Outsiders or insiders? identity, educational success and Muslim young men in England
[in special issue: Race, Ethnography, and Education ]
Ethnography & Education, 6, (1), . (doi:10.1080/17457823.2011.553081).
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This paper is concerned with the experiences of Muslim students attending secondary schools and an elite university in England. The research explores how Muslim young men's identities are defined by their social and cultural locations. It is argued that identity is multi-dimensional. It intersects and overlaps with several categories of difference including ethnicity, social class, gender, linguistic, cultural and religious affiliations. These exist simultaneously in daily interactions. They are fluid, interconnected, complex and not always easy to disentangle. Ethnography and grounded theory are used to capture the experiences of Muslim young men at a time when educational opportunities and career choices exist alongside disengagement with education and society. For these students the idea of success, though important, is problematic. Real success is tied not just to proven academic ability, but also to finding fulfilment through negotiating a carefully maintained balance between the private and public, secular and religious, individual and community-based expectations. Experiences linked to social class position are fore-grounded. When these intersect with race and grace, a complex picture emerges where young men from Pakistani Muslim background feel that they are both outsiders and insiders in a country where they were born and educated. This exploratory study captures a complex multi-layered world where race is not the only lens through which lived realities can be understood. Exploring the ways in which personal agency and individualism are set against structural inequalities, make it possible to unravel some of the experiences of this under-researched group. The paper looks at how Muslim young men make sense of their experiences and why they feel so strongly that they are not understood.
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