
interpretive
also helpsto illuminate
the interests
ofvarious EMERGINGTHEMES
actorswho participatein educationalpolicy
initiatives.For example, Mickelson's(2000) These briefdescriptionsillustratethe rich
case studyofthe involvement
of businessesin scope of interpretive
qualitativeresearchin
school reformin Charlotte,NorthCarolina, the sociologyof education.In thissection,I
how the actionsof some individu- discuss several areas in which furtherwork
illustrated
als withinparticularstructures
of corporate- maybe needed.

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Bridges to theFuture

127

First,recent qualitativeresearchon how holdsocialstructures


togetherand theculturschools workhas thusfarnot drawnfroma al values and beliefsthat color individuals'
vigorous body of theoreticaland empirical constructionsof social reality.Thus, it is
workoutsideeducationthatreflects
interpre- increasingly
difficult
forsociologiststo considtive approaches to organizationalstudies er structure
apartfromculture.Moreover,the
fieldofculturalstudies,along
fromfeminist,
critical,
postmodern,
and other interdisciplinary
emergingperspectives.
Thisresearchincludes with Britishsociology of education and
studiesof language use and criticaldiscourse Americancurriculum
studies,has invigorated
and studyofculturebytreating
analysisin organizations,criticalstudies of the definition
organizational
culture,studiesofthe relation- it not as an attributeof a societyor a feature
ship betweensocial movementsand organi- ofone's social background,but as a livelysite
zations,studiesof power and knowledgein forthe productionofmeaningas botha comorganizations,and studies of the gendered modity and lived experience (Weis 1995;
natureof organizations(e.g., Alvessonand Young 1971).
This richunderstanding
of cultureand of
Deetz 1996; Czarniawska1997; Ferguson
1984; D. Grant,Keenoy,and Oswick 1998; the culturalimplicationsof diverseissues in
Hearn 1989; Martin 1992; McAdam, education warrantsfurtherattentionfrom
McCarthy,and Zald 1996). All these topics sociologistsof education.To be sure,various
could profitably
be exploredwith regardto scholars (e.g., Apple 1979; Giroux 1992;
McLaren2000) havesoughtto makeconnecschool organizations.
In the past, sociologicalinvestigations
of tions between education and largercultural
schools as organizationsdrew on (and con- issues. Studiesof "culturalproducts"in edutributedto) seminalwork in organizational cation, such as curriculumstandards,texttheory.These connectionsare less evident books, and standardizedtests,have filledin
today,perhapsbecause sociologistsofeduca- some ofthe emptyspaces in our understandtion are abandoning the metaphorof the ing of how schoolingservesbroadercultural
school as an organizationin favor of the purposes(Anyon1981, 1994; Apple 1985).
metaphorof the school as a communityand Butinthe UnitedStates,thisworktendsto be
are simplynot interestedin the formalorga- pursued eitherwithincurriculumstudiesor
nizationalcharacteristicsand dynamics of on the boundariesof the sociologyof educaschools. It may also be less evidentbecause tion.
Third,the sociology of education could
sociologicalstudies of schools as organizarich profitably
focus more on broad social analytionshavedrifted
awayfromtheoretically
of school organizationand toward ses ofschoolingand society.Apartfromoccaportraits
studies of organizational sionalforaysintoneo-Marxism
and historicaltechnical-rational
effectiveness
thatcan inform
policyand prac- comparative analyses of education within
in the
tice. In any case, the sociologyof education largersystems,mainstream
researchers
risksfallingbehindintheconceptualsophisti- sociologyof education in the UnitedStates
cation and analyticreach of itstreatmentof have not engaged much in effortsto link
the organizationalnatureof schooling.
studiesofschoolingwithbroadersocial,politSecond, sociologistsof educationhave not ical,and economic issues,includingthe conyet fullyaddressed the topic of culture. nectionsbetween education and the social
of capitalismor modernity.
Their
the domains of sociologyand implications
Traditionally,
to do so maybe due, in part,to the
anthropologyhave claimed social structure hesitancy
as properobjectsof atheoreticalnatureof muchworkin the sociand culture,respectively,
study.But structureand culturehave been ology of education. Not only are the core
conceptually intertwined at least since processesofschoolingnotsubjectedto rigorDurkheim (1893/1984, 1897/1952)) and ous conceptualand theoreticaldevelopment,
Weber (1904-05/1958) grappledwiththem but theyare not connectedto social theories
and morerecently
sincesymbolicinteraction- of wider scope (Apple and Weis 1987).
ists and other constructivist
theoristshave Anotherreasonforthe hesitancyof socioloemphasizedboth the culturalmeaningsthat gistsof educationto engage in such efforts

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128

Riehl

maybe thattheyare uncomfortable


withthe sharedrepertoires
ofactivity
thatnovicescan
modes of interpretive
analysisthatcharacter- learn(Tharpand Gallimore1988).
ize much contemporarysocial analysis,in
and designingoptimalsetUnderstanding
contextsforlearningis
which the emphasisis on meaningful,
con- tingsand community
textualized,historicalinterpretations,
rather perhapsthe greatestchallengefacingcognitive psychology and education today.
thanon cumulative,generalizabletheories.
This hesitancyis costly,since it limitsthe Sociologistsought to be interestedin this
facrange of factorsthatcan be used to explain work,givenitsfocuson the sociocultural
for
educationalphenomena.Disconnectedfrom torsof such settingsand its implications
itswidersocialcontext,educationrisksa pre- the organizationof teachingand learningin
cariousvulnerability
and can be blamedforall schools. Butsociologistsof educationdo not
sortsof social ills(Purpeland Shapiro1995). yet share a conceptuallanguage withthose
However,this work is proceeding in one who studysituatedlearningand communities
strandof the sociologyof education,which of practice.
focuses on urban schooling. For example,
Anyon's(1997) studyofeducationin Newark,
New Jersey,
groundeda close look at "Marcy CONCLUSION
School" in a largerhistoricalaccount of the
school's and city's politicaland economic Severalconclusionscan be drawnfromthis
context.Mirel(1 993) did muchthe same for reviewof qualitativeresearchin, and related
education in Detroit,and G. Grant's(1988) to, the sociologyof education.First,qualita"sociologicallyinformedhistory"
of an urban tiveresearchcontinuesto generaterich,conhighschoolinan anonymouscityshowedthe textualized,process-sensitive
understandings
complex interplay among demographic of phenomenathathave sociologicalimport.
changes in the school's studentpopulation, Interpretive
researchoffers
a different
authorbroad cultural shifts that infiltratedthe itativevoice that reflectsthe meanings of
school,and the school'sabilityto maintaina local actorsand actionsoverthe moreremote
healthyethosforbothteachersand students. and disinterested
perspectiveof positivism's
For these researchers,
the solutionto urban "universalsubject."The morethatqualitative
educationalproblemsmust involveaddress- researchers
are attunedto the experiencesof
ing the largerproblemsthat urban centers diverseacto'rsin diversecontextsin educaface, including severe poverty,municipal tion, the more this researchwill resultin a
and com- productiveenrichmentof the traditionally
economicinvestment,
overburden,
the dominantvoicesand themesofthe sociology
munitydevelopment,not just improving
schools.
of education.
Fourth, and perhaps most important,
domains
Second,in each ofthesubstantive
researchinthesociologyofeducationhasyet noted in thisreview,qualitativeresearchconto connectwiththe workin cognitivepsy- tinues to draw the sociology of education
chology and related disciplinesthat views closerto the realmsofeducationalpolicyand
learningas a situated,socioculturalactivity. practice.This trendhas positivebenefitsfor
Drawingon the theoriesof Vygotsky
(1978), the practicalutilityof the field'sscholarship,
who described cognitive, communicative, but it may runthe riskof mutingsociology's
and social dimensionsof learning,a growing critical edge and unique vantage point
cadre of researchershave been developing, (Bidwell,1999). As many observersof the
on the basis of interpretive
investigations,subdiscipline's
have pointedout (e.g.,
history
accountsof how learningtakesplace in activ- Dreeben 1994; Lagemann 2000; Trent,
ofpractice(e.g., Braddock,and Henderson1985), an imporitysettingsand communities
Rogoffand Lave 1984; Wenger1998). These tantand enduringtensioniswhetherthefield
settingsand communitiesincorporateimpor- should pursuethe developmentof scientific
tant featuresthat make learningpossible, knowledgeabout schoolingwithina broad
includingmeaningfultasks,the presenceof sociological perspective("the sociology of
persons who can assist with learning,and education") or the developmentof knowl-

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Bridgesto theFuture

129

widercomparison,
forexample,orforemphaedge, includingnormative
and abstracttheosizingdifferent
aspects of social life- strucry and applications,that responds more
ture,action,culture,power,function,
etc. The
directly
to the problemsof educationalpracpoint
is
to
see
the
process
as
basic
and
never
tice ("educationalsociology").The liveliness
ending,
and
to
subject
it
to
our
continuing
and utilityof the sociology of education
criticalattention,ratherthan to imaginethat
depends on how it positionsitselfregarding
it is somehow settled once and for all, or
thesealternatives.
merelya matterof operationaldefinition.
Finally,it should be clearfromthisreview
thefutureof
that qualitative research that is situated Ifpastevidenceis anyindication,
squarelywithina sociologicalframeworkis the sociologyof education will be won, at
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Riehl

134

CarolynRiehl,Ph.D., is AssistantProfessor,
Department
of EducationalLeadership
and Cultural
Hermainareas of
Foundations,
Schoolof Education,University
of NorthCarolina-Greensboro.
ineducation,
relationships,
schoolorgainterest
aregenderand cultural
diversity
school-community
how schooladministrators
nization,and administrative
practice.She is currently
investigating
working
in multicultural
contexts
engagethepublicin educationalpolicyand practice.
and critTheauthorthanksMaryHaywoodMetzand AnnaNeumannfortheirhelpful
comments
of
icismson earlierversions
ofthisarticle.Addressall correspondence
to CarolynRiehl,Department
ofNorthCarolinaat Greensboro,
P.O.
Educational
Leadership
and Cultural
Foundations,
University
Box26171, Greensboro,
NC 27402-6171; e-mail:cjriehl@uncg.edu.

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