CROSSING THE BORDERS THAT DEFINE DIFFERENCE: THE CULTURE, POLITICS, AND PRACTICE OF SOLIDARITY IN TWO HIGH SCHOOLS
Cohen, Beth Anne Douthirt
MetadataShow full item record
This multi-sited ethnography explores the experiences of high school students in the United States as they enact solidarity across various identity borders including race, gender, socioeconomic status, sexuality, and mental/physical ability. Specifically, the study focuses on relatively privileged young people in two distinctly different schools--an urban coeducational public school and a suburban all-boys private school. The students entered into solidarity across difference in order to protest the marginalization of minority groups. Using observations and in-depth interviews, this study documents the process of how, when, and why these students came to enact solidarity as a tool to alter systems of power and privilege. For these students, their journeys towards enacting solidarity began with a discovery of the borders that maintain inequality. These discoveries included a process of 1) experiencing or witnessing marginalization, 2) questioning the borders that maintain systems of power and privilege, 3) re-imagining identity categories, 4) integrating new ways of interacting across difference into their sense of self and sense of the world, and 5) seeking out opportunities to learn new ways of thinking about "others." In an attempt to alter the borders that maintain inequality, the students took on the roles of helpers, messengers, advocates, and activists. They enacted solidarity in different ways at different moments based on their skills, capacities, perceived risks, and on their own understandings of justice, inequality, power, and social change. Over time, the student's enactments of solidarity became dynamic and fluid, while navigating various pitfalls such as paternalism. They employed various forms of solidarity, including human, social, and civic solidarities, and sought to build what this study calls "cultural solidarity" in their schools and communities in order to achieve social, political, and, perhaps most prominently, cultural change. The findings suggest that the agency of relatively privileged students is an effective tool that educators and scholars can harness in interrupting inequality in schools. Dynamic and less rigid conceptions of solidarity better reflect how young people enact solidarity in their daily lives. Through curricular, philosophical, and pedagogical choices, high schools can enable or limit the manner in which students approach difference across groups.