Understanding social reproduction: The recursive nature of structure and agency within a science class

Gale A Seiler, University of Pennsylvania


Schools and science classrooms within schools continue to contribute to social reproduction and to the disenfranchisement of inner city African American students though attempts have been made to remedy the situation through standards, high-stakes testing, and compensatory programs. Such reforms ignore the sociocultural, political, and economic contexts of the individual students in the schools they are impacting. They do not take into account the uniqueness and diversity of the learners in these settings and have not included the voices of the students. Another possibility was studied here; that of starting with the cultural capital of the learner rather than with external standards. In a non-required science course at a local high school two coteachers endeavored to enact a student-emergent curriculum as a way to foster student agency and to counteract the reproductive nature of schools. The class was examined as a field within multiple other fields. The dialectical relationship between structure and agency in the class was used to frame the analysis and the tension between them was examined at several levels through video and audio analysis. Structural and rational choice views of action were abandoned in favor of an understanding hinged upon strategies of action that actors construct from cultural toolkits in and through practice. In this setting the students and teachers co-constructed a class that can be described and characterized in certain ways yet contained many counter-examples and alternative characterizations. A continuum of successes and failures, agency and subjectivity can be found in the trends and counter-trends in the course. The contradictions were examined to portray the complexity of the interactions and the possibilities for agency within them. ^

Subject Area

Black Studies|Education, Secondary|Education, Sciences|Education, Curriculum and Instruction

Recommended Citation

Gale A Seiler, "Understanding social reproduction: The recursive nature of structure and agency within a science class" (January 1, 2002). Dissertations available from ProQuest. Paper AAI3043953.