Mutual rejection

an ethnography of social science at a Swedish elite school




social science education, classroom ethnography, micro-interaction, power, elite school, recognition and misrecognition, Goffman


  • At an elite school in Sweden, social science education contradicts the ideals of democratic education.
  • Micro-power actions change when students outperform their teacher’s subject knowledge.
  • Micro-interactional power is expressed by recognition and misrecognition in the classroom.
  • As an observer in the elite school, one simultaneously becomes loud and invisible.
  • Further ethnographic “studies up from below” are needed in social science education.

Purpose: This paper offers insights into the dynamic of misrecognition in an elite school. It presents new findings on micro-interactional power relations in the classroom and argues for additional ethnographies of social science education in elite schools.

Methodology: This paper uses an ethnographic method. Its research employs the observational position of a “belonging stranger” is put forward in contrast to the idea of “going native”. The focus is on the power of micro-interaction.

Findings: A key empirical finding is the change in power relations that occurs when students outrank their social science teacher in subject knowledge.

Author Biography

Janna Lundberg, Malmö

Janna Lundberg, PhD, is Senior Lecturer at the department of Society, Culture and Identity, Malmö University. Her research interests centers on social science education and sociology of elite schools, power and the concept of alienation. One of her current research project investigates political literacy in social science education. She is also doing an ethnographical study of the sociology of everyday life in western rural Sweden.


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