Rhythmanalysis as method for understanding the social complexity of school spaces

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Despite the recent ‘spatial turn’ in education, there is still much work to be done to take seriously the opportunities that spatial theory might afford educational research. While education research is always done somewhere with people situated in place in particular ways, the concept of space is rarely taken up beyond the notion of background or context. When space is taken up in education, it is commonly applied to physical and material architectures and rarely accounts for the relational and social production of school spaces not only as spaces for particular kinds of teaching and learning, but as spaces constitutive of the activities and interactions that take place. Yet, spatial theory offers a productive conceptual foundation for describing and analysing complex educational problems in new ways.
This paper reports on Lefebvre's (1994) production of space and methodological approach of 'rhythmanalysis' as a productive tool to understand the complex social constructions of school spaces. Schooling is founded on relationships. These relationships exist in mobile, multi-directional and multi-layered networks between teachers, students, school leadership, parents and carers, the school and local community, and official Departments of Education; but also between education policy, official curriculum, and official assessment regimes; and between the material spaces of schools such as school buildings, classrooms and outdoor spaces. These relations are complex and multidimensional, and often characterised by movement. By examining the nature of relations in school spaces across three domains - conceived, perceived and lived space - and grasping the kinds of rhythms these produce, it becomes possible to examine in close detail the complex and mobile nature of relations that shape teachers' work.
This paper draws on a recent ethnographic study based at a comprehensive high school in the outer-east of Melbourne, Australia to describe and demonstrate how Lefebvre’s production of space and rhythmanalysis was applied to better understand the way relations in and across school spaces shaped teachers’ intercultural work at this school. The application of spatial theory allowed me to grasp the complexity of entangled relational spaces to better understand how powerful discursive practices that sustain dominant imaginaries of what it means to be from and belong in the Hills shapes curriculum translation and enactment and teachers’ intercultural work at this site. I argue that spatial theory offers new possibilities to understand and explain complex educational problems.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 28 Nov 2022
EventAustralian Association for Research in Education (AARE) 2022: National Conference - University of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia
Duration: 27 Nov 202201 Dec 2022


ConferenceAustralian Association for Research in Education (AARE) 2022
Abbreviated titleTransforming the future of education: The role of research
OtherThe Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE) is excited to announce its first face-to-face conference in two years. It will take place on Sunday 27 November – Thursday 1 December (Pre-Conference: 27 November) at the University of South Australia, City West Campus. 

The AARE 2022 Conference is SOLD OUT! Please contact ConferenceNational via email aare@conferencenational.com.au if you would like to join the wait list.

Taken-for-granted ways of thinking and working in early learning settings, schools, universities and other sites of formal and informal education have been disrupted in the context of the global COVID-19 pandemic, urgent climate change challenges, the policy drive towards technological solutions and increasing social and economic ruptures. One of the most urgent ongoing questions in these times is how to live with others in a world of plurality and difference? This year’s conference theme invites education researchers to reimagine their ways of thinking and working to interrupt or disrupt the taken-for-granted and to be research informing. We invite papers to consider different ways to engage with the conference theme of ‘Transforming the Future of Education – the Role of Research’.

Following AARE’s first virtual conference in 2021, this year’s event will be co-hosted with the University of South Australia and celebrate the return to a face-to-face forum. The conference will offer delegates the opportunity to connect, network, share and learn in the delightful city of Adelaide.
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