Overview of themes

Negotiating Legitimacy – Ritual and Reflection in School

Ritual analysis is still a rather marginal approach in the field of education. This is unfortunate. The potential of ritual analysis for engaging with educational practice is huge. In taking conceptual ideas of ritual analysis as a starting point it is possible to focus strongly on issues like order, norms, value systems, beliefs, power structures, all of which are inherently connected to institutional education. In this sense ritual analysis can be seen as a tool for reflection on educational practice.

In the course of the research I noticed that there is little coherence in the international debate on rituals in education. Particularly the lack of reciprocal fecundation of contributions from an English and a German background constitutes a significant gap. In the book I provide a comprehensive overview about the instruments that are suggested for ritual analysis of education in these contributions.

The study included a comparative element. Teachers from Irish primary schools, German mainstream schools and German free alternative schools took part in it. The free alternative schools offered a field where the social order is based on a radical democracy without formal hierarchies. Here children are not subjected to a set curriculum, they are supposed to be free to decide what, when, where, and with whom they want to do. A general sketch of the free alternative schools is included in the book. For more on the free alternative schools see also here. The three different school settings account for three different ritual cultures, and there is information available on this issue in the book, too.

As the research project dealt with reflection processes of teachers it was necessary to employ a concept of reflection. I found that various conceptual frameworks are used by authors who write about reflection. Processual scale, functional and orientational character are common models for a classification of reflection processes. However there are limitations in these models. I suggest to enhance the figures of thought applied to concepts of reflection and systematically take into account the character of reflection as a social act.

In the book extensive coverage is given to concrete reflection processes of teachers on their ritual practices. They are analysed in accordance with the model of reflection as a social act. These reflection processes are best understood as negotiations of legitimacy of defining, articulating and shaping reality.

In reality institutional education is deeply permeated by numerous ritual practices. Within any social setting changes in ritual practices happen constantly via mimetic processes. That is also true for educational institutions. Strategic interventions in negotiations of power relations in form of ritualisation, avoiding explicit speech and narrative, are ongoing at all times. They can be moved on by pupils and teachers alike, sometimes by parents, by principals, simply by anyone who is physically in the field. Any of those moves brings about changes.

But alternatives can and should be more than changes happening in lieu of explicit logical speculation. Critically thinking about rituals in school will inevitably lead into thinking about the institutional character of school, its historic roots and trajectories, its current position in society. The question of critical reflection is taken up in a separate chapter within the book also. Teachers find themselves in a pivotal position in the institution. Their practice is essential to making school real. Accepting critical questions about their acting in ritualised practices in schools and searching for answers will open the route for changes that are consciously enacted.