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Topics Archives: Qualitative

Undesirable affects: towards a materialist sociology of school violence

In Australia, almost all young people are required to attend school. It is widely accepted that education is fundamental to improving people’s lives, and society, so much so it is recognised as a universal human right. Yet school is not the same for everyone. As a former teacher, I am interested in better understanding how schools can be constraining in ways we don’t always realise, to help make them more enabling for all. My research is a close examination of the everyday operation of violence in two Victorian schools. Microviolence is understood here as subtle everyday practices which limit possibilities. I focus on how microviolence materialises, and its relationships with broader social patterns and cultural norms in constituting and maintaining other forms of violence in schools, such as structural, symbolic and epistemic. I investigate how people feel in different spaces around their schools, what is happening in those spaces, and how those spaces are experienced. In this way I aim to contribute to existing research in the sociology of education and the emerging sociology of violence, through providing empirical evidence and materialist analysis of microviolence in schools. Through understanding its operation in schools, we can work towards reducing it.

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Choreographing human-companion animal relationships: Structures, discourse & agency

Zoei Sutton
Australia has one of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world, with over 63% of households including at least one species of companion animal. These relationships have been linked to many benefits for humans—from better health outcomes, to social lubrication, and a constant source of unconditional love: valuable in a world otherwise known for fragile social bonds. However, for the thousands of rejected animal companions displaced and/or euthanised each year, relationships with humans can be far from positive. Existing scholarship highlights a need for research that better captures the complexities of creating and maintaining these relationships, which are often neither wholly ‘good’ nor ‘bad’. This thesis seeks to address this, in part, by creating space for nonhuman participation in an attempt to render elements of their lived experience visible, and move away from research that solely privileges the human participants’ voices.  Drawing on 30 qualitative interviews and in-home observations of humans and ‘their’ animal companions, this thesis argues that human-companion animal relationships are inescapably based an asymmetrical division of power, but are socio-spatially constructed in a way that makes them appear otherwise. Extending the scope of the research to include non-canine species highlights the manner in which animals ‘become’ pet, and the extent to which relations with companion animals are shaped by external ideas around species and petness. Through intentional de-centring of the human within the household, and creating space for animal agency, human participants demonstrated some capacity to resist anthropocentric approaches to pet keeping. But, whilst these measures undoubtedly impact on the material reality of ‘their’ companions, they do not extend so far as to challenge broader anthroparchal structures, which consistently position human interests as paramount over those of the environment and other animals. I argue that by examining human-companion animal relationships through a critical, socio-spatial lens, we arrive at a more nuanced understanding of the asymmetrical power dynamic and navigations of inter-species relations. Furthermore, this approach facilitates the critical analysis of companion animals’ lived experiences, moving beyond the affective gaze of the human to look at the broader material conditions which are crucial to understanding these complex and often contradictory relationships.
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