Have you ever visited schools like Eton College in the United Kingdom, St. Albans in the United States, or Geelong Grammar School in Australia? Maybe you were among the lucky few to have attended one. These schools are primarily reserved for children from the most privileged families, members of the 1 percent, as we would say today. The schools are steeped in tradition, covered in oak and ivy, and cost a small fortune to attend. The fees at St. Albans, for instance, run as high as $58,000 USD. For that price, it’s no wonder that these schools offer some of the best education money can buy and have produced some notable graduates. For instance, 19 prime ministers from the UK attended Eaton. Talk about a small circle!

These schools, which are found worldwide, produce and sustain social class and have had to adapt to changing global and local circumstances over the decades. Many started as all boy’s schools but have since become co-educational. Others were reserved for national elites to produce competent colonial administrators but have since turned their attend to the growing market of international students.

My guest today, Debbie Epstein, has been part of a research team exploring elite schools in former British colonies, from Australia to Barbados and Hong Kong to India. The team, comprised of Jane Kenway, Johannah Fahey, Debbie Epstein, Aaron Koh, Cameron McCarthy, and Fazal Rizvi, have recently co-written a book on their findings entitled “Class Choreographies: Elite schools and globalization.” Debbie, a Professor of Cultural Studies in Education at the University of a Roehampton, joined me to talk about some of the major themes explored in the book.

I should mention, for full disclosure, that this project holds a special place in my heart. I met my future wife, Johannah Fahey, while she was collecting data for this project while in Hong Kong. Please excuse my biased opinion about this excellent research!

If you would like to order the book, the authors have provided FreshEd listeners with a 30% discount. Don’t wait: the offer ends July 31!

Does privilege have sensory dimensions? Our guest today is Howard Prosser, lecturer at Monash University’s Faculty of Education, who recently co-edited a volume entitled In the Realm of the Senses: Social Aesthetics and the Sensory Dynamics of Privilege (Springer 2015). This volume won an honorable mention in the 2015-2016 Globalization and Education Special Interest Group book award.

Together with Johannah Fahey and Matthew Shaw, Dr. Prosser argues that “within elite schools there is a relationship between ‘complex sensory and aesthetic environments’ and the construction of privilege within and beyond the school gates. Understanding the importance of the visual to ethnography, the social aesthetics of the elite schools studied in this volume are captured through the inclusion of a series of visual essays that complement the written accounts of the aesthetics of privilege. The collection also includes a series of vignettes that further explore the sensory dimension of these aesthetics: touch, taste—though metaphorically understood— sight and sound. These varying formats illustrate the aesthetic nature of social relations and the various ways in which class permeates the senses. The images from across the different schools and their surroundings immerse the reader in these worlds and provide poignant ethnographic data of the forces of globalization within the context of elite schooling.”

Dr. Prosser spoke with FreshEd contributor Rolf Straubhaar.

Jane Kenway is an emeritus professor at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. For the past several years, Professor Kenway has led a team of scholars and students from around the world on a multi-sited global ethnography of elite schools in 12 countries.

The study explores the global forces, connections and imaginations on elite schools, and hopes to enhance our understanding of how many national and transnational leaders are formed through their education.

The project has resulted in many publications, some of which you can find here. Will Brehm spoke with Professor Kenway in January on one of her recent pieces about how she and her team conducted this research, comparing more “traditional” forms of ethnography with her use of “global multi-sited ethnography.”

Citation: Kenway, Jane, interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 13, podcast audio, July 21, 2016.

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