Hopson R K and Dixson D D (eds) (2014) Race, Ethnography and Education. London: Routledge

138 pages

ISBN:  978 0 415 85458 0

This text is a book developed from a previously published special edition of ‘Ethnography in Education’.  It consists of a collection of seven articles, organised into three sections.  Unless the reader holds this information in his/her head it is difficult to know when one passes from one section to another.  There is a structure:  three literature reviews, two examples of substantive ethnographic research projects and finally a section on new directions in ethnographic research methodology in relation to race issues.  These are indicated on the contents page but not within the text itself.

The book is not for CPD practitioners – it is of interest to those keen to conduct research and to develop theories upon which some forms of CPD provision could be based.  It is esoteric and academic.  It is very critical of established ethnographic methodologies which focus on race and racism related topics.

The first section provides case studies, drawing out themes.  The reader is reminded to take history into account, though a presentation of approaches and attitudes to researching racial issues in Italy. Real, lived experiences are reported and analysed to demonstrate how feelings of mistrust and alienation shape the responses of immigrant groups to events.  Extreme events reinforce stereotyping, which is shaped by unique experiences.  Whole communities are assigned particular characteristics, which serve to influence educational processes actually intended to break down prejudices, but which may actually serve to reinforce them.

Similar themes are shown to emerge from overly politically correct approaches in Scandinavia. Ethnicity related analyses are replaced by more general sociological methods, actually neglecting the racial issues under scrutiny.

Black males in USA are traditionally presented through a ‘White lens’ and ethnographic studies become exaggerated and sensationalise through the media and dramatisation.  Sympathetic studies ironically add to feelings of isolation and alienation.

The paper on Chinese immigrants to Canada uses the formation of a Chinese evangelist Christian association as an example of how immigrants need to establish an identity and status, which in this case is less aggressive than others.  It does represent a sense of ‘in-betweenness’ experienced by many immigrants.  The work does show a move to a focus on individual and personal needs and attitudes as opposed to characteristics assigned by others.

The final section does attempt to present a new model for ethnographic research, which I find relevant to education. The Black Emancipatory Action Research (BEAR) approach builds on the ideas of Paulo Freire on participatory research.  The emphasis is that activists from within minority groups should be at the core of research projects.  This removes the problems of mistrust, or of creating false expectations (created by researchers, or expected of researchers) and provides an insight into the real attitudes and responses of under-represented groups to authority and reduces their resistance to ‘White’ solutions.

The articles are interesting.  They do not provide answers to teachers’ day to day problems and challenges.  However for the planners of CPD, it does provide warnings about using evidence from action research as a foundation for development work, and they also present a possible alternative approach.

Professor Kit Field, University of Wolverhampton