A place-based study of the relationships between social class, gender, and age in education-focused life narratives of women.

Lead Research Organisation: University of Nottingham
Department Name: Sch of Education


My research will explore the imbrication of class, gender, place and age by focusing on educational experiences of three generations of working-class women from one particular place. By conducting life-history interviews with three different generations of women from twelve families in a Midlands Town, I will explore they have lived and learned throughout their lives and their perceptions of the connections between these two processes. The focus on a former coal-field explores the "neglected place-based divide" which works alongside economic and social factors in creating inequality in "left behind" regions across the UK. The place of the research counter-balances the dominant research focus on historically 'typical' sites of deprivation such as urban council estates. Existing literatures addressing educational experiences of working-class women demonstrate the barriers to educational achievement that they face, ranging from parental resistance to education to reluctance to leave families and networks. While these studies highlight key aspects of the educational experiences of some working-class women, the importance of place is generally less prominent. Similarly, ethnographic studies of working-class places rarely focus primarily on gender research that does explore class, gender and place does not often explicitly focus on the way that these multiple identities (re)produce educational experience.

The history of the location of the study is dominated by narratives of male former miners and research on industrial heritage in the area focuses on how male-dominated industries shaped the area, physically and socially. Women are largely considered through tales of domestic life and miners' strikes. The location of the study is also associated with persistent educational underachievement in terms of GCSE outcomes (compared to national data), despite the Coalfields Regeneration Trust describing the area as experiencing "below average levels of deprivation" compared to other former coalfields. This suggests that formal educational underachievement of learners locally cannot be convincingly explained through lack of economic capital. Policy responses to date have been to attribute formal educational underachievement to lack of aspiration but this rhetoric has been subject to heavy critique and persuasive counter empirical research results. The anomaly between economic recovery and educational achievement may be illuminated through narratives of women who have lived and learned in this region, as there is strong evidence to suggest the importance of women in their children's formal educational success. There may also be implications for research into informal educational practices, with the study potentially providing insight into informal, working-class educational activities that may not be acknowledged by formal education. The research will signpost potential avenues for educational equity-oriented policy interventions and professional practice.

Research design
The research uses place-based methods which illustrate "difference that is patterned in ways that connect the school and its teachers and students to a larger world", exploring this "larger world" by connecting the narratives of three generations of women with wider local, regional and national changes. I will conduct life-history interviews with working-class women. As both 'insider' as long-standing resident of the area, former student, and former teacher and 'outsider' as researcher, I may experience a range of affordances (easier accessibility) and difficulties (such as perceived 'otherness' as a researcher and the potential effects of interviewing participants with shared experiences). It will be important to respond reflexively to these factors throughout the project.


10 25 50