Understanding practitioners’ responses to inequality and breaches of human rights

Doctoral thesis English OPEN
Robson, Jennifer van Krieken

My thesis arose from a sense of frustration that the inequality and breaches of human rights experienced by children and young people were unaddressed within the education settings in which I work.\ud \ud Using Mills' (1959) notion of connecting the 'personal troubles of the milieu' and the 'public issues of the social structure’ I explore my own, and other’s practice, to achieve a range of alternative responses to inequality and breaches of human rights. Exploration of theoretical perspectives shows that different conceptual positions (e.g. equality of condition, Baker et al 2004; capability equality, Sen, 1999; social justice Gewirtz, 1998 and Gerwirtz and Cribb, 2002) can be used to reduce inequality and promote human rights. Human rights can be viewed as ‘complex problems’ (Freeman, 2002) in the way they relate to human needs; they are seen as entitlements or obligations and viewing rights as universal is conditional on the nature of an acceptable ethic (Sen, 1999) or a person’s moral nature (Donnelly, 2003). Human rights can be realised through the social relations and struggles to overcome oppression (Landmann, 2006). Such conceptualisations support practitioners in understanding the operation of human rights.\ud \ud Using qualitative research methodology I conduct a series of case studies that emerged from the dilemmas within my own practice. As an 'insider researcher' (Costley, Elliott and Gibbs, 2010) I use interview and participant observation as tools to collect data revealing multiple narratives and perspectives on each case (Holliday, 2007). Through a journal I explore the tensions in the relationship between researcher and practitioner; I analyse experiences by considering them as ‘problematic, routine or ritual like’ (Denzin, 1989) and this brings new perspectives on my struggles to address injustice.\ud \ud My findings suggest that practitioners display a sense of ‘moral ambiguity' (Bauman, 1993) or ‘moral stasis’ (Mills, 1959). I argue discourse obscures and validates (at an institutional level) inequality and breaches of human rights. Some practitioners resisted the dominant negative discourses and presented alternative responses; others retreated into their personal space where they protected the familiar and struggled to challenge a negative discourse. They positioned the unfamiliar as the ‘other’, the ‘stranger’ or the ‘vagabond’ (Bauman 1993, 1997).\ud \ud Alternative responses could be formed through opportunities for debate and discussion by moving from the ‘mass’ to the ‘public’ (Mills, 1956). Practitioners' engagement in narratives of injustice (Osler and Zhu, 2011) enables greater understanding of injustice, inequality and rights. As a result practitioners problematize issues and identify actions realisable within their own realm of practice (Gewirtz and Cribb, 2002 and Sen, 2009).
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