Researching Spaces in Education Through Ethnography, Making Space for a Future Forum


The “spatial turn” or “turns” across the social sciences and humanities from the 1970s onwards emphasised how space matters in our lives. Richer concepts are now available to explore the subtleties of how education is organised spatially and, in turn, shapes new spatialised relations.

As a result, space has been productively studied across a range of sites, cultures, technologies and times: from new forms of school and university architecture to alternative curriculum or classroom organisation; from global flows of educational capital and learning technologies to new challenges of studying on- and offline; from urban, rural and economic distribution of educational resources to the gendered spaces of schooling.


The proliferation of analytic tools and vocabulary has sometimes led to what Jessop et al. call “an unreflexive ‘churning’ of spatial turns” (2007:389), making it more important than ever to get some kind of grasp on what space is and how it matters, first because we need to “take systematic account of how places and spaces enter into the organization of social life and social action” (Atkinson et al., 2008:146) and, secondly, because how we do research is always a spatial question: “We cannot divorce our scholarly endeavours from the bodily reality of being in the field” (Coffey, 1999:68).

The ECER 2018 theme “Inclusion and Exclusion – Resources for Educational Research?” explores a form of socio-spatial organisation that is central to education. We are very much interested in rooting our discussion on space (and place) in the central topic of this year’s ECER and analysing the pertinence of the ethnographic approach to describe and critically analyse old and new forms of exclusion in education by feature of immersing ourselves in a society (Bryman, 2001). What advantages (and challenges) do ethnographers find when working with particular approaches? How do they operationalise concepts of space in research strategies and methodologies? How do they dialogue with colleagues using other methodologies to capture space as a social construction? What are we not researching but perhaps should be? What ethical challenges, especially for ethnographers, are implicated in studying existing and new forms of space, and how do colleagues resolve or mitigate these challenges?

We wish this opportunity to serve as an inclusive space for researchers to reflect on the thinking tools available and to share useful conceptual developments and methodological approaches relating to space and education, and how they can be productively and ethically researched. We are keen to draw on the broad experience across the EERA community and make space for a forum of discussion and joint sessions with other networks.

We invite papers coming from ethnographic research, indicating theoretical and methodological ways forward, and empirical work raising questions about space and education that are likely to interest researchers across networks. Possible topics include the following: 

  • Reflecting the conference theme, how is space implicated in the practices and values of access, inclusion and exclusion? To what extent can space be thought of as an educational resource?
  • As concepts of space develop and change, what are the implications for education and educational research? Conversely, how can ethnography capture what changing ideas and practices of education mean for space(s)?
  • How has ethnography been conceptualizing educational spaces? How can historical understandings of educational space(s) and the treatment of space in other places help us to understand what is happening now and what may happen in the future?
  • In educational research and practice, how can we manage the complexity of the simultaneously local, regional and global? On- and offline? Being mobile and “in place” or situated? How do (will) educational spaces relate to political and territorial spaces?
  • What challenges are facing ethnography from new relationships with space through new forms of bordering, cross bordering, mobility, spots, networks? In this context, how can ethnographers define his/her place, gain access and select sites (Walford, 2008)?
  • Research strategies and objects assume particular forms of or relationships to space. How do ethnographies “see” or enact particular kinds of educational space? What connects (and separates) understandings of the “field”, the “case”, the “dataset”, the “environment”, the “community”?
  • What do different uses of spatial terminology within languages (e.g. environment; space; room; place – see Friesen, 2013) and across languages (Shields, 2016) indicate about our relationship to different ideas of space and education? What can we learn from differences regarding ethnographic understandings of space within and beyond the European area?
  • If space is unavoidably political (Massey, 2005) including the educational spaces we build (Uduku, 2000), how can we become more sensitive to the political implications of space? How are educational spaces controlled, regulated, transformed, owned or sustained and cared for?
  • How might students’ perspectives of space be researched effectively? Teachers’ and others’?

Contact person(s)

Sofia Marques da Silva (, Adam Wood (, Nanna Jordt Jørgensen (, Mads Rehder (


Atkinson, P. et al. (2008) Contours of Culture: Complex Ethnography and the Ethnography of Complexity. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press.

Bryman, A. (2001) ‘Introduction’, in A. Bryman (ed.) Ethnography. London: Sage.

Coffey, A. (1999) The Ethnographic Self: Fieldwork and the Representation of Identity. London: SAGE.

Friesen, N. (2013) ‘Educational Technology and the “New Language of Learning”: Lineage and Limitations’, in Neil Selwyn & Keri Facer (eds.) The Politics of Education and Technology: Conflicts, Controversies, and Connections. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Pp. 21–38.

Jessop, B. et al. (2008) Theorizing sociospatial relations. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space. [Online] 26 (3), 389–401. Available at:

Massey, D. (2005) For Space. London: SAGE.

Shields, R. (2016) Geneologies of Social Space. Lo Squaderno. (39), 9–13. Available from:

Uduku, O. (2000) ‘The colonial face of educational space’, in Lesley Naa Norle Lokko (ed.) White Papers, Black Marks: Architecture, Race, Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. pp. 44–65.

Walford, G. (2008) ‘Selecting sites, and gaining ethical and practical access’, in G. Walford (Ed.) How to do Education Ethnography. London: the Tuffnell Press. Pp. 16-38.

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  • Ethnography;
  • narrative;
  • fieldwork;
  • representation;
  • observation,
  • life-history;
  • action research

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Interview with Convenor at ECER 2011