Talking Violence – Feminist Ethnography in secondary school

The topic of the lecture on 23.1 was very important. It was about gender, school and violence. The lecture was held by Sonja Raunio, whose master´s thesis was called “Violence in secondary school- Feminist Ethnography in secondary school” and the study was made viewpoint of students.

In our group’s opinion, the topic was important and interesting. Even though it was tough to hear how violence still appears a lot in schools, the lecture gave hope for brighter and more tolerant future. It was great to hear that schools have started to give books called “We should all be feminists” and there really are actions being taken for building more tolerant/equal schools!

Questions which rose up in our discussion were, for example: “Where does the line between violence and non-violence goes (is pushing someone violence or not)?, “Do social circumstances define what is violence and what is not?”Why some acts are defined as violence when others are not?” “Why physical violence seemed to be on the top of the “hierarchy” when emotional was lower?” “Violence in school appears to be so normal that it often isn’t even noticed  → How much do we really ignore violence in schools?” and “How much really happens violence in schools nowadays?”

You might assume that everyone knows what violence is, but when taking a closer look at the issue, we notice that violence is actually way more complex than it seems. So what is violence really? Obviously physical violence, such as pushing another person counts, but where should we draw the line when it comes to mental abuse? Bullying in school is seen as mental abuse and (oftentimes) a serious offense, yet still is not (for the most part) equated with “actual” violence, even though bullying can, and often is, physically violent behavior. We also have to consider the context in which the violence happens — if you get in a fight on the street, you could get thrown into jail, but fighting in school might be seen as “playfighting” (where violence is seen as participatory, meant as a jest and means of bonding, although often times one or more of the participants do not see it as a “joke”).These things among others make the delineation between bullying and violence difficult, and have to be taken into account when talking about violence.

Additionally, bullying has a social component to it that is somewhat unique to the school environment (although one might argue that bullying exists in workplaces as well, and that isn’t necessarily called “violence” either). There is an emphasis on the emotional and social aspect of the abuse: bullying is clearly meant to emphasize control and power, whether it is considered between boys and girls, or cross-gendered.

The issue of violence and power is a complicated one, as it seems that the school system itself also helps maintain the social circumstances of bullying.The threat of violence itself was brought up as one means by which this is done.Teachers engage in threats, sometimes even in violent ones, though most often in the form of detentions and other forms of disciplinary actions.

Although violence is often a complex issue and has many abstract qualities, one objective point was made about it in the lecture: Violence means different things to people depending their assumed, expressed or experienced gender. Violence cannot be defined fully or precisely at full length. Still it always should be intervened despite the difficulties in defining it!

For most children being a boy or a girl is natural and gender identity aligns with their biological sex. In addition, when people think of gender, they think of two distinct categories – male and female. However, for some people the match between biological sex and gender identity is not that clear. Gender diversity means that some people fall outside of the classic male/female gender category.  One way to define this more, is to think about gender as a continuum. You don’t have to fit in to discrete category, you can be somewhere in between. Schools are supposed to be equal, but at the same, time schools are gendered institutions because they support specific gender patterns.This is definitely an important thing to improve and it seems that there is still a way to go. A good way is to talk, talk and talk as much as possible!

The issue of gendered violence is also not an issue exclusive to the school system, as there are plenty of examples of such events taking place in adult workplaces as well. The so-called “glass ceiling” for women is a good example of this, as well as the harassment and name-calling that many people (of all genders) experience in the workplace. One form of gendered violence are also unequal career-paths amongst of women and men. Combining family life and work often forces women to choose a part-time job, for example in the Netherlands three quarters of women work part-time. One could even argue that the experiences of gendered violence in school “spill over” to people’s later experiences in working life, perpetuating the cycle even further.

Is there any way out of this? Well, it seems that some progress has been made in this issue. One example would be including the book We Should All be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie to Finnish middle schoolers in 9th grade. Another one, mentioned in this lecture, is how feminist topics such as privilege and gender inequality are now going to be taught in schools in Australia.

Group K:

Tiia, Mikaela, Jonathan, Sini & Mimmi

Some remarks about violence in schools

Defining violence can be more complex than you first think. Is it from the structures or from an individual? Can you separate those? Based on the lecture discussion it can be concluded that for example violence at school is by no means a new phenomenon but likely to be to some extent even accepted and as old as the institution itself. School is very fruitful institution when we talk about violence. School is big and important institution on everyone’s life course and has lots to do in our growth and development. When considering the nature of violence, we came to the conclusion, that the school itself is producing violence. And if we think further, it isn’t only the school, because the way that school is constructed comes from the society and its regulations. Do young children have any other way to act if the basic situation is that they are forced to go to school, which is obligatory for everyone?

Should we then just accept presence of violence as part of school’s mission of preparing pupils for life? Sociology is centered around the  primacy of agent versus structure. Our societies are built on the generally accepted monopoly of power exercised by state actors. Thus it can be stated that violence-free schools are too much to ask from children when us adults are simultaneously raising them to accept violence built in the very structures of our society that guide our actions. Judging on the general discussion among the world’s adult population, violence and bullying seem to continue being our common denominator in 2017 as well. Nevertheless there have been attempts to eradicate violence at schools. One of the most recent projects in Finland is Kiva koulu program, which we will focus on in our group work later on during this course.

Violence and school sports

How about sports. It is okay to tackle and “beat” someone in the sports field but not at the playground? What if children are just “playing hockey”? And is it okay to beat someone at football court.. You can bully someone there as well.
As an example from the field of sports, we can identify, that there exist some rules – what is wrong, what is right. But who defines, where goes the limit of bullying and justified behaviour, which is understandable in the certain context? According to Sonja’s research, students seemed to be struggling to understand situations from other person’s points of view and to realize the consequences of their actions. How we could teach them that kind of understanding and way of thinking? If we think about teachers, we might end up wondering if they understand the student’s perspective. The thing is, that even if we can’t directly define violence, we have to underline that it is always and in every situation unacceptable.

Gender and school violence

But then comes the next question:  Who can tell is it violance or bullying or not? The person getting bullied, the one who is doing it, or the one standing by? How to define that? Of course, in every society and culture people have some kind of common understanding of what is right and wrong and we also have some kind of consensus of the definition of violence . However, sometimes perception of violence can “blur” and and lead to negative consequences. Who to blame? Not so easy question to answer.

In recent years the media has highlighted the effects of games to young people’s perceptions of violence.  In 2001 Nea Porsanger did her master’s thesis about young people’s thoughts about violence. In this study, results showed that adolescents also seem to think that media has a big role in their perceptions and attitudes. At the same time young people named school to be the best place to talk about violence and change attitudes, even though the main responsibility of moral education and what is right or wrong was seen as a family’s task.  Porsanger’s study also brings out how often young people define violence first as a physical violence, which is something you can easily see happening. Whereas mental violence has many different aspects that are more difficult to grasp and define.

In Porsanger’s study the gender also came to the picture. Young people perceived boys more often to be violent. If we go back to the prevailing perceptions in society, is especially physical violence more acceptable for boys? From our point of view it is. There is even this phrase “boys will be boys” referring that it is more “natural” for boys to fight and brawl. The society really is part of producing violence. Then violence is explained as an individual’s natural capability. On the contrary when the conversation comes to mental violence, for example backbiting, it is often perceived as a tendency for girls. If no one – parents, teachers or other educators and children themselves – don’t adhere to these questions, a certain kind of acting happens again and again “because of the gender”. Like Carrie Paechter writes in our course book (page 140), first we expect people to be male or female and then we expect them to behave masculine or feminine way, just based on a child’s genitals.

School violence, technology and potential futures

Based on arendtian notion of centricity of technological advances in violence, we wonder if this development could be reversed? As seen over and over again in the history of civilization, advances in technology have often been strongly connected to quest for more powerful warfare. Could the current social and artificial intelligence innovations change that course? One aspect that can potentially differentiate our time from the earlier ones is naturally the use of digital technology and the way it has rapidly spread to all spheres of life. One example of the potential futures includes Finnish mobile game Mightifier that strengthens pupils’ social and emotional skills. Teachers who have utilized the tool report reduced bullying and better atmosphere in their class rooms. It will be seen if with the new generations schools will become the first frontiers without violence. The new generations with technology on their side can surprise to the upside.


Ryhmä B
Emma, Reetta, Maikki ja Pauliina

Social Justice in Education – Ideas and Comments

On the first lecture we discussed our own definitions of social justice. In our group everyone had experienced issues regarding social justice in the education system. This was rather expected – it is, after all, the topic of the course. However, something was not expected: majority of these experiences were within University! Quite shocking.

Segregation based on language, educational background or ethnicity came up. What we found especially worrying, and to some degree interesting too, was the fact that discrimination was initiated by professors, and not by students. A practical example: multilingual university courses are divided into workgroups based on mother tongue. We felt that such a choice should be made by students and by no means by professors. The vast majority of Swedish-speaking Finns can communicate in Finnish and could maybe see the workgroups as a good learning opportunity. The same goes for Finnish-speaking Finns.

Further on, we found that professors often set unjust prejudices against students based on their educational background. The experience discussed was about minor studies done in a different university. There a professor made a clear distinction between students from different majors. Stereotypes were mentioned as facts, but based only on the professor’s previous personal experience without any knowledge on the students in question or their ways of studying. However, we think that such distinction should not be made at all. Instead, everyone should be treated equally, without preconceptions initiated by professors.

Lastly, discrimination based on ethnicity can happen camouflaged in “positive” encouragement. Should students from different ethnic backgrounds be treated exactly the same as students from the “majority”? In the experience we discussed, a pupil was demanded on participating on a PE class just as the others did. Just that it was a skiing class, and the pupil in question had probably never even seen snow before. Here a question is raised: is absolute inclusion always fair? Would it be discrimination against majority to allow alternatives? Or would it be discrimination against minorities to demand for absolute uniformity?

//Group C