Grade retention - subjectivating, disciplinary and affective forces: an ethnographic case study in Chilean primary schools

Meyer Romero, Alejandra Catarina (2022). Grade retention - subjectivating, disciplinary and affective forces: an ethnographic case study in Chilean primary schools. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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For millions of students worldwide, the end of the school year entails definitions of success and failure. In many countries, those students who do not fulfil certain requirements and academic expectations are not promoted to the following grade; this means they must do the same class once again. In theory, repeating a grade is a new opportunity for learning and developing. However, most of the research on this topic suggests that the practice has adverse academic, emotional and behavioural effects on those who are retained, promotes educational inequality, and negatively impacts overall performances. This project emerges from the apparent contradiction between the pervasiveness and persistence of grade retention and its harmful effects on students and educational systems.

The research addresses this area of concern by interrogating the productive forces that create grade retention and the forces generated by it through a post-structural, ethnographically oriented case study conducted in Chilean primary schools. Educational subjectivities, knowledge, practices, affectivities, material arrangements, relations and structures of power are examined. The theoretical contributions of Michel Foucault, Judith Butler, Julia Kristeva, Sarah Ahmed, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari – and the work of scholars who have enlivened their concepts within the educational field – are used as analytic tools to explore grade retention as a complex, heterogeneous, interactive, productive and plastic ensemble of these components and the dynamics they form.

The analysis of the evidence challenges sanctioned narratives defining grade retention as an educational strategy that safeguards students’ academic development. Instead, it argues that grade retention is a technology that protects and reinforces accepted school and educational orders and identities by defining those who are not aligned with them as legitimate objects of academic, social, affective, symbolic and physical dispossession. The negative connotations usually attributed to grade retention by research often overlook its productive force. Grade retention, with its reliance on the presumed deficit and deviation of individuals, creates a fiction in which traditional neoliberal educational discourse can continue to be enforced ignoring its inevitable conflict with the more recent introduction of progressive inclusive ideas and goals.

In this scenario, in Chile alone, thousands of young students are made impossible/abject subjects of education every year. Moreover, all children are submitted to a coercive education, in which from a very early age, joy, success and belonging are sustained by disgust, fear and pain. However, this state of things is neither necessary nor fixed. New sensibilities and political responsibilities could open a field of possibility in which primary education might seek justice and human flourishing instead of resting on the harmful distinctions of success and failure.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
Licence: All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Social Sciences
School or Department: School of Education
Funders: Other
Other Funders: Agencia Nacional de Investigación y Desarrollo (ANID) BECAS/Becas Chile, Doctoral Fellowship Program
Subjects: L Education > L Education (General)
L Education > LB Theory and practice of education
L Education > LB Theory and practice of education > LB1501 Primary Education


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